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May 23: Easier closings

Under a new school closings policy, the district will be required to report the impact of schools closings on kids and provide a support team to assist children as they transition to new schools. In addition, school closings must be announced four months before the school year ends. This year, only one school, Harvard Elementary, is being shuttered under the district’s “turnaround” strategy. The school will reopen in the fall with new staff and programs, under the management of the Academy of Urban School Leadership. The approach keeps kids in the same school while fixing educational problems, say district officials.

June 18: Budget delay

CPS announces that it will delay its 2008 budget for 60 days, in the hopes that legislators in Springfield will enact education funding reform. The state Legislature failed to put together a budget by the May 31 deadline, sending the session into overtime. Usually, CPS’ budget is approved at the end of June. School officials are hoping that the district receives an additional $300 million from the state. Last year, the district received $100 million more.

June 26: Test scores up

For the second year in a row, CPS officials tout rising scores on the ISAT, which was revamped last year. Almost two-thirds of elementary students passed reading and math tests, but the improvement is smaller than the gains last year. However, Mayor Daley urges the district to put more emphasis on science, for which scores declined slightly citywide. The ISAT was retooled last year, prompting some experts to question whether the gains students made were legitimate. The retooled test allows kids more time and includes a more colorful format considered easier for students to read.

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Washington, D.C.: New leader

The head of the non-profit New Teacher Project is slated to become the next head of the D.C. schools system, according to the June 12 Washington Post. Michelle Rhee would be the first schools chief without superintendent experience in nearly a decade, and the first who is not African American (Rhee is Korean-American) in nearly four decades. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who recently won substantial control over the schools and said he did not want to hire a “career superintendent” who had moved from district to district, said he chose Rhee because the failing system needs “radical change. …We did not want to pick someone to tinker around the edges.” Rhee founded the New Teacher Project to train teachers to work in urban districts. The City Council must approve the selection.

North Carolina: Charter caps

A policy research group recommends that the state keep its current cap on charter schools because student achievement at charters has been uneven and the schools are often racially segregated, according to a study in the June 6 Raleigh News & Observer. The state now caps the number of charters at 100, and legislative proposals to lift the cap have failed. Some charters are also experiencing financial troubles, according to the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, the policy group that made the recommendation. The group’s report found that charter students performed the same or slightly worse than regular public schools, and that 39 of 99 charters had higher-than-average minority enrollment.

Massachusetts: Free college

As part of a major education reform proposal, Gov. Deval Patrick plans to make community college free to all students within 10 years, according to the June 1 New York Times. Massachusetts would be the only state with no-cost community colleges. Patrick’s reforms include universal preschool, full-day kindergarten, a longer school day and longer school year and two years of community college or vocational training for all students. Patrick says he will appoint a committee of business, education and civic leaders to determine how to implement his reforms and to put a price tag on them. The average student now pays about $3,000 per year in tuition and fees, about $1,000 more than the national average, according to a community college official.

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Which Chicago public schools are peanut-free and how is that decision made?

Anonymous parent, North Side Parents Network

These schools are currently peanut-free: Bell, Hedges, Burley, Casals, Oriole Park, Edison, Bontemps, Brunson, Hawthorne, Blaine, South Loop, Ray and Chicago Academy. For many schools, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are menu staples for lunch. But for parents, like you, whose children have potentially life-threatening allergies, officials understand the need to keep threatening food away. Parents can ask their principal to make the campus peanut-free, says Jennifer Malchow, regional dietitian for Chartwell-Thompson, the food service and hospitality firm that provides meals and after-school snacks to CPS students. The principal has to agree and then put in the official request to central office officials, who will inform the food service firm.

The company also can identify which menu items are peanut-free and made in peanut-free factories, Malchow says.

Some 4.3 million children in the U.S. have food allergies and the number of those with peanut allergies has doubled in the past five years, according to the Food Allergy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. But it is unlikely that all schools will become peanut-free any time soon. Peanuts are one of the commodities donated to public schools through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

E-mail your question to askcat@catalyst-chicago.org

or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago,

IL 60604.

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A new report by the Illinois Education Research Council finds fewer Illinois teachers leave the profession than is widely believed, just 27%. But some troubling numbers also emerged from that report: While Chicago has recruited new teachers with strong academic backgrounds in recent years, those recruits are less diverse. In 2006, 30% of all new teachers scored a 25 or higher on the ACT compared to 21% in 2001 and just 16% in 1997. But only 17% of new recruits were African-American in 2006 and 12% were Hispanic, while 64% were white. In 2001, those figures were 24%, 18% and 53%, respectively. Nationwide, fewer high-achieving minority students have chosen education as a career, research has found.

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