BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK, Education Reporter
April 23, 2014 10:02PM
Less than half of students at Benito Juarez Community Academy High School graduated in 2008 when Juan Carlos Ocon took over as principal, but by 2013, he said, the rate rose to about 69 percent.
The secret of Juarez’s success — and the success of 19 other neighborhood high schools in Chicago in getting more students to graduation day — started with the school’s ninth-graders and keeping them “on track,” according to new research to be released Thursday by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School research.
Shepherding ninth-graders through their first year of high school — focusing on helping them to show up to class and complete their work so they pass their courses — leads to jumps in graduation rates, even at high schools once thought of as “dropout factories,” according to the study.
“Attention to those very small things has a big payoff,” said Elaine Allensworth, who directs the Consortium, adding that schools need to intervene as soon as freshmen show a dip in attendance or decline in effort.
The interventions that have worked so far are less expensive and dramatic than a schoolwide turnaround or conversion to a charter school, she said. The gains spanned gender and race but were highest for African-American males.
And outside factors beyond a school’s control — gangs, family, academic weakness of incoming freshmen — affect graduation in a common way by preventing students from showing up and doing their work, she said.
“Schools don’t have to change everything in kids lives — what they have to do is make sure all those other factors don’t interfere with kids coming to class and getting their work done,” Allensworth said.
The authors tracked efforts across 20 Chicago Public Schools that boosted “on-track” rates for ninth-graders over three years by poring over real-time data on a regular basis and then looked at who graduated. According to their findings, those “on track” increases — to 82 percent in 2013 from 57 percent in 2007 — translated into big jumps in graduation rates, up to 20 percentage points.
“On track” means a student has enough credits at the end of the year to go on to the next grade and has earned no more than one semester F in a core class.
The 20 schools adopted a variety of practices, including block scheduling to minimize the effects of tardiness; hiring an “on-track coordinator” to reach out with solutions when students started to fall off; and running a summer program for incoming freshmen.
How the schools specifically chose to keep tabs on their ninth-graders mattered less than how well they kept them on track, said Thomas Kelley-Kemple, a Consortium author.
Juarez, with 96 percent low-income students, leaned on its lead teachers and changed its curriculum to one that focuses on standards instead of specific content.
“It automatically made what was being taught in the classroom more relevant to the students,” Ocon said. That pushed attendance up, too, he said.
“What’s in the classroom now is much more relevant and that’s bringing them back every day,” he said. “Because the curriculum has shifted, it’s not what teachers are interested in, it’s what students need.”
Juarez also opened a “benchmark achievement center” in the library, where students can bolster skills after school, Ocon said.
Juarez still has work to do, with ACT scores barely above a 16 average — below the CPS average of 17.6 and far below 21, considered to be “college ready.” The school also is in its last year of a $6 million state improvement grant that Ocon said bolstered its efforts.
How many Chicago juvenile arrests happen at school? African American students were arrested at a rate nearly four times that of whites or Latinos
By Linda Paul
From The Black Star Project, February 4, 2013
Arrests on CPS property by age:
Source: Chicago Police Department. Final column indicates total juvenile arrests on CPS property.
Tens of thousands of young people get arrested each year in Chicago, and a lot of those arrests happen on the grounds of Chicago Public Schools. Of course, arrests at school happen all across the country.
The connection even has a name: some people say schools are a worrisome ‘pipeline’ to the criminal justice system for many young people. In fact, last December, Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin held the first ever congressional hearings on the topic. One big worry for people who work with kids is the lingering records kids can get from those arrests.
I’m visiting the home of Chicago Public School teacher Valerie Collins, and her son, daughter and I are crowded around a laptop on their dining room table. Valerie’s kids are both public school graduates. I’d heard about a YouTube video that showed a really nasty fight at Sullivan High School in Chicago, and asked them to watch it with me.
“It’s got a million hits!,” Collins is exclaiming. “A million five hits. A million six!” They’re listening to a television announcers account: “We have video of this and first of all the video is graphic. Okay, it’s literally two girls, 17 and 18 beating up a 14 year old. The 14 year old suffered a concussion.”
I’m here to talk to Collins about arrests at school. She’s a math teacher at Simeon Career Academy, and before that she taught at both Lakeview and Phillips. I wanted to know if fights like the one we’re watching are once-in-a-blue moon events.
Collins says serious fights like this happen at some, but not all, public schools maybe a couple times a year. Her daughter says it “sucks,” but while she was in school she became sort of desensitized to such fights, “I wanna say it starts out as a joke because usually the way these, like fights, start off is off of something so ridiculous, so that it gets around the school and then everyone’s just like, ‘Oh, you know, there’s gonna be a fight this period, you know. Let’s all go out and see.”
“It’s worse with cell phones now,” Collins adds, “because with cell phones they text people that there’s going to be a fight. That’s what they do. They text that there’s going to be a fight and then unless we find out about it, everybody knows except for the administration. That’s what happens.”
There were about 4,600 arrests on public school grounds in 2011. That’s about a fifth of the 25,000 arrests of kids 17 and under that year in Chicago.
But of those 4,600 arrests, only 14 percent were for the really serious stuff, the felonies, like robbery, burglary and fights with serious injuries — like that one on the YouTube video.
Most arrests at school are for the still troubling, but less serious stuff — the misdemeanors.
“So you’ve got some smart-mouthed 15-year-old girl, who the teacher says to her, you know, Miss Thang, sit down.”
Here’s Herschella Conyers, clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago.
“And she says to the teacher, ‘You ain’t talkin’ to me.’ And off they go! And the teacher says, ‘I’ll put you outta my room.’ And the student says, you know, ‘I’ll whip your ass.’ Uh –here come the police ! It’s an ag assault. Now. Is the student absolutely wrong? Absolutely. Is there a better way to handle it? Yes.”
Conyers says there was a time when conduct wasn’t governed by the threat that the police would arrest. “It was, you know, here comes the principal, or God forbid – they’re about to call my mother. In those days it would be, could you just call the police and not my mother, you know?”
There were over 3,500 misdemeanor arrests at Chicago public schools in 2011. The biggest category was for simple battery. That could be a punch, a shove, or a fight –seemingly minor confrontations that these days are taken seriously because they can lead to retaliations.
Next was disorderly conduct. Basically? Kids creating a ruckus. No serious injuries.
And the third biggest category? Drug abuse violations. These are usually arrests for small quantities of marijuana, because if it was a large quantity, or drugs like cocaine or heroin-that would be a felony.
That last category, in particular, bothers Conyers’ colleague down the hall, Craig Futterman – also a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago. National studies, he says, show that white kids use and sell drugs at a rate higher than black kids do. And, says Futterman, that’s true in Chicago too.
“Where the vast majority of kids who use and sell drugs in high school are white. The vast majority of kids who are arrested for drugs, and or, worse, go to juvenile jail or go to juvenile prison for drugs, are African-American,” says Futterman.
Here’s what the numbers say about arrests at Chicago Public Schools in 2011. Almost 75 percent — three quarters — of all arrests were of African-American students. At the same time, in that same year, African-American students comprised about 42 percent of the student body. In fact in 2011, African American students were arrested at a rate nearly four times that of whites or Latinos.
This kind of imbalance is causing a lot of consternation and was a big topic of conversation at Senator Durbin’s national hearings last month.
Craig Futterman and Herschella Conyers think that lower level offenses, the misdemeanors basically, are better handled within the school. By counselors, social workers and restorative justice practices like peer juries and peace circles.
Kristina Menzel is an attorney who represents kids in juvenile court. She says that when principals request arrest, unfortunately it’s sometimes a way for the school to pass a problem kid on to another system.
“Now part of the problem is schools don’t have money for these services, ” Menzel says. “There’s not money out there for education like there should be. So the schools use the courts to get services for these kids that are problematic.”
There has to be a better way to deal with this, she says, “Since once they’re brought in here, they’re more likely to re-offend. And if they go to the Department of Juvenile Justice, their probability of re-offending goes up even higher.”
As serious as getting arrested in school can be, what happens later can be even more serious. Follow our story of how a juvenile arrest record can mess up a young person’s prospects for finding a job.
More than 29,000 teachers and education professionals will not report to work today 9/10
CHICAGO— After hours of intense negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected to begin Monday at 675 schools and the Board of Education as early as 6:30 a.m. Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians have been without a labor agreement since June of this year.
Union leaders expressed disappointment in the District’s refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students. CTU President Karen Lewis said, “Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.
“Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.
“Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.
“Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.
“We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.
“We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms–a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.
“As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.
“While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.
“Again, we are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line.
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.”
“This announcement is made now so our parents and community are empowered with this knowledge and will know that schools will not open on tomorrow. Please seek alternative care for your children. And, we ask all of you to join us in our education justice fight—for a fair contract—and call on the mayor and CEO Brizard to settle this matter now. Thank you.”
The union is not on strike over matters governed exclusively by IELRA Section 4.5 and 12(b).
The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the more than 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third largest teachers local in the United States and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information please visit CTU’s website at http://www.ctunet.com .
By REBECCA VEVEA
Published: January 12, 2012
Chicago News Cooperative
Twenty hands shot into the air after Ashley Tam asked a question of her third graders during a math lesson on Tuesday morning. One boy threw his arm up with such force that his desk jumped off the ground with him.
It was the first week of the much-anticipated longer school day, as well as the second day back from winter break at Genevieve Melody Elementary School, not a time when one would expect a high level of student enthusiasm.
“I think the kids have adapted faster than we have,” said Tiffany Tillman, the assistant principal at Melody. The principal, Nancy Hanks, agreed, saying she had picked the wrong week to try to kick her coffee habit.
Melody is one of 13 Chicago public schools at which teachers voted to waive portions of their union contract and lengthen the school day to seven-and-a-half hours. In exchange, those teachers receive a stipend of roughly $800 to $1,200 and schools receive $75,000 to $150,000 each in discretionary funds.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for a longer school day has been criticized by the Chicago Teachers Union, which accused school officials of unlawfully coercing and bribing teachers at individual schools in an attempt to “make the union irrelevant.”
At Melody, 16 teachers voted for the longer day, with 4 against it, but teachers and administrators say they are less concerned with the politics than in making a longer day work.
“It’s a bigger deal to everybody else than everybody over here at Melody,” Ms. Hanks said. “At the end of the day, we have to be here together. You just don’t need that kind of tension coming to work.”
Melody and the 12 other “pioneer schools” that are starting longer days this year are being closely watched because next year all of Chicago’s public schools will move to a seven-and-a-half-hour day — making Chicago the first major city in recent years to add substantial school time district-wide. The longer day includes 90 minutes of additional instructional time and more time for breaks.
A sweeping education-reform law passed last year gives school district administrators the power to unilaterally lengthen the school day and year, but the details will have to be resolved in bargaining with the teachers’ union. How well the longer day works at Melody and the other schools will influence their decisions, officials said.
While most parents, teachers and administrators support lengthening the current 5 hour and 45 minute school day, many questions remain: What will schools do with the additional time? Will teachers be compensated? Can young children handle the longer school day? How can the district, already financially stretched, afford to add instruction?
In many ways, Melody is a microcosm of the city’s system — failing by most accounts, but pushing aggressively to improve. The school, on the West Side, has been on probation for five years, falls 500 students below optimum enrollment standards and, according to federal guidelines, has been failing for years. But with an ambitious, Harvard-educated principal and a sizable experienced staff, the school is registering promising growth.
“Last year, we made good movement for the first time in 10 years and we’re hoping to move more,” said Tyrone Covington, who has been a physical education teacher at Melody for 20 years. “We have no other way to go but up.”
Although the extra time was spent differently according to grade, all Melody classes added instruction in math and reading. In Ms. Tam’s class, the longer day also meant more time for science and social studies.
But she said her students were tired by the end of the day on Monday. “It’s a long day for 8-year-olds,” she said. “They’re adjusting well, but by 3 they wanted to nap.”
Some parents on the North Side, where the public schools are performing better, have raised concerns in meetings and surveys that the seven-and-a-half-hour day may be too long for their children and could cut into extracurricular activities.
Ms. Hanks said she understands, but added, “I need my kids to be able to read. Can you give a little bit of your piano time so that my kids over here on this side of the city can learn how to read?”
What works at Melody may not work at another school, Ms. Hanks said. The district announced on Wednesday that 30 schools with the most innovative plans for using the extra time next year will be awarded $100,000 each. All schools have been asked to devise a new schedule and submit it by the end of February. Officials say the best ideas may be applied across the district.
For Ms. Hanks, the main concern is not the final details worked out by the city and the teachers’ union, but rather the adjustment that teachers and parents will have to make to the stark change in their daily routine.
“You can pay attention to the nuts and the bolts of the schedule all you want, but if you don’t mentally prepare and take the adults through the transition, it’s not going to be successful,” Ms. Hanks said.