WBEZ | School Choice http://www.wbez.org/tags/school-choice Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Education group says school choice could be what unifies Illinois lawmakers http://www.wbez.org/news/education-group-says-school-choice-could-be-what-unifies-illinois-lawmakers-113511 <p><div>There&rsquo;s no end in sight to the political gridlock in Springfield, but one group believes it has an education plan it&rsquo;s convinced both Republicans and Democrats could support.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That plan is a new twist on an old idea: Corporations pay money into a special fund to get tax breaks -- and the cash from that fund could go to qualifying parents to spend on the school of their choice.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Myles Mendoza works on education policy, including school choice issues. He worked with Rauner on some of those issues before Rauner had the keys to the governor&rsquo;s mansion.&nbsp;Mendoza leads the Illinois Kids Campaign and its member organization, <a href="http://www.onechanceillinois.org/about/mission/" target="_blank">One Chance Illinois</a>. The coalition is quietly pushing an idea that looks in concept like school vouchers, even though Mendoza&rsquo;s quick to distinguish his plan from vouchers.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>WBEZ got a draft of Mendoza&rsquo;s plan. It hasn&rsquo;t been introduced in the Statehouse, but Mendoza&rsquo;s looking for a lawmaker&rsquo;s backing. It&rsquo;s early in the process, but Mendoza was willing to explain why, in spite of all of the financial issues facing Illinois, lawmakers should support tax breaks to corporations.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re giving out tax credits for people to have luxury sports cars, we&rsquo;re giving tax credits for all kinds of things and I think kids having access to quality education should be a high priority on the list of where we&rsquo;re allocating tax credits,&rdquo; he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Illinois doesn&rsquo;t literally give tax credits for buying luxury cars, but the state has offered breaks to companies threatening to leave, or offered them in an attempt to lure new companies to locate jobs in the state.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Mendoza&rsquo;s point is tax breaks would be an incentive for a corporation, or even an individual, to contribute cash to a scholarship fund. The plan caps the amount the state&rsquo;s Dept. of Revenue could give out in tax breaks at $200 million annually, and limits a single corporation or individual&rsquo;s tax credit to $5 million in a calendar year.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Families - including middle-class families - could apply for some of that money so they could send their kid to, say, a private school they couldn&rsquo;t otherwise afford. The draft points to families making more than two-and-a-half times the income needed to qualify for a free and reduced-price lunch. That means a family of four with an income of $100,000 could qualify for scholarship money, under the proposal.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Mendoza said that also means that kids attending failing or overcrowded schools could receive financial help to go somewhere else. Mendoza says 60 percent of the scholarship fund would be directed toward students in those low-performing or overcrowded schools. A non-profit would be in charge of managing the scholarship funds.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP_130319110529.jpg" style="height: 221px; width: 350px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="A supporter for public education holds up a sign during a rally at the Statehouse Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Indianapolis. Opponents of a proposal to expand Indiana's private school voucher program rallied at the Statehouse to make their case that the vouchers hurt traditional public schools. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)" />Other states have approved similar plans, including Indiana and Iowa. A recent attempt to pass the concept in New York recently stalled.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The draft also calls for reimbursing teachers up to $250 for out-of-pocket expenses spent on supplies for the classroom.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In Illinois, Mendoza said charter schools, parochial schools and some trade unions are getting behind this idea in a coalition he called &ldquo;unorthodox.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s just a variety of people that normally wouldn&rsquo;t come around the same table that have to support kids getting a quality education,&rdquo; he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Someone else whose outlook on education could fit in with Mendoza&rsquo;s plan is Gov. Rauner. Mendoza said leaders in Springfield know what his group is working on, but Rauner&rsquo;s office wouldn&rsquo;t comment.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Again, it&rsquo;s early.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But there are signs it&rsquo;s a concept Rauner could favor: During <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/education-candidates-illinois-governor-closer-they-think-110575" target="_blank">last year&rsquo;s campaign for public office</a>, Rauner talked a lot about his support of school choice and charter schools. And, he chose a Democrat, former State Sen. James Meeks, who pushed for school vouchers, to lead the state board of education.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/rauner/#/tag/education" target="_blank" title="In this Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 photo, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to students during a visit to Lamphier High School in Springfield, Ill. Rauner told students he needs to reallocate money from nonessential government services and move it over into essential services, like education. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP_393187639659.jpg" style="height: 360px; width: 540px;" title="In this Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 photo, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to students during a visit to Lamphier High School in Springfield, Ill. Rauner told students he needs to reallocate money from nonessential government services and move it over into essential services, like education. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)" /></a></div></div><div>So say, hypothetically, Rauner&rsquo;s in.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Mendoza would still need Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Madigan acted favorably toward vouchers in the past, even though the initiative ultimately failed when it was last attempted in 2010.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Before you start humming Kumbaya, there is opposition: Teachers unions can&rsquo;t stand Mendoza&rsquo;s plan. They say it is vouchers, plain and simple; and they say that Mendoza&rsquo;s trying to call it something else because vouchers are controversial.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;The reason they don&rsquo;t want to call it &lsquo;vouchers&rsquo; is because vouchers have been highly discredited around the country as having no beneficial public effects, no beneficial effects on education,&rdquo; said Dan Montgomery, who heads the Illinois Federation of Teachers. &ldquo;They do not make better schools. They don&rsquo;t provide better outcome for kids.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Montgomery didn&rsquo;t hide the contempt in his voice, when he talked about giving tax breaks to corporations and wealthy people.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s just unconscionable,&rdquo; he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Mendoza takes issue with calling his plan vouchers: He said vouchers use public money and this plan calls for private money, even though giving out tax breaks is taxpayer money.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That complicates things because there&rsquo;s another education policy initiative competing for political capital at the statehouse: Changing the formula the state uses to calculate funding for schools.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>While all this is going on behind the scenes, it does look like Rauner&rsquo;s planning for an education push after the budget impasse, assuming it&rsquo;s ever resolved.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re actually working on big, big reforms in education,&rdquo; Rauner said last week when a reporter asked why he&rsquo;s been quiet on education. &ldquo;We haven&rsquo;t announced them yet because they&rsquo;re all being formulated and it&rsquo;s in process. In the coming months, we&rsquo;re going to see some big announcements on things we&rsquo;re gonna do to improve education.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The question is, with the political atmosphere in Springfield so toxic right now, is there any education plan so appealing that it could actually bring the two sides together?</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold.</a></em></div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 15:39:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/education-group-says-school-choice-could-be-what-unifies-illinois-lawmakers-113511 The Big Sort http://www.wbez.org/news/big-sort-110502 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big-sort---8th-grade-grad_0.jpg" title="After eighth grade graduation, Chicago students scatter to 130 different high schools. Test scores show that high-performing students and low-performing students in particular are clustering into separate schools under the city’s school choice model. Within neighborhoods, there is further sorting based on achievement. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div></div></div></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158915147&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>This spring, at grammar schools all across Chicago, thousands of eighth graders donned caps and gowns and walked across auditorium stages to receive their elementary school diplomas. This fall, the graduates from each of those schools will scatter&mdash;to more than 130 different Chicago public high schools, and counting.</p><p>But who goes where?</p><p>Over the past decade, Chicago has opened more than 50 new high schools, and will open more this fall. The school district is trying to expand the number of quality school options and offer students a choice of where to go to school. And in many ways, Chicago high schools seem to be improving. Graduation rates are <a href="http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2014/04/24/focus-ninth-grade-triggers-climb-chicago-high-school-graduation-rates">inching up</a>. The city now boasts <a href="http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/illinois">five of the top ten high schools in the state</a>.</p><p>But a new WBEZ analysis shows an unintended consequence of the choice system: students of different achievement levels are being sorted into separate high schools.</p><p>WBEZ analyzed incoming test scores for freshmen from the fall of 2012, the most recent year data is available. That year, the district mandated that every high school give students an &ldquo;EXPLORE&rdquo; exam about a month into the school year.</p><p>The 26,340 scores range from painfully low to perfect.</p><p>But WBEZ found few schools in the city enroll the full span of students. Instead, low-scoring students and high-scoring students in particular are attending completely different high schools. Other schools enroll a glut of average kids.</p><p>Think of it as academic tracking&mdash;not within schools, but between them.</p><hr /><blockquote><p><strong>THE BIG SORT</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/the-big-sort.html" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bigsortgraph.jpg" style="height: 287px; width: 540px;" title="" /></a></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>See how student achievement relates to high school choice&nbsp;<a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/the-big-sort.html">in an interactive chart linking each score in 2012 to a school</a>. Sort schools by type, demographics or location, and explore and compare the distribution of scores at each school.</em></div></blockquote><hr /><p>The findings raise some of the same long-running questions educators have debated about the academic and social implications of in-school tracking. But they also raise questions about whether the city&rsquo;s school choice system is actually creating better schools, or whether it&rsquo;s simply sorting certain students out and leaving the weakest learners in separate, struggling schools.</p><p>WBEZ&rsquo;s analysis shows:</p><ul><li><strong>Serious brain drain</strong>. The city&rsquo;s selective &ldquo;test-in&rdquo; high schools &mdash; among the best in the state &mdash; capture nearly all the top students in the school system. There were 104 kids who scored a perfect 25 on the EXPLORE exam. One hundred of them &mdash; 96 percent&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;enrolled in just six of the city&rsquo;s 130 high schools (Northside, Whitney Young, Payton, Lane, Lincoln Park, and Jones). In fact, 80 percent of perfect scorers went to just three schools. Among the city&rsquo;s top 2 percent of test takers (those scoring a 23, 24, or 25 on their exam), 87 percent are at those same six schools. Chicago has proposed creating an 11th selective enrollment high school, Barack Obama College Prep, to be located in the same area as the schools already attracting the city&rsquo;s top performers.</li><li><strong>Clustering of low-performing students.</strong> Fifteen percent of the city&rsquo;s high schools are populated with vastly disproportionate numbers of low-performing students. More than 80 percent of incoming students at these schools score below the district average. &nbsp;The schools enroll 10 percent of all Chicago high school students.</li><li><strong>Black students are most likely to be affected by sorting. &nbsp;</strong>WBEZ&rsquo;s analysis shows African American students are doubly segregated, first by race, then by achievement. Of the 40 most academically narrow schools in Chicago, 34 of them are predominantly black. Even though just 40 percent of students in the public schools are African American, Chicago has black high schools for low achievers, black high schools for average kids, black test-in high schools for high achievers. &nbsp;</li><li><strong>Within neighborhoods, more sorting. </strong>Schools within a particular community may appear to be attracting the same students demographically, but WBEZ finds significant sorting by achievement. Especially in neighborhoods on the South and West sides, the comprehensive neighborhood high school has become a repository for low performers; nearby charters or other new schools are attracting far greater percentages of above-average kids.</li><li><strong>The dozens of new high schools Chicago has opened since 2004</strong> <strong>fall on both sides of the &ldquo;sorting&rdquo; spectrum.</strong> New schools with the widest range of incoming test performers include Ogden International IB on the Near North Side; Goode, a Southwest Side magnet school with preference for neighborhood students; and Chicago High School for the Arts, which admits students based on arts auditions. New schools showing the least amount of academic diversity include Daniel Hale Williams (where incoming students score at about the district average); also low-scoring &nbsp;DuSable Leadership Academy Charter (in the same building as Williams, ordered in 2013 to begin phasing out), Ace Tech Charter, and Austin Business and Entrepreneurial High School.</li></ul><p>The idea behind school choice is to to let families pick the type of school they want for their kids, something more affluent Americans can do by moving or by paying for private school. Choice is also seen as a way to improve all schools by injecting more market-based competition into the school system.</p><p>But the sorting of students by achievement into separate high schools seems to be an unintended consequence.</p><p>&ldquo;It certainly wasn&rsquo;t a goal,&rdquo; says Paul Hill, the founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, and the architect of <a href="http://www.crpe.org/research/portfolio-strategy">the &ldquo;portfolio&rdquo; school choice model Chicago and other big cities are following</a>. Hill says he and others were concerned about sorting based on race or class, but dramatic sorting by achievement level was not foreseen.</p><p>Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who has been on the job for a year and a half, says she is aware that students are clustering in different high schools by achievement, and is concerned about any suggestion that that&rsquo;s a good thing.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s no research to support that,&rdquo; said Byrd-Bennett, who said she, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school board &ldquo;come from a very different belief system,&rdquo; one that does not rely on sorting students by achievement. &ldquo;What we believe is you&rsquo;ve got to elevate, raise the level and the quality of instruction at all of our schools, including our neighborhood (schools),&rdquo; said Byrd-Bennett. However, she rejected the notion that sorting is an outcome of school choice or Chicago&rsquo;s massive expansion in the number of high schools. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;This has got to be a district of choice. If I choose to go to my neighborhood school, it&rsquo;s because it ought to be a great school as well,&rdquo; said Byrd-Bennett.</p><p><strong>New York City and New Orleans see a similar dynamic</strong></p><p>Despite most New Orleans schools being open to students of all academic levels, &ldquo;high performing students tend to go to high-performing schools, and low-performing students tend to go to low-performing schools,&rdquo; says Andrew McEachin, a North Carolina State University professor who has studied school choice in the now all-charter city. &ldquo;So even though it&#39;s a choice-based district, you see that there&#39;s kind of like a tiered system, where people are choosing schools similar to their background and achievement levels.&rdquo;</p><p>The same thing is happening in New York City. Why? Researchers say &ldquo;achievement&rdquo; may be an indication of the resources students have at home. Higher performing students&rsquo; families are better at getting information about school quality, navigating the system, and securing things like transportation to school or test prep for entrance exams.</p><p>McEachin and others say the consequences of sorting could reverberate to other aspects of the school system. &ldquo;What is the unintended consequence of this ability grouping on the teacher labor market?&rdquo; asks McEachin. &ldquo;Is it going to make it even harder to get good teachers to the lowest-achieving students?&rdquo;</p><p>Sorting by performance isn&rsquo;t new in Chicago Public Schools, and isn&rsquo;t unique to choice systems. Some of the city&rsquo;s toughest high schools have not attracted generally higher performing middle-class students for decades. But under choice and a dramatic expansion in the number of high schools, parents and counselors say sorting of students is becoming more pronounced.</p><p><strong>Students know the hierarchy</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2491597027_6716951610_z.jpg" title="Chicago students can identify the hierarchy high schools fall into. Lane Tech is for 'A' students, they say. (flickr/Alex Cheek)" /></div></div></div></div><p>In Chicago, students can tell you which high schools are for which students. On a sunny afternoon before school let out in June, kids at Lane Tech&mdash;one of the city&rsquo;s selective schools &mdash; describe the landscape.</p><p>&ldquo;If you get straight As and you do really good on testing, the school you&rsquo;ll probably get accepted into is Northside, Walter Payton, Whitney Young,&rdquo; says freshman Amber Hunt.</p><p>What about the B students? &ldquo;Schools with IB programs sometimes take solid Bs,&rdquo; says Amber. &ldquo;Charter schools are kind of like if you&rsquo;re average, or slightly below average.&rdquo;</p><p>Lots of students give the same answers. Ninth grader Evelyn Almodovar says she knows &ldquo;C&rdquo; students who went to private high schools because &ldquo;they didn&rsquo;t want to be embarrassed about going to a school that&rsquo;s known as having worse students.&rdquo;</p><p>And what about the lowest performers, those who struggle in grammar school? They go to neighborhood schools, every student tells me. &ldquo;Low-ranking schools,&rdquo; says freshman Anais Roman, naming a neighborhood school and low-scoring charter in her area.</p><p>Many elementary school counselors describe a nearly identical hierarchy (one grammar school even posts its graduates&rsquo; &ldquo;<a href="http://www.newberryacademy.org/counselors-corner/high-school-resources/high-school-destinations-for-newberry-graduates/">high school destinations</a>&rdquo; in the same basic A-to-F order).</p><p>In an indication of just how segmented high schools have become, a counselor said her elementary school sends &ldquo;average&rdquo; students to a nearby high school that&rsquo;s seen as safe, admits no low performers, and scores at about the district average. But she said she would not recommend the school for her top students&mdash;even though they&rsquo;re eligible to attend. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think they would offer the academic rigor,&rdquo; she said of the school.</p><p>A number of counselors lamented the sorting.</p><p>&ldquo;We look at the suburbs, and we look at much of the rest of the country&mdash;there&rsquo;s one school to go to based on your address, and that neighborhood &nbsp;high school would have all sorts of different programs available,&rdquo; says Walsh Elementary counselor Kristy Brooks.</p><p>Brooks says she sees positive aspects to Chicago&rsquo;s high school choice system&mdash;kids leave segregated neighborhoods and find new classmates and opportunities, students push themselves to get into top schools. But she says she sees neighborhood schools being left with low-performing students who didn&rsquo;t have the academic performance or the help to get to another school. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think in the long run it would be better to have equity in all schools,&rdquo; says Brooks.</p><p>But if all students were in a single comprehensive high school, wouldn&rsquo;t they be tracked within that school anyway? Does it matter if they&rsquo;re in separate schools?</p><p>&ldquo;In part it doesn&rsquo;t matter&mdash;it&rsquo;s disastrous either way,&rdquo; says Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an opponent of tracking.</p><p>&ldquo;But in part it matters because once we get to that point of between-school tracking, it&rsquo;s even harder to try to address. If we&rsquo;re going to reform the system and make it more equitable, starting with the kids in the same schools is a good first step,&rdquo; says Welner, who argues tracking cements current stratifications in society.</p><p><strong>Top performers benefit from sorting</strong></p><p>For many students at Lane Tech, this is the first time they&rsquo;ve attended school with all high achievers.</p><p>&ldquo;It raises the standards a lot,&rdquo; says freshman Paradise Cosey.</p><p>Another freshman says she feels more &ldquo;comfortable&rdquo; at 4,000-student Lane Tech than she did at her elementary school; she says this is the first year since fifth grade that classmates haven&rsquo;t asked to copy her work.</p><p>High performing students are like gold in a school. Everybody does better around them&mdash;including other high-performing students. And it&rsquo;s not just about test scores. The <a href="http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/05/10/31safe.h30.html">biggest predictor of whether a school is safe</a>, orderly, and set up for learning is students&rsquo; academic achievement. Having top performers makes an entire school easier to run.</p><p>Paul Hill says some stratification doesn&rsquo;t bother him, &ldquo;One thing that this just demonstrates yet again is that human beings just love status hierarchies and we&rsquo;ll create them any way we can.&rdquo; Hill says Americans believe in equality, but they also believe in elite schools.</p><p>&ldquo;But when it trickles down to the lowest-performing kids are in the schools with the least of everything, then that&rsquo;s not tolerable,&rdquo; says Hill.</p><p><strong>Marshall High, a school of &ldquo;last resort&rdquo;</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big-sort-marshall-STILL-GETTING-PERMISSION.jpg" title="Kadeesha Williams originally wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, but ended up enrolling at Marshall. Her classmates would have been very different at Marine, where 48 percent of students come in above average. At Marshall, 14 percent come in above the district’s average. The school is set up to help the lower scoring students who enroll there. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/159037769&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>At Marshall Metropolitan High School, 86 percent of students come in scoring below the district average. Some can&rsquo;t read.</p><p>Marshall, the attendance-area high school for a big swath of Chicago&rsquo;s West Side, is among the 15 percent of Chicago high schools enrolling vastly disproportionate numbers of low achievers.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, I didn&rsquo;t actually choose to come to Marshall,&rdquo; says rising sophomore Kadeesha Williams. &ldquo;My mom said because it was in the area.&rdquo;</p><p>Kadeesha had wanted to go to Marine Military Academy down the street. &ldquo;I wanted to be a Marine, so I wanted to get the type of education they get so I can get ready,&rdquo; she said. But the family turned her application in late. &ldquo;We went to take a test. But my mom, she lost the paperwork.&rdquo;</p><p>Kadeesha&rsquo;s mom says the paperwork was actually lost at the school&mdash;they had no record of Kadeesha taking the test, she says. &nbsp;</p><p>Kadeesha is liking Marshall. &ldquo;Marshall&rsquo;s a good school,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Because the teachers here, they&rsquo;re very into you. They&rsquo;re a lot of help.&rdquo;</p><p>Other students say they came to Marshall because family went here. Some come to play for Marshall&rsquo;s storied basketball team or, lately, the school&rsquo;s budding chess team.</p><p>Teacher James Dorrell says for other students, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s sort of like a school of last resort. They try to enroll in charter schools or selective enrollments, and once they can&rsquo;t get in, they would come here&rdquo;&mdash;though he sees Marshall as much more than that. About half of the school&#39;s students come from the neighborhood, the other half from outside the attendance boundary.</p><p>Dorrell says after a re-staffing and infusion of money in 2010, Marshall is hugely improved. The entire school is set up to help the struggling kids who enroll here. Freshmen have double periods of English and math. Many take reading&mdash;a subject other high schools don&rsquo;t even offer.</p><p>But more students still drop out than graduate from Marshall. And test scores have barely moved.</p><p>Marshall raises a question at the heart of tracking&mdash;and at the heart of Chicago&rsquo;s system of school choice. Is it better to group low performers together? Better for whom?</p><p>&ldquo;The pros are yes, we can have these interventions,&rdquo; says Dorrell. &ldquo;The cons would be&mdash;you would want some high achievers because they sort of raise the bar, and other kids could see what it takes to be successful. So I think having kids with higher test scores would benefit all of this group. But I also see the benefit of having these kids&hellip;tracked by ability.&rdquo;</p><p>Marshall is open to all students in the neighborhood. But there are no freshman honors courses, no AP classes (the school is trying to change that). There&rsquo;s little to attract higher achievers.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/the-big-sort.html"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/marshallgraph_0.jpg" title="A huge percentage of Chicago’s best students go to selective enrollment schools. But even after those students are creamed off the top, more sorting takes place within communities. Low achieving students are concentrating in the city’s traditional neighborhood high schools, like Marshall Metropolitan High on the West Side." /></a></div></div></div></div><p>There are four new high schools within a mile of Marshall. Two are military schools with minimum test score requirements, keeping out low performers. The third is a Noble Street charter school, which requires much more effort to enroll than Marshall. (Parents need to come to an information session on a particular evening in order to obtain an application, for instance. Students must write an essay.) &nbsp;At the two military schools, 48 percent and 64 percent of incoming students score above average. At the Noble Street charter, 41 percent of students enter above average. At Marshall, the figure is three times less&mdash;just 14 percent of incoming kids score above average.</p><p>That story is repeated in neighborhood after neighborhood in Chicago&mdash;and raises questions about whether the city&rsquo;s school choice system is creating better schools, or simply pulling away better performing students, leaving the low achievers segregated into separate, failing schools.</p><p>Michael Milkie, the founder and CEO of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, Chicago&rsquo;s largest high school charter network, sees the entire question of sorting as a &ldquo;red herring.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I think the most important part by far are the adults in the building, their ability to deliver instruction, and the school culture. Those are the things that far outweigh whether you have a concentration of certain learners or a wide variety of learners,&rdquo; says Milkie. All Noble schools attract far more high performers than neighborhood schools in the same communities; CPS recently told Noble Street that applications &ldquo;must be available to all parents and students without limitations,&rdquo; and that the charter network must indicate that the required student essay is actually optional.</p><p>Milkie believes his students are exactly the same as those in other schools. He says the Noble scores look higher because the incoming test is given 4-6 weeks into high school, enough time for his students to pull ahead, he says.</p><p><strong>Lincoln Park High School: academically diverse, and de-tracking</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big-sort--lincoln-park-HS.jpg" title="Students lead a discussion in a freshman English class at Lincoln Park High School. The incoming test scores we analyzed show Lincoln Park is the city’s most academically diverse school, enrolling a whole range of performers. It is an anomaly in a system where students are being sorted based on achievement level into separate high schools. And the school is de-tracking. This class included low- and high-achievers. Teacher Mark Whetstone says that made it hard to teach, but he said all students benefited. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div></div><p>Lincoln Park High School is an anomaly in Chicago. It enrolls everyone. A 30-year-old International Baccalaureate program attracts elite students. Arts programs draw other kids. The attendance zone guarantees seats to students from both wealthy and poor families.</p><p>Principal Michael Boraz likes to say this is the most diverse high school in CPS, and maybe in the country.</p><p>&ldquo;Not just in terms of our racial and ethnic and neighborhood makeup,&rdquo; says Boraz, &ldquo;but also academically. We have kids from the 15<sup>th </sup>percentile rank in their standardized test scores, all the way up to the 99<sup>th</sup>. So it really is truly a diverse school in just about every sense.&rdquo;</p><p>School is about more than academics, says Boraz. It&rsquo;s where kids learn to live and work together. And now there&rsquo;s a big effort inside Lincoln Park to mix kids more.</p><p>IB classes once reserved for the elite were opened up to everyone last year. So many kids took the IB math final the school had to set up the test in the gym. Boraz <a href="https://twitter.com/mjboraz/status/466255132712505345">tweeted out a picture of 300 desks</a>.</p><p>One morning before school let out, students in a freshman English class at Lincoln Park took turns leading a class discussion on Richard Wright&rsquo;s <em>Black Boy</em>. The class included low performers and high achievers.</p><p>Teacher Mark Whetstone said it was hard to teach a class with such &ldquo;extreme&rdquo; diversity, but says he enjoyed it &ldquo;immensely.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;And I think more importantly the kids at all levels benefitted from the makeup of that class,&rdquo; says Whetstone. &ldquo;I feel like my lower performing students rose to the challenge. They had great examples from their peers around them at all times. And at the same time, for some of my higher performing students, it was good for them to work with someone generally not at their level. To be able to interact, and also to be able to take a lead in the classroom.&rdquo;</p><p>University of Chicago researchers are working on a report about the sorting that&rsquo;s happening among Chicago schools. One of the authors, Elaine Allensworth, says Chicago needs to decide what it wants&mdash;a system where we sort students, or a system where we mix them together more.</p><p>&ldquo;The solution is thinking about where we want to be as a society&mdash;what kind of system do we want&mdash;and how do we make that work for everyone,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Allensworth says researchers already know one thing: whatever approach Chicago chooses, schools need to increase supports for the lowest performing students. If kids are mixed, lower achievers need help keeping up so they don&rsquo;t get frustrated and give up, and so they don&rsquo;t hold back their high-flying peers.</p><p>And if Chicago decides to keep sorting students by achievement, then the schools filled with the lowest performers are going to need a lot of extra resources.</p><p><em>This story was produced in partnership with <a href="http://hechingerreport.org" target="_blank">The Hechinger Report</a>, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet at Teachers College, Columbia University.</em></p><p><em>Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/wbezeducation"> @WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/big-sort-110502 Parents lose fight to keep military school out http://www.wbez.org/news/parents-lose-fight-keep-military-school-out-109044 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/military school.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">A group of Chicago parents lost a year-and-half battle to keep the city from converting their neighborhood middle school to a military academy.</p><p dir="ltr">At a press conference Tuesday at Marine Math and Science Academy on the West Side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed that Ames Middle School, in the Logan Square neighborhood, will become a military academy.</p><p dir="ltr">The mayor&rsquo;s office originally said Marine would be re-located to the Ames building, but school officials now say Marine is not moving.</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll said Wednesday that Ames will be &ldquo;another option for students who wish to pursue attendance at a military school.... And, it&#39;s likely that many students who live in the Ames community, but attend Marine, may choose to enroll there.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The Ames principal is scheduled to stay on, one source told WBEZ. Ames school will be affiliated with the United States Marine Corps, as Marine Math and Science Academy is. And current Marine Math and Science students who want to transfer to Ames will not have to go through the normal application process, the source said.</p><p dir="ltr">About two-dozen Ames parents and students protested outside Tuesday&rsquo;s news conference. They said Ames is a school with deep roots in the neighborhood, with before- and after-school activities, a clinic and a lauded parent-mentor program--all built with community sweat.</p><p dir="ltr">The parents <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/logan-square-parents-we-want-voice-military-school-proposal-103597">long suspected</a> plans to convert Ames to a military academy were in the works&mdash;even before 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado publicly <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20121126/logan-square/parents-protest-proposal-turn-ames-middle-school-into-marine-academy">proposed the idea</a>&mdash;but they were assured by school district officials that nothing would happen without their consultation.</p><p dir="ltr">The conversion of Ames to a military school will increase the number of military academy seats in Chicago Public Schools by 50 percent, according to the city.</p><p dir="ltr">The city has six military academies, more than any other school district in the country. The mayor touted higher-than-normal graduation and college-going rates for the schools in the announcement.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They are setting the standard for where we want the whole system to move,&rdquo; said Emanuel, who outlined the expansion of military academy seats as part of his strategy to give Chicago parents and students more choice. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The city says there is high demand for its military schools&mdash;six applications for every seat&mdash; though the current way high school applications work in Chicago tends to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/how-much-demand-there-chicago-charter-schools-no-one-knows-106418">exaggerate demand</a> for schools, with many students applying to multiple schools, including schools they don&rsquo;t actually plan to attend.</p><p dir="ltr">District officials said moving Marine to the Ames building was pushed by the alderman. A press release from the mayor&rsquo;s staff pointed out that Ames is under-enrolled and received the lowest of three grades Chicago gives to schools.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;(That) does heighten the sensitivity to making some change to try to improve that&mdash;we&rsquo;d like to have all our schools be Level 1 schools,&rdquo; said School Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz, who took questions about the decision. Ruiz said the alderman held public forums and conducted a &ldquo;professional poll&rdquo; that showed significant community support for the military academy. He said there are times when communities are divided over what they want. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">But Ames parents said they&rsquo;d been lied to, citing a promise made at a December 2012 school board meeting.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/raw-audio-december-2012" target="_blank">There are no plans to change Ames Middle School into a military school</a>,&rdquo; School Board President David Vitale said then, telling Ames parents it wasn&rsquo;t necessary for them to come to every school board meeting to plead for their school&rsquo;s survival. &ldquo;Sometimes you have to stop listening to all the rumors in the neighborhood,&rdquo; Vitale told parents. &ldquo;And if you want, you can give me a phone call to find out if anything&rsquo;s changed.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">CPS officials say Vitale said publicly that plans could be in the works at a subsequent school board meeting, in July.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">At that <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-CiexfovUU">July meeting</a>, Ald. Maldonado presented a poll of 300 nearby-Ames residents which showed that 72 percent supported a military academy at Ames. &ldquo;The board looks forward to supporting you and your community with your objective,&rdquo; Vitale said then. &ldquo;We look forward to working with you and making this happen.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Ames parent Emma Segura was among those protesting the decision Tuesday. She said she has nothing against military schools in principle, but wondered about neighborhood students who can&rsquo;t get into the school&mdash;and lamented the loss of a bilingual program.</p><p dir="ltr">Segura said her son and nephew are both 7th graders at Ames, but worries that keeping the family together might not be possible when the military academy&rsquo;s more restrictive admissions policies take effect.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;If one (child) stays here and then I have to send the other one (elsewhere), it&rsquo;s gonna be hard for me to cut myself in half and drive one here and the other one there. And for most parents that&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s gonna happen. If the kids don&rsquo;t get accepted to this school, where else can they take them?&rdquo; Segura wondered.</p><p dir="ltr">Marine Math and Science&rsquo;s website indicates that students applying for 9th grade need to attend an information session, meet minimum test-score requirements, have an &ldquo;A/B average,&rdquo; good conduct and be &ldquo;compliant with uniform policy.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The district said all current Ames students will be able to continue at the school, whether or not they meet Marine&rsquo;s admissions standards.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Ames building--constructed in 1993--will get $7 million in improvements before the military academy moves in. The money, from the city&rsquo;s Tax Increment Finance funds, will pay for new science and computer labs and classrooms for music and art.</p><p dir="ltr">Becky Vevea contributed reporting.</p><p><em>Linda Lutton and Becky Vevea cover education for WBEZ. Follow them <a href="http://twitter.com/wbezeducation" target="_blank">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Oct 2013 21:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/parents-lose-fight-keep-military-school-out-109044 Catholic schools get boost from Indiana vouchers, but critics remain http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/catholic-schools-get-boost-indiana-vouchers-critics-remain-108597 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Indy Voucher.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Just a few years ago, St. Stanislaus Catholic Elementary School in East Chicago, Indiana had fewer than a hundred students and was at risk of closing. But then in 2011 Indiana lawmakers passed a law creating the School Choice Program, which provides public money to low-income parents who want to send their child to a private or religious school. Since then St. Stanislaus, better known as &ldquo;St. Stan&rsquo;s,&rdquo;<br />has experienced a remarkable turnaround.</p><p>&ldquo;It certainly has increased our enrollment,&rdquo; St. Stan principal Mary Jane Bartley told WBEZ. &ldquo;Last year, we opened a second section of 6th graders and this year we opened a second section of third graders.&rdquo;</p><p>Enrollment at St. Stan&rsquo;s has since doubled and other private/religious schools throughout Northwest Indiana might soon get a boost as well. That&rsquo;s because Indiana lawmakers recently loosened the requirements needed for parents to become eligible to participate in the program. Sunday was the deadline for parents to sign up this year. 9,100 Hoosier students are already in the program, with a potential pool of more than a million, according to the Indiana Department of Education.</p><p>East Chicago, a small industrial city outside Chicago, is the only city in Indiana that has a majority Latino population, though African-Americans also make a up a sizable percentage. Catholic schools once dominated this city of 30,000 but as industrial jobs went away and the population dwindled most schools closed except for St. Stan&rsquo;s. But even with the added students and funds, Bartley says the school isn&rsquo;t out of the woods yet.</p><p>&ldquo;We never were able to afford, and we still cannot, school counselors or psychologists or really even teacher aides in all the classrooms,&rdquo; Bartley said. &ldquo;So, therefore, it&rsquo;s up to the classroom teacher to try to meet the needs of all children. I think our teachers are up to the task.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;<br />Opponents of the program had challenged the constitutionality of providing taxpayer dollars to parochial schools. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the law last spring arguing that since the money is going directly to parents, there is no violation between the separation of church and state.</p><p>&ldquo;That argument has been put to bed. The (Indiana) Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional. We&rsquo;re happy with the results,&rdquo; says Marissa Lynch, Field Director for the Indiana Choice Program. &ldquo;This is allowing parents a choice of where their child should attend school.&rdquo;</p><p>But some still worry that the program siphons away public funds from school districts.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s taking away from public education,&rdquo; Cheryl Pruitt, the Superintendent for the Gary Community School Corporation, said on WBEZ&rsquo;s Morning Shift Tuesday. Pruitt says private or religious schools are not monitored by the state the same way as public schools.</p><p>&ldquo;They are not held accountable at the same level as the public schools,&rdquo; Pruitt said.</p><p>According to Pruitt, the amount provided for each participating student, up to $4,500 depending on the family&rsquo;s annual income, often doesn&rsquo;t cover the entire cost of a private education. At some schools, the amount may cover only half of the entire tuition.</p><p>&ldquo;When we look at those really good private schools, that cost is more,&rdquo; Pruitt said.<br />But despite the costs being higher than the voucher amount, Lynch says parents are willing to chip in the additional cost to send their child to a private school.<br />Moreover, of the 9,100 families who are participating in the voucher program statewide, 81 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.</p><p>&ldquo;These are families who are making it work to go to the private schools,&rdquo; Lynch said. &ldquo;In a lot of the cases that I&rsquo;m aware of, many of the schools did keep their tuition at about $4,500 for that elementary or middle school. If the fees were more than that, the schools would have some sort of fundraising internally to have some additional scholarship for the students to meet that gap.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, the reaction from Hoosier parents has been mixed. East Chicago resident Keith Jackson uses voucher money to enroll his daughter at Bishop Noll Catholic High School in Hammond.</p><p>&ldquo;Private school is a better fit for my daughter,&rdquo; Jackson said. &ldquo;Charter or the public schools did not meet all of my daughter&rsquo;s needs.&rdquo;</p><p>But Nilda Rivera, who sends her two children to Catholic schools in Hammond, opposes the program. This despite the fact that she&rsquo;s eligible for vouchers.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a violation of church and state,&rdquo; Rivera said. &ldquo;I think they should use that money to fix up the public school system.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ NWI bureau reporter Michael Puente on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews" target="_blank">@MikePuenteNews</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 03 Sep 2013 15:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/catholic-schools-get-boost-indiana-vouchers-critics-remain-108597