WBEZ | Education http://www.wbez.org/news/education Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago ends standoff, agrees to give new state test http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-ends-standoff-agrees-give-new-state-test-111644 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_1631_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Public Schools ended its <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/standoff-over-new-state-school-test-continues-111626">standoff with the State of Illinois</a>&nbsp;over the new mandated standardized state test. &nbsp;</p><p>All students in the Chicago district will have to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or <a href="http://parcc.pearson.com/">PARCC</a>, exam this spring. Schools will start giving the test next Monday, March 9th.</p><p>&ldquo;I continue to personally and professionally believe that to administer PARCC this year is absolutely not in the best interest of our students,&rdquo; CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Monday. &ldquo;However, given the threat from (the state), there is absolutely no choice.&rdquo;</p><p>The Illinois State Board of Education <a href="https://www.scribd.com/collections/13631879/CPS-ISBE-on-PARCC">sent a letter to the district on Friday</a> reiterating its stance that if CPS only gave the test at 10 percent of its schools, &nbsp;it could risk losing $1.4 billion in funding.</p><p>The requirement means that CPS students will now face <a href="http://cps.edu/Performance/Documents/AssessmentCalendar_District.pdf">a barrage of tests</a> for the remainder of the school year.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s barely a week without a testing window. It&rsquo;s just horrifying,&rdquo; said Wendy Katten, head of the parent group Raise Your Hand. &nbsp;The organization has been increasingly vocal about the overuse of standardized tests.</p><p>Indeed, there are just three weeks between now and the end of the school year when CPS will not be giving some kind of standardized test. One of those weeks is spring break. Of course, not all students will have to take all of the tests and not all students are taking the test every day. But, Katten said, it&rsquo;s still disruptive to the school environment.</p><p>&ldquo;Some schools might have 30 computers and 800 kids; they&rsquo;re probably going to take the whole window of testing,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>In all, 230,000 CPS students will take the PARCC. John Barker, the district&rsquo;s chief of accountability, said 3rd through 5th graders will take the PARCC exam on paper, while 6th through 8th and high school students in Algebra 1 and English 1 will take the test on computers.</p><p>A second phase of the PARCC exam will be given between April 27th and May 22nd. Additionally, CPS will give the final phase of the district-mandated NWEA MAP test to all kindergarten through 8<sup>th</sup> grade students between May 11th and June 12th. The last day of school is June 16th.</p><p>In that same time, CPS students will also take a series of tests, called REACH, that are used to evaluate teachers. The ACT is being given to high school juniors March 3rd, and students enrolled in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs will be tested the second and third weeks of May.</p><p>Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said students who would have otherwise spent three hours taking tests will spend roughly 13 hours doing so.</p><p>Katten said her group and others will continue to push for an Illinois &ldquo;opt-out&rdquo; law that would allow parents to remove their child from testing. Currently, Illinois has no such provision and state officials say the only way around taking a test is if the student refuses it.&nbsp;</p><p><i>This article has been updated to reflect that students enrolled in Algebra 1 and English 1 will have to take the PARCC exam. &nbsp;</i></p></p> Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:23:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-ends-standoff-agrees-give-new-state-test-111644 Standoff over new state school test continues http://www.wbez.org/news/standoff-over-new-state-school-test-continues-111626 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_5715.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>All Illinois school children are supposed to take a new state test just a few days from now, but those enrolled in the state&rsquo;s largest school district remain caught in a political standoff.</p><p>The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is replacing the old ISAT statewide exam. But public backlash against the new test and its corresponding standards &ndash; called the Common Core &ndash; has gotten louder than ever.</p><p>Chicago Public Schools is defying a state mandate that all schoolkids be tested. The district has declared that only 10 percent of city public schools will give the new test.</p><p>The Illinois State Board of Education has told CPS it must give PARCC to all student in third through eighth grades and all eleventh graders or it&nbsp;<a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150130/BLOGS02/150139992/standoff-escalates-over-cps-snub-of-federal-testing-rules">will lose millions in state and federal money</a>.</p><p>&quot;CPS risks anywhere from $400 million to $1.4 billion by not administering this test,&quot; said Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus. She noted the state could decide to&nbsp;remove CPS&#39;s recognition status, which could mean a loss of state aid.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A Chicago campaign gimmick?</span></p><p>The state&rsquo;s strong response to Chicago&#39;s resistance left some wondering if the whole thing was a campaign gimmick to win votes from parents who oppose standardized testing.</p><p>Jennifer Biggs, a member of the parent group Raise Your Hand, said now that the election is over, she expected CPS to quickly take a more clear stand on the issue.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I really thought today there was going to be a solid PARCC decision announcement,&rdquo; she said at Wednesday&rsquo;s Board of Education meeting.</p><p>Boxes full of test materials <a href="http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/02/parcc-tests-begin-to-arrive-at-schools/">have been delivered to schools across the city</a> in the last week and Biggs said teachers are frantic.</p><p>&ldquo;They are being told to move forward as if everyone is going to be tested,&rdquo; Biggs said. &ldquo;I am here to ask you to please tell us what is going on. Make a statement please.&rdquo;</p><p>But no statement came.</p><p>At the end of the meeting, Board president David Vitale quietly reiterated that the district&rsquo;s stance has not changed&mdash;only ten percent of schools will take the new test&mdash;but he said they&rsquo;re still talking with the state. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re caught between a rock and a hard place and we&rsquo;re trying to find a way out,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>At a hearing in Springfield, CPS Chief of Accountability John Barker testified to the same effect.</p><p>&ldquo;We do have serious reservations about a full implementation this spring,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And so, we plan to do an expanded pilot of PARCC, administering it to 10 percent of schools, rather than opting to fully implement this year.&rdquo;</p><p>Barker said the district believes Common Core and the PARCC exam are the right move for the state, but CPS is just not ready.</p><p>Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey disagrees.</p><p>&ldquo;The PARCC is the wrong thing to do,&rdquo; Sharkey said. &ldquo;We shouldn&rsquo;t give this test. It&rsquo;s longer than the bar exam, for God&rsquo;s sakes. It&rsquo;s longer than the MCATs. It&rsquo;s longer than the exam you need to go to medical school. What are we doing? We&rsquo;re over-testing kids. It&rsquo;s gone too far.&rdquo;</p><p>The state board says districts should not administer the 9-hour test in one day. They recommend giving it to students over several days.</p><p>They&rsquo;ve also been encouraging parents and even reporters like me to try some sample questions. I took a handful of <a href="http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/">sample questions</a> from the 5<sup>th</sup> grade math portion of PARCC. One question took me 20 minutes, another took just two.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Not just Chicago</span></p><p>The new test is part of a years-long effort to adopt more uniform standards across the country. Illinois and dozens of other states signed on to PARCC and the Common Core. Several have since backed out, including nearby Indiana.</p><p>The groundswell of opposition comes from all different directions. &nbsp;Some worry that because it&rsquo;s a more rigorous test, schools could end up with lower scores. Others have a problem with a national exam that takes away local control. And many, including the CTU, argue students are way over-tested.</p><p>Suburban parents gathered downtown Thursday to express their own concerns with the test. They want state lawmakers to approve an opt-out bill (<a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&amp;SessionId=88&amp;GA=99&amp;DocTypeId=HB&amp;DocNum=306&amp;GAID=13&amp;LegID=84067&amp;SpecSess=&amp;Session=">HB306</a>) that would give parents the right to refuse to have their children tested. As it stands now, by law, the only way to refuse the test is for students to verbally state they won&#39;t take it.&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;They need to say to their teacher, every single time that test is presented, &#39;No&#39;,&quot; said Nicole Keough, a parent of twins in 3rd grade in Palos School District 118.&nbsp;</p><p>It can be a difficult thing for students to do, said Gina Mathews, parent of a 4th&nbsp;grader and a 7th&nbsp;grader at District 36 in Winnetka. She said parents and families are circulating a list of students who plan to &quot;opt-out&quot; so children can know their friends are also refusing the test.&nbsp;</p><p>But one mother, Violeta Gerue, said it&#39;s imperative Illinois lawmakers pass a bill that gives her, as a parent and taxpayer, the ability to speak for her children. Both have autism.</p><p>&quot;I think it is very difficult for children who can speak to do this, and it is impossible for kids who are nonverbal, who have no ability to say it,&quot; Gerue said.</p><p>Fergus said any parent who does not want their child tested should discuss it with local administrators. She said districts are able to implement local policies for handling those situations, but she said, any school that does not test at least 95 percent of its students is in jeopardy of losing state and federal money. That&#39;s the situation CPS is in.</p><p>Fergus also noted that the new test is low-stakes this year.</p><p>&quot;This is just the baseline year,&quot; she said.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/standoff-over-new-state-school-test-continues-111626 A safety net for dropouts catches others http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/safety-net-dropouts-catches-others-111598 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_0001_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">In 2012 Chicagoans got some harsh news: there were 56,000 high school dropouts under 21 &ndash; </span><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/luring-chicago-dropouts-back-school-one-doorstep-time-91009">enough to fill Soldier Field</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;At the time, we had 5,300 seats to serve them,&rdquo; said Jennifer Vidis, the head of alternative schools for Chicago Public Schools. &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Over the last two years, the district brought that number up to 12,000. It is the largest expansion</span> of alternative schools ever done here. Most of that expansion has been in schools run by for-profit companies, many that offer half-day programs, with mostly online instruction.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">There is a case to be made for letting older students who are running out of time earn their diplomas quickly. There are also a lot of young parents and teenagers working full-time jobs to support their families.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;We want to create opportunities for kids. Whenever they make that decision, &lsquo;I want to go back,&rsquo; we want to have a place for them to go,&rdquo; Vidis said.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in Humboldt Park is one of the district&rsquo;s 20 new alternative schools opened in the last two years. It&rsquo;s a joint venture between the NBA-star-turned-businessman, Earvin &ldquo;Magic&rdquo; Johnson, and </span>EdisonLearning, a for-profit education company. Students come for half the day and do most of their work online. Many can finish a full credit in a matter of weeks.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;I have a good number of kids who are 19 and 20 and 21,&rdquo; said Ursula Ricketts, the school&rsquo;s program director. &ldquo;I mean, do you really want to be 21 and walking into a traditional high school? Not so much.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Ricketts says not everything is done online. She has about a dozen teachers and counselors on staff to work with students. She also says a big part of her job is forging partnerships with local businesses to help students who don&#39;t have jobs, find work.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">It is not clear how many students enrolled in the new alternative schools are part of that target population of over-age, out-of-school youth. A CPS spokesperson sent WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago the highlights of an internal analysis from last school year. It says about half of the kids enrolled were aging out quickly and another 30 percent were labeled as &ldquo;out of reach.&rdquo; The rest appear to be on-track or </span>young enough to enroll in a traditional school or full-day program.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Students like Linae Mitchell, who never officially dropped out of high school before enrolling at Magic Johnson Bridgescape with 16 credits.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;Actually, I was going to be still attending my regular school, Chicago Talent (Development High School), but they closed down. So I went to the Marine (Military Academy) school, but it wasn&rsquo;t for me, so I had to find another place to go, so my dad sent me here,&rdquo; Mitchell said.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">The former school she&#39;s talking about is Chicago Talent Development High School, a small charter school that operated inside of Crane High School, but was closed because of low enrollment last year. There are still students enrolled at Crane, but because CPS decided to phase out Crane, there is no junior class at the school this year for Mitchell to enroll in.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">On this day Mitchell was wearing a Crane Tech High School warm-up jacket.&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;After I finish here, I&rsquo;m on the drilling team and I actually go there for my service learning hours also,&rdquo; Mitchell said. CPS allows students enrolled in what they call Alternative Learning Opportunity Programs, or ALOP schools, to participate at their home school, if they choose.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Jack Elsey is CPS&rsquo;s chief of innovation and incubation. When asked if he&rsquo;s concerned about kids like Mitchell going to alternative schools when they&rsquo;re not off-track and haven&rsquo;t officially dropped out, Elsey responded in this way: &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s certainly something to think about and something we&rsquo;ll take a look at,&rdquo; Elsey said. &ldquo;We are a district of choice and these are part of our choice portfolio and who are we to tell that 16-year-old the school you&rsquo;ve chosen, especially if she&rsquo;s doing well, is not the right school for you.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Still, Mitchell&rsquo;s situation raises questions about how the choice system may be creating dropouts or &ldquo;push-outs,&rdquo; as a principal at one of these new schools called them. &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Conrad Timbers-Ausur is the principal of a school like Magic Johnson Bridgescape, called Ombudsdman. He said alternative schools&mdash;whether they&rsquo;re full-day or half-day&mdash;are catching kids who have been victims of the system.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">He told WBEZ and Catalyst about one student who enrolled that, when he looked at his transcript, seemed like a pretty bright kid. Timbers-Ausur said the student passed all of his courses freshman year, but got one F in one semester of one class. Then, the student had to repeat the entire freshman year, and taking the exact same classes, his grades dropped, his absences increased and ultimately, he got &ldquo;kicked out.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;It just infuriated me and disgusted me, because here it is in black and white,&rdquo; Timbers-Ausur said. &ldquo;How are you allowed to (do) that in the name of education and actually you&rsquo;re setting up more kids for failure?&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Timbers-Ausur wouldn&rsquo;t say the name of the school&mdash;other than that it was a prominent charter school.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">CPS&rsquo;s Elsey said the district needs to do a better job of holding on to students as freshmen and sophomores and keeping them on track. The district&rsquo;s Jennifer Vidis said it&rsquo;s as much about prevention as it is about recovery.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;We want to fight the fire on both ends,&rdquo; Vidis said. &ldquo;We want to help kids graduate and if kids can move more quickly because they have the skills and ability to do that, great. But we need to make sure when they finish up with us that they&rsquo;re actually prepared.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Vidis touches on a debate that&rsquo;s happening around the country right now. There&rsquo;s a whole camp of people who believe if students can prove they know the material, they should be able to do so and move on.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Vijay Shah is in that camp. He is the assistant principal at another Ombudsman school on the West Side.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;This is a gifted school to me,&rdquo; Shah said. &ldquo;You get to come in here, independently work on your credits and we give you the autonomy, as long as you don&rsquo;t disrespect anybody. We&rsquo;re going to set you up and fight tooth and nail for you to graduate.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">But some warn that in the push to graduate more students, more quickly, Chicago may wind up unintentionally creating a lower-level of education for certain students.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;For students who really do need some way to recover credits or who have had some extreme life event where they just can&rsquo;t complete high school, you want to get them something,&rdquo; said Tim Kautz, a researcher at the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Center for the Economics of Human Development. &ldquo;But for students who might be able to complete high school, you don&rsquo;t want to sort of funnel them into a program that might not give them the same skills.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Kautz did not know about the new alternative schools in CPS, but he has studied the GED - the General Educational Development test many people take if they&rsquo;ve dropped out of high school as an alternative to their high school diploma. Much of his research focuses on the difference between GED recipients and traditional high school graduates and he&rsquo;s found GED recipients have many more gaps in their non-cognitive skills.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">The new alternative schools in Chicago are not GED programs. Students </span><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">get CPS diplomas</a>, with the name of their home school or the name of the last school they attended on them.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">Kautz said there may be benefits to running half-day programs that also include some kind of mentoring or workforce training.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">On a recent day at Magic Johnson Bridgescape, Ursula Ricketts gathered a small group of teenage girls in a classroom to do a research project about beauty, inside and out.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-64cca275-a828-81a6-07cb-e3cee238a8a7">&ldquo;I try to find anything that can help the kids, just improve who they are,&rdquo; she said.</span></p><div><em>This story was co-reported with Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago.</em></div></p> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 09:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/safety-net-dropouts-catches-others-111598 Same diploma, different school http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/grace%20d.PNG" style="height: 411px; width: 620px;" title="Students work on courses at an Ombudsman school, one of the district's new, half-day, for-profit alternative schools. (Courtesy of Michelle Kanar)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Updated Friday, February 20</em></div><p>One of the biggest success stories out of Chicago Public Schools in the last decade is the skyrocketing graduation rate.</p><p>Facing re-election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promising to take it even higher in the next four years&mdash;from 70 percent to 85 percent.</p><p>To get there, Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are contracting with for-profit companies to give teenagers a new way to earn their high school diploma in a fraction of the time.</p><p>In 2011, the district commissioned an outside group to do an analysis and found Chicago had 56,000 out-of-school youth. Jennifer Vidis, CPS&rsquo;s chief of alternative schools, says at the time, the district had 5,000 spots for them.</p><p>&quot;We looked at this massive gap and we needed to do something to fill it,&quot; she says.</p><p>So, in the last two years, the district conducted the largest expansion of alternative schools in Chicago&rsquo;s history.Two years ago, Chicago had 30 small alternative schools, and today, there are 50.&nbsp;</p><p>A WBEZ and <em>Catalyst Chicago</em> analysis of that expansion has found that the district is on a troubling path toward its goal to re-enroll dropouts as it turns to new, largely unproven, mostly online alternative schools to educate more students.</p><p>A WBEZ and <em>Catalyst Chicago</em> investigation also found:</p><ul><li>At many of the new schools, students are able to complete courses in a matter of weeks. A 17-year-old boy told reporters he finished the equivalent of a semester&rsquo;s worth of work in three days.</li><li>Many of the for-profit alternative schools offer half-day sessions, with students fulfilling the state requirement that they receive 300 minutes of instruction by promising to do homework.</li><li>Most of the work is done online, with only a few hours of classroom discussion each week.</li><li>Graduates are awarded diplomas from either the last school they attended or the neighborhood high school near where they live. They are also allowed to participate in sports and attend dances at traditional schools.</li><li>Budget documents, obtained through several Freedom of Information Requests, are contradictory and filled with questionable expenses. One operator budgeted more than $400,000 per 200 students for educational materials, then purchased the materials from themselves.</li></ul><p>Experts warn the well-intentioned push is lowering the bar for certain students and making a second chance more appealing than the first. CPS is also laying the groundwork for more students to receive what some contend is a lower-quality diploma.</p><p>It goes against yet another promise of the mayor: that a CPS diploma will mean something.</p><p>&quot;[Parents] will know that a degree from Clemente, South Shore, Back of the Yards, Taft, Westinghouse, Sarah Goode, Rickover means their children will have the education to succeed in college, career or life,&quot; Emanuel said in a January speech announcing his second-term education agenda.</p><p>Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network and a longtime advocate for helping dropouts, shakes his head and says he is worried that these schools are the &ldquo;McDonalds&rdquo; of education. The principal of one such options school doesn&rsquo;t go quite that far, though he did compare the schools to &ldquo;instant oatmeal&rdquo; and called them &ldquo;a sign of the times.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Just because it is instant oatmeal doesn&rsquo;t necessarily make it worse,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>The schools were approved with so little public debate, few people-- experts on Chicago&rsquo;s education system to high school principals who may send students to them--do not know much about how the new schools function.</p><p>This is the first of three stories co-reported with Catalyst Chicago. Catalyst&rsquo;s <a href="http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/02/options-schools-raise-questions-of-quality/">initial story can be read here</a>. &nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>A diploma on Division Street</strong></span></p><p>Every weekday around 8 a.m., the #70 and #49 CTA buses carry hundreds of teenagers to the intersection of Division and Western on Chicago&rsquo;s West Side. &nbsp;</p><p>Clemente High School dominates two corners, a bridge over Division connects the school&rsquo;s buildings. In order to earn a diploma from this neighborhood school, CPS requires 24 credits total: 4 years of English, 3 years of math, 3 years of science, 3 years of history, 2 years of P.E., 2 years of a foreign language, a credit of career education, and 3 electives. Students also must complete 40 hours of service learning and sit for a state-mandated test.</p><p>If kids stays on track, it&rsquo;ll take four years. No more. No less.</p><p>Or, students can now walk a half block the other way on Division, and enroll at Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in a non-descript building with a sign in front that still reads: <em>Coming soon, Magic Johnson Bridgescape</em>.</p><p>Ursula Ricketts, the school&#39;s program director, showed us around the storefront school this past October.</p><p>There&rsquo;s one computer lab, two classrooms, and a handful of offices in the back. It looks more like a tech startup than a high school, with hardwood floors, high ceilings and exposed brick throughout. Here, students work at their own pace on computers and can earn high school credits in a matter of weeks.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like four hours, I don&rsquo;t have to be here 8 hours, listening to teachers that don&rsquo;t even want to teach sometimes,&rdquo; says Estefany&nbsp;Herrera, a student at Magic Johnson Bridgescape. &ldquo;I like it better here. I have earned like 4 credits already.&rdquo;</p><p>A soft-spoken 19-year-old, Herrera says she dropped out of North-Grand High School after her friends turned on her and convinced others to tease her. They even tried to fight her.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t want to tell anybody because usually when you tell a teacher, everything gets worse,&rdquo; she says. One day she just stopped going to school. The days dragged on, and she spent her time helping to care for nieces and nephews. A year and a half went by. &ldquo;It was depressing,&rdquo; she recalls.</p><p>Herrera found her way to Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy after someone from CPS called her and encouraged her to re-enroll. She visited one of the district&rsquo;s Student Outreach and Re-enrollment centers and got back to school shortly thereafter.</p><p>Bridgescape Academy runs two sessions a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Herrera comes to the Humboldt Park campus for the morning, but she says it&rsquo;s flexible. &ldquo;Last week I didn&rsquo;t come. I just did the work at home.&rdquo;</p><p>Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy is a joint venture between NBA-star-turned-businessman Earvin &lsquo;Magic&rsquo; Johnson and EdisonLearning. They&rsquo;ve opened five of these fast-track schools in Chicago in the past two years. The three other new providers are Pathways, Ombudsman and Camelot.</p><p>Camelot is an outlier. They run full-day programs and students do little work online. They also run the district&rsquo;s Safe Schools, which are reserved for students who are transferred for disciplinary reasons, expelled or facing expulsion.</p><p>Like Bridgescape, Ombudsman and Pathways also offer two sessions of half-day programs in which students mostly work independently, either in workbooks or online, with some small group sessions.</p><p>Students move through the work in record time. Estefany&nbsp;Herrera said she&rsquo;s completed nine credits so far this year. Typically, students earn six credits in an entire traditional school year.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>A diploma from the school she left</strong></span></p><p>And when Herrera graduates in June, she&rsquo;ll not only count in the district&rsquo;s graduation rate, she&rsquo;ll count at her home school, North Grand. That&rsquo;s been happening since the 2007-2008 school year, when CPS started including alternative schools in the graduation rate.</p><p>But here&rsquo;s what makes the new for-profit schools different: Herrera&rsquo;s diploma will say North Grand High School. It won&rsquo;t say Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy of Humboldt Park. No one has to know she graduated from an alternative school.</p><p>Herrera had no idea. But her classmate, Kyle Johnson, did.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s way better,&rdquo; Johnson, who would have been a senior this year at Urban Prep&mdash;a high performing charter school. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s way better. Because at Urban Prep, the college acceptance rate is 100 percent, so that&rsquo;ll look good if I&rsquo;m trying to apply for college.&quot;</p><p>That&rsquo;s frustrating for Matthew Rodriguez, the principal of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School, a 40-year-old alternative school, down the street from Bridgescape.</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah, I mean, I feel like that&rsquo;s, what&rsquo;s the word, um, inaccurate,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Rodriguez says schools like his take a more holistic approach, with requirements such as an intensive senior project that gets students to reflect on what they&rsquo;ve learned. The school also has a number of social workers and counselors to make sure that students&rsquo; well-being is addressed.</p><p>Not far away on Division, Clemente Principal Marcey Sorenson is implementing a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum. She, like Rodriguez, had no idea that students could earn a diploma that says Clemente, from a totally different school, until WBEZ and Catalyst told her.</p><p>&ldquo;No&hellip; I would be interested in learning more about that. I didn&rsquo;t know that,&rdquo; Sorenson responded. &quot;And that&rsquo;s not to say that their diploma doesn&rsquo;t mean anything. I don&rsquo;t want to make the assumption that because it&rsquo;s from Bridgescape, it means less. I just want to then, ensure that it means, what we think it means.&quot;</p><p>Other principals not only know about this perk, they&rsquo;re using it to help their graduation rates.</p><p>&ldquo;The way that I perceive it and why I think it&rsquo;s so important for me to know how they&rsquo;re doing at that school is that I know they&rsquo;re getting closer to graduation and that affects my graduation rate,&rdquo; said Sullivan High School Principal Chad Addams. &ldquo;They stay here, they dig in a hole, get themselves in more trouble and then drop out.&rdquo;</p><p>Addams and Sorenson say they both want to get to a point where they won&rsquo;t have any students off-track, when there&rsquo;s no need to refer students to alternative schools.</p><p>But until then, they can&rsquo;t just ignore the problem.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been around enough gang members and enough high poverty children to know that that diploma is a golden ticket,&rdquo; Addams said.</p><p>The price tag for doubling the number of for-profit, half-day, mostly online schools, like Magic Johnson Bridgescape is so far hovering around $50 million dollars.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>Dropout factories to &lsquo;credit mills&rsquo;?</strong></span></p><p>Herrera walked us through a Spanish 2 lesson last Friday. The online classes, called <em>eCourses</em>, are developed and sold by <em>EdisonLearning</em>, which also operates the school.</p><p>The lesson took less than five minutes. Herrera flipped through the slides explaining the lesson on conjugating &ndash;er and &ndash;ir verbs and immediately took a five-question quiz on what she&rsquo;s just read. She gets 100 percent and moves on.</p><p>There&rsquo;s a range, but each class contains between 80 to 160 lessons. Once Herrera completes the lessons, she will take a final that includes a multiple-choice test and three short essays. Every student has to take the final exam repeatedly until earning a score of more than an 80 percent, thus ensuring that all students pass every class.</p><p>As a native speaker, Spanish is easy for her. Geometry, on the other hand, is not.</p><p>&ldquo;It took three weeks,&rdquo; Herrera said.</p><p>CPS and officials at the new schools emphasize that they do offer small-group instruction, and they all maintain that the curriculum is aligned with the state&rsquo;s Common Core standards. (The schools are accredited.)</p><p>When WBEZ and Catalyst started asking questions about the new schools, district officials&nbsp;did something strange. They stopped calling them schools and started calling them programs. They emphasized the programs are a complement to traditional schools, and are not meant to compete with them.</p><p>But several of the schools spend heavily on advertising. The selling point to students is speed and getting a diploma in record time. Pathways&rsquo; website reads: &ldquo;Graduate High School Faster, Free Programs &amp; Classes, Flexible Scheduling. Get Ahead!&rdquo; Its URL? <a href="http://www.makeupcredits.com/">www.makeupcredits.com</a>.</p><p>Sonja Santelises is head of policy for the Washington D.C.-based Education Trust and a former Chief Academic Officer for Baltimore Public Schools. She cautions that many an online curriculum is often not all it&rsquo;s cracked up to be.</p><p>&ldquo;I have been in classrooms that in the name of giving kids other options, kids are just getting electronic worksheets,&rdquo; Santelises says.</p><p>She says there&rsquo;s a reason a high school diploma is necessary today.</p><p>&ldquo;It takes work and it is not just about saying, &lsquo;Oh we have all these poor young people who aren&rsquo;t going to graduate so let&rsquo;s just get them something so they get the credit,&rsquo;&rdquo; Santelises says. &ldquo;That is not helping anyone. Because we have all these young people that graduate and come back and say I learned nothing.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>The for-profit, half-day schools may be a new thing for Chicago, but other states have had similar programs for years. There&rsquo;s little research on how successful they are with students. CPS is one of the few districts to design a rating system for them, and the early results don&rsquo;t bode well for the new operators: 80 percent of the recently opened options schools had below-average ratings, compared to only 21 percent of long-standing alternative schools.</p><p>CPS&rsquo;s Vidis says the district is looking at the performance results of the new schools very carefully. Those that don&rsquo;t meet quality standards will not be allowed to expand and will be closed down.</p><p>&ldquo;We want to make sure that students who are working through the online courses are actually being challenged,&rdquo; Vidis says. &ldquo;That the courses are rigorous and that we aren&rsquo;t just running credit mills. That is not our interest.&rdquo;&#39;</p><p><em>This story was updated to reflect that Ursula Ricketts is the program director at Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in Humboldt Park.</em></p></p> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581 Fallout over College of DuPage spending could hurt students http://www.wbez.org/news/fallout-over-college-dupage-spending-could-hurt-students-111514 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Open%20mic%201%20CROP.jpg" style="height: 194px; width: 620px;" title="Between classes at the school’s Glen Ellyn campus this week, students enjoy an open-mic session. The college’s 28,000 enrollees, mostly working-class, could be hurt beyond the price of a controversial $760,000 severance package. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" /></div><p>The other day in a College of DuPage cafeteria, student Rachel Fatigato told me she is not getting help from her parents to pay her tuition.<br /><br />&ldquo;They can&rsquo;t afford it,&rdquo; said Fatigato, 20, who grew up a few miles north of the Glen Ellyn campus. &ldquo;I pay for school myself so I don&rsquo;t currently have any money and I&rsquo;m running low on funds for school.&rdquo;<br /><br />Fatigato, a television production major, is struggling to become the first member of her family to earn a college degree. So it bothers her, she said, to see how the college is spending its money.</p><p>&ldquo;The PE building and the MAC building are very nice,&rdquo; she said, referring to renovations of the college&rsquo;s Physical Education Center and McAninch Arts Center. &ldquo;But I feel like they overdid it in a lot of ways. Some of the statues, we don&rsquo;t need. And the fountain &mdash; it&rsquo;s got a giant glass mural-type thing.&rdquo;</p><p>Then Fatigato told me about a fear she shares with many students. It&rsquo;s a fear that is getting drowned out by a public furor over a $760,000 severance package for the school&rsquo;s president.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re going to raise tuition and then people like me who pay for school by myself will not be able to afford it,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Big tuition hikes may seem far-fetched for a community college that brags about operating reserves exceeding $177 million last year. But the backlash against the College of DuPage&rsquo;s spending habits is very real. The critics once consisted mostly of faculty union leaders and local Tea Party activists. Now their ranks have spread to business leaders, newspaper editorial boards and west-suburban state lawmakers from both parties.</p><p>They&rsquo;re upset about the severance package, which will send off President Robert Breuder three years before his contract would have been up. They&rsquo;re mad about his satellite phones and booze tab. They wonder whether he built the college&rsquo;s French restaurant and boutique hotel to provide perks to administrators instead of training opportunities for culinary and hospitality students.<br /><br />To find out how the uproar could affect the school&rsquo;s future, I asked to speak with Breuder, his spokesman and the chairwoman of the board of trustees. They all declined. At a board meeting last week, another trustee insisted that the severance package was the best deal the school could get.</p><p>When the dust settles &mdash; when those administrators and trustees are gone &mdash; there could still be a steep price for today&rsquo;s turmoil. It&rsquo;s a price that would be paid largely by the college&rsquo;s 28,000 students and by working-class families, such as Fatigato&rsquo;s, who are counting on the College of DuPage for a leg up.<br /><br />That&rsquo;s if the public kept the impression that their taxes bankroll golden parachutes and lavish amenities instead of instructional programs. See, it&rsquo;s the public that is paying most College of DuPage expenses. Aside from tuition and student fees ($66 million in fiscal 2014), the largest sources of operating revenue are real-estate taxes ($108 million) and state appropriations ($55 million). Both of those spigots can open and close in response to political pressures, including taxpayer revolts like the one brewing in DuPage County.<br /><br />Then there are the bond sales that finance the college&rsquo;s major construction projects. The authority for those sales requires approval from local voters &mdash; mainly the same taxpayers. The most recent College of DuPage bond referendum, a 2010 measure, passed by a slim margin.<br /><br />&ldquo;The next time that the college needs to go out and ask for money for something legitimate, [voters] will remember the expensive French restaurant,&rdquo; warned David Goldberg, a political science professor at the college. &ldquo;They will remember the three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar payout that the president has received. And they will rightfully be concerned about where their tax dollars are going to go.&rdquo;<br /><br />And if they decide to put fewer of those dollars into the College of DuPage, Goldberg said, it could eventually lead to program cuts and tuition hikes. The primary victims, in other words, will be students.</p><p><em>To hear an extended version of this story, including more voices, click on the audio player above.&nbsp;</em><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 06 Feb 2015 14:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/fallout-over-college-dupage-spending-could-hurt-students-111514 Under mounting debt, Munster schools forced to make tough decisions http://www.wbez.org/news/under-mounting-debt-munster-schools-forced-make-tough-decisions-111499 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Munster HS.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On a recent weeknight, about 200 parents braved cold temperatures to gather at Munster High School in Northwest Indiana. They were there to watch a documentary about the threat to public education in Indiana.</p><p>Kate Robinson, who moved to Munster five years ago with her husband and three young children, was in the crowd.</p><p>&ldquo;We were in Chicago before we were in Indiana and moved specifically to Northwest Indiana and picked Munster because of the reputation of the school system. It&rsquo;s been fantastic,&rdquo; Robinson said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a very supportive community. Everybody is here for one reason. Resources for work and good schools.&rdquo;</p><p>But the school system is facing a budget crisis like it&#39;s never seen before.</p><p>Robinson is concerned about cuts at her children&rsquo;s elementary school.</p><p>&ldquo;They already don&rsquo;t have science and that&rsquo;s just changed from last year,&rdquo; Robinson said.</p><p>The School Town of Munster is millions of dollars in the hole.</p><p>&ldquo;I started back here in July knowing when I took the job we had a $7 million deficit,&rdquo; Munster superintendent Dr. Jeff Hendrix said. &ldquo;I got to look at the financials a little closer. It was more like an $8 million deficit.&rdquo;</p><p>He says fewer dollars from the state of Indiana, and a shortfall in property taxes collected by the county made things go from bad to worse.</p><p>&ldquo;We didn&rsquo;t realize it came up about a $1.5 million short of what we expected. And, with that, it created a crisis for us because we didn&rsquo;t have the cash flow available,&rdquo; Hendrix said.</p><p>The district was recently forced to layoff 50 staff members, aides and custodians, but so far no teachers.</p><p>Hendrix says state lawmakers are offering few alternatives.</p><p>&ldquo;We were told that&rsquo;s probably what you&rsquo;re going to have to do is start cutting your programs,&rdquo; Hendrix said.</p><p>This isn&rsquo;t supposed to happen in a place like Munster. The wealthier Republican-leaning community about 30 minutes south of downtown Chicago is among the top districts in the state.</p><p>But they&rsquo;re not the only well-off district that&rsquo;s struggling.</p><p>While some Hoosier lawmakers want to free up more state money for education, Indiana&rsquo;s fiscal conservatism and increased competition is making it difficult. The pot of money that traditionally went to public education is now also being divvied up for charter schools and vouchers.</p><p>Tim Brown, a Republican who heads the powerful Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, rejects the assertion that giving families more school choice hurts some students.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re helping students. We&rsquo;ve increased funding for the general operations of schools,&rdquo; Rep. Brown said. &ldquo;So, again, every child has an opportunity for an excellent education with money following the child.&rdquo;</p><p>Brown says the state is trying to allocate another $300 million for public schools, which could help districts like Munster.</p><p>&ldquo;I specifically looked at Munster and for general operations they have received more money each of the last two years in the biennium for general operations,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;Now the property tax issue, I know because Lake County and the Munster area is under a lot of constraints because of the property tax.&rdquo;</p><p>Those constraints include a state constitutional amendment capping property taxes at 1 percent for every home in Indiana.</p><p>That cap, plus lower home values, means less funding for public schools.</p><p>But Indiana State Representative Vernon Smith, a Democrat from nearby Gary, thinks the Republican-led government could do more, especially with a $2 billion surplus.</p><p>&ldquo;The state doesn&rsquo;t really care about the education of our young because they&rsquo;ve constantly cut back on the allocation of dollars for education,&rdquo; Smith said.</p><p>Smith says Gary schools in his district are also millions in the hole and will need a taxpayer referendum later this year to bail it out.</p><p>Munster passed its own referendum recently, but may have to ask taxpayers to chip in again.</p><p>&ldquo;The problems of the urban communities are now becoming the problems of suburbia,&rdquo; Smith said.</p><p>Back at Munster High School, Melissa Higgason is grappling with these problems as both a parent and a school board member.</p><p>Higgason admits Munster should have started making cuts years ago when funding began to go down. Still, she says affluent school districts like Munster are also hurt by the lack of financial aid from the state and federal government.</p><p>&ldquo;I feel like we have students who are internationally ranked in the School Town of Munster and yet our per pupil funding is among the lowest in the state,&rdquo; Higgason said. &ldquo;So, it seems contradictory.&rdquo;</p><p>Unless something changes, Higgason says Munster may have to lay off more workers. This time, including teachers.</p></p> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 08:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/under-mounting-debt-munster-schools-forced-make-tough-decisions-111499 From classroom to campaign trail: 5 teachers eye city council seats http://www.wbez.org/news/classroom-campaign-trail-5-teachers-eye-city-council-seats-111494 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_5457_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Susan Sadlowski Garza is the only counselor at Jane Addams Elementary, a school of about 850 students on the far South Side of Chicago.</p><p>But there, she says, she can only do so much. So she&rsquo;s moving beyond the walls of her school.</p><p>&ldquo;Hi! Good morning, how are you? My name is Sue Sadlowski Garza, I&rsquo;m running for alderman,&rdquo; Garza said to a potential voter, while door-knocking in the 10<sup>th</sup> Ward in early January.</p><p>Teachers are embedded in their communities and are often among the first people to see how policies made downtown play out on the ground.</p><p>&ldquo;Ward by ward and everywhere we go, people have had it,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Garza is one of five teachers running this time for Chicago&rsquo;s City Council, an unusually high number, propelled by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.</p><p>Lewis spent much of last fall building political momentum to see if she could challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but then was sidelined by a cancerous brain tumor last October. Rank-and-file teachers had started to line up behind her, challenging aldermen loyal to the mayor. Those still running include: Ed Hershey (25<sup>th</sup>), Tim Meegan (33<sup>rd</sup>), Tara Stamps (37<sup>th</sup>), and Dianne Daleiden (40<sup>th</sup>).&nbsp;</p><p>As harp-tongued as ever, Lewis <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/ctu-president-karen-lewis-speaks-111489">gave her first public address</a> on Monday at a City Club of Chicago luncheon. Afterward, Garza and Stamps stood next to Lewis as she answered questions from reporters.</p><p>&ldquo;This is not about one race or one year, one electoral cycle,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s about building, changing the political landscape in Chicago because it&rsquo;s not going to change if we don&rsquo;t try.&rdquo;</p><p>All of the teachers running have gotten endorsements and cash from the CTU -- anywhere from $5,000 to $32,000.</p><p>But those campaign contributions pale in comparison to those of incumbents, who are all close allies of Emanuel: John Pope (10<sup>th</sup>), Danny Solis (25<sup>th</sup>), Emma Mitts (37<sup>th</sup>), Deb Mell (33<sup>rd</sup>), and Pat O&rsquo;Connor (40<sup>th</sup>).</p><p>The CTU also doesn&rsquo;t have a deep-pocketed Super-PAC helping get their message out. Emanuel ally and former CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll is head of Chicago Forward, a Washington-style political action committee with millions to spend on ads, mailers, and other campaign efforts that support aldermen who side with the mayor.</p><p>Aldermen like Garza&rsquo;s opponent, John Pope. City council <a href="http://pols.uic.edu/docs/default-source/chicago_politics/city_council_voting_records/city-council-report-dec2014.pdf?sfvrsn=0">records show</a> Pope has voted with Emanuel 100 percent of the time since 2011.</p><p>But Pope scoffed at the thought that he is &ldquo;a rubber stamp&rdquo;.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not a rubber stamp for anyone but the 10th warders, my neighbors, my friends, my family members,&rdquo; Pope told WBEZ.</p><p>He said he&rsquo;s proud of his record bringing jobs to the ward, improving schools, and more recently working to control pet coke pollution.</p><p>Garza said he could still do more to involve local residents; &nbsp;that sentiment of &#39;more needs to be done&#39; was echoed by the other CTU-backed candidates. They want wards to be run more from the bottom up.</p><p>&ldquo;It should be residents driving decisions,&rdquo; said Tim Meegan, a candidate for 33<sup>rd</sup> Ward alderman and a teacher at Roosevelt High School. &ldquo;It shouldn&rsquo;t be the alderman saying this is what you&rsquo;re going to get.&rdquo;</p><p>Meegan noted that idea&mdash;getting more people on the ground involved&mdash;is the same one CTU leadership came to power with in 2010.</p><p>&ldquo;In 2010, when CORE took over the Chicago Teachers Union, we switched from a top-down, service-oriented union to a bottom-up, social justice like, grassroots movement.&rdquo;</p><p>When Lewis, and a group called CORE, took over the union in 2010, they vowed to include the voices of rank-and-file teachers. They saw previous CTU leaders as too narrowly focused on wages and benefits, and not fighting back on the broader policies of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, like the expansion of charter schools.</p><p>Meegan is running for 33<sup>rd</sup> Ward alderman on the North Side against incumbent Deb Mell. &nbsp;She was appointed by Emanuel after her father, Dick Mell, stepped down. The older Mell was one of the longest serving aldermen in City Council history. &nbsp;</p><p>Deb Mell said she&rsquo;s running the office differently than her dad did, including bringing the community into decision making.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s great that people get involved in the political process,&rdquo; she said of Meegan&rsquo;s candidacy. &ldquo;The voters now have a chance to comment on the job I&rsquo;ve done in the last year and a half.&rdquo;</p><p>Mell has raised more than $75,000 to Meegan&#39;s roughly $32,000. But, Mell pointed out,&nbsp;the largest single donation made in the 33rd race so far has been $15,000 given to Meegan by the CTU.&nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s a different story for Garza. Pope has raised almost triple what she holds in her campaign coffers.</p><p>Garza&rsquo;s headquarters are in an old taco shop that closed a few years ago. The soda machine still sits next to the counter with a sign that reads: No Refills. &nbsp;Above a booth in the corner hangs a faded old campaign sign.</p><p>It&rsquo;s not her&#39;s. It&rsquo;s her dad&rsquo;s.</p><p>Garza grew up just down the road, in the shadow of the old steel mills, where her dad, Ed Sadlowski, served as president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers of America. The 10th Ward looked a lot different then.</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody was working,&rdquo; Garza said. &ldquo;It was a very prosperous neighborhood. There was a restaurant and bar on every corner. And when the mills went away, things really started to change.&rdquo;</p><p>Garza said her father&#39;s fight to keep the mills open wasn&rsquo;t just about saving jobs. It was also about the health of the communities surrounding the mills. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s not all that different, Garza argues, from what the CTU is trying to do now.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 04 Feb 2015 05:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/classroom-campaign-trail-5-teachers-eye-city-council-seats-111494 CTU president Karen Lewis speaks up http://www.wbez.org/news/ctu-president-karen-lewis-speaks-111489 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_5569.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">If 35 minutes behind a microphone after months of silence proves anything about Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, it&rsquo;s this: She hasn&rsquo;t changed much.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">Lewis spoke to a crowd of people for the first time since being diagnosed with a brain tumor last fall. At that time, she was considering a run against Mayor Rahm Emanuel. &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">&ldquo;I was planning on running for mayor and in doing so I intended to lift up the voices of marginalized people in the city of Chicago,&rdquo; Lewis said at a City Club of Chicago luncheon Monday.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">&ldquo;That also meant that if my mayoral motorcade was blowing through red lights, I was planning on digging deep into my purse to pay those fines,&rdquo; she said, referring to </span><a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/chicago-mayor-rahm-emanuel-says-he-pays-his-motorcades-red-light-tickets/">a recent CBS investigation</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">Lewis also took aim at newly seated Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">&ldquo;He&rsquo;s wasted no time attacking the wages of working class people, attacking their labor unions and threatening massive cuts to social services programs, which help the most vulnerable people in our state,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s not some easy-going, blue-jean-wearing, $20-dollar-watch-having good guy who&rsquo;s coming to save the day. He is Scott Walker on steroids.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">But unlike Wisconsin&rsquo;s Republican governor, Rauner will have to work with a Democratic state legislature to pass any laws that would limit the rights of public-sector unions.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">When asked for a response to Lewis&rsquo; comparison, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said, &ldquo;Governor Rauner is happy to see Ms. Lewis back in action. He continues to admire her tenacity and spirit.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">Despite her fiery remarks about politicians, Lewis said she remains focused on the next teachers contract and has no intentions of running for office.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">&ldquo;If you want well-resourced schools, educators with tenure and job security, it&rsquo;s going to cost money,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;We shouldn&rsquo;t shy away from this.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">Similar to what it did in 2012, the teachers union </span><a href="http://www.ctunet.com/quest-center/research/position-papers/text/A_Just_Chicago.pdf">released a blueprint to outline the issues</a>&nbsp;it plans to push during negotiations. The latest white paper, titled &ldquo;A Just Chicago: Fighting for the City Our Students Deserve,&rdquo; lists a host of things, a number of which are outside of what the union can bargain for under law.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">Those include: stable jobs for all Chicagoans, decriminalizing marijuana possession, expanding public housing, and reforming the state&rsquo;s formula for funding education.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">Lewis also said although negotiations have just begun, the union would be ready to strike again if talks fail.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">The Chicago arm of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports Emanuel, issued a statement late Monday chiding Lewis and the union for bringing up the possibility of a strike.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">&ldquo;If the CTU hopes to use another strike as revenge if Mayor Emanuel wins re-election it would be even worse,&rdquo; the statement read. &ldquo;There are teachers in every Chicago neighborhood doing amazing work who do not wish to be dragged into the CTU&rsquo;s single-minded political mission.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-0b1e0242-4cb2-31b5-92f2-63e7dd3faf91">Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her </span></em><a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Mon, 02 Feb 2015 17:49:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/ctu-president-karen-lewis-speaks-111489 Obama administration won't seek to end 529 college tax break http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr bradley gorden backpacks.PNG" alt="" /><p><div class="storytext storylocation linkLocation" id="storytext"><p>Reversing what had been an unpopular approach, the White House says it is dropping the idea of ending a tax break for 529 college savings plans. Critics had called the proposal a tax hike. All 50 states and the District of Columbia sponsor 529 plans.</p><p>Money in 529 accounts is meant to grow along with future college students, and then be distributed to pay for education expenses without being taxed.</p><p>As <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/27/381783199/obama-takes-heat-for-proposing-to-end-college-savings-break">NPR&#39;s Tamara Keith reported</a> this morning, &quot;It&#39;s a pretty good deal, and one that&#39;s been around since 2001. But the White House says fewer than 3 percent of families use these accounts &mdash; and 70 percent of the money in them comes from families earning more than $200,000 a year.&quot;</p><p>Obama&#39;s plan had been to end the tax benefit for future contributions, replacing it with other education and tax proposals. But the idea drew bipartisan criticism, and the White House said today that it will now ask Congress to focus on &quot;a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support,&quot; along with proposals the president mentioned in his State of the Union speech.</p><p>NPR&#39;s Keith confirmed the reversal Tuesday. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/us/politics/obama-will-drop-proposal-to-end-529-college-savings-plans.html">The New York Times</a> reported the news today, saying that the president was &quot;facing angry reprisals from parents and from lawmakers of both parties.&quot;</p><p>The move comes a day after Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., <a href="http://lynnjenkins.house.gov/press-releases/reps-jenkins-kind-introduce-legislation-to-expand-strengthen-529-college-savings-plans1/">introduced a bill</a> that would expand college savings plans instead of limiting them.</p><p>Today, Jenkins said her bill would &quot;further promote college access and eliminate barriers for middle class families to save and plan ahead. It would also modernize the program by allowing students to purchase a computer using their 529 funds.&quot;</p><p>House Speaker John Boehner, who had urged Obama to keep the 529 plans intact, says he&#39;s glad the president &quot;listened to the American people and withdrew his proposed tax hike on college savings.&quot; He added, &quot;This tax would have hurt middle-class families already struggling to get ahead.&quot;</p><p>Aides familiar with the conversations tell NPR&#39;s Keith that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged preserving the 529 provisions today, as she traveled with the president on Air Force One from India to Saudi Arabia.</p><p>You can read about 529 plans at the <a href="http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/intro529.htm">SEC website</a>, as well as at the <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/529-Plans:-Questions-and-Answers">IRS site</a>.</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/27/381967958/obama-administration-won-t-seek-to-end-529-college-tax-break" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 18:40:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 Obama proposes publicly funded community college for all http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-proposes-publicly-funded-community-college-all-111368 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP757947103055.png" alt="" /><p><p>President Barack Obama on Friday proposed to bring the cost of two years of community college &quot;down to zero&quot; for all Americans, an ambitious nationwide plan based on a popular Tennessee program signed into law by that state&#39;s Republican governor.</p><p>However, the idea and its $60 billion federal price tag over 10 years would have to make the grade with a Republican Congress that is showing little appetite for big new spending programs. Obama, who plans to push the issue in his Jan. 20 State of the Union address, argued that providing educational opportunity and creating a more skilled U.S. workforce shouldn&#39;t be a partisan issue.</p><p>&quot;Community college should be free for those willing to work for it because, in America, a quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few,&quot; he said in a speech at Pellissippi State Community College. He said a high school diploma is no longer enough for American workers to compete in the global economy and that a college degree is &quot;the surest ticket to the middle class.&quot;</p><p>The White House estimated that 9 million students could eventually participate and save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year if they attend fulltime. Students would qualify if they attend at least halftime, maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make progress toward completing a degree or certificate program. Participating schools would have to meet certain academic requirements.</p><p>At North Lake College, part of the Dallas County Community College system, student Courtney Banks said such a program would help her and also allow others to enroll in classes.</p><p>&quot;Other people, other young adults would be willing to get into school because it wouldn&#39;t be so far out of reach,&quot; she said. She added she&#39;s still trying to pay back loans from a previous school. &quot;It costs a lot of money,&quot; she said.</p><p>The White House said the federal government would pick up 75 percent of the cost and the final quarter would come from states that opt into the program &mdash; a cost of $20 billion over 10 years. Spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama will propose new programs to pay for the federal portion in his budget next month.</p><p>Obama is calling the idea America&#39;s College Promise, modeled after Tennessee Promise, which Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last year to provide free community and technical college tuition for two years. It has drawn 58,000 applicants, almost 90 percent of the state&#39;s high school seniors. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama&#39;s former White House chief of staff, has a similar program for students in his city.</p><p>&quot;If a state with Republican leadership is doing this and a city with Democratic leadership is doing this, how about we all do it,&quot; Obama said.</p><p>Obama brought Tennessee&#39;s two Republican senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, with him on Air Force One for the event. But both said they thought states, not the federal government, should follow Tennessee&#39;s lead.</p><p>&quot;Creating a federal program to me is not the way to get good things to happen in education,&quot; Corker told reporters from his seat in the third row of the speech. &quot;You&#39;re always better off letting states mimic each other.&quot;</p><p>Alexander, a former education secretary who is set to take over the Senate committee that oversees education, said Washington&#39;s role should be to reduce paperwork for student aid applications. Obama said he agrees and wants to see that happen this year.</p><p>Obama also was joined on the trip by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, who drew applause when she told the audience she&#39;s been teaching English at community college for 20 years and still does as second lady. &quot;This is the moment for community colleges to shine,&quot; she said.</p><p>The president and vice president also were visiting a manufacturing facility, Techmer PM in Clinton, Tennessee, to promote a second proposal to create a fund to help low-wage workers with high potential get training in growing fields such as energy, information technology and advanced manufacturing.</p></p> Fri, 09 Jan 2015 08:28:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-proposes-publicly-funded-community-college-all-111368