All Articles Tagged "education reform"

Chicago Kids Are Back In School, But Questions About Education Reform and Unions Remain

September 20th, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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Kids head back to school after the end of the Chicago teachers strike. Image: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Students and teachers went back to class yesterday, ending a seven-day teachers strike that caught nationwide attention for the education and labor issues it brought to the fore. Now, both sides have to deal with the cost of the agreement that they’ve agreed to.

“Pay raises and hiring nearly 500 new teachers to implement the longer school day has a higher price tag — as high as $295 million — that some say could lead to higher property taxes,” reports NBC News in Chicago. There could be tax hikes on things like cigarettes. Teachers are getting a three percent raise in the first year and a two percent raise each of the two following years. There’s also an option for the fourth year.

The deal also calls for teacher evaluations that take standardized tests into account by 30 percent, a change to the “last in, first out” rule for layoffs and monitoring of class size. A more comprehensive list is available here, though the full contract hasn’t been released.

However, BusinessWeek reports that there could be trouble in the not-so-distant future.

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools system he runs face a projected $1 billion deficit next year and the prospect of scores of school closings. The union peace they obtained may be short-lived because other pressures — including at least $338 million in pension payments due in 2014 — are squeezing the budget,” this article says.

In other words, the overarching financial issues plaguing the city and the public education system could encroach on any agreement the two sides have come to. This is important when you think of the financial state of cities and public education systems across the country. Nationwide, cities large and small are faced with economic crunches that threaten all kinds of local processes, like pensions. Moreover, the move towards charter schools and other educational alternatives is changing the face of public education.

And one expert, Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells The Chicago Tribune that it’s a step in the direction towards the education reform that teacher’s support.

“What the CTU managed to do is take their philosophy of what schools should look like into the public square,” he said.

Separately, we were curious to learn more about Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president who took on Mayor Emanuel. Turns out she’s a 59-year-old Chicago public school grad who went on to Dartmouth and became a chemistry teacher. She’s led the CTU for two years and has proven to be a worthy adversary to the Mayor and an excellent adovcate for teachers. To learn more about her, read this story.
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Follow Up: Chicago Teachers Strike Appears To Be Nearing An End

September 14th, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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Image: AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong

As we move into the fifth day of the strike involving Chicago’s public school teachers, an end may be in sight. Chicago Public Schools and the city’s teachers union say they have some “number crunching” to do, but so much progress has been made that teachers and students could be back in classrooms on Monday. The Chicago Tribune reports that the union has asked supporters to come out for a final protest tomorrow at noon.

There is a proposal for resolving the big issue — how teachers will be evaluated — that will put a tiered system in place, in addition to weighing student test scores. Those exam results will count for 30 to 35 percent of the evaluation process with student surveys and principal observations also put into consideration. Tenured teachers won’t be fired during the first year as the new system works itself out. All teachers will be given a chance to improve if they receive an unsatisfactory evaluation.

As we reported the other day, the strike has wide-reaching implications for the black community. The number of minority teachers in Chicago has dropped. Parents and students have been inconvenienced by the strike, with some parents having to change their work schedules or pay for other child care arrangements. There was concern that the relationship between President Obama and unions could be negatively impacted if the strike dragged on. And the questions of education reform came to the forefront.

This resolution will by no means resolve the public education issues that the country faces. But trying a new system could put us one step closer to improving a system that’s responsible for educating millions of kids, our next generation of leaders and thinkers.

*Update: A tentative deal has been reached.

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White House Creates New Office for African-American Students

July 26th, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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President Obama has announced the creation of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, a new office that will work with agencies and local groups to help black students prepare for high school, college, and life after graduation. The President is signing an executive order to form the office today, but he introduced the initiative last night during a speech to the National Urban League.

A McKinsey report released just yesterday shows that the racial achievement gap in this country has cost us hundreds of billions of dollars. To close this gap, money will also be part of the solution.

“First, as emphasized in the report, inequities in teacher quality and school funding are pervasive — particularly in communities where there is the most need.  In essence, the challenged schools get more of the bad teachers and have, on average, less money than the schools which are attended by more affluent kids,” writes Kevin Chavous, an attorney and school reform leader, on The Huffington Post.

The executive order is also meant to help President Obama with his re-election efforts. A report from the National Urban League shows that the President could lose in three key states — Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio — if black voters stay home. A recent Gallup Poll shows President Obama has overwhelming support from black voters. Mitt Romney, not so much.

Turning Students Into Teachers

September 29th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Chicago News Cooperative) — The gap between the number of minority teachers in Chicago Public Schools and minority student enrollment has grown significantly over the last decade, but one CPS school is working hard to change that by preparing the next generation of teachers.  At Wells Community Academy, where the racial breakdown of students is almost evenly split between African-American and Hispanic students, more than 60 high school students will participate in a teacher training program that gets them to the front of the classroom nearly eight years ahead of schedule.  Students enrolled in the Chicago Urban Teacher Academy at Wells take a four-year curriculum in partnership with National Louis University designed to focus on best practices in teaching. One day per week students work in classrooms at one of three nearby elementary schools – Peabody, Talcott or Moos.  Ernesto Matias launched the program two years ago and now it has three cohorts of students, one group that started last year and two groups of freshman. He hopes that someday he can hire his own students as teachers.

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President Obama's Revision of No Child Left Behind Is More Of The Same

September 26th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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"charing ball"I was so, so ready to give President Obama a feather in the cap for his reworking of the No Child Left Behind Act, but upon further reading, the whole plan has really left me scratching my head.

George W. Bush’s controversial No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is most notorious for creating a system in which education and success is defined by how well school districts score on a series of high-stakes tests. Learning was secondary.

President Obama had called NCLB a good step towards education reform but recognized that it was ultimately flawed. But now, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are offering waivers for states to enact their own plans around higher achievement, which among other things, would exclude them from having to abide by the impossible 2014 deadline for 100 percent proficiency in math and language arts.

On the surface, the new waiver appears to be the perfect compromise for education advocates, who felt the provisions in NCLB were too harsh, and those on the political right, who feel that education should be a matter of state rights. However, states who opted for the waiver, would be required to adopt state-developed standards in English language arts and mathematics, which would be in line with the provisions of Duncan’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, a blueprint for education reform which President Obama had unsuccessfully tried to pass through Congress.

And while a casual observer of the education debate might conclude that the waiver has essentially ended No Child Left Behind, many of NCLB’s fundamental features would remain in effect through the Obama and Duncan plan.

Just like NCLB, the Obama/Duncan plan still seeks to measure educators’ effectiveness based on students’ test scores. Those who “fail” under this new system, could still seem themselves fired and replaced.  Likewise, states that seek relief from NCLB’s provisions will still face increasingly harsh sanctions against schools deemed as “failing” including provisions that require “challenged” schools to either be closed or turned into charter schools.

In essence, we are replacing one stringent and ineffective set of standards with the same stringent and ineffective set of standards – but with a cooler name. By remaining wedded to test-based accountability, the corruption surrounding test scores will persist among educators, who would be inclined to fudge numbers in order to save their jobs, and, more importantly, the ineffective way in which we measure student learning will continue to go uncontested.  Likewise, this “reform” offers nothing in the way of changing the educational system, which values ‘teaching to the test’ over creating a new generation of critical thinkers.

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

Obama Changes 'No Child' Law

September 23rd, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Wall Street Journal) — President Barack Obama is set to replace key planks of former President George W. Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind education law, allowing many schools to escape looming punishment if their states adopt a new set of standards.  Under the new system, which Mr. Obama plans to announce Friday, states would qualify for a waiver from existing rules by requiring, among other things, that evaluations of teachers and principals be linked to the results of student tests and other measures of performance.  “Our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change,” Mr. Obama said Thursday in a statement.

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Newark Schools Chief Bets on Leadership

September 19th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Rolling Out) — Cami Anderson, Newark, New Jersey’s new superintendent appointed last May, has ruffled feathers in the majority black city with her novel and controversial approach to effecting change in its struggling school system.  Anderson just hired 17 new principals that don’t have the traditionally accepted credentials to run the kinds of schools with challenges Newark schools present to dig the system out of the under-performing hole it’s in.  “She’s taking a real dramatic approach and bringing in younger leaders with little or no experience,” said Alturrick Kenney, a public affairs consultant who is a member of the city’s school advisory board. “That’s a great thing for their careers, but it could be a detriment for the district. It’s like with any basketball team: you bring in a group of rookies, and they will typically be outperformed by the veterans.”

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Newark Is Betting on a Wave of New Principals

September 16th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(New York Times) — There is Sonn Sam, a Rhode Island transplant who could be mistaken for one of the students at his alternative high school, with his shaven head, sneakers and tattooed left arm.  There is Chaleeta Barnes, who was promoted after just three years as a math coach at the Newark elementary school where her mother once taught.  And there is Raymond Peterson, the founding principal of Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, who came out of retirement to start a similar school in Newark.  These are some of the 17 new principals — 11 of them under age 40, 7 from outside Newark — recruited this year to run nearly a quarter of the city’s schools. They were hired by Cami Anderson, the new schools superintendent, as part of an ambitious plan to rebuild the 39,000-student district, which has long been crippled by low achievement and high dropout rates, but now is flush with up to $200 million from prominent donors, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

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New Michigan Education Leader Could Earn Up to $1.5M

August 31st, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Detroit Free Press) — The first chancellor of the new statewide special district for Michigan’s lowest-performing schools could receive more than $1.5 million in salary and bonuses over his four-year contract, if he meets all performance targets.  John Covington, the departing superintendent of the Kansas City, Mo., School District, will be paid a $175,000 signing bonus and a $225,000 salary his first year as leader of the new Education Achievement Authority.  His base salary grows to $325,000 in the second year. And if he meets yet-to-be-determined goals, he could make more than $425,000 in each of the last two years of the contract.  As a comparison, the top salary for superintendents of the nation’s largest districts ranged up to $329,000 last year, according to a study by the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools.

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Making The Case for Year-Round Schools

August 30th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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by Matthew Lynch

Supporters of a year-round schooling system often suggest that policymakers should adopt this schooling format because students in other countries often outperform their counterparts in the United States. Why are students in other countries doing so much better than our own? One reason may be that most international schools offer extended school days and longer school years.

During the school year in the U. S., real learning is occurring, but the long summer break takes its toll by seemingly erasing some of what has been learned. This loss of learning is even more pronounced among students from low socioeconomic and minority backgrounds. The unequal learning opportunities for students of different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic groups are major reasons for the achievement gap among students. During the school year when students from different socioeconomic backgrounds learn together, the disparity between students’ educational opportunities outside the school is diminished because both groups are learning enough at school to help minimize the differences outside of school. The environment within the structure of school appears to reduce the effect of socioeconomic differences among students, and may help the students belonging to lower socioeconomic families perform better.

When low income students spend time away from school, the achievement gap widens. In fact, the rate at which the achievement gap widens between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds actually accelerates when low-income students are not in school. Research shows that performance among students from low income backgrounds improves when they attend year-round schools. It appears then that year-round schools should be considered as one of the viable options for reducing the achievement gap.

By offering extended school hours and school days in a year, teachers could work in an environment where continuous learning would be possible. Teachers could also use the extra hours of school to work with students who take more time to learn and who face problems in keeping up with the other students in the class. Children and youth who are experiencing more difficulties with academic success would be exposed to more teacher time, which potentially provides them more opportunities to strengthen their skill level and knowledge base.

Year-round schools provide relief for families that require help with daycare. Many families have parents who both work full time outside the home, making it difficult to ensure adequate supervision of children during the summer months. In fact, the current school calendar – which includes the long summer break with little parental supervision, and presumably less adult interaction – could be part of the reason that so much learning is lost and no new learning is accumulated. Extending the school year to include the summer months would ensure both adequate supervision and continued learning for these children.

Many teachers have suggested that the quality of instructional time at school can be improved by employing a year-round school calendar because it offers continuity in the process of education. This is not to say that the only possible answer is a full, required year-round school calendar. It might be possible to achieve the goal of improving overall student learning through variations of year-round schooling which would cater to those students who most need the extra time in class.

In an educational climate that focuses so heavily on standardized testing, while at the same time makes use of a rather short school day and year, some teachers may find it difficult to offer extra time for needy students. Extending the school year could be a great asset to those teachers. Despite some perceived negatives and specific issues that would need to addressed, the idea of year-round schools is continuously gaining support in the United States.

Clearly, a structure for learning is needed that restores our stature as a well-educated nation and contributes to our ability to be a major player on the global economic playing field. Just as important, we need to provide enough time for learning so that young people from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds can have an education that allows them to grow into competent and confident adults able to choose how to live their lives. Holding on to a rigid traditional school calendar seems imprudent when viewed in light of such goals. The time is ripe to flip the arrangement, so that the traditional calendar becomes supplemental to more effective arrangements of time for learning.

Matthew Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University. He may be contacted at