Keeping ninth-graders ‘on track’ raises graduation rate: University of Chicago study

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.

Chicago: As school closings vote nears, questions remain on money, academics, safety

By: Sarah Karp / May 20, 2013

A rally in Daley Plaza protests against school closings. Picture by Lucio Villa.

When Margarita Miranda moved to Old Town in 2000, the area looked much different. The Cabrini Green public housing projects cast a long shadow, and neighborhood elementary schools were located on every few blocks.

Today, the high-rise public housing has been wiped away, leaving the area with a smattering of row houses, townhouses and some stretches of still-empty lots.

Over the past decade, three of the schools that served the area’s children have been closed and reopened—one as a charter school, one as a selective enrollment school and the third as a lease by a private Catholic school that costs about $8,000 a year.

Miranda and other parents are now fighting furiously to save one of two neighborhood schools left. A parent volunteer who calls all the students at Manierre Elementary “her children,” she is emphatic that she won’t give up. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the closings on Wednesday.

“My son is upset,” she says. Miranda’s son has a disability that includes learning and speech difficulties and she’s afraid that he will simply “shut down” if he has to transfer to a new school.

But there’s something more that is eating at her. Even though Manierre is surrounded by high-performing schools, the school that her children are now supposed to attend is a Level 3 school with almost identical test scores.

Like Manierre, the receiving school, Jenner, has mostly black, low-income students. The other area schools are more diverse with far fewer poor children.

“I don’t want my children to go from a Level 3 school to a Level 3 school,” Miranda says. “I don’t want that for my children. They are good kids. They don’t bother nobody. They respect their elders.”

In some ways, Manierre is unique compared to the vast majority of schools slated to close on the South Side and West Side. Manierre is on the Near North Side, nestled next to some of the wealthiest areas in the city.

But in other ways, it is not different. Two months ago, CPS leaders announced their intention to close 54 schools, co-locate 11 and hand over six to the Academy of Urban School Leadership to be turned around. The end result of the school actions is that traditional, district-run neighborhood schools will become scarcer. Schools to which students have to apply and those run by private organizations will continue to take over, casting an ever-bigger shadow over the district.

The mayor and CPS officials have cast the move much differently, repeatedly saying that closings and consolidations will allow the district to redirect resources to fewer schools. And with the district facing a $1 billion budget shortfall, officials say closings will save $43 million a year in operating costs (starting in two years) and another $437 million in capital costs over the next decade.

“What we must do is to ensure that the resources some kids get, all kids get,” said Byrd-Bennett in a videotaped message on the CPS website. “With our consolidations, children are guaranteed to get what they need.”

Yet many of the district’s claims have drawn intense scrutiny and raised questions that undercut the rationale for closings as either a cost-savings or school improvement strategy.

Going to “better” schools

The first claim to face scrutiny is that students at closing schools will end up in higher- performing ones. According to state law, Byrd-Bennett has the authority to define “higher-performing,” and she determined that even when a school has the same performance rating, it can be considered higher- performing if it does better on a majority of the metrics, such as attendance and test scores.

Yet researchers note an important point: A move to a school that is only slightly better, at most, likely won’t mean much to students. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that, in previous rounds of closings, displaced students only reaped an academic benefit if they were sent to markedly better schools, defined as those in the top quartile.

In this case, just six receiving schools out of 55 are in the top quartile of all CPS schools. And in only three cases—3 out of 53 closings—are kids being sent from a school in the lowest quartile to a school in the highest, according to an analysis by WBEZ. Two-thirds of the closing schools are among the lowest rated in CPS, but in 18 cases students will be sent to schools that are equally low-rated.

Even among the 12 receiving schools that have the highest CPS rating, there is a broad range in terms of performance. Chopin, on the Near North Side, has nearly 96 percent of students meeting standards on the ISAT and nearly 70 percent exceeding standards, while Faraday, on the West Side, has 73 percent meeting standards and about 13 percent exceeding them. Research has shown that students need to exceed standards to perform well in high school.

Furthermore, no one knows exactly how many students will end up at the designated “receiving school”—the one that by some measure is higher performing. Last year, less than half of students went to the designated receiving school with many parents choosing closer or more convenient schools that performed no better than the school they left, shows a Catalyst analysis.

CPS officials counter that the money invested into the receiving schools will improve technology and other resources. The schools will be air-conditioned, with iPads, playgrounds and libraries. The district is also designating 19 schools as specialty schools, with International Baccalaureate, STEM and fine arts programs. This year, the new specialty schools will receive $250,000 to $360,000 in extra money to pay for positions and training.

While leaders may have meant for this to sweeten the deal, parents and activists have been incredulous that their schools must close in order to get resources that are common place in other schools.

Parents also aren’t convinced that the new turnaround schools will be better for their children. CPS plans to hand over six schools to the Academy for Urban School Leadership for turnaround, which entails firing all or most of the staff, including the principal and the lunch ladies. For each turnaround, AUSL gets $300,000 in upfront costs, plus $420 per student for each student for at least five years.

Contracts with AUSL are for five years, but for several turnarounds they have been extended.

In her letter to parents, Byrd-Bennett said that turnaround schools have improved twice as fast as the CPS district-average.

“We want to provide your child with access to the same opportunities to boost their chance of academic success, which they will receive next school year if this proposal is approved,” she wrote.

Yet parents point out that many of the schools run by AUSL are not high-performers. Only one turnaround school, Morton, is a Level 1 school. And one of the closing schools, Bethune, is a turnaround.

Mathew Johnson, a parent at Dewey Elementary, says 98 percent of parents signed a petition saying they did not want their school given to AUSL. He says the school’s new administration seems to be on the right track and is doing a turnaround of its own.

“We are not afraid to hold the administration accountable,” says Johnson, who serves on the local school council.

Costs and savings

Because so many of the so-called “welcoming,” turnaround and co-locating schools lack resources, CPS officials will spend big money to get them up to par. In April, the Board of Education approved a supplemental capital budget that the district plans to finance with a $329 million bond.

About $155 million of that will go toward improvements at the receiving schools and another $60 million will fix up schools that are slated to be turned around or co- located with another school.

For the next 30 years, CPS will have to pay $25 million in interest and principal on the bond. This expense was not factored into the $43 million that CPS officials say they will save by undertaking these school actions.

CPS leaders have repeatedly cited budget problems as a rationale for closings–yet one reason CPS is facing perpetual large deficits is its already-existing debt. In the upcoming fiscal year, the district’s payment on principal and interest is scheduled to rise by about $100 million to $475 million.

Capital cost savings are also not likely to be higher than estimated. CPS officials lowered their original capital savings estimate and say the district will save $437 million over the next decade by not having to repair or maintain the 50-some buildings they are shuttering.

But only six of the closing schools have had recent assessments to determine their capital needs.  In all of these cases, the updated assessments caused CPS to lower its savings estimate.

In order for the district to save real money from closing schools, it would have sell off shuttered schools and lay off a lot of teachers, said Emily Dowdall, a senior associate for the Philadelphia Research Institute, which is part of the Pew Charitable Trust.

CPS officials say they are going to work with city department heads to figure out what to do with vacant buildings, but there is no specific plan in place.

CPS has sought to steer the discussion away from teacher layoffs, though the closing schools have about 1,100 teachers.

“Many of these teachers will follow their students to welcoming schools per the joint CTU-CPS agreement included in last year’s teachers’ contract, which allows tenured teachers with Superior or Excellent ratings to follow students if their position is open at the welcoming school,” according to a CPS fact sheet.

But school closings will likely mean that class sizes will be bigger in the welcoming schools than in the closing ones, meaning that fewer teachers will be needed for the same number of students.  A quarter of class sizes at closing and welcoming schools have fewer than 20 students—way below recommended sizes of 28 for primary grades and 31 for intermediate grades.

Not including these affected schools, only 9 percent of schools have such small class sizes.

Changing demographics, changing landscape

CPS officials have stressed that the main reason schools need to close is that 145,000 fewer school-age children live in the city than in 2000. But, as many have pointed out, enrollment in CPS has declined by much less: In September of 2013, CPS had 32,000 fewer students than in September of 2000.

Neighborhood schools have been hit hard by the district’s opening of new “schools of choice,” whether magnet schools, charter schools or selective enrollment schools. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,”an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school.

If all of the school actions are approved on Wednesday, the landscape of public education will continue to change–especially for students in particular neighborhoods,

Next fall, CPS will run about 84 percent of public elementary schools in Chicago, down from 86 percent this year. The rest will be run by private entities, most by charter operators or AUSL.

The shifting landscape will result in fewer neighborhood schools—schools where students are guaranteed a spot if they live within the attendance boundaries. In 2000, nearly 98 percent of elementary school students attended neighborhood schools.

Also next fall, the percentage of elementary schools with attendance boundaries will drop to 70 percent, down from 75 percent this year (should all closings be approved and with the planned opening of 10 more elementary charter schools).

CPS officials say this might be the wave of the future as they try to increase choices, without increasing the number of buildings in the district’s portfolio.

For parents like Miranda, the shift means one of two things:  taking their children further from home to get to the new neighborhood school, or filling out several applications to a ‘school of choice,’ then hoping and praying that they win a spot.

Like so many parents in the past few months, Miranda says going further away from home poses increased danger. Miranda is worried about a busy street that her children would have to cross to get to Jenner. Other parents in her school say that there’s an entrenched rivalry between Jenner and Manierre students, so much so that teams from the two schools aren’t even allowed to play each other in sports. They worry about fights and point to nasty posts on Facebook by Jenner students threatening those at Manierre.

Miranda says she doesn’t think this would be a problem at Newberry, LaSalle, Skinner North or Franklin—all of which are closer to Manierre than Jenner.

But these are all magnet or selective schools and assigning children to them is not the way CPS works these days.

Budgets given to principals, Chicago Public Schools tap ‘reserves’

By: Sarah Karp / June 05, 2013

Last summer in the midst of teacher contract negotiations and as they prepared to undertake massive school closings, CPS leaders said they were using one-time reserves to fill a budget deficit and were completely out of money.

But on Wednesday, district officials said they will once again use one-time reserves to fill a budget deficit projected to be close to $1 billion. District officials made this announcement as they were releasing school budgets to principals.

CPS is facing a substantial budget deficit because it must contribute $612 million to pension funds, a $400 million increase from last year. Officials were hoping to spread those payments over a longer period of time, but last week state legislators didn’t approve a bill that would have given the district a pension holiday.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said that the new reserves will be created by the county making property tax payments on time again this year. Carroll said the district also might garner some savings from the state keeping current with payments.

However, identifying the county payments as extra money is a direct contradiction to earlier statements. The annual audit, released in January, showed a fund balance of $329 million—a fact critics immediately jumped on accusing CPS of being dishonest by crying poverty and then ending up with money in the bank.

At the time, CPS officials said last year’s one-time county property tax payment was not extra money, but had just been received earlier than expected and was already allocated. Carroll said the reason this year’s on time payments are considered reserves has to do with timing.

“We now expect to get the next round of county dollars by the end of FY13 – since we did not plan for those dollars in our FY13 budget as passed by the Board, they will be counted as reserves. Next year, they will actually be counted in that budget,” she said.

These new reserves are unlikely to make up the entire shortfall faced by the district. This predicament had principals nervous about their school budgets as they waited an unusually long time to receive them. School budgets are usually released in April or May so that principals can get a handle on how many teachers they can hire or how many they must lay off.

In announcing that principals were finally getting their budgets, CPS officials said they were doing their best to prevent students from feeling the impact of budget problems.

“The District is continuing to identify reductions in central office, operations and administrative spending in order to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” according to a press release.

But getting a handle on whether schools will feel the impact of the district’s deficit in their budgets is difficult. For the first time this year, CPS moved to per-student funding, rather than giving schools money for positions, which was done historically.

CPS officials say they are doing this to give principals more autonomy over their budgets. However, some worry that it is a way to cut school budgets without having to explicitly reduce the number of teachers and raise class sizes. Also, it could incentivize laying off veteran, more expensive teachers and replacing them with less expensive ones.

Principals were summoned to late afternoon meetings Wednesday to receive their budgets so they have yet to report whether they will be getting more or less this year than last year. Carroll said she does not yet have any overall information on how many schools saw increase and decreases in their overall budget.

Carroll said schools are getting $4,429 for every kindergarten through third grader and $4,140 for every four every fourth through eighth grader. High schools are getting $5,029 for each student. Schools will still get the additional money for low-income, special education and bilingual students based on the complicated formula that has always been used.

Up until last year, CPS ran a per pupil budgeting pilot program. At the time, the per-pupil rate was based on the student population of the school. Schools with less than 300 students got $6,969 per pupil, whereas those with between 451 and 900 students got $5,077. The per student rates this year are similar to the old rates for larger schools.

How Illinois’ Flawed Funding System Shortchanges Chicago’s Students

From ThinkProgress.org
By Pat Garofalo, posted on Sep 12, 2012

Chicago’s public school teachers remained on strike for a third day today. But as ThinkProgress reported yesterday, even when Chicago schools are in session, students have to deal with a host of should-be-embarrassing problems, including crumbling buildings, lack of art and physical education classes, and an abysmally short school day. (Chicago’s elementary school day is so short that some students are given just 10 minutes for lunch in order to cram in all the necessary instruction.)

These problems stem in large part from Illinois’ education funding system, which is one of, if not the most, inequitable in the nation. Illinois schools rely even more heavily on property taxes than the standard U.S. school district, which, as the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability noted, “ties the quality of the public education a school can give a child to the wealth of the community in which that child lives.”

Huge proportions of Chicago students come from low-income households, so the property tax base from which the schools are funded is not high. The Chicago Reporter outlined some of the practical consequences of this system:

– Due to the primary reliance on local property tax revenue for school funding, there are massive cumulative gaps in per-pupil spending, particularly in poor or minority communities. The 6,413 students who started elementary school in Evanston [a suburb north of Chicago] in 1994 and graduated from high school in 2007 had about $290 million more spent on their education than the same number of Chicago Public Schools students.

– Many of the school districts that spent the most per-student received at least 90 percent of their money from local property taxes. Yet, these districts tended to tax themselves at far lower rates than their poorer counterparts.

– The percentage of state contribution to school funding has decreased four of the last five years and is one of the lowest in the nation.

Illinois is also generally terrible at funding education, ranking 40th in per-capital education spending, despite being 15th in per-capita income. And the disproportionate lack of funding for low-income areas, particularly within cities, manifests itself in several ways. Besides the obvious lack of resources for students, wealthier districts can attract better teachers and pay for better safety measures.

As one Chicago school teacher wrote, “How can the discrepancy be so wide in school funding? The answer is simple; Gage Park [where she taught] is a violent, gang-­‐ridden neighborhood where the houses are very cheap. The worth of the properties will never rise due to the extreme violence in the neighborhood. Also, most of the living spaces are rented – there just aren’t that many people that own homes. Therefore, property taxes are low, virtually non-­‐existent.” By some estimates, it would take about $1.9 billion to bring Chicago’s students up to level at which they were meeting state standards.

As some schools plunge into technology, poor schools are left behind

JANUARY 24, 2012 (on the Hechinger Report)                                                                  By Nick Pandolfo

 

CHICAGO – On a recent Friday morning, 15-year-old Jerod Franklin stared at his hands as he labored to type up memories of the first time he grilled steak. Next to him, classmate Brittany Levy tackled a piece about a trip to the hospital.

The Bronzeville Scholastic Institute ninth-graders were working on writing assignments in the school’s homework lab, whose 24 computers are shared by nearly a thousand students from the three schools that occupy DuSable High School’s campus on the South Side.

“The ratio of computers to students is absurd,” said English teacher Andrew Flaherty, a veteran educator who reports that many of his students cannot afford computers at home and don’t get enough time to use them at school. As a result, Bronzeville Scholastic students born into a digital era struggle with basic skills, such as saving work to a flash drive and setting margins in Microsoft Word.

At a time when awareness of technology and its potential uses in school is growing nationally, this public high school of 550 often feels like a poster child for the so-called digital divide.

The term “digital divide” used to refer to whether classrooms had computers connected to the Internet. Now, the bar has been raised, as newer software programs require high-speed connections and as WiFi-dependent devices such as iPads make their way into classrooms.

Even though Chicago Public Schools reports spending about $40 million a year on technology, Bronzeville Scholastic lags behind its peers and exemplifies a dangerous disparity that exists in the United States, according to Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

“Chicago in particular probably highlights the digital divide that’s across the country,” Patrick said. “Some schools may have access to one-to-one pilots, and other schools have old infrastructure that is barely functional, so that kids don’t have access to the computers.”

As a result, Patrick said, students are “not building their technology skills, (and) they’re not able to access some of the courses and supplemental materials that would help them ramp up and be successful.”

Technology spending in schools varies widely across the country, as some districts reap the benefits of grants and parental donations, while others tap local, state and federal funding.

The Bronzeville school has fallen behind at a time when CPS is trying to get out front. In December, the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school-district technology leaders, selected Chicago as one of 13 districts in the country to develop best practices on the innovative use of digital media in education — and technology use is flourishing in some Chicago-area schools.

In September, the Chicago Quest Charter School opened its doors on the Near North Side with a collaborative learning curriculum that encourages middle school students to embrace the wired world by building video games and websites. Recently, students were taking notes on iPads and developing ideas for a game they would create over the course of the semester in teams.

Deerfield Public Schools District 109 provides about 2,000 computer workstations for 3,100 students, and students can log in to district computers from home to continue work they started at school.

That access to technology helps students to become better 21st-century learners, said Greg Himebaugh, assistant superintendent for finance and operations for the district.

“The technology allows students to do research and to develop critical thinking,” he said.

Wilmette Public Schools District 39, which serves more than 3,500 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has at least one lab with desktop computers in each of its schools, as well as laptops and some iPads for classroom use.

“We definitely view technology as a learning tool, using online resources to gather information,” said Adam Denenberg, the district’s director of technology and media services.

Nearly every U.S. school has at least one instructional computer with Internet access, according to a 2010 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, which also found a ratio of 3.1 students for every computer connected to the Internet. On almost every measure, though, ratios were worse in high-poverty schools such as Bronzeville Scholastic, where 93 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said that the $40 million spent annually by the city on technology is distributed equitably and that all city schools receive additional funds that they can choose to spend on technology. Schools can receive additional assistance from three support centers across the city, which provide help with budgeting, security and the maintenance of facilities, including technology.

Bronzeville got a boost this year when Best Practice High School, which is closing, donated a roomful of the West Side school’s computers. But Bronzeville Scholastic’s principal, Latunja Williams, says it will take at least $3,000 to update the hard drives, which are too slow to run many current programs.

Two years ago, school librarian Sara Sayigh received a $15,000 grant that paid for many of the computers in the shared homework lab. The rest, however, can be unreliable and can’t be easily fixed when something goes wrong.

“We do not have a designated tech person in this building,” said Sayigh. Instead, an “audio-visual” person who Sayigh says is not qualified to perform maintenance on computers is responsible.

Flaherty says the computer in his classroom takes more than 20 minutes to boot up. The slower hard drives make it difficult to run newer software programs. Ninth-grade English teacher Tijwana Witt said computers break down frequently.

Nationally, schools that provide laptops and tablets to students often grab the headlines, worrying educators at less tech-savvy schools that their students are being left behind their wired peers.

“I’ve seen huge disparities, where I’ve gone into classrooms in urban districts and the paint is peeling and there’s not a computer in sight, to very high-end districts where every kid has an iPad they can bring home,” said Lisa Gillis, president of Integrated Educational Strategies, a national nonprofit based in California that helps schools implement digital curricula. “We have a long way to go.”

A version of this story appeared in The Chicago Tribune on January 25, 2012. Tribune freelance reporter Jessica Tobacman contributed.

A Push to Have Students Factor Into Teacher Evaluations

by REBECCA VEVEA | Dec 20, 2011 (Chicago News Cooperative)

The Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union opened negotiations earlier this month on a state-mandated requirement about what should–and should not–be included in teachers’ performance evaluations.

CPS and the union have until March to grapple with the specific terms, such as what tests to use for measuring academic growth, how much the results should factor into the evaluations, and how to measure the performance of teachers whose subjects are not tested on state exams.

To add to the mix, an organized group of public school students, the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), are preparing a formal request to CPS in the coming months to include student input in the new teacher evaluation system.

Some teachers want their students to weigh in on their performance.

“I think my students are in a unique position to evaluate me because they are the only people who see me teach every day of the year,” said Alex Seeskin, an English teacher at Lakeview High School.

Still, many Chicago teachers remain hesitant and the CTU has not formally endorsed the inclusion of student surveys.

Last month, CPS and the Chicago Public Education Fund released a report that summarized the feedback they received from teachers on new evaluations. Many were concerned that students may be “too immature” to evaluate teachers, turning the measure into a “popularity contest.”

“I think students are mature enough to recognize the difference between a teacher who they like but don’t learn anything from and a teacher that they don’t like but expands their mind,” Seeskin said, but noted that student input should probably count for less than 10 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Preliminary results from a two-year, national research project show higher achievement on test scores among students who said their teacher challenged them, kept them on task, made lessons interesting and cleared up confusion. Results from the second year of the study, called Measures of Effective Teaching, are expected to be released in January.

The study, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, sought to identify what components are the most indicative of a teacher’s success in the classroom. Pilot programs included classroom observations, student assessment data and student surveys and were conducted between 2009 and 2011 in seven urban school districts: Charlotte-Mecklenburg; Dallas; Denver; Hillsborough County, Florida; Memphis, New York City and Pittsburgh.

Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard researcher who drafted student surveys for the study, said findings on the reliability of student surveys are promising. He favors their use in teacher evaluations, but he urged school districts to make sure the surveys are fair to teachers and that they include multiple measures over multiple years, with no one metric accounting for the majority of the evaluation.

“It shouldn’t be either-or, it should be both-and,” Ferguson said.

CPS and the CTU are already at odds over a number of issues, including the move to a longer school day and year and the district’s plan to overhaul a record number of schools by firing the existing staff and allowing an outside operator to essentially restart the school.

The evaluation negotiations are required under a new state law, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. The law stipulates that student achievement data must constitute at least 25 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation during the first two years of implementation and 30 percent in future years.

The law allows CPS to make student achievement count for more than 30 percent of the total evaluation. CTU president Karen Lewis has said teachers are “completely against using a single measure as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.”

Union leaders initially signed-on to the VOYCE proposal and scheduled a news conference to announce the agreement. That event was canceled at the last minute and it is unclear if the CTU still supports the plan. The union has declined to comment.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the district “fully supports having the voice of students represented” in the new evaluation process.

Laura Meili, a middle-school English teacher at Mollison Elementary, said the success of any student evaluation will depend on the quality of the survey. She said the surveys in the Gates study are a successful model because they asked questions about teaching practice, not whether students liked their teachers.

“I want to be accountable to my students,” Meili said. “When we really think about the heart of our job, it’s about the kids and the kids’ voices are really important.”