A new website launched this morning gives detailed information about teachers’ and students’ attitudes toward their school.

It touches on every topic from whether teachers trust their principal and their students’ parents, to whether students feel safe in school and outside it and how challenging students find the instruction.

The survey, linked to the Consortium on Chicago School Research’s “Five Essential Supports” from the book “Organizing Schools for Improvement,” is designed to provide a comprehensive view of a school’s health and whether it has the resources to be able to improve.

The Consortium’s research shows that schools with strong supports are far more likely to make strides than schools where the supports are weak.

Examples of the questions under each topic include:

Instructional Leadership: Whether the principal has clear expectations for staff, understands how children learn, and helps plan instruction; whether the school uses a consistent curriculum across grade levels; whether teachers feel like they have influence on hiring, planning school spending and curriculum, and setting rules for students

Professional Capacity: Whether teachers feel responsible for helping each other and for helping students learn; whether teachers look forward to coming to work, and would recommend the school to parents.

Family and Community Ties: Whether parents are greeted warmly and invited to sit in on classes; whether teachers feel they trust people in the neighborhood, that neighbors know their students, and that it is safe for children to play outside.

Learning Climate: Whether students feel like their teachers pay attention to them and are willing to give them extra help; have high expectations; and trust their teachers.

Ambitious Instruction: Whether teachers have quality discussions with their students; whether students participate in key English, math and writing activities; and whether students say they understand their teachers’ expectations.

Many schools posted mixed results and, in some cases, surprising ones. Among them: Nettelhorst Elementary, long considered a success story because of a grassroots parent effort to improve the school. Students there reported a dearth of high teacher expectations, a lack of trust in their teachers, and few rigorous writing activities.

Nine Noble Street Charter School campuses all had positive (or green) ratings. (For the 10th campus, not enough data was available.) In contrast, nine of the 14 Chicago International Charter School campuses received red ratings – sometimes due to feedback from students, and sometimes due to teacher survey results.

Among turnaround schools, many Academy for Urban School Leadership schools did well, but Bradwell, Deneen, Dulles, Bethune and Tarkington elementaries posted “red” ratings, showing that they needed support in one or more areas.

Of the CPS-run turnarounds, Marshall and Fulton posted good marks but Harper, Fenger and Langford were still lacking in some essential areas. At Harper, the principal’s instructional leadership, teachers’ professional capacity, the learning climate, and family-community ties all received low survey ratings.

A downloadable report for each school could be a resource for parents, but the Consortium has yet to make the information available in Spanish.

However, over the next 6 to 12 months, the organization will develop training materials and even curriculum geared toward helping schools address the survey’s findings. The Consortium may work with schools, and with school network (geographic area) administrators, to put the survey results to use.

Kathy Konopasek, who just became principal of Stevenson Elementary, says that she has already begun taking steps based on the five supports – including reaching out to the local newspaper to get positive coverage, and attending a police beat meeting.

“We are having a huge, huge open house this Wednesday,” she says.

Kanoon Magnet Principal Juanita Saucedo says that she found her school’s results useful.

“We were informed by our students that they would like more rigor in the curriculum, so that’s definitely an area we will be addressing,” she says. The school is planning to integrate more writing activities in every area of the curriculum.
In order to build more trusting relationships between middle-grades students and their teachers, her school set up monthly rewards for students who met grades, attendance and behavior expectations.

Another area the school is trying to improve based on the survey results is parent interactions.

“We are holding monthly parent workshops and extending personal invitations to parents to attend,” Saucedo says. “The first ones were how to read data, (and) the exams students would be taking.”

She will also hold a math workshop for parents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the school’s math curriculum.

One principal, who did not want to speak on the record, said that the complexity of the data concerned her.

“It’s easier for me to do my tax form than figure this out,” she said. “And I have [taken] a statistics class. If I’m having a confusing time with it, I can imagine how difficult it is for our parents.”

She also noted that many schools would not be able to afford to make copies of the reports, which are currently only available online.

Gloria Harris, who is a member of the parent organization POWER-PAC, says that she likes the idea of making the survey results public. She thinks it could help motivate parents to “make a judgment whether to go transfer to another school, or help with improving the school.”

She also believes that the instructional leadership and learning climate components will help parents be more effective advocates when bringing up issues with administrators.

“We will have more information on the school climate,” she says. “We will be more aware of the instructional leadership of the school and the learning climate for children.”

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