Footnote Credit: Illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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Oct. 5: Test delays

State Supt. of Schools Randy Dunn acknowledges that the state is not likely to meet the required Oct. 31 deadline for delivering school report cards, including test results and other information, to parents and the general public. Scoring problems and last spring’s late delivery of the tests to schools are to blame. The state board votes to penalize test publisher Harcourt Assessment and transfer most of the firm’s duties to Pearson Educational Measurement.

Oct. 7: Rivals agree

Mayor Richard M. Daley and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) join education leaders to call for more state funding for education, saying the issue transcends politics. Funding reform has so far not been a major issue in the race for governor. Incumbent Gov. Rod Blagojevich and GOP challenger Judy Baar Topinka have both said they would not raise the state income tax, a move that education advocates say is essential to funding reform.

Oct. 12: More grads

The Consortium on Chicago School Research revises numbers from its recent study on college graduation rates for CPS students, but some of the corrected figures are still dismal. The study said only 6 percent of CPS graduates earn college degrees by their mid-20s, but the Consortium now says the figure should be 8 percent. The percentage of all CPS grads who eventually earn a degree was originally reported as one-third, but the new figure is just 45 percent.

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Los Angeles: Military leader

An ex-Navy admiral with no education background will be superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, according to the Oct. 13 Los Angeles Times. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he was “deeply disappointed” that the School Board chose retired Vice Adm. David L. Brewer III without including him in the process. Villaraigosa and the board had clashed over how much authority he would have over the selection. A new law giving the mayor veto power over the hiring of the superintendent, and substantial control over the district, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2007. The district is challenging the law.

Ohio: Increase funding

Ohioans say the state should increase spending for public education, according to a new poll reported in the Oct. 3 Cleveland Plain Dealer. About 80 percent of respondents said they want more money for education, more than the percentage that said they wanted more funding for economic development, courts and prisons, or health care for elderly and the poor. A majority of respondents also said they oppose the use of public money for private school vouchers.

Texas: Bonuses rejected

More than two dozen schools turned down state grants for a merit pay program for teachers, reports the Oct. 3 Dallas Morning News. The program gives teachers the authority to approve the plan at their schools. Teachers at schools that turned down the money said the program would create animosity and division among staff and was too time-consuming to administer. The program calls for low-income schools to distribute bonuses based on test scores.

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“You can save a lot of grief and money if teachers understand the kinds of minds in their classrooms.”

Dr. Mel Levine of the University of North Carolina Medical School, on how school districts might benefit if teachers knew how the brain functions and adapted lessons to accommodate children’s strengths and weaknesses. Levine spoke at an Oct. 5 luncheon hosted by High Jump, an enrichment program for middle-school students.

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It’s difficult to get good teachers at low-performing schools. Why doesn’t CPS offer bonuses to teachers who take jobs at low-performing schools and raise test scores?

Tony Wilkins, community representative, Canter Middle School

CPS recently applied for a $29 million federal grant to give bonuses to staff at struggling schools that improve test scores. The program would start in 10 schools next year and expand to 40 by 2011. Bonuses for teachers would average about $4,000 and would be based on a performance evaluation, test score growth in the classroom and schoolwide score gains. Schools will have to obtain the approval of 75 percent of the faculty to participate.

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart opposes merit pay in general, saying too many factors that teachers can’t control, such as parental support, have an impact on student achievement. Better working conditions, such as lower class sizes, would do more than bonuses to attract and keep good teachers in underperforming schools, she insists.

Paying teachers based on student performance is a growing trend. Florida, Texas and Alaska recently adopted cash bonuses for teachers based on student test scores.

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African-American and Hispanic students are underrepresented in gifted programs in Illinois, while whites are overrepresented, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Education. In 2003 (the latest data available), enrollment in gifted programs was 12% black, 8% Hispanic, 74% white and 6% other races, primarily Asian. However, statewide student enrollment is 21% black, 17% Hispanic, 58% white and 4% Asian/other.

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