In Chicago, Needy Kids Lose Teachers--Again

September 14, 2010

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Seven of Robeson's 48 classroom teachers are being pulled. Enrollment projections are off by more than 500 students this year. (Photo by Carlos Ortiz for WBEZ)

Teachers are being yanked from one of Chicago's neediest high schools six weeks into the school year. It's a situation that plagues certain Chicago public schools in the first weeks of class.

Related: Kids Start School Without Teachers
Related: Third Week of School, Kids Still Lack Teachers


Robeson High School in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood is losing nearly 15 percent of its teachers because fewer kids showed up than the district projected - about 500 fewer.


Junior Keishonna Roberts is worried about losing her teachers. 

ROBERTS: Well, they're talking about they're gonna cut honors classes and stuff. And that's gonna affect us, ‘cause I'm in honors classes.


Every year, CPS predicts how many students will show up at its neighborhood high schools—and every year they get some schools wrong. In some places, kids start class without teachers because there are too many students. In others, fewer kids than expected show up, and teachers are cut.


Either way—it means a chaotic beginning to the school year for kids who often lack stability in other parts of their lives.


LEFF: I mean—it's an annual occasion.  Kids know. School starts, and then it re-starts.


Lila Leff heads the Umoja Student Development Corporation, a nonprofit that works inside some of the city's toughest high schools.


LEFF: What kids know is, my schedule probably changes in the third week of school. And we hear kids all the time say, ‘Well I don't know what teachers I'll have, I don't know what classes I'll have, it doesn't really matter if I go to classes yet.' Kids don't see school as starting until a month in.


With about 150 high schools, many of them new charter schools, it's getting tougher for CPS to predict whether students will enroll in their neighborhood high school. Robeson principal Gerald Morrow says some freshmen projected to come to his school may be at nearby charter schools.


MORROW: Parents are more or less just shopping to see where they can send their kid. I'm going to try Urban Prep. I'm going to try this charter school. I'm going to try Perspectives. Then when I can't get into those schools, then I come back to Robeson.


The school district currently has no mechanism for knowing where all its students are going to high school.

Schools chief Ron Huberman admits the ultimate solution is to ask them in the spring where they plan to enroll. That's what Chicago's best schools do, and kids there don't have to deal with missing teachers or massive schedule changes a month into school.


HUBERMAN: That is the solution, and it's in the mix in terms of how we're trying to move toward that direction.


CPS could have pulled twice as many teachers as it did from Robeson; nearly one-third of all classroom teachers could have been cut. District officials decided against that—they say to minimize the impact on students.