Posts filed under ‘CPS’

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

Why you need to buy candy, go to auctions, and save Box Tops

More interesting information from my CPS pamphlet called “On the Same Page,” this time about school funding.

We all know from word on the street that Illinois and CPS are not exactly setting the standard for education funding.

I’m not completely sure what this means, but it doesn’t sound good: “Illinois’ state contribution to public education dropped to a new low of total funding this year, putting our state 49th out of 50 in state funding.”   (Nevada is last, Hawaii is first.)
My understanding is that school districts combine the state money (where we are 49th) with city/town tax income to fund the schools.  The brochure explains that cities with high property wealth, like Evanston, can generate lots of extra funding per pupil, while here in Chicago (and other urban areas) we have a lot of lower-income citizens which makes it tough.  The city takes all our tax dollars, puts it into one central school pool, then divides it out equally across all students (well, lower income students get an extra $700 or so in funding each year – called the discretionary funds at a school.)
But even compared to other big cities, Chicago lags behinds.  They provide the following amounts spent per pupil per year on education:
Evanston   $20,040
Washington D.C.   $18,332
NYC   $17,209
Atlanta   $14,666
Los Angeles   $11,409
Chicago   $10,431
Houston   $9,036

I imagine that NYC and DC are paying a lot more in salaries than we do?  I know LA pays fairly well and has good benefits (based on info from a friend whose husband teacher high school there.)
But I can’t help but think that if Chicago is spending $10K per kid, couldn’t we just send everybody to private school?!  Seriously, there are good private schools that cost less than that per year!
Basically IL needs to kick in more.  It’s shameful that we’re 49 out of 50 with only Vegas behind us.  And somehow that $10K per year needs to be better utilized.  And if all else fails, at least Evanston is close by.  Damn, $10K more per kid a year up there!  It makes me want to cry.  Or move.

June 7, 2009 at 10:12 pm Leave a comment

Learn the ABC’s of CPS in person

If you are just navigating the waters of CPS or if you want to discuss something in person with a knowledgeable resource, you can attend one of the following sessions at Sulzer Library (4455 N. Lincoln.)  Ellen Lourden from CPS will be there to talk about the process and answer questions. She is a master at answering the nit-pickiest questions about lotteries.

Saturday, March 14 9:00 – 10:30 am

Tuesday, March 24, 10:00 – 11:00 am

Tuesday, March 31, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

No need to register.

March 4, 2009 at 12:54 am 1 comment

CPS Worries – Classroom Management

I imagine there will be more of these down the road, and maybe this first one is just a school thing and not specific to CPS, but here goes:

One thing that makes me crazy about the big classes is the time spent on classroom management.   My son’s Kindergarten teacher is amazing – possibly one of the best he’ll have in CPS over the years.   She knows all kinds of tricks to help prevent the kids from getting out of control and when a child has a particular problem she seems to work with the parents to set up a system that works for the child and that the parents are on board with.  I’ve marveled repeatedly at how well-behaved the class is.   But now that a few months have passed and the kids are buddying up, the talking and goofing off factor is growing.  For the first time I was in the classroom in the mid-afternoon and the noise factor was crazy.  The kids spend a good part of classroom time in centers where they sit at a table of 5-6 kids to work on a learning project.  Which is how parents want it these days since the traditional all-kids-at-desks-facing-front classroom is totally frowned upon.  The problem is, this system really relies on the kids teaching themselves or each other the materials.   My son DOES seem to be learning a ton at school so it appears to be working, but man, it is SO hard to believe that in that loud, crazy, boisterous room they are learning math.  The teacher works with one center at a time, yet has to keep her ears open for the tables that have veered off course (namely one child hogging all the dominoes and another one freaking out about it – typical 5yo behavior.)

A couple months ago I happened to be in the computer lab filing stuff while a kindergarten class was learning some basics on computer usage.  The teacher was infinitely patient, but his talk was something like this “OK, let’s find the letter P.  Who can find the P?  OK, I need everyone to sit still and not talk.  This side of the room is doing a very good job.  If you get this finished you can have computer free time at the end.  Did everyone find P?  OK, someone over there may not get free time. Find the P.  Quiet everyone.  I need everyone to look at the keyboard and find the P.    OK, now lets look for the B.  But we need to ALL be quiet.  And find the B.”    This went on for a good 20 minutes and it took all the composure I had not to just blurt out “It’s!  Just type it in!”  Or just walk around and show each kid individually which would have taken half the time.  Honestly, it was torture to listen to.  I have to keep reminding myself that part of being at school is learning how to act in a classroom setting and that keeping Kindergarten kids in line is like herding wild kangaroos.  Or curious monkeys.   Or bored cats.  It just is bothersome when you think about how little times is probably spent each day on actual learning.

Today my son reported that “we didn’t do anything in art class except learn how to behave and what the rules are.”  Damn, they only get art once a week.  They have to spend the whole class session one week learning rules?!  Its just seems like its sucking the joy out of school.

I sense that these are good teachers and I have to assume that a class of 27 kids needs a lot of “molding” so they don’t stage a rebellion, but these are the times I can’t help but be wistful for the smaller classes of a private school where I imagine that controlling the masses isn’t as big a part of the day.

January 28, 2009 at 1:30 am 5 comments

New head of CPS: What the F?

For once I’m speechless.  So Mayor Daley is selecting the current head of the CTA as the new head of the Chicago Public Schools.   I can’t even fathom how to process this information.

If I read even one sentence tomorrow that expresses this guy’s opinion about a vision for CPS I might feel marginally better.  And no, “greater efficiency” won’t count.

So who’s going to take over the CTA?  The head of the Lincoln Park Zoo?

January 26, 2009 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

The End of De-Seg as We Know It?

This month, there will be a hearing (a real hearing, in a Federal courtroom!) to consider the Consent Decree, which is the ruling from back in the 80’s that required the CPS Magnet and Gifted/Classical schools to include a certain level of minority students.

My understanding is that these school can take a maximum of about 35% white students and the rest are minority students (not balanced within that group by any race, background, etc.)  If you’re a white parent on the northside who is entering the lottery, that might sounds like tough odds.  And it is.  But you might also be surprised to know that only around 10% of CPS students are white.  So in reality, the 35% of slots is very generous.  And by the way, if you’re curious, nobody every checks what a child’s “true” background/heritage/etc is.  You are supposed to indicate how the child identifies, but of course that is a muddy area and it certainly is tempting to go into the 65% pool if you can.   Each Magnet/Gifted/Classical school actually has 2 lotteries, one for the whities and one for the minorities (actually the majorities.)

So somebody, somewhere decided recently that it might be time to create a level playing field in the city and put an end to the race requirement.  And I can’t help but wonder who it was that felt that minority kids in this city are getting as much out of their education as white kids are.   Test scores among African American students are much lower than Caucasion kids (although Asian kids are kicking everyone’s asses.)  Schools in some of the lower-income neighborhoods are in a state of squalor from what I understand, and there isn’t a fundraising or tax base from which to get the extras that other schools are putting into place.  The rate of drop-outs among minority students is much worse as well.

Also, as a matter of principal, Chicago is hideously segregated by race – as was reported recently in the Tribune.  Yet some of the bright spots in the city are the schools that balance on race.  I swear when I toured Hawthorne and Stone each class had a perfect balance of white/black/hispanic/asian/other kids.  It’s like exactly what I envisioned when I pictured an urban school.  (Yes, of course I was counting white boys to see what our odds were.)

So really, I cannot for the life of me fathom how someone could say “desegretion – yeah, it worked! Done!”  I don’t get it.  I HAVE heard that if the ruling is overturned, some schools (or all?) would still honor the decree.  But then again, the lottery is handled by CPS, not the schools so I don’t know how they could work around it.

The hearing is January 22nd.  Members of the public were invited to speak if they submitted their comments last month.  Should be interesting to see what happens.

January 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm 1 comment

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