Footnote Credit: illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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April 11: Safety survey

Citing a survey at six hand-picked, high-performing schools, district officials say Chicago students feel safer and are less likely to fight than students in other urban districts. Critics blast the findings, saying the schools did not adequately represent the student population. The survey results were announced days after students at Kennedy High held a rally demanding more security to combat school violence. The study’s author says Chicago was supposed to pick schools that reflected the district’s economic, racial, academic and geographic mix.

April 27: Dismissed

More than 1,000 new teachers will not be rehired for the coming school year. Under the union contract, principals can dismiss any non-tenured teacher without explanation. The district says the policy allows principals to shape their school community. But Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart says the dismissals may be cause for a strike during the next round of contract negotiations. The most common reason for firing: poor classroom management. Last year, 1,100 non-tenured teachers were fired, but 700 found jobs at other schools.

April 27: Sex Ed

Starting next year, all students in 6th grade and beyond will have to take a sex education course that includes information on birth control. The course will teach abstinence as the “expected norm,” but will include information on contraceptives, the responsibilities of parenting and similar topics. Currently, individual schools set the parameters for sex education. Teen health advocates say such a course is long overdue, and students who have called for more comprehensive sex education say too many schools teach inaccurate information.

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Boston: Charter switch?

School district officials are trying to persuade charter schools, which in Massachusetts are under state jurisdiction, to join the city’s public school system, according to the April 10 Boston Globe. The district loses millions of dollars when children enroll in one of the 14 charters rather than a district-run public school. The charters would become pilot schools, which are autonomous and freed from a number of district rules. A letter was sent to teachers and principals urging them to consider the switch. The head of the state’s charter school association said educators who enjoy the flexibility of charters are not likely to choose to join a traditional school system. Some principals also expressed skepticism about the idea.

New York City: Restructuring

Consultants are helping city education officials to develop a plan for restructuring the district, with an eye toward giving principals more autonomy and outsourcing support programs such as counseling, according to the April 9 New York Times. Three years ago, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg overhauled the system—centralizing much of its operation, reorganizing 32 community districts into 10 regions, setting strict standards for promoting students, creating small high schools and providing more help for struggling students. Recently, the chancellor hired the consultants to examine everything from purchasing to teacher training to evaluation of students, teachers and principals.

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“Grades, grades, grades, grades, grades … and college choice.”

Responding to a question about her study showing CPS grads do poorly in college, researcher Melissa Roderick of the Consortium on Chicago School Research notes what high school educators should pay attention to.

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The district currently faces a huge budget shortfall for 2006-07, yet I see glossy district newsletters and a new ballroom dancing program. What criteria does CPS use to make budget cuts?

An anonymous teacher

To save $25 million, cuts are expected in all central office departments next year, says Schools CEO Arne Duncan. Departments may be spared the worst if they suffered deep cuts last year, demonstrate outstanding performance or target one of the district’s priorities, including literacy or creating new schools. Duncan is also considering a salary freeze for central office employees to save another $5 million.

Once the School Board approves an overall budget, department managers will decide on specific cuts, explains Pedro Martinez, CPS budget director. “Whether it’s staffing, consultants, printing, publications—all of that is on the table,” he says.

There’s not much fat left to cut, notes Christina Warden of the Cross City Campaign, yet it will be impossible to verify how cuts are made because the district’s $5 billion budget is so unclear. Funds are sorted into general categories with no detail spelling out what’s included, she adds. The ballroom dancing program cost $200,000, a relatively minor expense, Martinez notes. Civic and corporate partners will raise funds to continue the program next year.

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African American students are more likely than Latino or white students to enroll in charter schools, according to the 2005 Student Racial/Ethnic Survey. Charter enrollment is 66% black, 27% Latino, 3% white and 4% other minority, which includes multi-racial students. CPS enrollment overall is 49% black, 38% Latino, 9% white and 4% other minority.

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