Schools chief Paul Vallas this month promised the Chicago Teachers Union he won’t reconstitute any more schools for at least a year. Meanwhile, he is negotiating with union president Tom Reese on gentler alternatives.

While nothing specific has emerged, Reese says the possibilities include placing teachers on school intervention teams and providing troubled schools with staff training and resources, rather than punishment. “Unfortunately, our last attempt at reconstitution went in there and said … ‘The principal’s no good, and the teachers are no good,'” Reece says.

Vallas says he was planning to hold off on reconstitution anyway to await the results of a three- year study by Northwestern University Prof. Fred Hess on the progress of the seven reconstituted high schools. “It’s responsible to evaluate a program for a few years before you decide to do it again,” he explains. The study is now in its first year.

But Vallas rejects the union’s claim that reconstitution is a flawed strategy. “We believe that the [reconstituted] schools are better off today than they were before, based on anecdotal information and visits,” he says. Vallas says he hopes to create intermediate steps to reconstitution, rather than a permanent substitute.

Meanwhile, union spokesperson Jackie Gallagher says, “We are asking that they never repeat the fiasco of 1997.”

Reconstitution was not the first time Chicago public school teachers have been asked to reapply for their jobs. As part of the board’s Options for Knowledge program, begun in the early 1980s to help desegregate neighborhood schools, 90 schools got the chance to become “specialty schools” with their own curricular focus, such as science or fine arts. As such, they had limited authority to revise job descriptions and ask current teachers to reapply for positions, explains Pamela Pearce, an administrator with the board’s Office of Equal Education Opportunity Programs. While some teachers were not “rehired,” she says, that did not occur in great numbers.

Pearce notes that in contrast to teachers at reconstituted schools, those who weren’t retained at specialty schools suffered no stigma, received full union benefits, and, in most cases, readily secured new jobs.

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