Future of Chicago’s Education Systems

More than 7,500 students will have “access to higher performing schools that will give them a better chance for success in the classroom and prepare them for college and career” according to CPS under the approval of 17 schools being phased-out, turned-around, or closured.

“For too long, our students have been cheated out of the high quality education they deserve and we can no longer accept a status quo that has failed them year after year,” said Becky Carroll, Chief Communications Officer of CPS. “With only 57 percent of students graduating from high school and 7.9 percent of 11th graders testing college ready, the needs of our children come before all else and we must take action now to provide them with access to higher quality school options.”

After months of outcry by the students and parents, legislation and bills proposed to the Senate by officials, and protests by community organizations, a sense of urgency has begun.

Last Tuesday, April 10, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was scaling back his proposal of 71/2-hour school day to 7-hours activists gained hope they could do more. The school day would still be more than an hour longer than the current 5-hour, 45-minute day for most elementary schools.

“Knowledge is the key to the future in today’s world — you earn what you learn,” Emanuel said in a released statement. “By having the shortest school day and shortest school year of any major city, we shortchanged Chicago’s children. By adopting a longer day and a longer year, we are working to shape the future of our children for the better and give them any education that matches up with their potential.”

Chicago Teachers Union President, Karen Lewis reported to The Chicago Tribune, “Today, the mayor moved his toe a half an inch from the starting line. He needs to do more. He needs to listen with both ears. The CTU commends this growing.”

Although this was only one hurdle to overcome for parents, activists and teachers, the future of Chicago’s education system is just around the corner.

CPS has designated The Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which currently implements the turnaround strategy in 12 CPS schools, to implement the turnaround strategy at six of the schools serving nearly 3,200 students, according to their website.

Marielle Sainvilus, Press Secretary for CPS, said they chose so many of the failing schools for turnarounds because “we want to build a stronger educational community.”

“Turnaround models have delivered consistent and impressive results for students almost immediately,” said a CPS press release. “This past year, AUSL elementary schools more than doubled the district’s average in growth (AUSL growth: 8 points, district growth 3.8 points) while OSI elementary schools grew at nearly twice the district’s average (OSI growth: 6.3 points, district growth 3.8 points).”

A study from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research indicates Chicago’s turnaround elementary schools produced better academic gains than other “worst of the worst’’ schools that did not undergo similar reforms.

After four years, turned-around high schools, on the other hand, did not perform differently than similar struggling high schools on at least two important indicators, the study found.

The analysis ranked 210 city neighborhood schools with at least 95 percent low-income students, based on the percent of students passing their 2011 state reading tests. It found that AUSL placed only three schools among the top 100 — Howe (53rd), Morton (84th) and Johnson (88th). AUSL’s lowest scorer was Bethune, at 199th. Two CPS-run turnaround schools — Langford and Fulton — came in 150 and 206th, respectively.

Often, the study found, neighborhood schools outperformed equally-poor AUSL turnaround schools located only a few miles away. For example, in the South Shore neighborhood, Powell came in No. 14, while AUSL’s Bradwell was No. 194 according to the Chicago Sun-times.

CPS disputed the facts and said AUSL schools have more than doubled the district’s average growth rate and “provide an opportunity for academic achievement that would otherwise be unimaginable for students.”

Carolina Gaete, parent of a child who attends Whittier Elementary School, said, “When you go to communities where there’s no public schools, and those are the communities with a high crime rate. We cannot separate the really drying people of resources, then expecting the community to flourish. When you’re taking away the schools, children don’t have access to education.”

For teachers, there is a different hardship on their hands. As the Chicago Tribune reported CPS and the CTU remain far apart on teacher salaries. The union went into talks last with a request for a 30 percent raise over two years. The district is offering a 2 percent raise next year and an eventual move to a merit pay system that would reward teachers for working in low-income schools and taking hard-to-fill positions.

The Chicago Teachers Union says internal polling shows there is support for a strike if contract talks with Chicago Public Schools break down. CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said it’s still too early in negotiations to talk about a strike.

“Any talk of holding a strike or mock strike votes at this early stage of contract negotiations is a disservice to our children, parents and families and only diverts our energies away from focusing on our students and boosting their achievement in the classroom,” Carroll said.

With CPS and CTU battling over contracts, parents battling turnarounds, phase outs and closures from not happening, and legislators battling for a moratorium to halt all school actions, many are forgetting the affect on the children.

More than 400,000 children in the Chicagoland area at the end of August will be picking up their bag packs and heading to their school buses. 7,500 of those children will be on a bus back to their same school but undergoing a phase-out, a three year process. The others go to a school which will be monitored by other professionals to make sure the principal and teachers are up to the standards.

The next couple of months are expected to be filled with heated discussions and urgency for resolutions before the 2012-2013 school year begins. The resolutions, however, need to be for the benefit of the children.

CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said we have children who are in an “education emergency room.”


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