WBEZ | Education http://www.wbez.org/news/education Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 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 Former charter schools CEO earning $250K as Rauner's adviser http://www.wbez.org/news/former-charter-schools-ceo-earning-250k-rauners-adviser-111741 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/raunersots02042015_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>SPRINGFIELD, Ill. &mdash; A former Chicago charter schools executive is earning $250,000 a year to spearhead Gov. Bruce Rauner&#39;s top education initiatives, a salary that is more than double what her predecessors received and places her as the highest-paid member of a Cabinet already under scrutiny for its lofty paychecks.</p><p>For weeks, Beth Purvis&#39; role in the administration had been somewhat of a mystery. There was no formal announcement when she was hired, and during a House education committee meeting earlier this month, she stood and introduced herself when someone on the panel asked if anyone from the governor&#39;s office was in attendance.</p><p>Not until after several inquiries from The Associated Press did the Rauner administration disclose that Purvis &mdash; a key member of the governor&#39;s transition team &mdash; is now earning $250,000 a year to advise him on education policy. Purvis is being paid as an independent contractor and accepting neither state health nor retirement benefits, according to the governor&#39;s office.</p><p>From 2003 until last year, Purvis, who holds a doctorate in special education, served as CEO of the Chicago International Charter School, a network of 15 schools in Chicago and Rockford. She previously worked as a special education teacher in Maryland and Tennessee, as a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and served on education advisory councils under the last two Illinois governors.</p><p>In an interview with the AP, Purvis said her salary is &quot;commensurate with what I&#39;ve been paid in the past&quot; and cited her three decades of experience. Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly called Purvis &quot;one of the few education experts in the country prepared to lead a true cradle to career approach to education.&quot;</p><p>But some Democratic lawmakers questioned whether the pay was appropriate for an employee of the state.</p><p>&quot;We want the most talented people to take a turn serving in government,&quot; said Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park. &quot;But most all of us in public service are paid considerably less than if we used our talents in private enterprise. That sort of sacrifice is typically part of the public service deal.&quot;</p><p>The choice of Purvis also makes a statement about Rauner&#39;s priorities early in his tenure &mdash; a focus on lifting the state&#39;s cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state. And Rauner last month proposed a budget that included a $300 million increase to K-12 school funding next year while calling for cuts elsewhere, including a roughly $400 million decrease in funding to higher education to offset the bump.</p><p>Rauner already has come under fire for paying top members of his administration significantly more than their predecessors but criticizing the average state worker as overpaid. He&#39;s spent the first months of his tenure calling for &quot;shared sacrifice&quot; and issuing an executive order halting nonessential spending.</p><p>A review by The Associated Press earlier this year found annual salaries of 10 top employees in his administration far exceed those of comparable aides to former Gov. Pat Quinn by roughly $380,000 &mdash; or 36 percent.</p><p>Previous governors have hired point people on education, but they&#39;ve largely also had other duties at the same time, state records show. Kristin Richards, who served as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich&#39;s point person on education, was paid $120,000 in 2008 to oversee education and the state&#39;s Department of Transportation. Gov. Pat Quinn&#39;s education adviser, Julie Smith, earned $110,000 annually between 2011 and 2014, state records show.</p><p>While Purvis&#39; salary is high for a Cabinet secretary, it&#39;s in line with what local school administrators often earn. State records show that the average administrator&#39;s salary at the state&#39;s 860 districts made $101,096 last year, but are as high as $357,117, the annual salary of Marquardt District 15 superintendent Loren May. According to an analysis by the AP, 65 school superintendents&#39; salaries were higher than $250,000 last year.</p><p>While her predecessors have interacted with lawmakers and state education officials, Purvis says she envisions having even more of a public presence.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;ve been charged by the governor to create a more cohesive and coherent educational experience,&quot; she said, adding that there are at least seven agencies in the state that deal with children and their educational trajectory.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s really confusing for parents. In fact, it&#39;s really confusing for me,&quot; she said.</p><p>Robin Steans, director of the education reform group Advance Illinois, called Purvis &quot;no nonsense&quot; and somebody who can successfully &quot;block and tackle&quot; for the administration.</p></p> Fri, 20 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/former-charter-schools-ceo-earning-250k-rauners-adviser-111741 Principals to CPS: End custodial contract now http://www.wbez.org/news/principals-cps-end-custodial-contract-now-111735 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/2979169728_730927ae16_z_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Public Schools principals have had it.</p><p>A survey conducted by the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association found nearly 90 percent of principals say their schools are dirtier than they were a year ago, just before the Chicago Board of Education gave control of all school cleaning services to two private companies -- Aramark and SodexoMagic.</p><p>The move led to hundreds of janitors being laid off, which in turn led to disorganization and dirty conditions. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/custodial-contract-causing-problems-start-school-year-110767">WBEZ first reported issues</a> with cleanliness in schools last September.</p><p>Aramark and CPS scrambled to remedy the issue by <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/aramark-cps-change-plan-cut-school-janitors-110870">not following through with some of the planned layoffs</a>. In October, they announced plans to only cut 290 custodians, not 468.</p><p>But it wasn&rsquo;t enough of a compromise for principals, said Clarice Berry, head of the principals&rsquo; group.</p><p>&ldquo;There is no negotiating with us anymore,&rdquo; Berry said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not listening to any more promises. We&rsquo;re not waiting anymore. You can not staff a school with 1,200 kids with two custodian workers and think it&rsquo;s going to work. Ever.&rdquo;</p><p>The contracts were collectively worth $340 million, $260 million for Aramark to oversee all 2,400-plus janitors, and $80 million to SodexoMAGIC to oversee cleaning at 33 schools.</p><p>&ldquo;This contract should be voidable, because they have not met the terms of the contract,&rdquo; Berry said, calling on the district to cut ties with Aramark.&nbsp;</p><p>At an unrelated press conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he is in contact with Aramark and will hold the company accountable.</p><p>&ldquo;They better fix this,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;If it&rsquo;s not (fixed), it&rsquo;s going to be a very short contract.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett sent an e-mailed statement admitting the two companies faced a bumpy transition.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They met with principals, worked collaboratively to address their concerns and adjusted staffing to meet the needs of our schools,&rdquo; the statement read. &ldquo;These efforts have ​paid off.&rdquo;</p><p>CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey also included the results of an audit conducted at 308 schools showing just 17 schools falling under the cleanliness standards set forth in the contract.</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 19 Mar 2015 16:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/principals-cps-end-custodial-contract-now-111735 In addressing food allergies, some Chicago schools fall through the cracks http://www.wbez.org/sections/food/addressing-food-allergies-some-chicago-schools-fall-through-cracks-111728 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ravenswood-lunch.jpg" title="Students during lunch period at Ravenswood Elementary chow down on Doritos, nacho cheese and sunflower butter. The new nut-free policy means peanut butter isn’t allowed. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" /></div><p>It&rsquo;s a typical day in the Ravenswood Elementary cafeteria on Chicago&rsquo;s North Side. Middle schoolers catch up with friends, make jokes and chow down on a mishmosh of cafeteria food and brown bag lunches.</p><p>&ldquo;I have a Subway meatball sub,&rdquo; one says.</p><p>&ldquo;I have homemade soup with some rice,&rdquo; chirps another.</p><p>&ldquo;And I have some Doritos with peanut butter, I mean sunflower butter,&rdquo; their friend adds, catching himself as he remembers the school&rsquo;s new nut-free policy.</p><p>Starting in 2015, Ravenswood joined a small cadre of schools that have passed nut-free guidelines that go above and beyond the more common nut-free tables and nut-free menus.</p><p>That means no PBJs, no nutty granola bars, and no Snickers.</p><p>&ldquo;We are asking families and staff to make sure that no foods that have any nuts at all come into the building,&rdquo; says Principal Nate Menaen. And by nuts, he means, &ldquo;Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts of course.&rdquo;</p><p>In recent decades childhood food allergies have skyrocketed from 1 in 50 American children in 1990 to 1 in 13 today. That works out to about two kids in every American classroom &mdash; and that number is growing.</p><p>So how many schools are taking a hard stance against food allergies like Ravenswood?</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Food-Allergy-thumb.jpg" style="height: 206px; width: 280px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Ravenswood Elementary is one of only a handful of CPS schools to ban nuts in the entire building. (WBEZ/Derek John)" />Chicago Public School officials say they don&rsquo;t know. But the district does say it offers nut-free meals to about 200 schools (or roughly a third of the district). Most of them are located in more affluent areas or on the North Side.</p><p>But those aren&rsquo;t necessarily the schools with the greatest need.</p><p>Research shows that potential food allergies are actually higher among minorities. <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182844/" target="_blank">One Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital study</a> showed that those with African ancestry have a higher-than-average nut sensitivity. &nbsp;</p><p>Beverly Horne is the lead nurse in the south region of Chicago Public Schools. She oversees more than 100 schools on the South Side, but says that none have adopted the same kind of nut-free guidelines as Ravenswood.</p><p>In order to be allowed medical accommodations, students need documentation along with a doctor&rsquo;s diagnosis. But for many of the families she serves, Horne says, simply getting to the doctor is hard enough. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It has a lot of do with access,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;If you look at it, several of the clinics in those neighborhoods were closed and the parents have to travel.&rdquo;</p><p>She says nurses do what they can to fill in the gaps on the one to two days a week they can visit a particular school but it&rsquo;s often not enough. Plus, she says, many parents don&rsquo;t always know what to look for.</p><p>&ldquo;I recall one incident where the parent wasn&rsquo;t even aware that it was an allergic reaction she was seeing in her child,&rdquo; Horne says, &ldquo;and so we had to reach out to that parent. And actually it was a food allergy and those symptoms she was experiencing could have been very serious.&rdquo;</p><p>Just how serious?</p><p>In 2010 7th grader Catelyn Karlson died after eating peanut-tainted food that was brought to her Northwest Side school. &nbsp;Since then, CPS became the first large urban district to put epinephrine injectors (or EpiPen) in every school.</p><p>There they can be used to treat anyone in anaphylactic shock &mdash; a severe allergic reaction that can stop a victim from breathing.</p><p>Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a pediatric allergist at Lurie Children&rsquo;s Hospital, helped lead the effort. <a href="http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2014/10/emergency-epinephrine-used-38-times-in-chicago-public-schools.html" target="_blank">In a report on its first year of progress</a>, she noted that 38 students and staff were treated with the injectors. More than half of them didn&rsquo;t even know they had a food allergy.</p><p>This lack of knowledge worries Gupta, who says policy makers need to ask more questions. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Why don&rsquo;t we we see [more allergy diagnoses] on the South or West Side and in predominantly African American or Hispanic populations?&rdquo; she wonders. &ldquo;Now, do they have more and is it as severe? Unfortunately, until now we have not truly been able to classify who is going to have what kind of reaction when they eat the food. So some kids may just break out in a couple of hives or have a little mouth tingling but other kids could have full blown anaphylaxis that could lead to death.&rdquo;</p><p>Minority students may be more vulnerable to food allergies, but Gupta says other factors contribute to how schools decide whether to implement nut-free policies.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason you see policies more on the North Side is probably because of the parents advocating for it so much,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;This gets the principal, school staff and teachers on board that this is a serious problem and we need to do something about it.&rdquo;</p><p>Most of these policies, she notes, are driven by parents in Local School Councils, which is exactly how Ravenswood ended up &ldquo;nut-free&rdquo; this year. Ravenswood principal Manaen says there was some push back as he worked to get his whole school community on board with the guidelines.&nbsp;</p><p>But, it&rsquo;s one thing to say you&rsquo;re nut-free, it&rsquo;s another to make it a reality. It&rsquo;s not as if you can install nut detectors at the door.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s [just] a guideline,&rdquo; Principal Menaen says. &ldquo;Because at the end of the day, maybe I brought in my leftovers from a restaurant I went to that cooked in products that also touched peanut product. And so it&rsquo;s never 100 percent safe.&rdquo;</p><p>It is, however, one step toward making schools a little more safe &mdash; at least in some parts of the city. &nbsp;</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, 19 Mar 2015 07:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/food/addressing-food-allergies-some-chicago-schools-fall-through-cracks-111728 Common Core means 3 tests in 3 Years for Michigan kids http://www.wbez.org/news/common-core-means-3-tests-3-years-michigan-kids-111718 <p><p><em>This story was produced by&nbsp;<a href="http://hechingerreport.org/">The Hechinger Report</a>, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.&nbsp;Read more about </em><a href="http://hechingerreport.org/special-reports/common-core/"><em>Common Core</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>Partisan bickering over the Common Core has pushed Michigan legislators in recent years to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mlive.com/education/index.ssf/2013/05/common_core_education_funding.html">freeze</a>&nbsp;&mdash; then&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mlive.com/education/index.ssf/2013/10/common_core_approval_sails_thr.html">unfreeze</a>&nbsp;&mdash; spending on the new standards. They&#39;ve&nbsp;<a href="http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2014/06/common-core_test_dropped_.html">banished</a>the new exam that education officials had been planning to introduce this year and forced the creation of a second new test for 2015 as well as a third one for 2016.</p><p>And through it all, Jennifer Bahns and her students have just been trying to keep up.</p><p>Bahns teaches seventh-grade math at the University Prep Academy Middle School in Detroit &mdash; a highly regarded charter school that draws kids from some of this city&#39;s most struggling neighborhoods.</p><p>She has no influence over the politics of the Common Core &mdash; slammed by critics on the right as an overreach by the federal government and by critics on the left as a profit engine for testing companies &mdash; and she can only guess how ongoing conflicts and confusion over Common Core in state legislatures and education agencies will ultimately play out in American schools.</p><p>But as Michigan and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-the-national-k-12-testing-landscape.html?intc=highsearch">more than 40 other states</a>&nbsp;plan to administer new exams linked to the standards for the first time this spring, Bahns is among hundreds of thousands of teachers across the country who have had no choice but to plow ahead with implementing changes in their classrooms.</p><p>The transition is especially tough in Michigan where political one-upmanship has resulted in the likelihood that students here will take three different state exams in three years, repeatedly changing the measures that determine which kids are destined for success and which ones are falling behind.</p><p>To meet the new Common Core standards, Bahns&#39; seventh-graders this year are grappling with algebraic equations that used to be taught in the eighth or ninth grade. They&#39;re being asked to learn multiple solutions for each equation and to write sentences explaining how they computed their answers.</p><p>In their English classes, they&#39;re being asked to delve into nonfiction articles and learn to cite evidence from those texts in their writing.</p><p>It&#39;s a lot for these kids,&nbsp;<a href="http://bridgemi.com/2015/02/asc-resultspage/?Dbcode=82702-9888">many of whom</a>&nbsp;face the trials of poverty on top of their schoolwork, but on a recent afternoon as Bahns took her students through a series of problems, most were catching on.</p><p>&quot;Oh, this is easy!&quot; one student exclaimed as Bahns showed him how to break down an expression like 3(2x) + 4y(5) to the simpler 6x + 20y.</p><p>Other students nodded in agreement as they worked through a group of equations. But when Bahns told the students to plug in numbers for each of the variables:</p><p>y = 2 and x = (-1)</p><p>The sounds of confidence around the room sputtered into confusion.</p><p>&quot;Wait! I&#39;m lost!&quot; one student said.</p><p>&quot;Hunh?&quot; queried another. &quot;I&#39;m confused on that, bro.&quot;</p><p>The problem was negative numbers: These kids hadn&#39;t worked with negatives in months and couldn&#39;t remember how to handle them. Bahns tried to quickly remind her students that two negative numbers multiplied together make a positive number, but the class remained so stumped that she had to improvise. She scrapped the lesson she was teaching and launched into a review of negatives. That meant she&#39;d have to spread over two days a lesson that was intended to be taught in one. And it meant her students would be yet another day less prepared for the new, unknown &mdash; and utterly mystifying &mdash; state exam that was looming just two months away.</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/468-edit-b248def1723a3eab37a83dae9c89855834362afd-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 239px; width: 320px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Teacher Jennifer Bahns helps her seventh-graders work through algebraic equations that, before the Common Core, were taught in eighth or ninth grade. (Erin Einhorn/Hechinger Report)" /></div><p>The class showed the Common Core delivering on its promise: a teacher pushing her students to learn more advanced material so they&#39;ll be better prepared for college and careers. It also showed why the new standards have made so many educators so upset. For older students especially, who have had to switch to the new rigorous material halfway through their school careers, such impromptu reviews are constant. In Bahn&#39;s class, there won&#39;t be enough time to cover all the material her students are expected to know before test time.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s hard because you only have 60 minutes, and we have these expectations to get through this, get through this, get through this,&quot; Bahns said. &quot;They want us to go deeper, but it&#39;s impossible ... There&#39;s no give anywhere. Do they want us to go deep and really make sure they [students] understand how to persevere through these difficult problems? Or do they want us to cover five different strands? Because we&#39;re not going to be able to do both.&quot;</p><p>This year&#39;s test &mdash; the first state exam to be administered entirely online &mdash; presents a daunting challenge. Students who perform poorly could have trouble getting into top high schools. Schools like University Prep &mdash; which must aggressively compete for students in a city where kids can freely choose from a long list of charters, city schools and suburban schools &mdash; could lose students and resources if they drop on the annually published state rankings. At some schools, low scores could jeopardize job security for teachers and principals.</p><p>And while every school in Michigan is facing the same ordeal, research shows that schools like University Prep, which have high numbers of kids living in poverty, tend to take a bigger hit on new exams than schools with more affluent students. The online test format is&nbsp;<a href="http://hechingerreport.org/a-core-dilemma-will-the-littlest-learners-be-able-to-type/">expected to only exacerbate that disparity</a>.</p><p>And then there&#39;s the political maneuvering.</p><p>Michigan was one of the first states to embrace the Common Core. The Michigan Board of Education (eight officials chosen in statewide elections) unanimously adopted the standards in 2010. The state soon joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two state coalitions that received federal funding to develop Common Core-aligned exams that are being administered across the country this spring.</p><p>There was so little controversy around the board&#39;s decision, the move barely rated a mention in local news reports. Elected officials who later raised alarms said they were not aware that their state had adopted the new standards.</p><p>But by 2013, the politics around the Common Core had changed and the Common Core had become a talking point for Tea Party activists who blasted the standards as an effort by the Obama administration to snatch control from local schools. Parents and teachers worried the Common Core would mean more high-stakes testing for kids.</p><p>And a group of opponents in the state legislature made Michigan one of the first states to slow Common Core implementation when they slipped language barring spending on the new standards into the state budget at the eleventh hour.</p><p>Michigan&#39;s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, a Common Core supporter,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/06/michigan_gov_rick_snyder_signs_3.html#incart_river_default">had no power</a>&nbsp;to remove the language from his $49.5 billion spending bill. And so, for the next few months, schools were thrown into limbo, unsure if they could continue to pay for teacher training or materials related to the Common Core. The state Education Department even wondered if it had to take down part of its website.</p><p>&quot;Confusion was the watchword of the day,&quot; said Michigan State University education professor Robert Floden.</p><p>Funding was restored in October 2013 after four months of hearings, but Common Core opponents were emboldened by their brief victory. Last year, just nine months before Michigan planned to administer the Smarter Balanced exam to students in grades three to eight, the Republican legislature shut the test down, barring the Smarter Balanced test and joining a growing number of states that have pulled out of Common Core consortia in favor of single-state exams.</p><p>Michigan didn&#39;t have enough time to create a new exam &mdash; a process that typically takes three years &mdash; but the legislature left enough legal wiggle room to allow the Education Department to repackage the Smarter Balanced exam for 2015, just under a new name.</p><p>When students in grades three to eight take the new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-Step) this spring,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Assessment_Transition_FINAL_11-13-14_473989_7.pdf">all the reading and math questions that will count toward their scores</a>&nbsp;will be drawn from Smarter Balanced exam materials. Michigan is still listed as a full member of the Smarter Balanced consortium and will pay its full $4.9 million fee for 2015.</p><p>Smarter Balanced Deputy Executive Director Luci Willits says Michigan&#39;s 2015 scores will be directly comparable to those from other Smarter Balanced states.</p><p>Plans for 2016 are still underway as the state talks with test makers and considers its options, but the testing turmoil most likely means that Michigan kids will end up taking three different tests in three years: the state&#39;s traditional MEAP in 2014, the Smarter Balanced-based M-Step in 2015 and a new, unknown M-Step in 2016.</p><p>Asked about the 2016 test, state education officials issued a vague response saying only that they were &quot;required by legislation to develop a [Request for Proposals] for a new assessment.&quot; They added that, until that process is complete, &quot;it is unknown if this year&#39;s assessment data could be compared to next year.&quot;</p><p>The constant changes will likely make it impossible to track student progress from one year to the next &mdash; a problem that has forced the state to seek a waiver from federal rules requiring states to hold schools accountable for student progress over time. The confusion has also put on hold another legislative priority: a plan to use student test data in teacher evaluations.</p><p>Still, teachers fear they&#39;ll be blamed for the resulting tumult and school leaders worry the commotion will affect their schools&#39; standings in annual state rankings.</p><p>The rankings are especially crucial in Detroit, where population loss and the charter boom&nbsp;<a href="http://educationnext.org/fixing-detroits-broken-school-system/">have forced schools into heated recruitment wars</a>. A single year of bad scores here can sink a school if too many students &mdash; and the education dollars they bring with them &mdash; decide to go elsewhere.</p><p>So for teachers like Bahns and her colleagues at University Prep, the politics around testing have added an extra layer of anxiety to the already formidable challenge of teaching to the more rigorous standards.</p><p>&quot;There&#39;s a lot of chaos and there&#39;s a lot of uncertainty, which negatively affects the kids,&quot; said Sara Muchmore, a University Prep English teacher. &quot;When teachers are unsure about what to teach, that kind of uncertainty trickles down to the kids.&quot;</p><p>Both sides of the debate in Lansing, the state capital, say they regret the way the political dispute has affected classrooms, but are quick to blame each other.</p><p>&quot;Legislators should not be guiding educational decision making or second-guessing the good [decisions] we make,&quot; said John Austin, who now heads the state&#39;s Board of Education. &quot;Their gumming up the process of moving ahead with the Common Core certainly does not help advance the goal of educating our kids.&quot;</p><p>Tom McMillan, who led Common Core opponents in the state house before leaving office this year due to term limits, shot back that the mess could have been avoided if the Board of Education had held a more public process when it adopted the standards in the first place.</p><p>&quot;The chaos was created by the state Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Education sneaking it through in 2010 without looking for a debate and making sure people were signed onto it,&quot; said McMillan, a Republican who represented the wealthy Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills.</p><p>Uncertainty in schools may be exacerbated by the arrival of new legislators with new priorities every few years since, under Michigan law, legislators are term-limited to eight years in the senate and six years in the house.</p><p>But experienced educators say they do their best to tune out the noise.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m 71 years old, and I&#39;m so used to this,&quot; sighed Narda Murphy, the superintendent of the Williamston school district in a suburb of Lansing. &quot;If somebody decides on a political level to throw out the Common Core, they&#39;ll bring in some other framework. To me, it&#39;s a lot of wasted energy.&quot;</p><p>As for Bahns, this is her eighth year in a classroom, and she&#39;s not about to let politics or outside pressure affect her students.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s really, really ridiculous to me,&quot; she said. &quot;But what I tell the new teachers is just do the best you can do because that&#39;s all you can do.&quot;</p><p><em>This story was produced by&nbsp;<a href="http://hechingerreport.org/">The Hechinger Report</a>, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.</em></p><p><em>- <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2015/03/18/389772922/common-core-means-three-tests-in-three-years-for-michigan-kids">via NPR ED</a></em></p></p> Wed, 18 Mar 2015 09:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/common-core-means-3-tests-3-years-michigan-kids-111718 Parents fear loss of school volunteers if Rauner has his way http://www.wbez.org/news/parents-fear-loss-school-volunteers-if-rauner-has-his-way-111713 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_3172.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Tami Love still remembers the day she walked into Funston Elementary in Chicago&#39;s Logan Square.</p><div><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">It was 1995 and Chicago Public Schools was pushing parent engagement<span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">&mdash;</span>from local school councils to PTAs.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">&quot;At the time schools had these big ol&rsquo; giant signs, I can still picture it, it was blue and white, a big banner:<em> Parents! We need you! Volunteer today!&quot;</em></span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">So she did. Love walked into the main office and got a reaction she did not anticipate.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">&quot;There was someone in there with their neck popping and the eyes rolling and the lips smacking, saying things like, &lsquo;Oh honey this, you gotta go downtown. Honey this, you gotta get fingerprinted. Honey this, you gotta take a TB test. Honey, you can&rsquo;t just walk up in here and volunteer at nobody&rsquo;s school!&#39;&rdquo; Love recalled.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">After that, she ran away and stayed away.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">But a few weeks later, she got a flyer in her kids&#39;s book bag from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association inviting her to a meeting.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">When she showed up, there were more than 50 people already there. They were speaking Spanish, a language she had never heard before.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">&quot;I wanted to get up to leave that assembly hall,&quot; Love remembered. &quot;I didn&rsquo;t because I was too shy. So as I stayed there and listened to this language, I could see and feel the emotion on people&rsquo;s faces, and I got emotional too because I knew exactly what they were experiencing. These are the same moms that I would see every morning, like myself, with these grim looks on our faces, because we didn&#39;t know where we were delivering our babies to.&quot;&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">Love was one of the first &ldquo;parent mentors&rdquo; in a now-20-year-old program that trains parents to be volunteers and mentors in public schools.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">The &nbsp;program has expanded to 70 schools across Chicago and the suburbs. It&rsquo;s even being replicated in other cities across the country. Research shows having parents involved is critical to the success of a school and to the students.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">&quot;If I&rsquo;m at school every day at work, guess where the kids are? They&rsquo;re in school every day,&quot; Love said. &quot;And if the kids start to act up in the classroom, guess what? Mama&rsquo;s right up stairs. Attendance goes up. Homework help goes up. Grades go up. Parents, teachers and the community start to learn to work together.&quot;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">Organizers like Love worry the 20</span>th year could be one of the last. That&rsquo;s because the parent training program relies on $1.5 million state grant that they then match. Right now, the total amount funds about 600 parent mentors.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed</span> a budget that zeros out that grant.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">Love said schools aren&#39;t the only ones benefitting. The ripple effect is huge too. &nbsp;She said being a parent mentor changed everything about the kind of parent she has been. Her kids are now grown and through college.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-f7b32b70-2968-a226-ea06-2fc07844e2e8">&quot;There&rsquo;s this world assumption that everybody knows how to volunteer, everybody knows about politics, everybody knows about the power levels and that&rsquo;s not true,&quot; she said.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Advocates are talking with lawmakers and holding events to increase the visibility of the program, in hopes it will save them from funding cuts. In the meantime, Love&rsquo;s going to keep training new parents and working on public health isssues at &nbsp;her small office on Milwaukee Avenue, where she&rsquo;s now a full-time organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.</p><div><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her&nbsp;</span><a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.&nbsp;</em></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 15:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/parents-fear-loss-school-volunteers-if-rauner-has-his-way-111713 Chicago universities to Obama: Just don't pick New York for library http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-universities-obama-just-dont-pick-new-york-library-111705 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/obamapullman_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The two Chicago universities in the competition for President Barack Obama&#39;s library came together Monday to send a message to the White House: Choose either one of us, just don&#39;t pick New York.</p><p>Officials from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others gathered in a crowded hotel ballroom for what was billed a &quot;Unity Breakfast.&quot; Speakers took turns reminding the president and the first lady where their roots are and implored them to &quot;bring it on home,&quot; as Carol Adams, a member of the University of Chicago&#39;s Obama library community advisory board, put it.</p><p>&quot;Chicago is the only place with the historic political trajectory of President Barack Obama, and his presidential library should be erected here,&quot; said Adams, a former president of the DuSable Museum of African American History. &quot;&#39;For indeed, he did get there from here.&quot;</p><p>The effort to convince Obama to build his library in the city and not at the University of Hawaii or New York&#39;s Columbia University has been a major story in Chicago &mdash; and has even made its way into next month&#39;s mayoral election between Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus &quot;Chuy&quot; Garcia.</p><p>Emanuel, Obama&#39;s former White House chief of staff, has pushed hard for the library and was dealt what was widely seen as a blow to his campaign when it was reported earlier this month that the Obamas would delay announcing their decision until after the April 7 runoff election.</p><p>The mayor did not receive nearly as much support among black voters in last month&#39;s primary as he did when he was elected in 2011, after a campaign in which he made no secret of his access to the president.</p><p>Now, those same voters Emanuel is trying to win back have overwhelmingly supported a project that would bring thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars to one of two predominantly black communities that are in desperate need of some good financial news.</p><p>&quot;It can be on the South Side, it can be on the West Side, but it cannot be on the Upper West Side of Manhattan,&quot; Emanuel said.</p><p>The mayor also alluded to Garcia without saying his name during a later press briefing, drawing a contrast between himself and his challenger, who initially opposed the transfer of park land on the South Side.</p><p>Emanuel even seemed to suggest that the library foundation wanted to make sure he was re-elected before awarding the library to Chicago &mdash; though individuals with knowledge of the delay told the AP last month that the foundation decided to delay because it did not want to inject itself into a campaign or be seen as giving Emanuel an unfair advantage.</p><p>&quot;I do think the foundation made a decision because they believe leadership counts, and having strong leadership that can make sure you not only have a plan but that you can see it through will help us secure the library,&quot; he said.</p><p>Garcia&#39;s campaign did not immediately return a call for comment.<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 16 Mar 2015 11:44:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-universities-obama-just-dont-pick-new-york-library-111705 Ditching the Common Core brings a big test for Indiana http://www.wbez.org/news/ditching-common-core-brings-big-test-indiana-111691 <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/12-hr-test_slide-39ff1dbc376b856439c0384655a0d8767c757fce-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="Indiana squeezed the normal life cycle of a test—pilot, field, real—into one, massive exam that clocked in at 12 hours. LA Johnson/NPR" /></div><p>Every eldest child knows all too well: Going first can be tough.</p><p>There&#39;s no one to help you pick the good teachers at school or give you advice on how to tell Mom and Dad about that fender bender.</p><p>Right now, Indiana is the firstborn, feeling its way through some thorny &mdash; and consequential &mdash; education decisions with little precedent to lean on.</p><p>It all started a year ago, when the state dropped &mdash; and hastily replaced &mdash; the Common Core State Standards. It was the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/05/27/307755798/the-common-core-faq">first of three states to drop the Core</a>&nbsp;after previously signing on to the benchmarks in the summer of 2010.</p><p>Indiana also rejected a new, Common Core-aligned statewide annual test, which meant it had to replace that too (or run afoul of federal law). But introducing a new test generally takes years, not months. Questions are normally piloted one year and field-tested the next before the official, high-stakes version makes its debut.</p><p>&quot;The test has to do multiple things at the same time,&quot; says Danielle Shockey, the state&#39;s deputy schools superintendent.</p><p>Indiana squeezed the normal life cycle of a test&mdash;pilot, field, real&mdash;into one, massive exam that clocked in at 12 hours. That&#39;s more than twice as long as the previous test.</p><p>Why so long? First, it has to cover all of the new, new standards.</p><p>Second, the state had to include additional items in case of bad questions &mdash; a necessary precaution for any new, untested test.</p><p>&quot;So, after the test is complete,&quot; Shockey says, &quot;if nobody got Question Seven right, maybe that was a bad test item. That means there has to be enough in the bank for those things to happen.&quot;</p><p>But here&#39;s where the real padding came in: Indiana also had to pilot items for the test in years to come. These extra questions are basically testing the test, not the students. And, while those pilot questions don&#39;t count toward a student&#39;s final score, they do add a lot of time to the test.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The Struggle For Educators And Families</span></p><p>In January, the Indiana Department of Education sent schools the timetable for its test, showing that it would take 12 hours over the course of the 13-day testing window. Last year it took about five hours.</p><p>Parents and educators were horrified. They flooded the Statehouse and vented their frustration at a State Board of Education meeting.</p><p>Further complicating things, in the weeks leading up to the test the IDOE altered its format dramatically by replacing a bunch of multiple-choice questions with some that require open-ended responses.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s not just the actual administration of the test but the preparation of the test. Because, of course, you have to make sure kids are familiar with the format and that they&#39;re not going to be unnerved by something new,&quot; says Jenny Robinson, a parent of a 5th-grader in Bloomington, Ind.</p><p>Educators echoed that complaint, saying they&#39;d gotten no warning about the test&#39;s length.</p><p>&quot;We expected more item complexity to increase, but we really hadn&#39;t been told that the duration of the assessment was going to be vastly expanded,&quot; says Scott Smith, assessment coordinator for the Brownsburg Community School Corporation.</p><p>Educators weren&#39;t told because the test had been in development down to the wire. The quick turnaround frustrates Smith, who says he didn&#39;t care whether the state used Common Core or its own benchmarks &mdash; he just wanted lawmakers to choose one.</p><p>&quot;That flip-flop, the moving in one direction toward Common Core and then moving in the other direction ... that cost us time,&quot; Smith says. &quot;We were supposed to have three years to pilot these assessments, to field test these assessments and really prepare the assessment that has to be operational this year.&quot;</p><p>After a spate of last-minute meetings, some speedy legislation and an executive order, the State Board of Education and the legislature intervened, shaving three hours off the state&#39;s new test, which students are taking this week.</p><p>Though Indiana was the first to drop the Core, Oklahoma and South Carolina soon followed, and other states are considering the move.</p><p>Given the surprises that have come from that decision, Smith has some advice for lawmakers in other states now debating standards and testing:</p><p>&quot;Individual politicians cannot cut their political teeth on an issue this complex.&quot;</p><p>-&nbsp;<em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2015/03/12/390688151/ditching-the-common-core-brings-a-big-test-for-indiana">via nprEd</a></em></p></p> Thu, 12 Mar 2015 08:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ditching-common-core-brings-big-test-indiana-111691 Meet the companies that profit when CPS students drop out http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/meet-companies-profit-when-cps-students-drop-out-111665 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_1128_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">One year ago, a small contingent of some of Chicago&rsquo;s most powerful education officials flew to Arizona for a conference of education investors, hosted by Chicago Board of Education member Deborah Quazzo&#39;s investment firm Global Silicon Valley Advisors.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">The keynote speaker: Earvin &lsquo;Magic&rsquo; Johnson.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Fellow board member Mahalia Hines introduced the NBA-star-turned-businessman whose name is now branded across five of Chicago&rsquo;s newest for-profit alternative schools, called the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;One thing I was really great at was math, so I know my money,&rdquo; Johnson told the crowd. &ldquo;I know a great deal, a good deal and a bad deal.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Johnson&rsquo;s entire speech focused on making money in urban areas, returning bigger profits than expected in each case. He didn&rsquo;t mention the schools for dropouts in Chicago Public Schools until asked a question by someone in the audience.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">One month after Quazzo, Hines, another CPS board member Andrea Zopp, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s then-education deputy Beth Swanson attended the conference, the Chicago Board of Education </span><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-alternative-schools-some-run-profit-companies-come-hefty-price-tag-110239">approved another $6 million in startup money</a> for for-profit alternative schools. It was the second round of a multi-year expansion. (Quazzo has also&nbsp;<a href="http://chicago.suntimes.com/news-chicago/7/71/223620/cps-profitable-investment-board-ed-member">come under fire in recent months after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation</a> found that companies she invests in have tripled the amount of money made through contracts held with CPS schools.)</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">A WBEZ and&nbsp;</span><a href="http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/03/mixing-profits-and-performance-at-alternative-schools/">Catalyst Chicago</a> investigation found most of the new for-profit alternative schools are running half-day programs where students earn credits in a matter of weeks, through mostly online coursework. Yet, students are getting </span><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">regular high school diplomas</a>, with the name of the school they left. Many students <a href="http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/safety-net-dropouts-catches-others-111598">never officially dropped out</a> and some are not at all off-track.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">WBEZ and&nbsp;</span>Catalyst Chicago also found that many of the for-profit companies running alternative schools stand to make millions off the deals. Other findings:&nbsp;</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">On average, some of the companies spend more than half of their budget on consultants, advertising, technology and fees to affiliated companies.</span></p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Companies can maximize profit by running two or even three sessions a day, serving double the number of kids, yet only hiring the same or fewer staff as a normal school. (One of the for-profit companies, Camelot, is an exception. It operates an eight-hour school day with little online work.)</span></p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Since the companies are privately owned, the public has no way of knowing who is making money from investing in them or whether they have any connections to district or city officials.</span></p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">In at least one case, CPS contracted with a company that was, at the time, under investigation in California.</span></p></li></ul><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">John &lsquo;Jack&rsquo; Donahue, a leading expert on privatization in the public sector and faculty chair of the Masters in Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said he isn&rsquo;t against companies making a profit, but he cautions against outsourcing when it&rsquo;s not clear what outcome you want. He was also troubled by CPS giving students diplomas from the school they left, not the alternative school.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;The problem is, when you have people with the incentive and the ability to fool us about what&rsquo;s happening,&rdquo; Donahue said, noting that because Illinois does not have a high school exit exam, it&rsquo;s hard to measure if the diploma is meaningful. &ldquo;When you can&rsquo;t specify, in clear terms, what you want...because the undertaking is complex, as education is&hellip;then it won&rsquo;t work.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Because Chicago&rsquo;s graduation numbers are going up, there&rsquo;s no incentive for district officials to make clear that many more diplomas are coming from alternative schools. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">A money-making model</span></strong></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">When Emanuel promised to double the number of seats in alternative schools in 2011, there were 60,000 dropouts under 21 in the city. The people running a small army of alternative schools rejoiced. They thought this meant they would have room and resources to serve the thousands of kids on their waiting lists.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">No one guessed it meant the mayor would look past existing alternative schools to out-of-town, for-profit companies to help fix the dropout crisis.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Nationally, for-profit education companies see opportunity in alternative schools.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">There are four companies now operating in Chicago: Camelot Education, Pathways, EdisonLearning, and Ombudsman. These four companies alone run more than 100 schools in at least 30 states. When Camelot was acquired in 2011 by the private equity firm Riverside Company, managing partner Suzy Kriscunas noted in a press release: </span>&ldquo;Alternative and special education has significant growth.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">A WBEZ and </span>Catalyst Chicago investigation into Chicago&rsquo;s new for-profit alternative schools found that CPS has paid for-profit companies more than $70 million in just two years to start up new alternative schools. Most often, the companies are able to make money by cutting spending at the school level.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">CPS pays the new half-day alternative schools the same amount per child that it pays normal schools. The companies can save by hiring one teacher to teach two students each day. An analysis of budget documents shows many of the new schools spend less than half their budget on school staff. Usually, schools spend between 70 and 80 percent on staff salaries.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Budgets show the for-profit schools spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, technology, and fees to their parent companies for back-office costs. In some cases, they are purchasing materials from themselves or other parent companies, too.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Last school year, CPS paid Pathways in Illinois $5.1 million to operate two schools with about 500 students. The company then paid its affiliates $1.8 million for a variety of services and curriculum. The company is also run by the daughter of a couple who started a similar for-profit chain of alternative schools in California, called Options for Learning and Options for Youth. That company fell under an investigation by the State of California for improper spending. That same couple is on the board of directors for Pathways in Illinois, while their daughter is the executive director.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Magic Johnson Bridgescape, operated by </span>EdisonLearning in partnership with the former NBA-star, budgets $400,000 for each school to buy educational materials. Much of that is used to buy eCourses, an EdisonLearning product. Spokesman Mike Serpe said the company also buys other online programs, such as Think Through Math, which is part of Chicago Board of Education member Quazzo&rsquo;s investment portfolio.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">No one from </span>EdisonLearning or Magic Johnson Enterprises would agree to an interview.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">But at a press conference in Chicago in February, Johnson said he was approached by </span>EdisonLearning because the company wanted to draw inner-city students into its schools. &ldquo;What they needed was a guy like myself to come in to more or less brand it,&rdquo; he said. When asked how much he makes per school, he told WBEZ and Catalyst: &ldquo;That is all you need to know.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Budget documents obtained through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests indicate how much Johnson stands to make off the alternative schools. One proposal listed a half- million-dollar fee to &ldquo;Magic Johnson Enterprises,&rdquo; but the assumption was based on opening many more schools.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Jack Elsey, Chicago Public Schools&#39; chief of innovation and incubation, said there&rsquo;s no way CPS could have delivered on Emanuel&rsquo;s promise to double the number of dropouts being served without outside help.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;The point is not the bottom line,&rdquo; Elsey said. &ldquo;The point is having an impact on students. So the benefit of getting the student in and graduated within a month or two months, means that&rsquo;s one more student who&rsquo;s graduated who wouldn&rsquo;t have graduated before.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&lsquo;Who cares if they make money?&rsquo;</span></strong></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Illinois does not allow for-profit companies to run schools. State law requires public charter schools to be non-profits incorporated in Illinois. However, districts like CPS and non-profits can contract with for-profit companies to provide services.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">It&rsquo;s why district officials are careful to call the new alternative schools &ldquo;programs&rdquo; instead of schools. The for-profit companies technically hold contracts to provide what&rsquo;s called an &ldquo;Alternative Learning Opportunities Program.&quot;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Bridgescape, Camelot and Ombudsman are run by for-profit, out-of-state companies. Pathways is a non-profit certified in Illinois, although its executives own for-profit companies that do business with the non-profit.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Todd Bock runs Camelot Education, one of the for-profit companies to open alternative schools in Chicago in the last few years.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;People hear the word &#39;for-profit&#39; and they think these companies are making hundreds of thousands of dollars on these schools and that&rsquo;s really, really not the case,&rdquo; he said.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">The schools Bock&rsquo;s company runs are an outlier. Students at Camelot&rsquo;s EXCEL Academies have to go to school for almost nine hours and there is little work done on computers.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">He says Chicago should hold companies like his accountable for quality.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;We have an obligation to the taxpayers to do it better and more efficiently than what&rsquo;s been done in the past and if we can&rsquo;t do that, then we don&rsquo;t deserve to be there,&rdquo; Bock said.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Gary Miron, professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at Western Michigan University,</span> studies for-profit and not-for-profit education companies. He said education companies see alternative schools as appealing because demand is so high and the companies have an excuse for poor performance, since dropouts are less likely to score well on standardized tests.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">CPS is funding the new schools as if they were charter schools, but then not having them grant their own diplomas. &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;Some people say, &lsquo;Who cares if it&rsquo;s for-profit? If they can deliver a better product at a lower cost, who cares if they make a little money?&rsquo;&rdquo; Miron said. &ldquo;And then I&rsquo;d say, &lsquo;Yeah! Why not?&rsquo; But it&rsquo;s not happening. It&rsquo;s just not happening. When we look at the outcomes, they&rsquo;re not as good.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">CPS is trying to hold the new schools accountable for performance, though it isn&#39;t using the same measures it applies to the rest of the high schools in Chicago. Instead, it looks at improvement in reading and math, attendance and how many kids actually earn diplomas.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Early numbers show of the five performance levels CPS gives schools, not ONE of the new for-profit schools made it into the top two.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Not all of the new for-profit alternative schools have been open long enough to get a rating. But of those that have been, most landed at the bottom of the district&rsquo;s rankings. None earned a 1 or 1+ rating.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Miron said low-performing schools should spend more, not less, directly on students. Plus, with alternative schools, the students enrolling are some of the most at-risk and vulnerable in the city.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;</span>If these are such a good idea, why aren&rsquo;t we doing it with some suburban schools serving middle-class families?&rdquo; he asks. &ldquo;Yet we see this experimentation with private companies with pretty drastically new ideas that end up being more beneficial for profit margin than actual performance.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">Harvard&rsquo;s Jack Donahue echoed Miron&rsquo;s concerns about quality.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">&ldquo;The real thing to worry about here is the weaknesses of the measures of value, rather than the fact that somebody might be making a buck,&rdquo; he said.</span></p><p><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-cac2dd7b-ef91-40c8-d60b-356db7fdb9a6">This story was co-reported with Sarah Karp of <a href="http://catalyst-chicago.org">Catalyst Chicago</a>. Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her </span><a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the school at which John &#39;Jack&#39; Donahue works. It is Harvard University&#39;s John F. Kennedy School of Government.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Fri, 06 Mar 2015 08:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/meet-companies-profit-when-cps-students-drop-out-111665