empty seats

Chicago schools to expand IB programs in local schools in wake of critical report

The Kids First Chicago website

Chicago Public Schools is finally releasing to the public a controversial report that paints in stark detail how many students skip out on their neighborhood schools. The report was posted on the district’s website Friday as CEO Janice Jackson announced the district is coming up with more ways to make neighborhood schools competitive against popular selective-enrollment and magnet programs that siphon away families in many areas of the city.

Read more: What’s the Annual Regional Analysis, anyway? 

Chicago schools plan to start by offering more schools support in applying for the International Baccalaureate designation. International Baccalaureate, or IB, is a rigorous curriculum that is akin to advanced-placement courses. Elementary schools can have IB designations and so can high schools.

This move is significant, because the report — which claims there are 150,000 vacancies in the system, a higher number than has been previously reported — shows that students in Chicago have unequal access to academic programs. By adding IB programs, and other popular offerings such as career and technical curricula, the district appears to finally be unveiling a neighborhood school strategy.

Open-enrollment schools should be a more “competitive choice,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a press conference Friday at Fiske Elementary on Chicago’s South Side, where he announced the IB expansion. Emanuel said last week he will not seek a third term for mayor. 

The controversial document, titled the Annual Regional Analysis, was created by Kids First, a school-choice group. Kids First, backed by the business community, previously was called New Schools Chicago and advocated for charter growth here.

The report has caused a stir among some community groups who’ve previewed it. Because the school district has used enrollment figures to justify closing schools, some people are worried the report’s numbers could be used to propose more closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

After the press conference, Chicago schools CEO Janice Jackson said the report’s release should be viewed as a step forward in transparency. ”From my time here, I’ve seen people ask the same questions over and over again. There’s been an ask around the district being more transparent, which I think is critically important. And as I stated, all of the data is publicly available.”

“What I hope people will see is our culture,” added Jackson, who was named CEO in January, “and a difference in that we are starting this dialogue with them so they have all the information needed to help us make better decisions.”

Jackson used today to make the case to invest more broadly in IB programs, which the report shows are unevenly distributed. CPS currently has 56 IB schools: 22 of them are high schools, and 34 are elementary schools.

This map shows the number of IB program seats per 100 students available to elementary and high school students in each planning area.

The highest number of IB seats are in the wealthy, predominately white and affluent Greater Lincoln Park area, which includes the Near North Side, Lakeview, and Lincoln Park. In contrast, there are far fewer IB seats in predominantly black communities such as Englewood and Auburn Gresham, in the predominantly Latino Back of the Yards, and in the mostly black and Latino community of Ashburn. All of those communities are in the South Side planning region.

Principals have complained in the past that it was not clear how schools could apply for designations like IB. Jackson said today that the district is establishing a clearer application process for schools. Letters of intent will be due in October, and schools will be notified in the spring if they receive approval to pursue IB status.

Jackson said the point of releasing the report was to create a map for expanding such programs. “This is not about closing schools,” Jackson said. “My approach is simple — we have to start having honest conversations with community members and not making decisions for them.”

Kids First CEO Daniel Anello said in a statement that such conversations require a common research base. “We cannot improve schools if we don’t all have the same facts on school performance and access driving our collective efforts,” Anello said. “Positive change starts with transparency and a willingness to look at both our schools’ significant progress as well as where we still have room to improve.”

The teachers union has questioned the methodology used by Kids First to determine whether schools have empty seats. “In high school, where I taught for years, there’s a health center — several rooms that offer a really important service and make the school a nexus for keeping the school together,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey told Chalkbeat Chicago in an interview last week. “Does that count as an unused space because those are rooms that should be used for classes? That is not a fair way to look at it.”

At the press conference, Emanuel referenced first-of-its-kind data released in August from the district’s new GoCPS school-application portal. One surprising point in the data showed that 23 percent of high school students who were offered seats at both selective- enrollment and non-selective enrollment schools opted for the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

new money

House budget draft sends more money to schools, but not specifically to teacher raises

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Despite months of heated debate, Indiana House Republicans are not setting aside extra dollars for meaningful teacher raises in their version of the state’s $14.5 billion education budget plan released Monday night.

Even though lawmakers are proposing preserving a controversial merit-based bonus pool and adding small amounts for teacher training programs, their budget draft would largely leave it up to school districts to dole out raises through increased overall funding.

The budget draft proposes increasing what Indiana spends on schools overall by $461 million — or 4.3 percent — through 2021, a little more than increases in years past. The basic per-student funding that all districts get would jump from $5,352 per student this year to $5,442 per student in 2020 and $5,549 per student in 2021. House lawmakers are also adding in a one-time payment of $150 million from state reserves that would pay down a pension liability for schools. But while lawmakers and Gov. Eric Holcomb have said that pension payment would free up about $70 million in schools’ budgets each year, the state likely wouldn’t require the cost-savings be passed along to teachers.

Although increasing teacher pay is a top goal for House Republicans, lawmakers have crafted bills that hinge on districts spending less money in areas such as administration or transportation rather than adding more money to school budgets and earmarking it for teacher salaries.

Their criticism of school spending has raised the ire of superintendents and educators who say they have little left to cut after years of increasing costs and state revenue that has barely kept pace with inflation.

But budget draft, which is expected to be presented to and voted on by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, doesn’t completely omit efforts to incentivize teachers to stick around. Unlike Holcomb’s budget proposal, House lawmakers are keeping in the current appropriation of $30 million per year for teacher bonuses.

The House budget draft would also set aside $1 million per year for a teacher residency pilot program and $5 million per year for schools that put in place career ladder programs that allow teachers to gain skills and opportunities without leaving the classroom.

Teacher advocacy groups, such as the Indiana State Teachers Association and Teach Plus, have been supportive of residency and career ladder programs, but the organizations have also called for more action this year to get dollars to teachers. Additionally, the ideas aren’t new — similar programs have been proposed in years past.

Calls for the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to raise teacher salaries to be more in line with surrounding states will likely go unheeded for now as the state instead prioritizes other high-profile and expensive agencies, such as the Department of Child Services and Medicaid.

But while plans for major teacher pay raises appear to be on hold, House lawmakers are looking to boost funding in other areas of education to support some of the state’s most vulnerable students.

The budget draft would increase what the state must spend on preschool programs for students with disabilities from the current $2,750 per-student to $2,875 in 2020 and $3,000 in 2021 — the first such increase in more than 25 years.

House lawmakers are also proposing the state spend more money on students learning English as a new language, at $325 per student up from $300 per student now. While all schools with English learners would receive more money per student under this plan, the new budget draft removes a provision that had previously allocated extra dollars to schools with higher concentrations of English learners.

A 2017 calculation error and an uptick in interested schools meant state lawmakers did not budget enough money for schools with larger shares of English-learners in the last budget cycle, so they ended up getting far less than what the state had promised. But even the small increases were valuable, educators told Chalkbeat.

House lawmakers also suggested slashing funding for virtual programs run by traditional public school districts. Going forward, funding for both virtual charter schools and virtual schools within school districts would come in at 90 percent of what traditional schools receive from the state — now, only virtual charter schools are at the 90 percent level. It’s a marked change for House lawmakers, who in years past have asked that virtual charter school funding be increased to 100 percent.

The virtual funding proposal comes as lawmakers are considering bills that would add regulations for the troubled schools, where few students pass state exams or graduate.

The budget draft also includes:

  • $5 million per year added to school safety grants, totaling $19 million in 2020 and $24 million in 2021
  • Doubling grants for high-performing charter schools from $500 per student to $1,000 per student, at a cost of about $32 million over two years. The money is a way for charter schools to make up for not receiving local property tax dollars like district schools, lawmakers say.
  • $4 million per year more to expand the state’s private school voucher program to increase funding for certain families above the poverty line. Under the plan, a family of four making between $46,000 and $58,000 annually could receive a voucher for 70 percent of what public schools would have received in state funding for the student. Currently, those families receive a 50 percent voucher.
  • About $33 million over two years (up from about $25 million) for the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program.

rethinking the reprieve

Indiana lawmakers take step to eliminate generous ‘growth-only’ grades for all schools, not just those in IPS

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

A panel of Indiana lawmakers took a first step Monday to stop giving new and overhauled schools more generous state A-F grades that consider only how much students improve on tests and cut schools slack for low test scores.

The House Education Committee was initially looking to clamp down on Indianapolis Public Schools’ innovation schools, barring them from using student test score improvement as the sole determinant in their first three years of A-F grades. The more generous scale has boosted IPS’ performance as it launches a new strategy of partnering with charter operators, by allowing some innovation network schools to earn high marks despite overall low test scores.

But lawmakers expanded the scope of the bill to stop all schools from receiving what are known as “growth-only grades” after Chalkbeat reported that IPS’ overhauled high schools were granted a fresh start from the state — a move that would allow the high schools to tap into the more lenient grading system.

“I want to be consistent, and I felt like [grading] wasn’t consistent before, it was just hodge-podge,” said committee Chairman Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican. “We need to be transparent with parents.”

Read: Why it’s hard to compare Indianapolis schools under the A-F grading system

The committee unanimously approved the bill. If it passes into law, Indianapolis Public Schools stands to be one of the districts most affected. Growth-only grades for innovation schools have given the district’s data a boost, accounting for eight of the district’s 11 A grades in 2018. All of its high schools could also be eligible for growth-only grades this year.

Indianapolis Public Schools officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In the past, they have defended the two-tiered grading system, arguing that growth on state tests is an important window into how schools are educating students. Growth-only grades were originally intended to offer new schools time to get up and running before being judged on student test scores.

IPS was also the target of another provision in the updated bill that would add in stricter rules for when and how schools can ask for a “baseline reset” — the fresh start that its four high schools were recently granted.

Read: IPS overhauled high schools. Now, the state is giving them a fresh start on A-F

The resets, which districts can currently request from the state education department if they meet certain criteria that show they’ve undergone dramatic changes, wipe out previous test scores and other student performance data to give schools a fresh start. The reset schools are considered new schools with new state ID numbers.

The state determined a reset was necessary for IPS’ four remaining high schools because of the effects of decisions last year to close three campuses, shuffle staff, and create a new system a new system for students to choose their schools. Each school will start over with state letter grades in 2019.

But Behning and other lawmakers were skeptical that such changes merited starting over with accountability, and they were concerned that the process could occur without state board of education scrutiny. If passed into law, the bill would require the state board to approve future requests for accountability resets.

A state board staff member testified in favor of the change. The state education department did not offer comments to the committee.

Rep. Vernon Smith, a Democrat from Gary, said he didn’t like the fact that a reset could erase a school’s data, adding that he had concerns about “the transparency of a school corporation getting a new number.”

The amended bill wouldn’t remove the reset for IPS high schools, but by eliminating the growth-only grades, it would get rid of some of the incentive for districts to ask for a reset to begin with. Under current law, reset schools are considered new and qualify for growth-only grades. But the bill would require that reset schools be judged on the state’s usual scale, taking into account both test scores and test score improvement — and possibly leading to lower-than-anticipated state grades.

The amended bill would still offer a grading grace period to schools opening for the first time: New charter schools would be able to ask the state to give them no grade — known as a “null” grade — for their first three years, but schools’ test score performance and test score growth data would still be published online. Behning said he didn’t include district schools in the null-grade measure because they haven’t frequently opened new schools, but he said he’d be open to an amendment.

The bill next heads to the full House for a vote.