Footnote Credit: Illustration by Yvon Wang

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June 29: Magnet admissions

For now, CPS magnet schools will not be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that severely limits the use of race in school assignments. CPS magnet schools operate under a federally mandated desegregation consent decree, while the court ruling applies only to schools covered by voluntary integration programs. The decision will affect CPS if a federal judge frees the district from the mandatory decree, which has been in place since 1980. If the decree is lifted, students would likely not be affected until next year, when they begin applying for school admissions in 2009.

July 1: Principal ouster

Harper High Principal Ronn Gibbs is removed from his job and transferred to central office. Gibbs was hand-picked in 2003 to turn around the failing Englewood school, which got building repairs, new computers and other resources after Rev. Jesse Jackson used it to illustrate the impact of school funding inequity among Illinois school districts. But test scores declined and fewer than 4 percent of students passed state tests last year. Attendance and graduation rates also fell. Kenyatta Butler-Stansberry, assistant principal of Dyett , takes over at Harper. Nate Mason, a former Harper principal, will serve as her mentor.

July 6: School closings

The school year is over and the last class of seniors graduated in June, but the district still holds a final round of public hearings on the phase-outs of Austin, Calumet and Westinghouse high schools. All three stopped accepting freshmen in 2004. Late last month, Ald. Isaac Carothers and community leaders demanded that CPS open a new state-of-the-art high school to replace Austin, which is slated to open a second small school this fall, Austin Polytechnical Academy; a third will open in 2008. Calumet will open two additional Perspectives charter schools; one is already housed there. A new building is under construction for Westinghouse.

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Arizona: Learning English

This fall, English-language learners will have to spend at least four hours each day in courses that teach English grammar, phonics, conversation, reading and writing, according to the July 14 Arizona Republic. The new requirement is based on a law passed last summer. Arizona eliminated bilingual education in 2000, banning instruction and the use of textbooks in any language other than English. Most districts then began offering English instruction for an hour a day during the summer or after school, putting ELL students in regular classrooms during the regular school day. Supporters say the new model will provide more structure for students who are learning English, while critics warn that it segregates non-English speakers and limits their instruction in core subjects such as math and science.

Los Angeles: Reforms OK’d

A new School Board dominated by mayoral allies has passed a reform package with new accountability initiatives, including tracking school performance, cutting the dropout rate, training principals and increasing parent involvement, according to the July 11 Los Angeles Times. The reform package originated with the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost his bid to take substantial control of the L.A. Unified School District when legislation setting up the takeover was thrown out by the courts. The mayor then raised money to help elect political allies to the board, including the new board president and three other newly elected members.

New Orleans: Teachers wanted

The state-run Recovery School District has launched a national campaign to find teachers to fill up to 500 teaching jobs this fall, according to the July 3 New Orleans Times-Picayune. New hires will earn a $5,000 bonus for the first two years they teach, a monthly $400 housing stipend for a year and $2,500 to help cover moving expenses. Current teachers and auxiliary staff, such as nurses, who return to the district and receive a positive performance evaluation will receive a $5,000 bonus. The recruitment campaign includes outreach to former teachers who have retired or who relocated after Hurricane Katrina; and newspaper ads in cities across the country. The district operated 22 schools this year and plans to reopen about a dozen this fall.

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What do prospective kindergarteners need to know to test into a gifted program? Can children who are admitted to a gifted program swap places with another child to gain entry to a school in a preferred location?

Collins Yearwood, vice president, Hyde Park Parent Cooperative for Early Learning

According to Denise Gallucci, CPS director of gifted and enriched academic programs, there’s no way to actually ‘teach’ children to do well on the test. Tests for gifted programs measure verbal and non-verbal thinking, reasoning and problem-solving. For example, children will be asked to solve a riddle or to tell the similarities and differences between objects.

In Gallucci’s view, a child’s skills in these areas are either highly developed at an early age, or not.

However, prior experience with similar tests may well make a difference because children who take such tests on multiple occasions invariably improve their performance, says George Peternel, associate director of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. He concedes that practice tests are hard to come by, since assessments for gifted programs are proprietary.

Peternel suggests conducting a Google search on “instrumental enrichment,” a method for building intelligence by improving cognitive abilities. Activities associated with this method might be helpful, Peternel says. One example: Teaching children shapes by having them touch figures, draw them, and then learn to differentiate between them by sight.

As for the second question, Gallucci says it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a swap of seats would work, given the admissions process for gifted schools. Admission to gifted, magnet and classical schools is governed by the desegregation consent decree as well as test scores, so a swap would have to be with children of the same race and ethnicity and similar test scores. It’s unlikely that two families of the same ethnic and racial background would get each other’s first choice of schools, says Gallucci.

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The cost to replace each of the 4,844 teachers who left Chicago Public Schools in 2003 was $17,872, or $86 million, according to a June report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, which analyzed turnover in Chicago and four other districts across the country. At the 119 CPS schools with the highest turnover, nearly half of the new teachers hired in 2002 quit by the following summer. A high-quality induction program in those schools, at a price tag of $6,000 per teacher, would have cost CPS less than $3 million and would have largely have paid for itself. Cutting turnover in half at those schools—a legitimate target, according to the commission—would have retained 109 teachers and saved the district $1.9 million.

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