Footnote Credit: Illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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Feb. 4: Absenteeism

The district announces it will publicize teacher attendance rates at high schools beginning next year, saying concern over the issue was repeatedly raised in focus groups with parents and students. The teachers union blasts the idea, saying it implies that teachers abuse the sick leave policy and that absenteeism has no bearing on student achievement. CEO Arne Duncan says absenteeism is “a symptom of some deeper problems we need to look at.”

Feb. 6: Discipline

Chicago police announce that more officers will be stationed near schools with more severe gang problems to patrol during arrival and dismissal times. The district plans to clarify its discipline code in an effort to reduce student arrests, saying that principals are sometimes too quick to call police for minor infractions. Last year, 8,500 arrests were made on school grounds. CPS plans to join with police to hold meetings with parents and students to revise the discipline code.

Feb 14: Budget cuts

Schools receive their tentative budgets for 2006-07, reflecting $83 million in program and staff cuts, and another $36 million in cuts of teaching positions due to declining enrollment. The budget shortfall, one of the worst since the mayor took charge of the system, is largely due to $70 million in pension costs, up sharply from previous years. The district is counting on an extra $100 million from the state and will raise property taxes by $55 million.

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Indiana: Curbing dropouts

A new law will require high schools to identify and provide counseling to students at risk of quitting school, according to the Feb. 23 Indianapolis Star-Tribune. The bill would also require schools to report annually on class-cutting rates and other statistics considered warning signs of dropping out. Also, students under the age of 18 would only be allowed to drop out due to financial problems, illness or another reason approved by a judge. Supporters include Gov. Mitch Daniels, who still must sign the bill into law. The state reports a 90 percent graduation rate; researchers estimate the rate is actually about 72 percent.

Texas: College gap

State education officials want to hold high schools accountable if their graduates perform poorly in college, according to the Feb. 23 San Antonio Express-News. Texas ranks schools based on test scores and graduation rates; the proposal would add the college performance of graduates to the equation. One superintendent says many students who pass the high school exit exam may still need remediation in college. “If we can do a better job of making sure the high school curriculum prepares students for what colleges need, I’d be open to it, but we have an awful lot of accountability measures in place now,” said John Folks, superintendent of the Northside Independent School District.

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“Real estate developers and business people [are] driving education reform. … Gentrification describes your 2010 plan.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart.

“Gentrification is a horse people get on to justify poor performance.”

School Board President Michael Scott.

The exchange took place at the Feb. 22 board meeting, where parents, teachers and others spoke out against school closings and Renaissance 2010.

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The student promotion policy has changed this year. What are the changes and how are they likely to affect student retention?

Liza Sullivan, Associate Vice President of Education, Chicago Children’s Museum

Two changes could potentially increase the number of students retained next year in 3rd, 6th and 8th grades. For one, the district has reinstated math performance as a criterion for retention, in addition to reading. (CPS dropped math as a retention factor in 2004.) Second, students are allowed no more than nine unexcused absences, compared to 18 previously.

But some researchers express more concern over the new tests that will be used to determine who is held back, saying the tests are too brief to allow for reliable judgments about kids.

Since CPS dropped the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, retention decisions will be made based on two new nationally normed sections of the ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test). The new math and reading sections are shorter than the Iowa and timed at only 30 minutes each, compared to 55 minutes for the reading portion of the Iowa and a couple of hours for math. With shorter tests, says John Easton of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, “one or two additional items correct can make a major difference in the score.”

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Grant money: Chicago Public Schools received $60 million in funding through competitive grants in 2005, up from $50 million in 2001, according to district data. That $60 million includes $45 million in federal grants, $8 million in state and local grants and $7 million in grants from private groups and foundations.

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