Footnote Credit: illustration by Kurt Mitchell


| In Short | Capital Dispatch


Los Angeles: Takeover, pilots

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is moving ahead with plans to take substantial control of the school system, despite a judge’s ruling that struck down the law as unconstitutional because it takes too much authority from the School Board, according to the Los Angeles Times. The mayor has filed an appeal and is also raising funds for the upcoming School Board race, in which he plans to oust members who oppose his takeover. Meanwhile, the district, the local teachers union and community groups are planning to open up to 10 small schools modeled after Boston’s pilot schools program, according to Education Week. The schools would have more freedom in hiring, spending, curriculum and scheduling. Officials hope to have some of the small, college-prep high schools open for the 2007- 2008 school year.

Washington, D.C.: Takeover plan

Mayor Adrian Fenty has won support from a majority of City Council members for his plan to take over control of the school system, according to the Washington Post. Fenty’s proposal would require the superintendent to report to the mayor and end the board’s control over management, program and budget decisions. The board would continue to oversee operations such as standardized testing and teacher certification. Congress, which currently has a hand in overseeing the school system, would also have to approve the plan.

Massachusetts: Pilot schools

To avoid a state takeover, State Board of Education Chairman Christopher Anderson wants to turn four failing schools into “pilot schools,” the Boston Globe reports. Three of the four schools would be the first pilot schools outside Boston. All four would be the first converted to pilots as an improvement measure. (Boston originated the concept as an alternative to charters.) Pilot schools are freed from union contracts and other district requirements and have more control over curriculum, budgets and general operations. The schools could still be subject to a state takeover if they fail to improve.

Baltimore: New charters

Six new charters, including three that are being converted from district-run schools, have won approval from the School Board, according to the Baltimore Sun. The new schools include an all-boys academy with an extended day. Seven other applications were rejected, including a school that would focus on serving foster children. The three converted charters will use the highly scripted, direct-instruction teaching method. The school board is appealing a state court ruling that requires the school system to provide the same funding for charters as that provided to regular public schools. The city now spends about $11,000 per child but provides only $5,859 per student to charters and the rest in services (such as food service). Most charter operators say they would prefer to have the $11,000. Baltimore currently has 17 of the state’s 24 charters.

St. Louis: State oversight

A panel led by a former university president and a prominent civil rights lawyer is recommending that the state assume oversight of the city’s failing schools for at least six years, according to the Associated Press. The district has had six superintendents since 2003. The proposal calls for a three-member committee to run the district and decide whether to hire a superintendent to oversee daily operations. The committee would handle budgeting, curriculum and other functions under the supervision of the state board. Mayor Francis Slay favors the plan.

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“If you don’t feed the teachers, they eat the students.”

Barton Elementary Principal Terrence Carter in an interview with Catalyst, explaining why principals should provide teachers with frequent professional development. Barton teachers meet for two hours of training each week.

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Illinois education officials hope to apply next year to participate in a federal pilot project that allows districts to more accurately measure the performance of public school students.

Ongoing glitches with test scores and delays in creating a statewide database of student information are holding up efforts for the state to convert to the “growth model,” also known as “value-added,” which proponents argue is a fairer way to judge how well schools and districts are educating students. The glitches and delays kept the state from applying for this year’s pilot.

Under the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Law, Illinois and most other states currently report a snapshot of where student test scores stand once a year. But that method does not shed light on how much progress individual students are making year to year, a critical measure to assess achievement, especially among students who are far behind.

The U.S. Department of Education has approved growth model pilots in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee. Congress is expected to consider including the use of growth models when it takes up reauthorization of No Child Left Behind this year.

Last month, a task force of educators, top policymakers and testing experts issued a report that, among other recommendations, urged the state to develop a growth model and find ways to use the data to support school improvement.

Illinois may be ready to join the pilot project next school year, says Becky Watts, chief of staff for the Illinois State Board of Education. “It’s not outside the realm of possibility, if everything is in place,” she says.

One requirement is that Chicago Public Schools connect its new student information system, which has experienced technical glitches, with the statewide student database. Illinois missed the Nov. 1 deadline to apply for this year’s pilot, in part because 35 schools districts, including Chicago, had not connected their student information systems with the state database.

By mid-January, Chicago was the only district that still had not done so. The district is still trying to resolve technical problems, says Robert Runcie, chief information officer for CPS.

“We’ll be done ironing the kinks out of the process in the next couple of months, before the end of the school year at the latest,” Runcie says.

The growth model pilot requires states to have a database that can track the whereabouts of individual students, Watts explains. The database will work in tandem with the state’s test score database, tracking students and their scores from year to year, even if they leave a school or district.

Test scores for 2006 were also a problem. Watts says final results are not expected to be delivered to schools until February, more than four months overdue. Results for 2007 tests are expected to be completed on time, say state education officials. The next round of state testing begins in March.

Testing contractor Harcourt Assessment Inc. has been blamed for delivering some tests late and for making mistakes in grading the Prairie State Achievement Exam given to high school juniors. State officials have since retained a new contractor, Pearson Educational Measurement, to take over most of Harcourt’s duties.

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