Raise Your Hand meets with Jean-Claude Brizard

August 10, 2011 at 10:41 am 71 comments

Here’s some recent thoughts by Claire Wapole of the Raise Your Hand group about their meeting with JCB (the new CEO of CPS.)  It seems only right to refer to him by 3 letters, no?

Here’s a link to the group’s site.  An ongoing thanks to this group of parents for staying in the face of CPS and the politicians to fight for a better school system.  Somehow (now I can’t figure out where) you can subscribe to their updates, which are very informative and timely.


I got a chance to meet with the guy in charge of my kids’ education, Jean-Claude Brizard.  If my kids are troops, I their sergeant, their teachers their lieutenants, their principal their captain, then Jean-Claude is their General. I’ve always been very intrigued by the crucial importance of leadership and the qualities of people who become strong leaders. The longer I am a CPS parent the more I am critically analyzing leadership on all levels. I’ll take the reigns and the heat at home and lead my troops through the education battles here, but for six hours a day, they are in the hands of other leaders and Mr. Brizard has, I hope, got some sort of big picture in mind.  I’d like to imagine him in a war room like the one in “Sink the Bismarck”, with a big table representing all the schools in the city and him using a funky pool cue looking thing to move pieces around, contemplating, strategizing, executing plans that will lead to victorious educations. But, that’s my fantasy. I don’t know if the guy even owns RISK. I once had someone within CPS say to me “you have to just trust that we are doing right by your kids”.  I can’t remember exactly how I responded but it was something along the lines of “I don’t blindly trust anyone. Not a doctor, not a mechanic, not a camp councilor.   I’m most certainly am not going to hand over my kids and their education to anyone without questioning how it’s going”.  I respect positions of leadership, but I also question the individuals holding those positions, especially if they have the power to affect my children.  I really, really hoped to see qualities in Jean-Claude Brizard that indicated those of an effective leader.

I’ve got three kids in the system, on the front lines.  Beginning this fall they will be in deployed into the fifth, third and pre-k arenas.  I think I’m pretty much like most parents in that my anxiety level regarding my kids’ education rises with the passing of each elementary grade level.  There is that whole concept of a “window of opportunity” that is constantly going through my head.  There is a “window of opportunity” to develop attachment, to bond, to learn a second language, to learn ANY language, to develop empathy etc etc etc.  I think of all those Romanian orphans who “failed to establish an emotional attachment” because they were left alone in their cribs as their windows slowly closed.  I think of that goofy movie “Nell” where Jodie Foster spoke some bizarre language because she was practically feral and what little language she had was learned via an aphasic mother, and then Nell’s window closed.  I think of the British “7-Up” series that was inspired by statement of Jesuits “Give me a child for seven years and I will give you the man.”  Did you see that on going documentary? The creators interview kids at age seven and then every seven years there after until age 42.  It’s conclusion?  Pretty much who we are at seven is who we are as adults.  Lots of hard wiring goes on in the brains of children and it starts becoming fixed, harder to rewire, as we grow older.  Sure you can overcome all types of stuff and the few who do, make headlines with their incredible “over came the odds” stories, but most folks use the tools given them in childhood, the pathways developed in their brains during youth, the opinions they form from their environments, as brick and mortar for their adult selves.  Many of us have no problem meandering around a new town, seeing what local sites are available, but, at some point, we realize our train is pulling out of the station and we need to be on that train in order to make it to the next stop on our trip.  Now that my son’s age is in the double digits and he is closer to graduation than he is kindergarten, I’m looking at my education watch and getting a little anxious he will miss getting a good seat on the higher education rail. I was looking to see in Jean-Claude Brizard a leader who had an understanding that these windows belonging to our kids do not stay open forever.  That at some point graduation comes and I want to see that he is going to do more then make sure kids make it to the platform. I wanted to hear how those waiting, are in fact, poised to board a train leading to a successful high school experience. Windows are closing and trains are leaving.

Members of the steering committee of Raise Your Hand met with Mr. Brizard at the Lincoln Restaurant late one afternoon.  He came with his assistant.  As I said, I was looking forward to meeting Mr. Brizard, hearing what he had to say, what his plans were for Chicago Public Schools.  I had read a good deal of negative press about him, but I know bad news sells, so I was ready to form an opinion of my own.  After a very generous ninety minutes, I came away thinking Jean-Claude Brizard was a pretty decent guy.  He was polite, respectful, intelligent, thoughtful…all the things you would want in a CEO. All things I admire in a leader.  I’ve met other high level officials and I have to say, Brizard was probably the best listener of the bunch and seemingly the most interested in what parents have to offer.  He is soft spoken and peppers what he has to say with stories of his own youth and parents, stories of working in New York, stories about his wife and eighteen month old child.  I like that.  I like hearing where people have been, their experiences, how their past has led them to where they are now. This guy seemed to have fewer walls, less barriers between him and parents.  He seemed more accessible and genuinely more eager to hear what we, as parents already know about CPS then other administrator/leaders that have gone before him.

We touched on several topics; one being the need for a well rounded school day, one that included arts and physical activity.  He said he was pro-arts and agreed that recess was important.  We discussed how woefully under funded Illinois students are compared to other states.  He mentioned he was really shocked to see the disparity of funding levels between what he was used to in New York vs. what he was handed here in Chicago.  My heart sank a little, the same way it does when you complain about sore muscles or lack of energy and someone pipes up “well, you are getting older you know”.  Yeah I know that! Thanks.  I know Illinois metes out its education dollars like Oliver’s orphanage dishes out gruel.  In a word, it’s meager.  I’m not saying Brizard should have denied this fact. It was just tough as a parent, to hear…yet again. In case you still have not heard, we rank 49th out of the 50 states in funding our kids’ education.  I guess I’m always hoping for someone to reach into the sofa of funding and pull out some serious coin declaring “Ah hah! Here it is! Come on kids! Jump in the car! Lets get you that world class education!”  The closest I’ve come to hearing that was last year when Raise Your Hand reached between the cushions and said, “What am I feeling here?  No way! It’s that TIF money! So that’s where it’s been!” We all know once you find even a little money in the couch, you scrounge around between the crumbs and crayons for more. Alas, within seconds the cash couch goes back to being a place to park your fanny, no longer a source of wealth.

Mr. Brizard mentioned that he and the mayor were keen on lengthening the school day, but what that would look like was not yet determined.  Schools and their principals would need to have some sort of input as to how the lengthening of the day would look at each school…start earlier, end later, a combination of the two.  Then there was the question of what would be done with those extra minutes.  Would recess be included in there? Gym? Art and music?  It won’t begin this fall either. This longer better day will come later, maybe next year. So the kids in the system NOW will have to wait for that longer day.  And then there is the issue of paying for the longer day. What about how horrible our funding is? That “also ran” spot of 49th?  Where will the money come from to keep these schools open and running?  You’ve got teachers, principals, clerical staff, custodial staff, security. You’ve got heat, electricity….no ac so no worries there.  Knowing CPS and their affinity towards Chartwells, I am making a prediction that somehow more food will come into play with this extended day. (CPS would have been the parent who never showed up to any park without snacks in the bottom of their stroller.)  You also have to deal with some real safety issues at some schools, especially in winter when it is dark by 4:00.  I’m looking at my education watch. That first class high school education train is still scheduled to leave in four years with or without my son.  How much of this new and improved CPS will my son actually experience before he will need to produce his ticket for a seat on board?

Somewhere during this meeting Mr. Brizard uttered the words “your kids will be fine”.  He went on to say something else but I can’t recall what it was because I mentally recoiled at the “your kids will be fine” statement.  “Your kids will be fine.”  I cannot possibly count how many times over the past five years that phrase has been spoken to me, sometimes as a lame means of comfort, sometimes as a way of saying other kids need more attention than mine do.  What I hear in that sentence is, I’m on my own.  My kids are bright.  My kids have a stable home.  My kids test well, at least comparatively, which is no comfort at all when the CPS average is pretty low. Am I supposed to be content with what is given to me by way of CPS simply because my kids are not at risk?  I have yet to hear anyone in CPS say, “we are taking steps to make sure high achieving kids are getting the most out of their school day”.  What is given to parents who question if CPS is the place for their children is an application for the Options for Knowledge program.  To me that is the same as someone saying “I can’t find work” and the only advice given to them is to play the lottery.  Luck really shouldn’t be the foundation of a good education.  Will my kids be fine? If by “fine” you mean that they, whew, make it to graduation, absolutely.  In that sense they will be totally fine.  My standards are higher though and I am sure so are those of the majority of CPS parents.

Before we disbanded I said to Mr. Brizard “You may not really get how this feels to us because your child is just a year and a half.  But for me, with three kids in the system right now, I really need to hear from you and from the mayor how things are being bettered for the kids currently IN the system. For every change or improvement you plan on making which won’t be implemented until next year, or two years down the road, something needs to be mentioned regarding positive changes happening for the kids in CPS right now, today.”  My apologies to all of you CPS parents if I spoke out of turn on your behalf.  I further said “That for us, for CPS parents, it is really disheartening to have our kids used as guinea pigs, or canaries in coal mines, cps changing the way it does it’s testing, or it’s feeding, or it’s recess or it’s curriculum, or it’s tier system, or it’s lottery system….each time saying the past didn’t work but THIS new process or method will”. Well publicized, beautifully written letters were penned by George Washington to the first Continental Congress describing what he was encountering on the front lines during the Revolutionary War. He did this so that the leaders back in Philadelphia deciding whether or not to break ties with England would know what was happening to the troops out in the field. Washington was a great leader, and, as it turned out, so were the majority of the men who ultimately signed the Declaration of Independence. Am I hoping for the leadership of a Washington, a Jefferson, a Franklin or an Adams in Brizard?  You bet I am. I want him to hear from us, what is going on at the front lines. In that restaurant, at that moment, he seemed to be listening.

I’ve been a parent in the CPS system now for three CPS administrations, plus two mayors and two governors…and it’s only been five years. I see in Jean-Claude Brizard an administrator who seems to have a true interest and concern for Chicago students. I see in Jean-Claude Brizard a fellow parent and a CEO who seems to want to know what parents know, to listen and to learn from us.  But do I see a good leader?  I really don’t know, yet. I’ll be keeping tabs on that aspect of him and looking to see what he says and does. I considered the Raise Your Hand meeting with him our first “letter from the front”.  He intimated that he was open for more such communication.  I would be more than happy to keep the communication going. For this coming year, I am focusing on my sergeant/parent leadership here in my home, the lieutenant/teachers who will be leading my children daily in the classroom, and principal/captain leadership at the school. We as sergeants are so close to the front lines, keeping tabs on not only our troops, but also a watchful eye on our lieutenants and captains.  As for the general of CPS, Jean Claude Brizard, I hope I see a great leader emerging over the next few months. I’m still keeping a close eye on my education watch. Still keeping an eye out for seats on that higher education train.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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71 Comments Add your own

  • 1. CPSmama  |  August 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

    “For every change or improvement you plan on making which won’t be implemented until next year, or two years down the road, something needs to be mentioned regarding positive changes happening for the kids in CPS right now, today.”

    ^ Amen to that

  • 2. HSObsessed  |  August 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you for this great summary and opinion piece, Claire. There’s so much I agree with, but I was particularly struck by your thoughts on CPS’ constant turnover of leadership, programs, initiatives. I’ve followed CPS for about 10 years now and every year it’s new schools, new programs, admissions methods, new standardized tests or scoring methods, new attempts to paring down administration or aligning the structure, and so forth, ad nauseam. On one hand, I give Daley/Chico/Duncan/Huberman credit for recognizing when things aren’t working, but on the other hand, it makes the entire system feel like a giant experiment. And you’re right, when our kids are the ones taking part in the “experiment”, it leads to anxiety, and we understand when others opt out, through private school or the suburbs.

    I’m surprised that there haven’t been very many major changes or announcements made by CPS yet by Emanuel/Brizard. Emanuel has not lost a single day in shaking up every aspect of how this city runs, but it’s been barely a peep from CPS. Hopefully it’s because plans are being carefully made before rushing headlong in change, and not due to bigger problems.

  • 3. mom2  |  August 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you so much for your continued efforts on behalf of all of our children and thanks for writing up the results of your meeting. Please do stay in touch with Brizard to remind him of the needs of parents/students like those that follow this blog.

    You comment about “Your kids will be fine” really struck a nerve with me. I totally agree that CPS has so many larger issues with the underprivileged students, they really seem to brush aside the students and parents that really could bring CPS to a higher level/better reputation. I hear that over and over again – Your kids will be fine – meaning that we have more important things to worry about (like gangs and hungry kids and teaching high school kids to read) so we really can’t take the time or make the effort to help you with your college bound students needs and wishes.

  • 4. Mayfair Dad  |  August 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I think a good place for JCB to start would be to take some basic accounting courses at a local community college. News reports from last night’s budget hearing reveal over 100 schools’ enrollment numbers erroneously doubled in the proposed budget. What an epic fail. Somehow I can’t see the numbers dork Huberman – or the polished Mazany – allowing such a blunder to occur on their watch.

    Catalyst (and others) have the story.

  • 5. Gayfair Dad  |  August 10, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Reminds me of when our local school literally doubled enrollment after NCLB for $$$ incentive. “xxx elementary: Where Kids Come First”. The doubled the population with out of boundary students, questionably with Aldermanic complicity.

    Who EXACTLY supplied the bogus numbers? What NAMES? It is time to take names folks. Does ANYONE care about holding individuals responsible for such ‘errors’?

  • 6. Grace  |  August 11, 2011 at 8:04 am

    Thank goodness for Raise Your Hand and cps obsesed. Otherwise we’d all be in the dark.

  • 7. Claire  |  August 11, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for all the comments. Dealing with the aftermath of my son’s particularly spectacular projectile vomit event last night. Nice to take a break from laundry to read your interesting and supportive comments. Just so you all know, you can get on the Raise Your Hand email list by going to the RYH website, clicking on the Join Us tab and filling out the account information. You will receive regular updates thereafter.

  • 8. Grace  |  August 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Claire —

    I just read the Trib’s piece. RYH member Sonia Kwan said that $867 million in surplus TIF funds have not been allocated.

    Remind me — why do we need a tax hike?

  • 9. Grace  |  August 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm


    The Sun Times does a much better job covering the budget meeting.

    Karen Lewis said with the short notice and meetings scheduled for one week only, it looks like a done deal. But she would like to be partners with CPS in the budget.

  • 10. Grace  |  August 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Check out Chicago News Coop’s excellent story by Vevea and Yednack: CPS has a reserve fund of over $400 million to start the new school year with.

    Yerik Kaslow, director of education and general policy analysis for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said the purpose of a reserve fund is to keep it for a rainy day. “In a perfect world, you would never use it,” he said. “There’s no telling what the next year’s going to bring.”
    But Kaslow said the omission of the reserves when talking about the deficit can cloud the issue. “To say ‘I’m in debt, but I have four grand in savings,’ then I guess I’m not in debt,” he said. You kind of begin to wonder, is it a rainy-day fund or a bucket of change?” Kaslow added.

  • 11. Grace  |  August 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm


    Chicago Defender: don’t just throw more money at CPS

  • 12. Claire  |  August 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Grace, here is the link to Sonia Kwon’s blog on the Raise Your Hand website. She lists her speech at the budget hearing regarding TIF.

  • 13. Chicago Gawker-  |  August 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    What exactly happened to the Illinois Lottery money that was supposed to go to fund public schools in IL? I have never read anything about where this money disappeared to. I am old enough to remember when the IL lottery was started and it was specifically to fund public schools.

  • 14. CPSDepressed (was copyeditor)  |  August 12, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Chicago Gawker: the lottery money goes to the schools, but then the state cut its school appropriation so that no extra money went to the schools.

  • 15. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 6:24 am


    CPS has set up a page for folks to comment on the budget. One poster said much of the asked-for property tax increase will flow to the TIF fund. (!)

    P.S. Anyone know how much expanded full-day kindergarten will cost?
    If CPS expands kindergarten, future enrollment is likely to grow — any projections from CPS on that?

  • 16. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 6:36 am

    @12 Claire,
    Thanks for the link, Sonia knows school finances well. I get an uneasy feeling about this budget. As the Defender editorial said, CPS’ budget now is about the same as the entire city’s.

  • 17. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Catalyst’s Sarah Karp mentioned the CTU budget workshop. Here is an excerpt on how the deficit grew.

    “The budget discrepancy noted by Schmidt will likely add fuel to conflict between the CTU and CPS. Catalyst confirmed the problem outlined by Schmidt. It is with the school segment reports, which accompany the CPS budget and details the revenues and expenses for each school. Each school’s enrollment projection was doubled, making the student population twice as large as it should be.

    For instance, at Curie Metropolitan High School, which had around 3,500 students last year, the segment report indicates a projected enrollment of more than 6,900.

    Because teachers are allocated based on school enrollment, finding the error immediately set off an alarm for many teachers.

    “There’s not the level of accuracy there should be, in one of the most important documents the district releases,” Hilgendorf said.

    School budgets in the segment reports also seem to be inflated, and both the enrollment figure and the budgeted amount are different than what is in the official proposed budget book. The official budget book seems more in line with what each school’s actual budget might be.

    At the workshop Tuesday afternoon, Schmidt, who publishes Substance, a publication that regularly lamblasts the CPS administration, asked teachers how a deficit is created. “You either overestimate expenses, or underestimate income,” he said, and accused CPS of deliberately creating projected deficits for decades.”

    Karp is illuminating. More at Catalyst

  • 18. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 7:00 am

    I certainly don’t know how to figure this budget out. Smarter heads — please correct me.

    Since June CPS has fired 1,000 teachers, conservatively speaking that should come to $65 million in savings — but its budget showed doubled enrollment at 100 (?) schools — Why?

    So that it post a higher deficit? Or so that it could pay for 400 new Teach for America grads? Or something else?

    CPD suddenly presents a bill for three years of security services for $70 million — soon after Emanneul announced Chicago would host the NATO and G8 meetings.

    Then CPS announces we need a property tax increase, most of which will flow to the TIF fund.

    Sonia Kwan and others noted a huge portion of unallocated TIFs — property taxes we have already paid — should be going to CPS regularly.

  • 19. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Rod Estvan at district 299 explains the bils from CPD.

  • 20. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 7:20 am


    This reporter, Susan Zupan, reported in detail on the meeting at Westinghouse. Lots of good points were made.

  • 21. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Sign of the Times?

    NY Times today: Retreat for Roosevelt in Georgia Burns Down

    Officials do not suspect arson in the fire that destroyed a Warm Springs, Ga., cottage where Franklin D. Roosevelt sought relief from polio.

  • 22. Hawthorne mom  |  August 12, 2011 at 8:22 am

    I’d be interested to know what other teachers are hearing about the mass wave of retirements set to hit the city come June 2012 due to the anticipation of a really bad contract. Some are suggesting anywhere from 20-35% of the city’s teaching population will take retirement and get out while they can. That is an awful lot of instability. I heard numbers at some schools that left me with my mouth hanging open.

  • 23. Mayfair Dad  |  August 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

    @ 21 Grace: what a delightfully random post. Or did Junior post this disguised as you? Hmmm…

  • 24. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

    @ 22 H-mom, a friend mentioned that 80 principals had retired this summer! And 500 police have put in for retirement, according to the second city cop blog. (He broke it down by district.)

    Rahm’s approach is working, I guess. He will turn over the more experienced, higher paid teachers and police. But right before the NATO and G8 meetings?

    The housing market stinks, but I think this will add to people moving out of the city. Many of these folks are the backbone of middle class neighborhoods.

    @23 Junior might want to be thought of as Matt Damon, but I’m sure not as wonky ol’ me. I take full blame.

  • 25. cps Mom  |  August 12, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I believe it was 2007 mass retirement exodus due to incentives offered including something like a number in the 60’s of new principals. We survived and benefited in some ways. Andrew Jackson’s principal and man responsible for further developing an already excellent program was just an intern involved in a special program training as Assistant Principal. The school also lost 4 other senior teachers at that time.

  • 26. Hawthorne mom  |  August 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Sure, I can see good things coming out of retirements too. When I heard one really good school is set to lose nearly 35% of its teaching staff, though, that shook me. Ideally, I’d like to see 2-5% of a teaching staff turnover each year. Not 9 or 10 out of 27. I guess it is good for the dozens of new grads that I know who haven’t been able to even get an interview, let alone a job offer since they graduated several years ago!

  • 27. cps Mom  |  August 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Wow – yeah that’s a lot. Surprises me that there are so many people making a move in this job market.

  • 28. Grace  |  August 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    An interesting but off topic read:
    teaching to the test v. real teaching

  • 29. RL Julia  |  August 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I think lots of people are trying to get out of public service while they can. The future certainly doesn’t look too pretty. However, I don’t think there should be too many worries. There are plenty of great candidates out there looking to be hired. Believe it or not, even people from outside the city and state are interested in working for CPS (the wages might not beat Wilmette but they sure do beat Effingham)! I know my school has been able to hire some great people who have brought new ideas and enthusiasm galore.

  • 30. Grace  |  August 13, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    No shortage of candidates and no shortage of lay-offs. Odd economy.

  • 31. Grace  |  August 14, 2011 at 7:25 am


    “Top Five Reasons Why Teacher Turnover is Rising”

  • 32. Grace  |  August 14, 2011 at 8:27 am


    “What Happened to Obama’s Passion? ”

    Thought provoking

  • 33. Grace  |  August 14, 2011 at 8:42 am


    On the CPS Budget

    “As Chicago Public Schools officials scramble to complete the district’s 2012 budget, parents, teachers and taxpayers made one thing clear in a series of public hearings last week: they must have a voice in developing the budget and not be asked to comment only after it has been released.”

  • 34. Grace  |  August 15, 2011 at 7:33 am

    From the author of “What Happened to Obama’s passion?”

    “To be honest, I was shocked when the NEA endorsed Obama a couple of weeks ago. I study public opinion, and he’s done more damage to the public’s view of teachers than any president in history—and more damage to unions than any president since Reagan.”

  • 35. Mayfair Dad  |  August 15, 2011 at 8:57 am

    @ Grace 34. I think the CTU does a fine job shooting themselves in the foot without Obama’s or Duncan’s help.

    We voted for the next FDR — what we got was Woodrow Wilson 2.0.

    Bill Maher recently asked his panelists if they regretted voting for Obama and if Hillary Clinton would have been a better choice (since she knew the true nature of the GOP and would not have sought bipartisanship but victory). In retrospect, I think he makes a valid point.

  • 36. Grace  |  August 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

    CTU sure isn’t strategic, I’ll grant you that.

    Obama can’t/won’t negotiate, it’s beyond me why.

    Is his little bus tour really a focus-group exercise?

  • 37. Sped Mom  |  August 15, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    I liked that Obama Passion piece. What confuses me is why anyone’s surprised by the Obama admin’s education policies. I was against so many of them when he was running, but I could not convince my buddies that Obama’s ed policies would not be good for the nation. Oh, well. They’re finally convinced.

  • 38. magnet mom  |  August 15, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    I feel lucky to have survived the aftermath of the Bush era at all. Years of NCLB damaged schools and teachers beyond reason. The Bush tax cuts are still bankrupting our schools.
    Is looking back really relevant. My sober glance to 2012’s GOP prospects chill me. The Tea PArt could care less about my child’s education? The kind of school my kid attends would be first on the chopping block. (Bring on that great new intelligent design curriculum) If the GOP is intent upon spending even less than now at the state and federal level on our kids where do we go from here? I’ll be more than glad to support Obama again.

  • 39. Grace  |  August 16, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Sped and magnet mom, you’re both so right. We’re between Scylla (Obama) and Charybdis (GOP candidates from various psych wards). But it shouldn’t be that way. Will the Democrats listen now that Obama’s popularity is so low?

  • 40. Grace  |  August 16, 2011 at 9:32 am

    From Catalyst-Chicago

    Officials offer new details about principal merit pay, performance contracts
    By Rebecca Harris and Sarah Karp

  • 41. Grace  |  August 16, 2011 at 9:37 am

    From the Sun Times

    “The announcement blind-sided Chicago Principals Association president Clarice Berry, who was not given advance notice of the plan, and won outright rejection from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Both pointed to research — and past Chicago experience — indicating merit pay in education hasn’t proven effective.”

    The missing information in this announcement — what objectives do the principals have to hit?

  • 42. klm  |  August 16, 2011 at 9:57 am

    @38 (and others)

    “The Bush tax cuts are still bankrupting our schools.”:

    I voted for Obama, but I’d like to point out that most public school funding in Illinois is state and local, NOT federal. People like to complain about disparities b/t school districts, but a school like New Trier gets 98% of its funding from local taxes (the state of Illinois and the U.S. gov’t give hardly anything to affluent North Shore school districts). CPS does get more federal and state money (b/c of the high numbers of poor kids, etc.), but it’s the state and local taxes/spending cuts that are most problematic in terms of school funding –hence the recent move to increase Chicago property taxes to increade CPS funding.

    As for NCLB. Remember that it had strong BI-Partisan support when created–Senator Kennedy was a big booster. Things have not worked out as people had hoped, but the basic premise that schools should work and be judged by the how much kids learned and pushed to improve outcomes –especially for traditionally underserved students (poor and/or non-Asian minority) was not some anti-education conspiracy cooked-up by right-wing know-nothings alone. It was passed by a democratically-elected Congress.

    It’s mainly the slow-growth, high-unemployment, real-estate-value- dropping economy and its consequent effect on state and local sales, income and property taxes that’s causing funding issues for CPS, not a decade-old change in federal income tax rates. Obama’s been President for more than 2.5 yrs., so how is it Bush’s tax policy/rates [still in effect today] NOT Obama’s that are doing current harm?

    Again, I’m not a Republican or a former/ever Bush voter, but Bush-bashing (or Obma-bashing for that matter) is just too easy and alones doesn’t really address the real issues facing CPS.

  • 43. ADE  |  August 16, 2011 at 10:04 am

    CPS Obsessed, I’m interested in your seats on a train metaphor for higher education.

    If you are concerned that your child’s high school education will not adequately prepare him for a 4 year college, you can find additional programs to supplement his learning, some for cost (CTD at Northwestern) and some for virtually free (Splash at NU and the University of Chicago, Project Exploration, FermiLab, etc all run programs that provide academic enrichment to young people.) Not to mention nontraditional high schools like Stanford EPGY and IMSA.-

    If your concern is specifically about highly selective colleges, I’m afraid that’s a universal battle across CPS high schools and across high schools around the nation and around the world. No high school serves as a red carpet into a highly selective college.

    If your concern is about college affordability and educational quality/career outcomes, join the party. I believe that Chicago residents have solid incity and instate opportunities.-

  • 44. Hawthorne mom  |  August 16, 2011 at 11:13 am

    My main problem with NCLB was it took a great premise (identifying ALL kids who aren’t meeting standards) and put a bandaid on a broken arm. This is what happens in “failing schools”: If a school performs poorly, they get after school tutoring. And after school tutoring would be great, except the “tutoring” is really just test prep. All the after school providers sanctioned by NCLB laws in CPS only do test prep (and call it tutoring). But our students do not need test prep. They need actual intensive help in reading and math. So, instead of giving our kids real help, they get a bandaid. Unfortunately, with that test prep…..the kids in the after school program offering it cannot do the math on it or read the material on it….it is useless. But schools are required to use the programs offered. What a major waste of time and money. Schools would be better off having each teacher take 2-4 kids each day after school for an hour and working with them on real skills.
    I love that NCLB stopped allowing schools and districts to “hide” their poorly performing sub-groups within higher performing majority groups. That was important. But the solution to kids doing badly isn’t test prep.

  • 45. magnet mom  |  August 16, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I think that my complaint with NCLB is that it did not fund the improvements it said it would make. The reason that we are deeper into a high stakes testing environment is that schools lose their federal funds tied to the benchmarks they don’t have funding to meet. It’s eventually a lose lose situation. As my kids go to a CPS school my perspective on school funding is always a mix of city, state, school fundraised and federal dollars. LSC budget meetings are a good place to see the many streams that our schools receive funding from as the different buckets are often tied to their sources.
    I feel equally that trying to fund both wars and keep the nation going with less revenues than we have ever had paid in a larger percentage by the moderate and lower income brackets has deeply harmed our nation. I mentioned these two specific places where I felt that the previous administration caused long term harm– no name calling or baiting involved. I think this is harm that is going to take a lot more than half a term to fix considering the dire straits we were in.
    I think it’s perfectly ok to find fault with either party and the president but looking the election squarely in the face I cannot imagine the ramifications for public education in Chicago if we are voting for less support at the federal and state levels at any point no matter which party candidate gets our votes. Continued lack of funding and weakening of the unions is a platform for the most vocal members of the GOP both in our state and beyond. As I mentioned before I felt funding at both the state and local levels was at risk. How are the more thoughtful leaders in any party to rise above and frankly in the GOP where are they? Where were they last month? One might fault the Dems for bending more but should we have gone over the cliff?

  • 46. Hawthorne mom  |  August 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Yes, and ditto what magnet mom said about NCLB mandates not being funded.

  • 47. Sped Mom  |  August 16, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Problems in CPS are not just the result of funding, but of policy and design/implementation/practice. There’s so much so wrong, it seems impossible to improve. Has Brizard, Emanuel & the BOE made real moves that make you hopeful? Duncan? Congress? Obama & Bush? Rhetoric from the new presidential candidates?

  • 48. Grace  |  August 17, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Agreed, agreed, agreed. Imho, education policies of Duncan, Emmanuel and Brizard aren’t cutting it. Like Sped mom, I want to see real moves to educate our kids (the poorest in particular) that will make me hopeful.

    I am tired of stupid stories about teacher house calls (Trib today), for one example, or parent contracts, for another. As if that’s the answer after all.

    Times are tough and I can’t support a tax hike when the CPS budget process is a hurried mess, and when we can’t see the reforms that matter to our kids.

  • 49. klm  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:49 am


    You are so right. CPS spends more than average for the state of Illinois and more than many suburbs and downstate communities with much better test scores (obviously socioeconomic factors make these kinds of comparisions apples and oranges, but it’s a fact, nonetheless). Money alone is not the issue. Look at the now famously dysfunctional public schools in DC and Newark –they literally spend upwards of $22 -25K+ per student, but their results are shockingly bad. In Michigan, Detroit spends more per student than the state average (more than even the famously affluent Grosse Pointe suburban school district), but something like 43% of its HS graduates leave school functionally illiterate. One could go on and on about how money alone is not providing good public educations to too many of our American kids. More money without real change would mean the same result but at a higher/inflated price.

    I’m not saying money is not an issue, but how much is enough? As we’ve discussed on this blog, education economists often point out that the U.S. spends more on k12 education than most rich countries (both in real per capita, per student terms and as a % of GDP), but out results (especially for non-Asian minority and low-income kids) are not great.

    I’d be willing to pay more in taxes to fund more k12 spending (as would society in general), but only if there’s accountability and measured cost-benfit results, not just throwing money down an inflated, bureaucratic black hole. If money goes to effective instruction in math, science and language arts and perhaps increased instruction in the arts, music, etc., WITH ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY, then I’m all for it. If the money goes to inflated prices for supplies/computers (so as to not upset a well-connected monopoly that enriches a few cronies and friends of politicians, friends and relatives of CPS and City employees), inflated uncompetetive contracting, paying overtime pay to custodians that are already making more than 80% of private sector employees, life-time gold-plated health insurance for part-time lunch ladies and their families, etc., I have issues. How much “more” money is going to go into effective instruction and how much into paychecks and benefits for CPS employees and enriching contractors?

    Don’t get me wrong, I know that the vast majority of CPS employees are paid fairly/correctly and get an honest wage for an honest day’s work. However, anybody that reads and has some knowledge of how things have worked in Chicago in the past (and even today) does have to think twice about willy-nilly increasing spending for the sake of spending without a clear-cut examination of the where/how/when money is directed and WHO benefits from it. If the main beneficiaries are the kids, great, I’m all for it! if not, people feel education and their kids’ futures are being robbed for the benefit of adults.

    This issue is difficult, but bottom line, throwing good money after bad will not transform dysfunctional schools into bastions of opportunity without a fundamental top-to-bottom change in how things are working. Even then, the “Achievement Gap” and sociological differences among groups relating to parenting, education goals and expectations are so overwhelming, God only knows what it will take to eliminate these disparities. BUT WE SHOULD/MUST KEEP ON TRYING!

  • 50. cps Mom  |  August 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Maybe someone can shed some light here.

    Read today that CTU is requesting a “better not longer” day. Their reasoning is that 20% of instruction time is spent on standardized tests and the time should instead be spent on art, writing, music, science, PE, civics and language.

    This obviously does not hold water at the high school level where there are no standardized tests yet no exception made for a longer day. At the elementary level, I see issues too. I have read the article above on teaching to the test and generally agree with everything this teacher talks about but is this not an oversimplification? The skills mentioned dissecting the writing, referring to reading, understanding the main idea and analyzing the options are all desired skills in addition to and in support of developing free thinking and writing and analyzing content. Even the process of eliminating wrong answers and how to strategically guess teaches logic skills.

    A good school doesn’t teach to the test, they teach above it. They work on exercises that challenge the students to master the toughest of the test questions.

    Kids need both – test prep and critical thinking type teaching to pull them forward, not one or the other. To do all this, we need more time. Right now, we have the shortest day in the nation according to the article.

  • 51. Grace  |  August 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    The high school day is one hour longer than the elementary school day. High school sports and clubs also lengthen the day.

    Re: standardized tests.
    This year one 8th grader I know must take 3 benchmarks, 3 Scantrons, the Explorer test, 1 ISAT, and an exit exam for Algebra 1.
    That’s before the entrance exams for public, private and parochial schools. (The kids who try for IMSA have to take the SAT, too.) Talk about test fatigue, they’re 14 for crying out loud.

    Don’t know why benchmarks and Scantron were added or what they are supposed to reveal, do you? I’ve asked three different CPS folks and have never been told.

    One 8th grade child I know had a teacher who did Reading test prep for months. When she finally said again: “Class, take out your Reading textbooks,” the kids erupted into applause.

    Other subjects get short shrift. For example, the teaching of writing, which is time-consuming and not tested, can often be an after-thought.

    And a school administration doesn’t always tell parents of the different tests that are administered to their children or the scores. And that I find really odd. As if they don’t want us to know just how much time is spent on this stuff.

    I agree that the school curriculum should be protected from the encroachment of over-testing. I just don’t see that happening right now.

  • 52. Grace  |  August 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Karen Lewis quote:

    “Our students deserve a smarter school day—one that includes rigorous curriculum options that were stripped from our schools as cost-cutting measures years ago. Our communities also deserve modern, technologically sound neighborhood schools that stimulate learning and offer its employees a safe and decent work environment.”

    BTW, the 2011-12 CPS budget has no money for a longer school day. Didn’t they cut after-school programs?

  • 53. cps Mom  |  August 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Grace – the article was about test prep not test taking. I agree that 8th graders have a lot of tests to take. Don’t know what a Scranton is, there is no prep for the benchmarks other than normal school work, the Algebra exit test is optional and outside of class. So are all the entrance exams for that matter – there is no test prep for these other than anything that you do on your own so that basically leaves the ISAT tests that much discussion centers on in terms of teaching test prep. Also, I did not witness any letting up on writing in 7/8 grade. In 8th grade students are tested with (2) semester writing prompts that are considered 50% of the grade.

    I know HS is an extra hour but I was under the impression that they too were expected to get a longer day.

    The benchmarks are supposed to identify strengths and weaknesses and should be used as a tool leaving really just ISAT’s – not really over testing in my opinion.

  • 54. Grace  |  August 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    They do have a lot of tests to take: 3 benchmarks, 3 Scantrons, one Explorer (req’d.) one ISAT for starters.

    About 60 (E) CPS middle schools offer Algebra 1. If you want to repeat Algebra 1 in high school, then don’t bother to take the test. But it is an in-school test, not out of school.

    The entrance exams are optional — if your neighborhood school works fine for you. Otherwise …

    Test prep and school days devoted to testing cut into instruction time. There is no question that there is a lot of test prep for ISATs — classwork and homework.

  • 55. Grace  |  August 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Would a longer day for HS — from 8 am to 3pm to 8 am to 4 pm — work with the sports and clubs?

  • 56. CPSmommy  |  August 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    At the HS level, there are about 6 days of testing each year – the tests include Explore/Plan, ACT, Work Keys, PSAT/NMSQT. In addition, all of these tests require gridding that is done in advance during a longer than usual homeroom (90 minutes) that is held the day prior to the test.

    This loss of instruction time doesn’t include the AP exams which span two weeks in early May. I know, AP is a very different animal, but kids miss a half day of classroom instruction for each AP test taken.

    So yes, there is a lot of time spent testing!

  • 57. Jill  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Here is the 2011-12 assessment calendar for HS, looks like more than 6 days:


    Between elementary and HS I count 26 “tools” :


    My elementary school child had 16 days of testing last year. This was ridiculous!


    Until we can contribute to a better global economy by taking assessments like this in school, this needs to be scaled back humongously.

  • 58. cps Mom  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    No argument lots of tests. Although the Algebra exit exam is given by the city outside of class. The HS exams mentioned above are all in various years – one type each year generally plus any AP exams. You’re right, you don’t have to take any of these tests, just lay low and attend your neighborhood school.

    Earlier than 8 works and later too for that matter. Fitting sports in is already difficult depending on the school so why not allow extra time for teaching/academics. The block scheduling that some schools have would also help cut “down” time in my opinion.

    My point was aimed at the discussion of 20% of class time being spent on test prep (according to CTU). The only test prep done in school is for ISAT’s – I know of no other test that uses school time to prepare. I question the 20% that does not seem right although I’m sure this figure varies school to school.

    My experience is that the schools use their time wisely and teach art, language, PE etc. Plus, in the upper grades time is needed to switch classes, take a break etc. It’s an awful lot to cover in the very narrow time given in the day. As far as “test prep” is concerned, that’s needed too. The more tests that kids take, the better prepared they get for HS and college mid terms and finals. All necessary skills. We need a longer day.

  • 59. Grace  |  August 18, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Algebra 1 exit exam is in-school. CPS gives a re-take in the summer outside of school.

    ACT Results Are Out
    Illinois is one of 8 states that pay for or require all juniors to take the ACT – (how much does that cost?) – and Illinois juniors post the highest ACT scores of this group.. . In other states, only those interested in college take the ACT, and that amounts to about 25% of high school juniors.


    ACT Deems More Students College-Ready

    … The organization’s push for full-state participation “appears to reflect an organizational ambition at ACT to become the national admission test,” said David Hawkins, the director of public policy research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, based in Arlington, Va. But whether the scores say anything more about students than do their course transcripts and grades is open to debate, he said.
    “The more tests like this are used in a mandatory context, the more they’re going to raise questions about what the scores mean, what they add to the discussion” about students’ skills, Mr. Hawkins said.

  • 60. cps Mom  |  August 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I do stand corrected on that exit exam – it is part of 8th grade algebra. Although the top HS’s have their own placement tests so the actual exit exam really does not mean much. Many kids that pass the exam do have to take math 1 especially if your HS has the Integrated Math Program.

    So, especially in 7/8 grade there are a lot of tests in and out of school. Do you not feel that test prep is necessary? Do you feel that a longer day is not needed even if we eliminate test prep and add “art, writing, music, science, PE, civics and language”. My school did not need a better use of their time they needed more of it and I’m sure there are others like that. The southside church groups are rallying for a longer day so that their kids can get as much exposure as possible to a positive influence.

    The comment that really sticks with me from the article is that we have the shortest day in the nation.


  • 61. klm  |  August 18, 2011 at 10:02 am

    As for school days: Look at the most respected private schools (or even public schools in places like the North Shore for that matter). Their day is something like 8-3:30, 8-3:05, etc. So what’s up with a school like Blaine having a schedule like 8-1:30? Why are public school kids supposed to have less time in the classroom?

    I understand the CTU’s point about “better” instruction time. Who doesn’t want that? That said, I don’t believe for a second that it all comes down to this simple “quality over quantity”, “virtuous-educator-am-I” argument.

    Any union works to get the most for its members: pay, benefits, conditions, employment security, vacation, shorter work week, etc. That’s the whole point of a union’s existence and the reason labor contracts are long and highly detailed –everything that can be negotiated to benefits members will be. Anybody who has ever worked in labor law (as I have) or has worked with or within NLRB- or other legally/officailly sanctioned unions will tell you this obvious point.

    However, exuse me if I don’t believe that this isn’t another example of adults putting their own interests above those of kids. Who doesn’t want a shorter workday, fewer damands on one’s own family and personal time, etc.? But really, we’re supposed to just say OK: CPS teachers already have sone of the fewest hours to teach among urban school districts in the country, but the real issue is “quality” teaching time not the total number of hours spent in the classroom?

    As for tests, yes it genuinely sucks to have to deal with all the scheduling, time constraints, disruption in instruction time, etc., but shouldn’t the instruction time be expanded to accomodate testing, not the other way around?

    Like many parents, I have a love/hate relationship with tests. I hate the disruption on my kids school day, the seemingly never ending battery of different tests for differnt purposes: the measuremnet knowledge, cognitive ability, entrance to a Classical/Gifted/SE school, college readiness, etc. It’s also no fun to feel like your kids are always being “judged” not by what kind of overally “big picture” student/person they are, but by the results of a pencil-paper exam.

    However, I love the information I get from them: which schools are great, which are terrible, which school is most likely to prepare my kids for a demanding college education, how my kids measure up, where to they need help, etc. Test results can be empowering if used to benefit your kids/family and get direction for what’s in your best interests.

    If we didn’t have the information created by test results, nobody on this blog would really know which are the “right” schools and which CPS ones are best to avoid, apart from more anecdotal word of mouth, etc (and even the worst school always seem to have a group of boosters that LOVE the school, no matter how bad it is academically, so you never know what to believe until you look at test stats). Many of us dream of Northside and Payton because of its high test scores and we’re reluctant to enroll at LVHS because its scores are so low, etc.

    Tests have real value in the big picture of things. Who would want to send their kids to achool where you had no idea if the average ACT was 14 or 28? Instead of complaining about them, maybe it’s time for CTU, administrators, parents, etc., to just accept that they’re a fact of life (as they are [even more so] in most other rich nations) and change the overall way we’re running school days in order to accomodate them.

  • 62. cps Mom  |  August 18, 2011 at 11:51 am

    KLM – thanks for a voice of reason

    Jill @57 – 9th graders took 1 test Explore consuming 1/2 day, 10th graders will have a PLAN test again 1/2 day. Certainly you are not suggesting cutting back on the college entrance exams. AP tests – needed for credit.

    Guessing that Scrantron replaced Benchmark, you have an assessment test/tool and an ISAT. There is an 8th grade writing requirement and a 7th grade constitution exam. All the HS entrance exams, algebra and other placement exams are all optional.

    Where do we cut?

  • 63. Hawthorne mom  |  August 18, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I disagree with the union’s standpoint on a “better instructional” day. It is BS. It doesn’t have to be either or. My opinion is we need better instruction, yes, but really, our students in CPS also need a longer day and year. With relatively few exceptions, so much of CPS comes to school so dismally behind it would make my job as a teacher easier if the day and the year were longer.
    I dislike test prep when it replaces actual instruction for months at a time. Test prep in tiny doses, for tiny portions of the school year is fine. I know many schools that simply do not teach science or social studies because they are doing math and reading test prep instead. That is when I start to cringe. (that and the plethora of after school programs that don’t really help kids in reading and math and instead do 40 hour programs of test prep…it is sort of like teaching a starving child to wear padded clothing so they don’t appear malnourished instead of actually feeding them real food)

  • 64. CPSDepressed (was copyeditor)  |  August 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm


    I have friends with kids in private schools that don’t have high school. They are obsessed with test prep in 7th and 8th grade because those administrations want those kids placed in good high schools. They don’t necessarily do it during the school day, of course, but Selective Prep is a more or less mandatory after-school activity.

    I have several friends who live in New Trier. A key part of live at New Trier is preparing for ACT, SAT, and AP tests. If you think the “best” schools avoid test prep, you are seriously high or seriously stupid.

    And I think we all know that there are schools in CPS where there would be no teaching if there were not teaching to the test.

    I’m sure CTU would love it if every teacher could do what he or she wanted with no accountability, working only from 8:00 am to 1:45 pm 170b days a year. And IIRC, that’s what we had before school reform started. How well did that work out?

    Oh, yeah. China’s eating our lunch.

  • 65. Grace  |  August 19, 2011 at 7:34 am

    @ 60 — CPS mom, just so no one here get the wrong idea.
    if your child has passed the Algebra exit exam and received passing grades, then he has earned h.s. credit.
    He does not have to retake the class.
    It’s a state reg. The h.s. placement exam does not take precedence.

  • 66. cpsemployee  |  August 19, 2011 at 7:56 am

    @Grace re Algebra exit exam:

    I think (but am not 100% sure) that passing the exit exam and having passing grades allows the child to “place out of” Algebra but does not actually give them a credit in Algebra. They will place into Geometry but their transcript won’t reflect an Algebra credit hour. It will reflect that they passed the exit exam.

  • 67. Grace  |  August 19, 2011 at 8:01 am

    @ 57 Thanks for the data. Some of us view tests as a needed way to ensure teachers are doing their jobs and that schools are making progress. When a very few well-designed tests are used, that is a reasonable assumption.

    Some of us see too many tests and too much test prep as narrowing the curriculum, undermining some children’s confidence and desire to learn.

    Some of us wonder what exactly there is to learn from each test? Or is CPS duplicating effort and wasting money?

    We know tests can harm. Under NCLB, test scores unfairly label some schools as failing –Arne Duncan’s waivers are trying to alleviate this.

    Now that teachers will be judged by their students’ scores, tests will no doubt unfairly label some teachers as poor who aren’t.

  • 68. Grace  |  August 19, 2011 at 8:05 am

    @ 66 The kids who get credit are the ones at the Academic Centers because the class was taught in a high school setting. If not taught at a high school setting, no credit.

    Fair policy.

  • 69. cps Mom  |  August 19, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Most parents here feel the school day is too short.

  • 70. cps grad  |  August 19, 2011 at 9:34 am

    @cpsdepressed—I am very confident that New Trier does not do ACT/SAT prep in the classroom. Parents and students may be obsessed with the prep, but this happens afterschool on their own dime. As for AP review, this does happen in the classroom, but review is actually part of the AP curriculum. It is built into the academic calendar. Most AP courses are the equivalent of semester long classes in college. Since high schools have an nearly a year for their AP courses (since the exams take place in May and most schools end sometime in June I wont say an entire year), there should be plenty of time for review the material before the exam without taking time out of teaching the material.

  • 71. Grace  |  August 23, 2011 at 8:32 am

    @ 69 cps mom —

    Most CPS elementary school days are short — one hour shorter than high school days. Shorter than many suburban elementary school days.

    The CPS high school day is long enough — it’s the same length as suburban and private schools.

    Not sure how you conducted your poll, though. Or for whom.

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