WBEZ | Education http://www.wbez.org/news/education Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago schools chief requests temporary leave amid probe http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-schools-chief-requests-temporary-leave-amid-probe-111899 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/barbarabyrdbennett_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>CHICAGO &mdash; Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett requested a leave of absence Friday amid a federal investigation over a $20.5 million no-bid contract the district awarded to a training academy where she once worked as a consultant, according to her attorney.</p><p>In a statement this afternoon, Board President David Vitale said said Bryd-Bennett is taking the leave in &quot;light of the ongoing federal investigation and its impact on her ability to effectively lead Chicago Public Schools....&quot;</p><p>&quot;Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz is taking the responsibilities of the chief executive officer while Bryd-Bennett is on leave,&quot; Vitale also announced.&nbsp;</p><p>A statement from the mayor&#39;s city hall office in response to the resignation read: &quot;Mayor Emanuel supports today&rsquo;s actions by Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the Board of Education so that the focus of our teachers, principals and parents can remain on the nearly 400,000 students who depend on the district for a quality education. Though there have been no formal allegations, the Mayor has zero tolerance for any type of misconduct from public officials and welcomes today&rsquo;s decision to help ensure this issue does not distract from the incredibly important work happening in our neighborhood public schools.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>The schools chief &mdash; chosen by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the post in 2012 &mdash; requested the leave effective April 20, according to Chicago lawyer Michael Scudder, whom Byrd-Bennett has hired.</p><p>&quot;In light of the attention given to my position as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, I believe that my continuing as CEO at this time would be a distraction,&quot; she wrote in a letter sent to Chicago Board of Education members on Friday. &quot;Although this is a very difficult decision for me personally, it is one I believe is in the best interests of the children of CPS that I am so fortunate to serve.&quot;</p><p>Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey also released a statement on the resignation, including that &ldquo;&ldquo;Barbara (Bryd-Bennett) will be most remembered as the person who was brought in to sell the mayor&rsquo;s school closing plan. While it is our understanding that she is taking a leave of absence due to her potential inability to lead the district during the investigation into her connection to SUPES, she is not the only individual who may be at fault for any wrongdoing. Board president David Vitale was the architect of a financial deal that has cost the district hundreds of millions of dollars, and no one has asked for him to take a leave of absence. Board member Deborah Quazzo has received millions in profits from her private investments in companies with CPS contracts, and no one has asked for her to take a leave of absence either.&quot;</p><p>Byrd-Bennett, who has not been accused of wrongdoing, directed requests for comment to her attorney.</p><p>The longtime educator with ties to school systems in New York, Detroit and Cleveland, also worked as a consultant for SUPES Academy in suburban Chicago before coming to CPS, according to published reports. The group trains principals.</p><p>Emanuel and Board of Education President David Vitale confirmed earlier this week CPS was being investigated by federal officials, but didn&#39;t provide details. A spokesman for SUPES Academy in suburban Chicago said it has turned over records and files to federal investigators.</p><p>CPS had entered an agreement with SUPES in 2012, but according to the Chicago Tribune, the two sides agreed to replace that contract with another one. The following year, school officials approved a &quot;leadership development services agreement&quot; for up to $20.5 million. The agreement was approved by the board.</p><p>More than a year ago, Catalyst Chicago, a news organization focusing on education, said an investigation was being conducted by the CPS inspector general. Inspector General James Sullivan, who resigned last year, confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times that there was an investigation of the contract. He didn&#39;t provide further details.</p><p>The news follows a hard-fought re-election battle for Emanuel, who spent much of the time on the campaign trail defending controversial schools decisions and his choice of Byrd-Bennett. Among the most scrutinized moves was a 2013 push to close dozens of neighborhood schools. During the campaign, Emanuel said it was a tough, but necessary decision to improve school achievement and he was proud of his choice of Byrd-Bennett.</p></p> Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:07:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-schools-chief-requests-temporary-leave-amid-probe-111899 CPS, training academy cooperating in federal investigation of district http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-training-academy-cooperating-federal-investigation-district-111891 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/barbarabyrdbennett.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Updated April 16, 4:12 p.m.</em></p><p>A former employer of Mayor Rahm Emanuel&#39;s hand-picked chief of Chicago schools &mdash; a company that was awarded a no-bid contract of up to $20.5 million with the nation&#39;s third-largest district &mdash; said it is cooperating with federal authorities investigating the district.</p><p>SUPES Academy in suburban Chicago, which trains principals, said it has handed over records and files to federal investigators.</p><p>Officials have said very little about the probe, with the Chicago Public Schools and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett declining to comment beyond a news release issued by the district and a statement by Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale saying he was made aware of the investigation this week. Emanuel said he had little information and did not even know the &quot;target&quot; of the investigation. And on Thursday, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said he did not know any details about the investigation.</p><p>Byrd-Bennett, a longtime educator in New York, Detroit and Cleveland &mdash; where she was the school district&#39;s CEO for seven years &mdash; also worked as consultant for SUPES, according to published reports.</p><p>After coming to Chicago as a consultant for the CPS in April 2012, Byrd-Bennett was appointed CEO in October of that year by the mayor.</p><p>The CPS had entered an agreement with SUPES in 2012, but according to the Chicago Tribune, the two sides agreed to replace that contract with a new one. In 2013, the district approved a &quot;leadership development services agreement&quot; for up to $20.5 million. The agreement was approved by the Board of Education and signed by Vitale in June of that year.</p><p>More than a year ago, Catalyst Chicago, a news organization that focuses on education, said a probe was being conducted by the CPS inspector general. Inspector General James Sullivan, who resigned last year, confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times that there was an investigation of the contract, but would not elaborate.</p><p>At a news briefing after Wednesday&#39;s City Council, Emanuel said he has talked only briefly to Byrd-Bennett when she told him earlier in the week that federal authorities were &quot;looking at a matter at CPS&quot; and said that he had not at that point talked to her further.</p><p>When he was pressed about whether he had confidence in Byrd-Bennett, whose contract expires at the end of June, Emanuel said, &quot;I can&#39;t answer. I don&#39;t even know who they are looking at.&quot;</p></p> Thu, 16 Apr 2015 12:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-training-academy-cooperating-federal-investigation-district-111891 Special Series: Global Activism - 'Worldview' Visits India http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/special-series-global-activism-worldview-visits-india-111888 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/India-series%20620%20good.JPG" title="From bottom-center l to r - Jerome McDonnell and Steve Bynum of WBEZ and Nila Vora of India Development Service in Delhi, India with the NGO Community Youth Collective (Photo by Nilesh Kothari)" /><em>Worldview</em> took <em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism">Global Activism</a></em> to India! And we take you along for the ride. For years, India Development Service <a href="http://idsusa.org/">(IDS)</a>, a Chicago-based investment NGO, has brought from India Global Activists to <em>Worldview&nbsp;</em>who work there to make life better. So IDS brought us to India to talk with people doing service and development projects on-the-ground. IDS guided us through big cities like, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, as well as to remote villages and towns. We met people working to overcome challenges like illiteracy, abuse of women and children, class issues and water security.</p><p><strong>Jerome McDonnell and Steve Bynum of WBEZ&#39;s <em>Worldview</em> and </strong><strong>India Development Service (IDS)</strong><strong> share their adventures in India</strong></p><p>Sunday, May 17th, 2015, 5:00pm-7:30pm</p><p>The Meadows Club2950 Golf Road, Rolling Meadows</p><p>Free of Charge - Dinner Included</p></p> Thu, 16 Apr 2015 09:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/special-series-global-activism-worldview-visits-india-111888 New Illinois education chief is urban school reform leader http://www.wbez.org/news/new-illinois-education-chief-urban-school-reform-leader-111887 <p><p>SPRINGFIELD, Ill. &mdash; The Illinois State Board of Education moved unanimously Wednesday afternoon to make a leadership change, replacing one of the nation&#39;s longest-serving superintendents with a former professional football player who spent recent years at the helm of a high poverty, urban district in California that faced a multi-million dollar deficit.</p><p>The selection of Anthony &quot;Tony&quot; Smith &mdash; GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner&#39;s recommendation to the board &mdash; sends a message about the new Republican&#39;s governor&#39;s priorities for the state&#39;s 860 school districts and its outdated school funding formula during an ongoing financial crisis.</p><p>In a statement, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly described Smith as &quot;a transformational leader and has a proven track record of increasing student achievement, while successfully addressing fiscal and structural issues at the local district level.&quot;</p><p>Smith is scheduled to begin the role May 1 at a salary of $225,000 annually, a slight bump from the $222,468 his outgoing predecessor, Christopher Koch, earns per year. The board also approved an $89,000 severance package for Koch, who has continued to serve in recent weeks after his long-term contract expired in May.</p><p>Koch, who began his tenure in 2006, has been the state&#39;s longest-serving superintendent in nearly five decades, according to state board spokesman Matt Vanover. The unassuming former special education teacher has received wide praise for his oversight of changes to state testing and teacher evaluations, but Rauner recently told the Chicago Tribune editorial board that Koch was &quot;a good person&quot; but &quot;not transformational.&quot;</p><p>Smith, a 48-year old father of two, is director of the W. Clement Stone and Jesse V. Stone Foundation in Oak Park, a nonprofit focused on early childhood education. The Ounce of Prevention Fund of which First Lady Diana Rauner serves as president, lists the group as of one of its funding sources. Smith was a member of the new governor&#39;s transition team following the November election.</p><p>A California native, Smith played briefly with the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, though not in any regular season games, after graduating with an English degree from the University of California Berkeley, where he later earned masters and doctoral degrees from its graduate school of education.</p><p>A deputy superintendent of the San Francisco school district and a superintendent of a two-school district in the bay area, Smith was named superintendent for Oakland schools in 2009, a district that was emerging from state control and faced a $40 million structural deficit. It had a balanced budget when he left the district four years later.</p><p>By statewide measures of academic progress, Oakland became the most improved school district in California during Smith&#39;s tenure, though he drew accolades and fierce criticism alike for the decisions he made along the way.</p><p>Smith is a proponent of &quot;full-service community school&quot; which aim to combat poverty and bring families and communities into the school improvement effort. He has advocated for charters and the privatization of Oakland public schools during his time. Smith also clashed with the district&#39;s teachers union over contract issues during his tenure.</p><p>State law permits the governor to make a recommendation to the board, which has the ability to approve or reject his recommendation.</p><p>Board chairman the Rev. James Meeks &mdash; a recent appointment by Rauner &mdash; said Smith was the only candidate considered to replace Koch. The board spent nearly an hour in private session discussing the selection, before emerging and announcing its unanimous decision.</p><p>&quot;Of course when you go behind closed doors, everybody is never in 100 percent agreement, but you figure out what&#39;s best for the state,&quot; Meeks said.</p><p>One board member, Steven Gilford, said he was &quot;disappointed&quot; Koch would leave the agency, but he decided to vote for Smith&#39;s appointment, anyway.</p><p>Meeks said the vote &quot;shows the good faith of the people that are on the board, the positive direction that we&#39;re moving in.&quot;</p><p>Smith did not attend Wednesday&#39;s meeting in Springfield, but had private one-on-one meeting with board members as well as the full board in early April, Meeks said.</p><p>Though his background is in urban schools, board member John Sanders of Marion said Smith indicated plans to travel across the state to better understand challenges of central and southern Illinois districts, many of which are suffering following years of state funding cuts.</p></p> Thu, 16 Apr 2015 08:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-illinois-education-chief-urban-school-reform-leader-111887 CPS Board president says Chicago schools under investigation http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-board-president-says-chicago-schools-under-investigation-111884 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/BoardOfEd1_0_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Officials with the nation&#39;s third-largest school district say federal authorities are &quot;investigating a matter&quot; at Chicago Public Schools.</p><p>In a statement released Wednesday, Chicago Board of Education president David Vitale says federal authorities requested interviews with several employees. He says the board was made aware of the investigation on Tuesday and is cooperating fully.</p><p>He did not offer details on the investigation. A spokesman for Chicago Public Schools didn&#39;t return a request for comment Wednesday.</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters Wednesday that he didn&#39;t have further details. He says there isn&#39;t information yet on who&#39;s the target of the probe.</p></p> Wed, 15 Apr 2015 17:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-board-president-says-chicago-schools-under-investigation-111884 Election results mean new power at beleaguered College of DuPage http://www.wbez.org/news/election-results-mean-new-power-beleaguered-college-dupage-111849 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/cod.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>College of DuPage Board Vice Chair Katharine Hamilton wants school President Robert Breuder to step down before his planned 2016 departure date.</p><p>And after Tuesday&rsquo;s election, she should have the votes to make that happen.</p><p>Breuder has been at the center of several recent controversies at the school, which is the largest community college in Illinois. In January, the Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to give him a $763,000 buyout, with Hamilton casting the lone no vote.</p><p>And the <em>Chicago Tribune</em> has reported that the DuPage County State&rsquo;s Attorney is <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-college-of-dupage-investigation-subpoenas-20150331-story.html">investigating lavish spending by Breuder and his staff</a>.</p><p>Hamilton said DuPage County voters were responding to those issues when they elected three new trustees.</p><p>Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein secured the three available seats on the board in the consolidated election on April 7 out of a field of 12. All three of them ran together under the &ldquo;Clean Slate&rdquo; ticket supported by Hamilton. They beat two incumbent board members and a former state representative.</p><p>Together with Hamilton, the three will make up a new majority on the seven member board. The board will elect a new chair in May and Hamilton expects to replace current Chair Erin Birt.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re gonna look at perhaps clawing back the excessive golden handshake that was provided to Dr. Brueder, and in addition to that, some reform policies that will restructure the college in a way that the board will have more power to lead the college,&rdquo; Hamilton said.</p><p>She called the recent controversies &ldquo;a symptom of the crisis in governance&rdquo; at the College of DuPage.</p><p>&ldquo;The failure of the current board to provide oversight is startling. So hopefully this new majority- and I&rsquo;m not just saying hopefully - I know that this new majority will be able to clamp down on those problems,&rdquo; Hamilton added.</p><p>Their plans include putting all of the college&rsquo;s transactions online for scrutiny by the public and creating a new audit committee.</p><p>In a statement, a college spokesman said the school looks &ldquo;forward to beginning a new chapter at the College of DuPage as we welcome the elected trustees to the Board.&rdquo;</p><p>Board Chair Erin Birt declined to be interviewed.</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him on twitter @pksmid.</em></p></p> Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/election-results-mean-new-power-beleaguered-college-dupage-111849 Emanuel likely to stay the course on education in second term http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-likely-stay-course-education-second-term-111843 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/rahmvictoryspech.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Public education was one of the reasons Mayor Rahm Emanuel faced a runoff election Tuesday.</p><p>Despite a rocky relationship with some teachers and parents in his first term, he won a second.</p><p>Emanuel now will face challenges at Chicago Public Schools that look a lot like the challenges of four years ago: declining enrollment, ballooning pension costs, and an expiring contract with the Chicago Teachers Union.</p><p>But then again, first-term Emanuel looks different than second-term Emanuel, so far.</p><p>&ldquo;I understand the challenges we face will require me to approach them differently and work in a different fashion,&rdquo; he said in his victory speech at a union hall in the West Loop.</p><p>CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey says although union-backed candidate Jesus &lsquo;Chuy&rsquo; Garcia garnered 44 percent of the vote to the mayor&rsquo;s 56 percent, &nbsp;the new &ldquo;sweater-wearing Rahm&rdquo; is enough of a victory.</p><p>&ldquo;You saw the mayor <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjqQWB3WtCo">put on a soft shirt</a> and say he was going to do more listening, which is very different than what you saw in 2012,&rdquo; Sharkey said, referring to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-strike-after-talks-fail-102287">the year CTU teachers went on strike</a> for the first time in 25 years.</p><p>It&rsquo;s unclear how far that rhetoric will go. Sharkey admitted while there&rsquo;s still likely to be a lot of conflict. CTU will have to work with Emanuel.</p><p>&ldquo;The union can&rsquo;t go around saying this mayor is dead to us for the next four years,&rdquo; Sharkey said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to have to figure out how to actually solve some of the problems going on in the schools.&rdquo;</p><p>The current teachers&rsquo; contract expires in June, but could be extended for a fourth year if the board offers the union a three percent raise.</p><p>&ldquo;People would be willing to take less money in exchange for some basic protections about working conditions and some assurances that they&rsquo;re not just going to keep closing and privatizing schools,&rdquo; Sharkey said.</p><p>&ldquo;We are still under a moratorium, so no immediate plans to do anything on that front,&rdquo; said Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the Chicago Board of Education, referring to a five-year moratorium put into place after the Board <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-board-votes-close-50-schools-107294">closed 50 schools in 2013</a>.</p><p>It&rsquo;s a tough promise to keep in a city with a declining population and therefore, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/3000-fewer-students-enroll-chicago-public-schools-110869">declining school enrollment</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re hoping to change that (exodus) by some of the things we&rsquo;re doing to make it attractive for Chicagoans to want to continue to live here and grow their families here,&rdquo; Ruiz said. &nbsp;</p><p>Parent Wendy Katten says she hopes that to do so the district will focus on improving existing schools, rather than opening a bunch of new ones.</p><p>&ldquo;We see 7,000 fewer students in CPS than three years ago and there&rsquo;s a reason why,&rdquo; Katten said. &ldquo;People want strong neighborhood schools. I mean, <a href="http://cps.edu/NewSchools/Pages/Process2014.aspx">we&rsquo;ve got new RFPs for charters due today</a>. We don&rsquo;t need any more schools right now.&rdquo;</p><p>But Andrew Broy, executive director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said it&rsquo;s not an either-or.</p><p>&ldquo;We can both expand high-quality charters, while we work on all the schools in the city to make them better,&rdquo; Broy said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ll borrow a phrase from President Obama--I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.&rdquo;</p><p>In his victory speech, Emanuel made it sound like he will walk and chew gum at the same time &mdash; by continuing to open new schools while trying to improve existing ones.</p><p>&ldquo;I hear you on the importance of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/future-uncertain-chicagos-neighborhood-high-schools-108834">neighborhood high schools</a> and better choices,&rdquo; he shouted.</p><p>The question is: Will he still be wearing that sweater?</p></p> Wed, 08 Apr 2015 15:53:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-likely-stay-course-education-second-term-111843 Behind CPS graduation rates, a system of musical chairs http://www.wbez.org/news/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/grad rate thumb.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Hidden beneath Chicago&rsquo;s record-high graduation rate is a surprising fact: High schools still have a lot of trouble holding on to students.<br /><br />A WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago analysis of graduation numbers for every high school in the city shows how many freshmen stayed through graduation day, how many dropped out and how many finished at other schools&mdash;including alternative schools.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Map: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786#map">Which schools hang onto the most freshmen?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Half of all CPS high schools saw at least half of the Class of 2013 transfer to other schools between freshman and senior years.</p><p>CPS officials say the school system encourages students and families to choose where they want to go to high school, and that includes transferring after freshman year.</p><p>It&rsquo;s also the first time the public has been able to compare freshman retention rates at charter schools versus district-run high schools, because in the past charters reported transfers, while other schools reported mobility. The common perception was that charters were weeding out students who weren&rsquo;t doing well, but the numbers were an apples-to-oranges comparison.&nbsp; In fact, data show wide variation across all school types.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Graduation rates vs. freshman retention</span><br /><br />The data raises an important question: How can schools lose so many students and still report high graduation rates?<br /><br />At their most basic, graduation rates look at the number of students who enroll as freshmen, and calculate the percentage who earn a diploma four years later.<br /><br />&nbsp;Chicago counts students over five years to include students who take a little longer to finish high school.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">Chicago expands use of alternative schools</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Chicago also counts students back at their home school. If a student&nbsp; transfers from School A to School B, but still graduates, School A gets credit. Researchers say it&rsquo;s best to track the same students over time.<a name="video"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="465" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/i0EibDr47gc" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>Map created&nbsp;</em><em>by Simran Khosla</em></p><p>Kenwood Academy is a good example of how students move throughout the system. In 2009, 439 freshman walked through the doors of the school. Sixty-six left the city or moved out of state, leaving 393 still enrolled. Over five years, 54 dropped out and 317 graduated. CPS divides 317 by 393 for an official graduation rate of 85 percent.<br /><br />But beneath those numbers, WBEZ and Catalyst found additional movement. Not all 317 graduated at Kenwood; 276 from the original freshman class did, while 12 finished at other CPS schools and 29 earned their diploma at alternative schools. Kenwood also helped other schools&rsquo; graduation rates by enrolling and graduating 30 students who initially enrolled as freshmen at other schools.<br /><br />Kenwood Principal Gregory Jones said the movement at his school is not atypical in an urban district with so many choices.<br /><br />&ldquo;But mostly, Kenwood kids stay at Kenwood,&rdquo; Jones said.<br /><br />John Easton, a distinguished fellow at the Spencer Foundation, said CPS has been reporting graduation rates more honestly and fairly for decades, following the same students from freshman year, rather than senior year, like many others.<br /><br />&ldquo;This whole calculating graduation rates correctly, using these cohort longitudinal methods where you follow kids over time really started here in Chicago in the mid-80s by a man named Fred Hess,&rdquo; Easton said.<br /><br />Easton worked with Hess in the 1980s and spent the decades since at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research and the National Center for Education Statistics. The numbers are no less complicated today than they were then, he said.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/meet-companies-profit-when-cps-students-drop-out-111665">Meet the companies that profit when CPS students drop out</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;There are dozens of decisions and every single one of those decisions is going to have an implication for what the bottom line number is,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">&lsquo;Dark days&rsquo; to top 20</span><br /><br />In 2007, Noble Street Charter School wasn&rsquo;t doing a very good job keeping its freshmen.<br /><br />&ldquo;We certainly weren&rsquo;t actively trying to remove students from our campus, but if a student wanted to transfer or they thought maybe it wasn&rsquo;t the right fit, we were kind of like, &lsquo;OK. Godspeed,&rsquo;&rdquo; said Principal Ellen Metz, who was the dean of students at the time.<br /><br />Metz said that was clearly the wrong approach. Of that first freshman class, just 72 of 132 made it to graduation day.&nbsp;<br /><br />As is true for freshmen at all CPS high schools, freshman who leave and graduate from another school are still counted in Noble&rsquo;s graduation rate. But even so, Metz argues, the best way to make sure students don&rsquo;t drop out is to keep them in the building.<br /><br />&ldquo;If a student ever suggests they want to transfer, we call that the T-word and it&rsquo;s considered almost like &lsquo;a swear&rsquo; here at our campus,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s something that you don&rsquo;t say.&rdquo;<br /><br />Since 2007, Noble&rsquo;s flagship campus has become somewhat obsessed with holding on to its students. The numbers for the Class of 2013 show Noble&rsquo;s flagship campus kept almost 80 percent of the original freshmen. That&rsquo;s better than all but 12 other Chicago public high schools.<br /><br />Freshman Avonjae Dickson used the &ldquo;t-word&rdquo; all the time last fall.<br /><br />&ldquo;I chose a lot of schools and since I was late turning in my papers, I eventually had to come here, but I wanted to go to Lincoln Park,&rdquo; Dickson said.<br /><br />Metz said Dickson is slowly coming around.<br /><br />&ldquo;She&rsquo;s sort of acknowledging, she&rsquo;s starting to see, maybe I do like this,&rsquo;&rdquo; Metz said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a classic example why freshman year is so critical. We also could have, in the fall, when she was speaking that way, we could have said, &lsquo;You know, maybe you&rsquo;re right, maybe this isn&rsquo;t the right fit, if you don&rsquo;t like it.&rsquo;&rdquo;<br /><br />Other Noble schools struggle to keep freshmen, but only one campus, Rowe-Clark, lost more than half of the Class of 2013. Twenty of the city&rsquo;s neighborhood high schools struggle the most, holding on to fewer than 35 percent of the original freshmen. All are on the South and West sides.<br /><br />Among charters, Urban Prep&rsquo;s two campuses do the worst. Chief Academic Officer Lionel Allen said the data &ldquo;unfairly paints a very dismal picture of the work (they&rsquo;re) doing at Urban Prep.&rdquo;<br /><br />He said it&rsquo;s important to note that Urban Prep serves primarily African American males. Nationally, that subgroup has some of the lowest graduation rates. Allen said he is also concerned that there are discrepancies between the numbers they track internally and those being reported by CPS.<br /><br />Even so, he added, &ldquo;we absolutely need to do a better job.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We would love to hold on to all of our freshmen,&rdquo; Allen said.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A (second) choice</span></p><p>In a system of choice, where students don&rsquo;t have to go to the school nearest to their house, it might seem that there would be no mobility. For the most sought after high schools, that seems to be the case.</p><p>Of the top 10 schools holding on to the largest percentage of the Class of 2013, six are selective enrollment. ChiArts, Lakeview, Prosser and Spry are the others.</p><p>But for the rest of the system, a remarkable number of students are transferring between their freshman and senior years. About 16,000 of the more than 20,000 graduates in the Class of 2013 started and finished in the same place.</p><p>Easton of the Spencer Foundation said the fact that about 4,000 students are still graduating after transferring is actually encouraging.</p><p>&ldquo;Previous research had suggested that a transfer of high school students was sort of a danger sign,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That meant they hadn&rsquo;t done very well and were trying to find another place so they were perhaps on a path to dropping out. So I find it very encouraging that many of these transfer students are graduating. Of course, the thing that you worry about is the quality of the program they&rsquo;re going into.&rdquo;</p><p>Of the roughly 4,000 students who transferred and still graduated, 1,200 actually finished at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">alternative schools</a>, while just 59 transferred into the city&rsquo;s sought after selective enrollment high schools.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>. Additional reporting by Chris Hagan, WBEZ web producer.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Support for this story was provided by Front and Center, funded by The Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.&nbsp;</em></p><p><a name="map"></a><iframe frameborder="0" height="820" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/MAPS/graduationratemap/GraduationRateMap.html" style="float: right; clear: right;" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786 Flamin' Hot Cheetos top some Chicago Public School vending machines http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/flamin-hot-cheetos-top-some-chicago-public-school-vending-machines-111773 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/cheetos.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Last week Michigan became the latest state to opt out of the federal Smart Snack standards. The rules regulate what can be sold in school fundraisers and vending machines that help schools pay the bill. More than 22 states have pushed for some kind of exemption from these rules since they went into effect last July.</p><p>So just how stringent are they?</p><p>The snacks must be:</p><ul><li>&ldquo;whole grain rich&rdquo; if they are grain-based, meaning 50 percent whole grain</li><li>no more than 200 calories</li><li>no more than 230 mgs of sodium</li><li>no more than 35 percent sugar, by weight</li><li>lower in fat, meaning no more than a third of their calories can come from fat</li></ul><p>So all that&rsquo;s left is kale, right?</p><p>Well, not really. In fact, under these new rules, two of the top sellers in some Chicago Public Schools are reformulated Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheetos and Kellogg&rsquo;s Pop Tarts. This is not exactly what Dr. Virginia Stallings envisioned when she chaired the Institute of Medicine committee whose recommendations would form the backbone of the Smart Snack rules.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I thought the top sellers might be things that had more nutrients in them than Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheetos,&rdquo; said Stallings, who is a professor of pediatrics at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. &ldquo;But let me say that one of the things we were absolutely expecting and appreciate is that the food companies would look at these recommendations and they would, in fact, reformulate their products.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>To Stallings, the reformulated Cheetos, in smaller portions, with more whole grain, less sodium and less fat, represent an evidence-based improvement over the old formula.</p><p>But to folks like Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, a health analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, the snacks represent&nbsp;&nbsp; mixed messages to kids.<br /><br />&ldquo;I think it says to them that, of course, I can eat these. And when they are outside the school, if they see the same item at a grocery store, they don&rsquo;t recognize the difference,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Even more concerning, is that their parents don&rsquo;t either, according to a Rudd Center study showing that many parents are misguided into thinking that these [reformulated] items are good for their kids.&rdquo;</p><p>To see this in action, all you have to do is drop by a Chicago Public high school vending machine where reformulated Pop Tarts and Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheeto Puffs occupy several slots. In an interview with WBEZ Wednesday, CPS&rsquo;s head of Nutrition Services Leslie Fowler said she had no idea schools were selling the snacks.</p><p>The district, she said, has prohibited reformulated snacks for about a year. Still, a list of approved snacks that CPS provided to WBEZ on Wednesday includes Baked Cheetos and Reduced Fat Nilla Wafers. Another list the district sent to WBEZ earlier Wednesday included reduced fat Cool Ranch Doritos as an approved snack. But when WBEZ noted that snack was also &ldquo;reformulated,&rdquo; the CPS official claimed she&rsquo;d given us the wrong list.</p><p>To add to the confusion, Fowler told WBEZ Wednesday that the &ldquo;only Cheeto that is approved is the whole grain puff,&rdquo; which are not included on the latest list but are featured in several district machines.</p><p>Regardless of what CPS rules actually are, it&rsquo;s clear that the much maligned Smart Snack rules still leave plenty of room for things like reformulated Flamin Hot Cheetos. And while it&rsquo;s true the reformulation reduces fat and salt, the snacks still feature six artificial colors and nearly 30 ingredients.</p><p>New York University Nutrition professor Marion Nestle thinks part of the problem is that the rules encourage companies to hit certain nutrient numbers rather than providing real food.&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /><br />&ldquo;This is a classic case of nutritionism,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;If you set up nutrition standards, the food industry can do anything to meet those standards and this is a perfect example of that...So this is a better-for-you junk food. And, of course, the question is: is that a good choice? And no, of course, it&rsquo;s not.&rdquo;&nbsp;<br /><br />When asked to discuss the issue, Cheeto maker Frito Lay would not grant WBEZ an interview. Instead, the company wrote &ldquo;We offer a variety of Smart Snack compliant products in schools in portion-controlled sizes to suit a variety of tastes, including the Reduced Fat, Whole Grain Rich Flamin&#39; Hot Cheetos.&rdquo;</p><p>Lane Tech Senior Tyra Bosnic said she&rsquo;s disappointed in the vending machines at her school. She wished they better mirrored the machines she&rsquo;s seen in Europe.<br /><br />&ldquo;They have better drinks there and there&rsquo;s more water accessible,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There they have things like pumpkin seeds in the machines. Here we just have gross, whole grain Pop Tarts and Cheeto Puffs.&rdquo;<br /><br />The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it couldn&rsquo;t comment on the wisdom of selling Cheetos at school, but that its latest rules have already helped kids eat &ldquo;healthier.&rdquo;<br /><br />It&rsquo;s not just kids who are drawn to the&nbsp; orange curly snacks. For cash strapped school administrators, Cheetos can&nbsp; deliver plenty of green. Under the current CPS deal with Avcoa Vending, schools&nbsp; get a 20 percent commission on all sales; and that can add up to more than $10,000 in discretionary spending a year. So, why not stock this teenage favorite?</p><p>&ldquo;Because schools have an obligation to teach children how to be successful adults,&rdquo; says Rochelle Davis of Chicago&rsquo;s Healthy Schools Campaign. &ldquo;And learning about how to be healthy is a critical part of that.&rdquo;</p><p>Still, one vending machine rep noted that kids are going to buy Cheetos at the corner store and that few entities need money more than schools. Stallings, who wrote the original recommendations, questions whether schools should be selling any snacks at all.</p><p>&ldquo;Selling food to children outside of the school lunch and breakfast should not be a source of revenue for the school,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s exploiting the children&rsquo;s health.&rdquo;</p><p>Instead, advocates like Rochelle Davis of Chicago&rsquo;s Healthy Schools Campaign suggest raising the revenue through things like plant sales and dance-a-thons.</p><p>&ldquo;I just got an email about a school trying a dance-a-thon,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So the kids are going to be up and moving and the community is going to be supporting that instead of a traditional fundraiser.&rdquo;</p><p>But can a dance-a-thon rake in the cash like Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheetos? With all the resistance against even these initial rules, it may be some time before we get to find out.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Clarification, 3/26/2015: After this story was published Chicago Public Schools officials claimed CPS uses vendors other than Avcoa. They have not yet responded who those vendors are.</em></p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> <em>@monicaeng</em></a> <em>or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p></p> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:23:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/flamin-hot-cheetos-top-some-chicago-public-school-vending-machines-111773 Unions and Garcia push for $15-an-hour minimum wage http://www.wbez.org/news/unions-and-garcia-push-15-hour-minimum-wage-111768 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/chuy15.PNG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Mayoral candidate Jesus &quot;Chuy&quot; Garcia and the Chicago Teachers Union are pushing for a $15 per hour minimum wage.</p><p dir="ltr">Garcia, members of the CTU, and activists with the national movement &ldquo;Fight for 15&rdquo; rallied outside the Chicago Board of Education Wednesday. They want all companies who do business with Chicago Public Schools to agree to a wage increase.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Parents who cannot get regular hours at their job, who cannot make a living wage, have a difficult time providing their children, who are our students, with the kind of environment necessary for real learning,&rdquo; said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.</p><p dir="ltr">All CTU-represented employees and most others at CPS are already above the minimum wage, but Sharkey said subcontracted employees, like Safe Passage workers and recess monitors, are not.</p><p dir="ltr">Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already <a href="http://www.wbez.org/mayor-emanuel-backs-chicago-minimum-wage-hike-13-110462">promised to increase the minimum wage</a> to $13 an hour by 2018. The wage hike applies to all companies who do business with the city and its sister agencies, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-chief-backs-mayors-13-hour-minimum-wage-111138">including CPS</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Garcia said he&rsquo;d find the money for a wage hike by closing tax loopholes for wealthy corporations and rerouting money given to &ldquo;cronies of the mayor.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s enough money to make them happy, there ought to be enough money to pay for frontline workers within Chicago Public Schools,&rdquo; Garcia said. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">School janitors also rallied outside the Board Wednesday to argue against the layoffs that took place after <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/custodial-contract-causing-problems-start-school-year-110767">CPS outsourced custodial management</a> to Aramark and SodexoMAGIC.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Since Aramark has taken over, I currently have to clean 72,000 square feet of hallway,&rdquo; said Ina Davis, a janitor at University of Chicago - Donoghue Charter School. &nbsp;&ldquo;I have 17 classrooms, 23 bathrooms and I&rsquo;m the only janitor that has to clean this at night. I&rsquo;m just asking for CPS to help us.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Last week, principals asked CPS to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/principals-cps-end-custodial-contract-now-111735">end the contracts</a> with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, saying the schools were still dirty. District officials say after hiccups early in the year, a recent audit of school cleanliness showed most schools are cleaner.</p><p dir="ltr">Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International United - Local 1, said even though Aramark <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/aramark-cps-change-plan-cut-school-janitors-110870">compromised by not following through</a> with about half of the planned layoffs, the company still made more than 200 janitors part-time, which is a problem.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There&rsquo;s just not enough hours in the day for the janitors to do all the work,&rdquo; Balanoff said.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 17:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/unions-and-garcia-push-15-hour-minimum-wage-111768