Posts filed under ‘CPS Policy / Resources’

Big News – Consent Decree Overturned

There is big news in CPS, news that could actually make a major impact on the system depending how it plays out.

The Consent Decree has officially been overturned.

To review (in my own words which are probably around 75% correct,) the Consent Decree was put into place a couple decades ago when desegregation was the big thing for schools.  It basically mandated that certain “top” schools (magnets, gifted, classical, selective enrollment high schools) would guarantee a certain number of spots to minority applicants.  The definition of “minority” that is used in CPS is any non-Caucasian person and a child’s race is self-identified (meaning a biracial child’s family chooses to identify as Caucasian or Non based on how they identify.
Caucasian students are given up to 35% of the spots in these classes which is actually hugely generous given that only 9% of CPS is white (surprised?)  The thing that throws a monkey wrench into this balancing is the level of geographic segregation in Chicago.   Achieving these numbers requires kids to be bussed in criss-crossed directions.   So the goal is admirable but the means are inefficient.  I’ve toured Stone and Hawthorne and the classes have such a range of different kids – it’s like Chicago at its finest mix.

I was surprised to hear last year that the Consent Decree was up for review.  I have no idea what prompted this.  Certainly racial (or socio-economic) equality has not been met in CPS by a long shot.  I don’t know if the effort is too costly for CPS (keeping track of race, keeping 2 lottery lists for each school, bussing for sure) or if there was some political reason or if they really want to go to an income-based method of balancing.

But in the meantime, there is great uncertainly among parents as to how this will play out.  I’ve been reading the NPN message boards where there’s been a lot of interesting discussion about what will happen.  Some speculation includes:
– CPS moves so slowly that they’ll ask the judge to keep things in place for 1 more year while they figure out what to do
– Each school decides on their own how to balance and some schools are already planning to continue to ensure a mix
– Schools may actually be RESTRICTED from using race to select students
– CPS will switch to an income-based system for the lottery (which is actually a truer indicator of test scores)
– The income-based system would never work because CPS doesn’t have the time to check everyone’s income
– CPS is trying to save money on bussing
– Schools will start to reflect the actual geographic makeup of the neighborhoods around them (or rather the makeup of families who test/enter lottery which as we can guess will skew higher income)
– This stinks and isn’t fair
– This is good and is more fair

As you can see, it’s anybody’s guess right now how it will play out.  I would bet many of the schools don’t even know about it unless an obsessed parent has brought it up.

The big question for parents applying for schools for 2009/2010 is whether that little race box on the forms is going to make a difference this year.  The truth is many white families now stand a better chance at getting a spot in those coveted schools while minority families have lost an advantage.

You know what I would personally love to see?  I’d love for several schools in mainly minority neighborhoods get together and flood a school like Hawthorne with applications so that they get the majority of the spots (statistically they should get the same % as the % of applications they submitted.)  OK, OK, I know that is a bit twisted but let’s face it… CPS sets this up like a game and parents can try to use their best tactics to master it.

Please add comments with opinions of if you have heard anything about what will happen next!

September 27, 2009 at 8:23 am 31 comments

A visit from CPS

I was at home today… Sunday and somebody knocked at the door.  The person was wearing a CPS badge.  The guy was from some department called Child Outreach or something like that.

He inquired as to why my son hasn’t attended school yet this year.  I said “Oh my God, you’re the TRUANT OFFICER!”  If you read any old kids books (such as the Beverly Cleary series) you hear a lot about truant officers who come and check up on absent kids, but I thought that was an outdated position.  Actually I don’t think this guy claimed to have any authority but rather was serving to remind me to send my child to school in case I’d been having him play Nintendo DS for the past 2 weeks while I watched soap operas.

I explained that my son did miss the first day of school due to lice (always good for getting someone to take a step back from you) but that he’s been there every day since.  He seemed to believe me.

Those in CPS are probably familiar with the method for informing parents that their child is absent.  You get a recorded message from your child’s school (that somehow distorts the voice to sound oddly scary) well after 1pm on the day they’re out.  If you’re the parent of a little kid, chances are that you know your child’s whereabouts, but if you have a teenager they may have gotten into all kinds of trouble before you find out that they never made it to school.  Gone are the days when Mrs. Horlick from my high school office would make a stern call to the parents early in the morning to find out where you were.  She knew every parent’s voice and could immediately detect a fraud.  Bah.

September 20, 2009 at 6:55 pm 8 comments

Learn to obsess about Academic Centers

A reader contacted me recently about CPS’ Academic Centers, thinking readers might be interested in learning more about them.  I’d heard about the Whitney Young program briefly when I toured Decatur.  Since that school only goes up to 6th grade, they do their best to try to get their students placed in these centers. Besides that, I knew nothing about them, but was thrilled (ha ha) to learn that there is yet another step I can obsesses about before High School application time arrives.

Academic Centers: Hidden Gems

What’s an Academic Center? And why might you care?

One of Chicago Public Schools’ best kept secrets are its Academic Centers. These are middle schools that offer accelerated programs for 7th and 8th graders and a guaranteed path into their associated high schools.

Four of Chicago’s six Academic Centers rank among the top 50 middle schools in the State of Illinois.  On average, students from all six Academic Centers scored 35% above national norms on the EXPLORE test, a predictor of ACT performance.  These Academic Centers are: Harlan Community Academy, Kenwood Academy, Lindblom Math & Science Academy, Morgan Park High School, Taft High School, and Whitney Young.

Two of these Academic Centers (Whitney Young and Lindblom) are associated with a Selective Enrollment High School. So if your child is admitted to the Whitney Young or Lindblom Academic Center, he or she automatically gets a spot in the High School. Nice…

Many parents are relatively unaware of Academic Centers. Since most elementary schools run through 8th grade, school administrators often do not proactively provide parents with information about these schools. Surprisingly, in some cases information generated by these schools themselves is sparse.

Admission to these programs is based on 5th grade ISATs and grades and a special entrance exam that is given in 6th grade.  Some schools (those that only go up to 6th grade) give the entrance exam at the school whereas other families need to apply and go to a central testing location.

For more information about Academic Centers and the Academic Center admissions process, check out:

(Selective Prep is a company who can help kids study for the entrance exam they take in 6th grade.)

From me: So is it worth the stress of trying to get a 5th grader concentrating on their grades and having them take an entrance exam in 6th grade?  Well, if you’re looking to get into Whitney Young (and who isn’t) it probably makes sense to have your child take the test and give it a try.  You always have another (probably more competitive) chance going into high school.

If your child is in a school that you feel isn’t academically challenging but they haven’t tested into a gifted program, this could also be a chance for more accelerated classwork and better preparation for high school.

The tough part, of course, would be deciding whether to move your child in 7th grade if you’re happy with your current school (and possibly facing the wrath of an angry pre-teen.)

September 15, 2009 at 10:45 am 93 comments

New web site for Office of Academic Enhancement

If you’re an obsessed parent who is looking into possible schools right now, you’ve probably already seen this spiffy new web site.
One cool feature is that they have a calendar of Open Houses (at least for the month of September.)  You can’t plan your whole Gifted/Classical school touring schedule, but at least it’s a start.

If you are touring, I suggest getting as many out of the way early as possible.  I think I remember getting stuck near the end when 2 schools had a final tour on the same day.  Schools like Hawthorne (magnet) and Decatur (classical) tend to have fewer tours than some other schools.

I do find it somewhat humorous that in this period of extreme budget problems, CPS seems to have paid for attracted new logos.  The Magnet schools, Gifted/Enriched programs and Selective Enrollment High Schools each have a new logo.  What, CPS thinks they’re not getting enough “customers” applying to these programs?  Make the logos uglier I say!  There’s already too many people trying to get in!

September 14, 2009 at 10:33 am Leave a comment

The CPS school day

If you read the comments in the previous post, you’ll see people discussing the length of the school day in CPS.
The most common length of the CPS school day is just under 6 hours (5 hours, 4 minutes.)  When you have a Kindergartener starting school this may seem punishingly long.
As it turns out, Chicago has a school day that is about an hour shorter than most schools around the country.  I just found this out a few months ago when I was on a message board and moms from all over were posting the hours of their school day.  That’s when I found out that most kids go to school 7 hours a day (which seems SO long to me!)  I also heard recently that Chicago schools run fewer days than many other school districts.
There ARE a few schools scattered around that run almost an hour longer than the rest.  Bell does.  Edison does.
To get this to happen, the teachers have to vote to approve it which must be an uphill battle.  I come on.  Who in their right mind would vote for a longer (and unpaid) school day?!  I wouldn’t.  I suppose you need a really good principal or some strong teachers touting the benefits of such a plan.   The teachers don’t actually use the extra time for teachers, but the kids can have a longer or extra recess (or other non-teaching time.)  So the teachers can use their time for prep/grading, etc that they would supposedly do at home.  The main benefit for the teachers are better-behaved kids (theoretically) because they have more time to unwind during the day.
I know my son feels that there is very limited time to actually talk to his friends during the school day.  Lunch is short, recess flies by in an instant (I suspect it is maybe 10 minutes long,) and they have to be quiet in the hallways.  I can see where allowing some socialization time would reduce the amount of time the kids spend trying to chat.
I think most parents would support the longer day (heck, it gives you more time at Trader Joe’s!) but I have to think it’s near impossible to get it going.  Obviously it happened at some point at a few schools and new hires have to go along with it (which clearly they are.)
I’d like to see a school make a push for it to see what happens.  If you know of any schools where this has come up lately, let me know.

September 13, 2009 at 8:56 am 10 comments

What is this Track E Business all about?

A reader suggest that I post something about the new Track E calendar that is being rolled out at a fair number of CPS schools this year.

A Track E school has the same number of days off as a regular CPS school, but the timing is different to reduce the long summer break.

The CPS web site lists the following as benefits of Track E.

  • Minimizes “learning loss” for kids who otherwise would be out of school an entire summer.
  • Allows teachers better time management to design more meaningful lesson plans in shorter bursts, which can contribute to enhanced instructional programming and improved student achievement.
  • Minimizes teacher burnout by providing for regular and better-spaced time off.
  • Provides children with a safe environment.
  • Regular scheduled time off allows for better student and staff attendance.

I can’t say I’d disagree with any of these reasons.  Not totally sure about the attendance thing.  From what I’ve read, the plan is supposed to be more effective in addressing problems at schools with low test scores, where kids are at risk due to socio-economic and neighborhood conditions, and where parents are as involved in making sure their kids are keeping up with their academics.  In these neighborhoods, schools that act in part as a community center have forged greater bonds with parents and have sometimes found more success with student achievement.

The calendar looks something like this:

Schools starts Aug 10 (4 weeks early)
– 2 weeks + 2 days off Sept 25 – Oct 12 (total new Fall break)
– 3 weeks off Dec 14 – Jan 1 (1 extra week for Winter break)
– 2 weeks + 1 day off March 26 – April 9 (1 extra week for Spring break)
– School ends June 18 (regular end date)

So….. summer break is down to 7-8 weeks (I can’t quite figure it out.  I’m missing a week somewhere.)  There are still all the random days off throughout the year as well (professional development, report card days, holidays.)

Boy, I know it has its benefits and in a city like Chicago where the schools are somehow under-serving many kids it sure makes sense to try it.  I just can’t stop thinking that it doesn’t make sense with our weather (we only get 3 short months of summer!) and the lack of air-conditioning in CPS schools.  Starting on August 10th? Torture on a 90 degree day.
It’s also a working parent’s nightmare.  Right now many parents hire a summer person (like a college student) to watch their kids during the summer months.  Who do you get to cover a 3 week Winter break?  Or a 2 week Fall break?  The logistics are nerve-wracking if you’re the parent who has to scramble to find a sitter.

On the plus side, as a person who is crowd-averse, I’d welcome some days off when the rest of the world is still in school.  It’s be nice to tour all the museums during that late Sept break.  Or take a trip to Disney or the Dells.

For now, many of the schools who are trying Track E are schools with very low test scores and/or in low income areas.   I did notice Prescott Elementary on the list (in a fast-gentrifying neighborhood.)  I’m curious to see how the parents there like the schedule or whether teachers feel it helps the kids academically.

Anyone with thoughts, information, or feedback, please feel free to comment!

August 13, 2009 at 4:50 pm 34 comments

CPS Positions – Out with the old, in with the new — maybe you?

If you’re not familiar with how CPS hierarchy is set up, the school system is divided into “areas.”  I actually have no idea how many areas there are, I just know that I live in Area 2.
Each school principal reports into an AIO officer (an Area Information Officer.)  This is sort of the middle management between the Principals and downtown CPS.  Anyone familiar with the business world is well aware of the middle-management concept.  And in theory, it’s a great concept.   Someone with experience and knowledge in education and who knows about best practice ideas helps the principals improve, grow as leaders, and strive to be their best.  I’d think that a good AIO person would share ideas that are successful between the schools in their area and would encourage collaboration and communication.  I’m sure there are some AIO’s who excel at this and some who don’t.

What I’ve seen as the key benefit to this system is that most principals could use some guidance.  Not because they’re bad, but because they work in a vacuum of sorts.  When I used to work in an office I had other people at my level to talk to, share ideas with, collaborate with, etc.  A principal is like a free-floating entity who unfortunately doesn’t have another, more experienced principal in the next office to bounce ideas off of.   It makes great sense to have someone help them along.  The LSC’s (Local School Councils) are charged with selecting principals, renewing their contracts, and giving input in their principal’s evaluation but often don’t know much about education.  I found myself in a position this past year of wanting to give my opinion about how a school should be run, but wishing someone who really knew what they were doing could advise us.

I’ve gotten the impression that the AIO staff focused a LOT on test scores.  Obviously we do as parents as well, but man, it is disheartening to realize how much emphasis this gets in CPS.  Yes, it’s the only objective way to measure “success,” but when I see a really good principal comment that they were thinking strategically about how to administer the test this year (what days, what times, etc) it makes me cringe.  I heard another principal say that the AIO office questions why the schools can’t score as well as Decatur.  Uh duh… that question doesn’t even make sense since Decatur only takes kids who test in.

So to cut to the chase, CPS has cut all the AIO positions this week.  Over 1000 ( new info says 550 non-teaching positions in all) positions eliminated just like that.  I believe there will be new positions created with new names and the axed staff may interview for those (gee, they must be so psyched about that!)  Frankly I’m up for any major change in CPS but here is the thing that worries me:  A posting on the CPS web site for a new (high-paying) Area position that emphasizes management experience more than education experience.

Position: Chief Area Officer
Salary: $119K – $170K
The CAO is responsible for increasing student outcomes and performance for an Area.

I like parts of the job description:
-Guide schools to commit to higher expectations
-The ability to inspire and motivate others
-Intelligent risk-taking

The part that’s surprising is:
Experience managing a complex organization essential
Education experience preferred

PREFERRED?! So like I could apply for this job if I’d managed a mass of people in the world of marketing research?!  Weird.  Scary.  Exciting!  Damn, I wish I had more (any) management experience I’d totally apply for that job.   Is there anyone out there who could apply?  Try it… I’d love to know what happens.  In fact maybe I’ll send in a fake resume – all my real work experience but I’ll make up a bunch of management stuff to see if they’d call me.
So Ron Huberman isn’t an education guy.  I don’t know… maybe it’s just me but I’d think he’d want people under him who are.  Or maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit.  Time will tell.

To see the full position description, click here:

June 23, 2009 at 10:40 pm 13 comments




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