WBEZ | Education http://www.wbez.org/news/education Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en CPS, Emanuel warn of deep cuts, layoffs to school district http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-emanuel-warn-deep-cuts-layoffs-school-district-112301 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/rahmap.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is proposing &ldquo;a grand bargain&rdquo; to fix the financial woes of Chicago Public Schools.</p><p>The proposal cuts $200 million from schools, raises property taxes, asks teachers to pay more into their pensions, and pushes Springfield to increase overall school funding.</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody would have to give up something, and nobody would have to give up everything,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s proposal came as state lawmakers were entertaining a bill from Illinois Senate President John Cullerton that would freeze property taxes and eliminate grants currently promised to CPS in exchange for picking up about $200 million of the cash-strapped school district&rsquo;s &ldquo;normal&rdquo; pension costs over the next two years.</p><p>The Chicago Teachers Union doesn&rsquo;t support Emanuel&rsquo;s plan and also scoffed at his longstanding push to consolidate the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund with the Teachers Retirement System, which includes all suburban and downstate teachers, and is equally underfunded. Currently, Chicago taxpayers pay into both CTPF and TRS, something Emanuel calls &ldquo;inequitable.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Cuts will hit classrooms, special education and start times</span></p><p>Emanuel and CPS officials said schools will start on time this fall, but not without deep cuts.&nbsp;</p><p>District officials are still in the process of developing the budget for next school year, but CPS Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz <a href="https://www.scribd.com/doc/270216697/CPS-reducing-expenses-by-200-Million" target="_blank">outlined</a> the following cuts they&rsquo;ve already determined they&rsquo;ll make:</p><ul><li>Eliminate 5,300 coaching stipends for elementary school sports. ($3.2 million);</li><li>Change magnet school transportation by having students report to local attendance area school to be picked up. ($2.3 million);</li><li>Shift start times for some high schools back 45 minutes. ($9.2 million);</li><li>Eliminate 200 vacant special education positions. ($14 million);</li><li>Cut startup funding for charters and alternative schools. ($15.8 million);</li><li>Reduce professional development in turnaround schools run by AUSL ($11.6 million).</li></ul><p>&ldquo;In my view, they&rsquo;re intolerable, they&rsquo;re unacceptable and they&rsquo;re totally unconscionable,&rdquo; Emanuel said of the cuts. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re a result of a political system that sprung a leak and now it&rsquo;s a geyser.&rdquo;</p><p>The cuts do not solve the district&rsquo;s pension problems. Late Tuesday, just before the deadline, the school district paid its full pension payment, a hefty sum of $634 million, for 2015. But that payment was only to close out last year&rsquo;s budget. The Emanuel administration has already asked the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund to push $500 million of the required 2016 payment to 2017.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Where will the revenue come from?</span></p><p>Chicago Public Schools officials and Emanuel find themselves in the middle of a delicate dance with Springfield: They take every opportunity to blame Springfield for the financial mess the district is in, but at the same time look for lawmakers to bail them out.</p><p>If Springfield doesn&rsquo;t go along with Emanuel&rsquo;s idea to merge all teacher pensions into a single fund, he wants them to contribute the &ldquo;normal&rdquo; pension cost, which amounts to about $200 million annually.</p><p>This portion of his plan coincides with a <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09900SB0316sam001&amp;GA=99&amp;SessionId=88&amp;DocTypeId=SB&amp;LegID=84277&amp;DocNum=0316&amp;GAID=13&amp;Session=" target="_blank">bill</a> that&rsquo;s currently floating around Springfield. Senate President John Cullerton sponsored an amendment that would kick in that annual &ldquo;normal cost,&rdquo; and also freezes property taxes for two years. Cullerton says it&rsquo;s his attempt to compromise with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who&rsquo;s advocated freezing property taxes. The bill would also require the state to create a task force to overhaul Illinois&rsquo; school funding formula.</p><p>Cullerton&rsquo;s bill made it through its first legislative hurdle with only Democratic support, but Cullerton said he&rsquo;d continue working with Republicans to get bipartisan support.</p><p>And then there&rsquo;s that thing Chicagoans have been waiting to hear details about: A property tax hike. Emanuel said without Springfield&rsquo;s help on teacher pension funding, he will restore the CPS pension levy to the pre-1995 tax rate of .26 percent. Emanuel estimates that would bring in around $175 million.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t easily go to taxpayers, but part of a solution is you&rsquo;re willing to give up things you don&rsquo;t support, in an effort to get other things you think are essential to a solution,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>Emanuel said he will also ask teachers to contribute the full 9 percent to cover their own pension costs. He said he will also put the city&rsquo;s block grants on the table, in exchange for the state to increase education funding by up to 25 percent.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">How we got here</span></p><p>These pension problems stem from 15 years of neglect and mismanagement at CPS and the city.</p><p>From 1995 to 2004, CPS did not make a single payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, and instead used revenues to pay for operations. From 2011 to 2013, the school district got a &ldquo;pension holiday&rdquo; that temporarily shrunk payments, but didn&rsquo;t make a dent in the unfunded liabilities.</p><p>Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said the district should be &ldquo;front and center taking blame&rdquo; for &ldquo;using the pension system very much like a credit card, running up debt and deferring payment of it until now.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;The City of Chicago has known that more money was going to have to go into the pension systems in 2015,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;They had four and a half years to plan for it and they did nothing.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel disputes that he&rsquo;s been putting the pension problem off, telling reporters Wednesday that over the past few years, &ldquo;we negotiated with the laborers and municipal fund, we negotiated with police and fire and we negotiated with park district employees and reached pension agreements and passed a number of them...so I would slightly beg to differ the characterization that we were passive.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Martire didn&rsquo;t place all of the blame at the mayor&rsquo;s feet. He said state lawmakers are equally at fault for not contributing to Chicago teachers&rsquo; pensions, like they once promised and by generally underfunding public schools.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;When you have such significant underfunding from the state, the mayoral administrations and the administrations of the CPS are going to look to beg, borrow and steal,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And just simply write an IOU into the system saying, &lsquo;We&rsquo;ll pay you back someday at compounded interest.&rsquo; And someday has arrived.&rdquo;</p><p><em>WBEZ&rsquo;s Tony Arnold contributed to this story from Springfield.</em></p><p><span style="font-size: 24px;">A timeline of CPS pension problems</span></p><p><strong>1981</strong> &ndash; Chicago Board of Education starts picking up 7 percent of the 9 percent employee pension contribution, in exchange for no salary raises.</p><p><strong>1995</strong> &ndash; Illinois General Assembly gives control of the city&rsquo;s public schools to Chicago&rsquo;s mayor and agrees to let CPS manage the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. The dedicated pension levy is eliminated and for 10 years, CPS doesn&rsquo;t pay anything into the Fund, instead using revenue that should have been earmarked for pensions on other things, like operations, new school expansion and staff raises.</p><p><strong>2005</strong> &ndash; Chicago Teachers Pension Fund &ldquo;funded ratio&rdquo; drops to 79 percent.</p><p><strong>2006</strong> &ndash; Board starts making payments into CTPF again.</p><p><strong>2008</strong>&nbsp;&ndash; Stock market crashes, dropping the Fund&rsquo;s &ldquo;funded ratio&rdquo; even further.</p><p><strong>2010</strong> &ndash; CPS CEO Ron Huberman gets a pension holiday from Springfield. From 2011-2013, CPS is only required to pay $200 million year &ndash; instead of $600 million &ndash; pushing ballooning payments to 2014.</p><p><strong>2012</strong> &ndash; The &ldquo;funded ratio&rdquo; drops to 53.9 percent.</p><p><strong>2014</strong> - $612.7 million payment</p><p><strong>2015</strong> - $634 million payment</p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_76159" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/270216697/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Wed, 01 Jul 2015 13:53:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-emanuel-warn-deep-cuts-layoffs-school-district-112301 At eleventh hour, CPS makes huge pension payment http://www.wbez.org/news/eleventh-hour-cps-makes-huge-pension-payment-112290 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/madigan_1_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-8f7b37b5-46c0-8279-17ad-1b39333078ba"><em>UPDATED July 1, 7:53 a.m.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr">The head of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund says Chicago Public Schools deposited the full $634 million into the pension fund Tuesday evening.</p><p>&ldquo;The need for long-term solutions is not erased with this payment,&rdquo; CTPF&rsquo;s executive director Charles Burbridge said in a statement.</p><p dir="ltr">But with that payment, according to CPS officials, comes more borrowing and 1,400 layoffs of school district employees.</p><p>Illinois&rsquo; powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan said Tuesday the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools would pay the hundreds of millions of dollars that it owes to teacher pensions by the end of the day.</p><p dir="ltr">The surprise announcement came after CPS had been asking state lawmakers for a short-term reprieve from the massive $634 million payment. Last week, the House of Representatives voted down the district&rsquo;s proposal, even though it had a minority Republican support. At the time, Madigan denied he singularly defeated the proposal, even though he wields influence over many lawmakers.</p><p>On Tuesday, he said that debate was moot, as he&rsquo;d been told by &ldquo;reliable sources&rdquo; that Chicago Public Schools would make the payment, in full.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been advised by reliable sources they have cash on hand and they&rsquo;ll be in a position to make a payment by the end of the business day today,&rdquo; Madigan told reporters.</p><p>As for how the district can make this payment to its pension system and still afford bills in the near-term, Madigan said he doesn&rsquo;t know how that math will work.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There are open questions going forward in terms of paying the bills at the Chicago Board of Education,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>In a statement, interim schools CEO Jesse Ruiz criticized Springfield for failing &ldquo;to address Chicago Public Schools&rsquo; financial crisis.&rdquo; Ruiz said CPS was able to make its 2015 pension payment by borrowing money, but they&rsquo;ll also have to make an additional $200 million in cuts. CPS officials said 1,400 jobs - not just teachers - would be impacted Wednesday.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;As we have said, CPS could not make the payment and keep cuts away from the classroom, so while school will start on time, our classrooms will be impacted,&rdquo; Ruiz said.</p><p>City Hall sources said late Tuesday night that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Ruiz would be presenting a &ldquo;comprehensive plan that includes long-term solutions to the district&rsquo;s pension and funding inequities&rdquo; on Wednesday.</p><p dir="ltr">Earlier in the day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave no indications to reporters in Chicago that CPS was in fact planning to pay the bill in full by the end of the day. However, he did address the impact of the pension payment on the school system&rsquo;s budget.</p><p>&ldquo;School will start, but our ability to hold the impact of finances away from the classroom, that&rsquo;s gonna change,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Springfield lawmakers are set to hear Wednesday about a <a href="http://ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09900SB0316sam001&amp;GA=99&amp;SessionId=88&amp;DocTypeId=SB&amp;LegID=84277&amp;DocNum=316&amp;GAID=13&amp;Session=">new</a> proposal that could funnel hundreds of millions of state funds toward CPS pensions.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>. Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/eleventh-hour-cps-makes-huge-pension-payment-112290 Rauner proposal would advance $450M to help Chicago schools http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-proposal-would-advance-450m-help-chicago-schools-112271 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/raunersots02042015_2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A document obtained by The Associated Press shows Gov. Bruce Rauner is offering to accelerate state grant payments to help Chicago Public Schools make a $634 million pension contribution.</p><p>A summary of the proposal prepared by the Rauner administration states the Illinois State Board of Education has identified $450 million in grants that could be provided to CPS this week. The money normally would be distributed over the course of the fiscal year and for other purposes.</p><p>CPS faces a Tuesday deadline to make the pension payment.</p><p>The Illinois House voted down a plan last week to give the cash-strapped district an additional 40 days to make the payment.</p><p>A spokesman for Rauner declined to comment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel&#39;s office didn&#39;t immediately respond to a request for comment.</p></p> Mon, 29 Jun 2015 09:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-proposal-would-advance-450m-help-chicago-schools-112271 Contract talks break down between Chicago teachers and city http://www.wbez.org/news/contract-talks-break-down-between-chicago-teachers-and-city-112257 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMG_2459.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Contract talks between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education ended Thursday with no agreement in sight, union officials say.</p><p>CTU President Karen Lewis said the union&rsquo;s latest proposal was cost neutral&mdash;no annual raises, no cost-of-living increases&mdash;but did ask the Board to continue picking up 7 percent of the 9 percent employee pension contribution.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re very clear that they have a serious fiscal issue,&rdquo; Lewis told reporters. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re willing to work within that.&rdquo;</p><p>Lewis said the proposal would&rsquo;ve been a one-year deal that would have eliminated some paperwork and excessive standardized tests.</p><p>But the Board apparently didn&rsquo;t bite.</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement that he&rsquo;s encouraged &ldquo;both sides finally acknowledge that CPS is in a fiscal crisis and lacks the resources to provide additional compensation.&rdquo;</p><p>He urged CTU leadership to come back to the bargaining table.</p><p>According to the union&rsquo;s lawyer, Robert Bloch, there are no bargaining meetings scheduled.</p><p>CPS officials could not be immediately reached to comment on the latest proposals, but the district has so far not commented on the most recent round of negotiations.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>The current teachers&rsquo; contract is set to expire next Tuesday.</p></p> Thu, 25 Jun 2015 17:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/contract-talks-break-down-between-chicago-teachers-and-city-112257 Poverty's enduring hold on school success http://www.wbez.org/news/povertys-enduring-hold-school-success-112201 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1005312528-TefftSuccess_4.jpg" style="height: 402px; width: 620px;" title="Quiet time to study before lunch at Tefft Middle School in Streamwood. The percentage of low-income students at Tefft nearly doubled over the last decade and is now at 75 percent. The school is “beating the odds” on the WBEZ/Daily Herald Poverty-Achievement Index, scoring higher than might be expected given the percent of low-income students in the school. (The Daily Herald/Bob Chwedyk)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">In the rhetoric of the American Dream, an individual&rsquo;s success is earned through hard work and determination. In the rhetoric of recent school reforms, a school&rsquo;s success depends on quality teaching and high standards. Poverty shouldn&rsquo;t matter when it comes to either.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The reality of Illinois&rsquo; education system tells a different story.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">A new analysis of a decade of state test score data by WBEZ and the <em>Daily Herald</em> underlines the immense role poverty plays in how well a school performs.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Our analysis shows a vast expansion of poverty&mdash;2,244 schools have seen their proportion of low-income students increase by at least 10 percentage points over the last decade.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">And the number of schools struggling with concentrated poverty&mdash;where nearly every child in the school is low-income&mdash; has ballooned.</div></div><p>But perhaps most troubling, WBEZ and the <em>Daily Herald</em> find that poverty remains a frustratingly accurate predictor of how well schools will perform. Schools full of middle-class kids rarely perform below average on state tests; schools made up of low-income kids rarely score above.</p><p>In fact, test score data in Illinois indicate that the degree to which poverty is tied to school performance is slightly stronger than it was a decade ago&mdash;despite reforms that have included school re-staffings, closures, consolidations, new state standards and more stringent guidelines for evaluating teachers.&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/elemreg.jpg" style="height: 284px; width: 620px;" title="(Tim Broderick/Daily Herald)" /></div><p><em>The graphs show that the greater the percentage of low-income students in a school, the lower the school&#39;s test scores tend to be.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><a href="http://reportcards.dailyherald.com/lowincome/elem2014index.html" target="_blank">Click here</a>&nbsp;to view an interactive version of the 2014 elementary scartterplot and&nbsp;<a href="http://reportcards.dailyherald.com/lowincome/elem2004index.html" target="_blank">here</a> for the 2004 version.&nbsp;The diagonal black line is a trend line. R2 is the strength of the relationship between poverty and test scores. </em></p><p><em>The graph also shows a dramatic increase in the percentage of low-income students in the state, and more schools where nearly all kids are poor. Each dot represents one school. </em></p><p><em>All Illinois elementary schools with test scores are plotted.</em></p><p>The effect of poverty on school performance is well known.</p><p>But a graph of 10 years of state test score data paints a picture of near-perfect stratification. Schools with the fewest poor students score the highest on average.</p><p>Schools&rsquo; scores go consistently down from there as the proportion of low-income students in a school goes up. The pattern holds for every income level over every year for the past decade &mdash; for both elementary and high schools.</p><div style="display:block;overflow:hidden;width:620px;height:420px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="520" scrolling="no" src="http://reportcards.dailyherald.com/lowincome/hscht.html" style="margin-top:-100px" width="620"></iframe></div><p><em>The line chart shows the percent of students meeting or exceeding standards on Illinois&rsquo; high school exam in 2014, for various income ranges. The blue line at the top of the graph represents the average performance of more affluent schools &mdash; where low-income students make up between 0 and 12.4 of enrollment. The green line at the bottom of the graph represents the average performance of the poorest schools &mdash; where between 87.5 and 100 percent of students are low-income.</em></p><p>For many, including state officials, the pattern is disturbing, even un-American.</p><p>&ldquo;As Americans, we love to think of ourselves as living in the land of opportunity &mdash; a country where anyone who works hard can make it,&rdquo; says Natasha Ushomirsky, a data and policy analyst at the Education Trust, a national education nonprofit. Ushomirsky says the educational&nbsp; opportunities for rich and poor kids are &ldquo;anything but equal&rdquo; and &ldquo;the resulting relationship between schools&rsquo; poverty rates and achievement (flies) in the face of our national values.&rdquo;</p><p>How poverty impacts schools &mdash; and how well schools educate low-income children &mdash; are vital questions for the state. For the first time, in 2014, more than half of Illinois public school kids &mdash; 51.5 percent &mdash; were considered low-income, up from 39 percent a decade ago.</p><p>And across the country, the gap between how well poor and wealthy students perform on standardized tests has grown wider in the past 50 years.</p><p>&ldquo;The impact of poverty has to be included in our conversation,&rdquo; says new state schools superintendent Tony Smith in response to the WBEZ/<em>Daily Herald</em> analysis. Smith was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in April. &ldquo;[Poverty] is a big deal, it needs to be paid attention to,&rdquo; says Smith, who also says government policies helped create and structure poverty over the past century, and that government policies are needed to ensure equal educational opportunity.</p><p>&ldquo;You can&rsquo;t tell me that only kids in high-wealth, white neighborhoods have the &lsquo;college DNA&rsquo; &mdash; that&rsquo;s ridiculous,&rdquo; Smith says. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s something about how we&rsquo;re structured that is sorting opportunity. We&rsquo;re wasting massive, massive human potential by not figuring out a way to increase access and support for all of our kids.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">More than a million low-income students</span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SunnyHillSuccess_2.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="Sunny Hill Elementary teacher Nancy Kontney works with students in the Carpentersville school. Sunny Hill is one of 649 schools in Illinois where more than 90 percent of students are low income. The number of Illinois schools dealing with concentrated poverty has swelled in the last decade. (The Daily Herald/Brian Hill)" /></div></div></div><p>Illinois now has more than a million low-income students. (&ldquo;Low-income&rdquo; status is determined by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch at school. That figure was $43,568 for a family of four in 2013-14.)</p><p>In contrast to what many might think, all the growth in low-income students in the last decade has come outside the city of Chicago &mdash; which actually saw its population of poor students decrease by 29,000 over the last decade.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2004, more than 45 percent of the state&rsquo;s low-income public school students attended Chicago public schools. Today, that figure is 32 percent&mdash; and falling.</p><p>Meanwhile, on average, Illinois school districts have seen a 15 percentage point increase in the proportion of their student body that&rsquo;s considered low-income.</p><p>In Elgin Area Unit District U-46, the sheer number of low-income students in the district has nearly doubled over the last 10 years. The district now enrolls 24,003 low-income students, more than any district outside of Chicago.</p><p>Plainfield SD 202, the state&rsquo;s fourth largest school district, educates 10 times more low-income students than it did a decade ago. It ranks 16th in the state in terms of the number of poor students it enrolls; a decade ago, the district did not even rank within the top 100.&nbsp;</p><p>Indian Prairie CUSD 204 &mdash; with schools in Naperville, Aurora and Bolingbrook, including vaunted high schools like Neuqua Valley &mdash; has followed a similar trajectory. That district in 2004 enrolled just 780 low-income kids out of 26,147 students total. Low-income students accounted for just 3 percent of its student body. Today District 204 enrolls 5,088 low-income kids, 18 percent of all students. The district ranks 20th in the state for the number of low-income students it serves.</p><p>Jason Klein, chief information officer at Wheeling District 21, says when he started as a teacher at London Middle School in 1998 the low-income rate was below 15 percent, but the school considered that high poverty.</p><p>&ldquo;That&#39;s nothing compared to what we see today,&rdquo; he says; the school is now 53 percent low-income. &ldquo;I think there has been a significant shift, we see it with low-income numbers, with homelessness numbers and with the challenges our students bring to school.&rdquo;</p><p>The shifting demographics have been a struggle for suburban districts that historically were not used to dealing with large populations of low-income students. Klein says it can take some time for school districts to catch up with the changes. &ldquo;There&#39;s often a lag between when a school or district&#39;s demographics change and when the staff and community realizes that it&#39;s changed,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>A growing number of Illinois schools are also dealing with concentrated poverty &mdash; where nearly every student is considered low-income. The number of schools where more than 90 percent of children are low-income has swelled, from 421 schools in 2004 to 649 in 2014.</p><p>Today, 17 percent of all public school students in Illinois attend schools where 90-100 percent of students are low-income.</p><p>American society is more residentially segregated by income than it was in the past, says Greg Duncan, professor of economics and education at University of California-Irvine, and that is contributing to growing achievement gaps between rich and poor students.</p><p>Compared to a generation ago, &ldquo;low-income kids are more likely to have low-income neighbors, high-income kids high-income neighbors,&rdquo; says Duncan. What that means for schools is &ldquo;quite troubling,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>&ldquo;Having a mixture of income brings a lot of benefits for low-income kids. Because the [higher income] parents are bringing higher levels of education, they may be more demanding about the teaching and other kinds of standards in the schools.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">What money can buy</span>&mdash;<span style="font-size:22px;">an enhanced education</span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1005312528-TefftSuccess_15.jpg" style="height: 398px; width: 620px;" title="Asst. Principal David Harshbarger with 7th grader Jose Huerta during a required after school homework session at Tefft Middle School in Streamwood. Experts say that affluent parents now spend 0,000 per child per year on enrichment for their children—everything from music lessons to summer camps to private tutoring. That’s increased the burden on schools to keep low-income kids learning at the same pace. (The Daily Herald/Bob Chwedyk)" /></div></div><p>Researchers and advocates for poor students say there are lots of reasons why poverty impacts achievement in school.</p><p>&ldquo;One has to do with the things that money can buy,&rdquo; says Larry Joseph, director of research at Voices for Illinois Children. &ldquo;More affluent families can invest more resources in their children&#39;s development. Those investments include health care, adequate nutrition, early learning opportunities, home computers, dance lessons... summer camp, and safe and supportive neighborhoods. And also access to higher quality schools.&rdquo;</p><p>Joseph says poverty also takes an emotional toll that impacts academics. Unstable employment and financial insecurity increase family stress. That can adversely affect the quality of parenting and family relationships, and put stress on children who would otherwise be focusing their energy on learning, Joseph says.</p><p>Schools don&rsquo;t cause achievement gaps, researchers say. Gaps between poor and non-poor students are present even before kids get to school.</p><p>&ldquo;They are coming into kindergarten already behind,&rdquo; says Robin Steans, executive director at Advance Illinois, a group that has fought to reform school funding in the state to drive more dollars to low-income students. &ldquo;They haven&#39;t had exposure to letters, numbers or how to navigate a classroom, how to sit still, how to work cooperatively with others. All of which makes it harder for them to catch up.&rdquo;</p><p>Even getting to school can be a challenge for low-income kids, from difficulty affording transportation to not having a safe passage to walk to school, says Elaine Allensworth, director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;In the poorest areas of the city you also have students more likely to be exposed to traumatic events, to violence, to having issues with housing instability,&rdquo; Allensworth says. &ldquo;These are really, really stressful events for kids.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">What can be done?</span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1005312528-TefftSuccess_16.jpg" style="height: 432px; width: 620px;" title="Language arts instructor Jamie Reyes leads her group to a required after school homework session at Tefft Middle School in Streamwood. Some people, including Illinois’ new superintendent of education, say the state must improve schools but must also attack childhood poverty more directly to see better school performance. (The Daily Herald/Bob Chwedyk)" /></div></div><p>Many see school funding in Illinois as a glaring issue exacerbating poverty&rsquo;s impact on learning and schools.</p><p>&ldquo;Achievement gaps are a direct result of gaps in opportunity to learn,&rdquo; said Natasha Ushomirsky of the Education Trust, whose mission is to eliminate gaps for poor and minority students.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The highest poverty districts in Illinois get nearly 20 percent less in state and local funding per child than the lowest poverty districts,&rdquo; says Ushomirsky, citing a recent Education Trust study she authored that analyzed education funding across the country.</p><p>That study, released this year, found Illinois has the widest funding gaps in the nation between low- and high-income schools.</p><p>Ushomirsky says inequities in funding &ldquo;underlie all sorts of other inequities in our school system.&rdquo; Districts that spend more per pupil can offer more competitive teacher salaries, they can buy extra enrichment and support&mdash;&ldquo;which are things that are important to all students. But they&rsquo;re especially important for those children who may not get access to these opportunities outside of school.&rdquo;</p><p>Ushomirsky&rsquo;s group also advocates for school policies that don&rsquo;t necessarily cost more &mdash; they support new Common Core standards, they want states to be more selective in determining who can become a teacher. They want schools to assign the best teachers to the neediest kids, and ensure that teachers truly believe all kids can learn.</p><p>Michael Petrilli, of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, says money isn&rsquo;t the fundamental problem. And he says taking a school&rsquo;s poverty rate into account is important, but more important is the growth students make in a school.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&#39;re a school that has low test scores and is not helping kids make progress&hellip;those schools need to face significant reforms or they need to close.&rdquo; Petrilli calls it the &ldquo;tough love&rdquo; approach to education reform. &ldquo;If the school is too dysfunctional, at some point you have to give up on that school, shut it down and open up new schools to replace it with a vision and strategy to get the job done.&rdquo; He laments that more Chicago charter schools haven&rsquo;t opened in the suburbs, where poverty is spreading.</p><p>But Larry Joseph of Voices for Illinois Children insists that the stranglehold poverty has on school achievement cannot be solved by schools alone. He says long-term economic restructuring over the past decades has exacerbated income inequality in the country. &ldquo;And schools themselves can&rsquo;t do anything about that.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Schools don&rsquo;t operate in a vacuum,&rdquo; says Joseph. &ldquo;There are other strategies that can alleviate child poverty in the short term and reduce it in the long term that also need to be pursued.&rdquo;</p><p>Joseph points to expanded preschool programs, federal tax credits for working poor families, and food stamps as strategies that most help kids. He says daycare assistance programs&mdash;recently targeted for cuts by Gov. Bruce Rauner&rsquo;s administration&mdash;are also vital in reducing poverty.</p><p>Duncan, the UC-Irvine professor, says that with affluent parents now spending $10,000 per child per year on enrichment for their children&mdash;everything from music lessons to summer camps to private tutoring&mdash;the burden on schools to keep low-income kids learning at the same pace as upper-income kids &ldquo;has increased very substantially.&rdquo; He stresses that test scores have improved for all children since the 1970s &mdash; including poor children. But upper-income children&rsquo;s scores have improved more, widening the gap.</p><p>Still, Duncan says, schools have to be part of a solution. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t just say, It&rsquo;s too complicated&mdash;let&rsquo;s redistribute income, so family incomes are more equal. You just can&rsquo;t give up on K-12 schooling.&rdquo;</p><p>Duncan, who has written a book highlighting a handful of successful high-poverty schools and school systems, says it&rsquo;s important to identify and learn from such schools, &ldquo;and try to expand those lessons and scale them up on a much wider basis.&rdquo;</p><p><em>The Daily Herald <a href="http://reportcards.dailyherald.com/lowincome/" target="_blank">continues this series on poverty and school achievement this week</a>. WBEZ will be following the series on the </em>Morning Shift<em>.</em></p><p><em>Linda Lutton is an education reporter at WBEZ.<br />Melissa Silverberg is an education reporter at the Daily Herald.<br />Tim Broderick is news presentation editor at the Daily Herald.</em></p></p> Mon, 22 Jun 2015 05:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/povertys-enduring-hold-school-success-112201 CPS acknowledges errors, takes steps to count dropouts correctly http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-acknowledges-errors-takes-steps-count-dropouts-correctly-112180 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/CurieHighSchool_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago school officials are taking steps to make sure dropouts aren&rsquo;t being mislabeled to make the city&rsquo;s graduation rates look better.</p><p dir="ltr">The action comes after WBEZ and the Better Government Association <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163">reported widespread problems</a> in how student were being classified when they left high school. Thousands were labeled as leaving the city, but then supposedly enrolled in GED programs. State law and policy dictate that students who leave districts to go to GED programs are dropouts.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;CPS is committed to ensuring the accuracy of our data, and we are taking four additional concrete steps to further guarantee the integrity of our data,&rdquo; Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz said in an email sent late Wednesday.</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163" target="_blank"><strong>Related: Emanuel touts bogus graduation rates</strong></a></p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">Those steps are: doing random spot checks of all school transfer data; making principals sign a document taking full responsibility for making sure transfers are, in fact, real transfers; requiring school staff to attend trainings, and referring any questionable activity to the law department and the district&rsquo;s inspector general.</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler first looked into the problem and <a href="http://cps.edu/About_CPS/Departments/Documents/OIG_FY_2014_AnnualReport.pdf">reported wrongdoing</a> in January.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Two high schools had been improperly coding students as transfers to GED programs,&rdquo; he said. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Schuler also found large groups of students were listed as &ldquo;transferred to Mexico,&rdquo; but records didn&rsquo;t include the name or address of any school.</p><p dir="ltr">On Wednesday, Schuler said his office plans to investigate the problem across all 140 high schools.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to hopefully determine the extent of the problem and find out just where responsibility lies for those problems,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re sort of hamstrung to some degree by the size of our office, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean we won&rsquo;t do it. It just might take a little longer than it would if we had more people.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Schuler&rsquo;s office gets hundreds of thousands of reports of fraud every year. He couldn&rsquo;t say exactly how many dealt with bad data.</p><p dir="ltr">The WBEZ and Better Government Association looked at only 25 of 140 high schools -- the ones with the largest numbers of students removed from the graduation rate calculation. A request is pending for the remaining 115. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The errors at that small sampling of schools would lower the publicly reported graduation rate from 69.4 percent to about 67 percent. It is a conservative estimate and would likely be lowered further when all schools are factored in.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the errors in the underlying data, CPS Chief of Accountability John Barker insists the graduation rate is even higher than it&rsquo;s been reported and will continue to be.</p><p dir="ltr">Elaine Allensworth, executive director of University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research said, &ldquo;There&rsquo;s always doubt about what the exact number is, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean the trends in graduation rates aren&rsquo;t real.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Still, district officials and researchers don&rsquo;t dispute the fact the data is riddled with errors.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>. Sarah Karp is a reporter for the <a href="http://www.bettergov.org/">Better Government Association</a>. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/sskedreporter">@SSKedreporter</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-acknowledges-errors-takes-steps-count-dropouts-correctly-112180 Emanuel touts bogus graduation rate http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/CurieHighSchool.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been talking proudly about something that is really a bit of a miracle: Even during a time of tight budgets and leadership chaos, Chicago Public Schools graduation rates have climbed to a record 69.4 percent.</p><p>But new data obtained by WBEZ and the Better Government Association shows that number is wrong.</p><p>CPS records recently obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act show at least 2,200 students from 25 Chicago high schools were counted as having transferred out of the district between 2011 and 2014. In reality, they were dropouts. The transfers aren&rsquo;t factored into CPS graduation rates, while dropouts are.</p><blockquote><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-acknowledges-errors-takes-steps-count-dropouts-correctly-112180"><strong>More on this story: CPS acknowledges errors, takes steps to count dropouts correctly</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>More than half of the 2,200 labeled as moving out of town or going to private schools actually went to alternative schools. Those students should stay in the graduation rate.&nbsp;</p><p>Another 610 of the so-called transfers were listed as getting a GED. State law and policy dictate that students who leave districts to go to GED programs are dropouts.<br /><br />An additional 1,300 had no explanation of what school they were supposedly transferring to or were vaguely listed as going to different states or countries.</p><p>Asked about all this by WBEZ and the BGA, district officials acknowledged problems with the system&rsquo;s accounting, but said they had no plan to go back and adjust the numbers. They insisted the numbers weren&rsquo;t purposely skewed to help Emanuel look better to potential voters.<br /><br />&ldquo;The mayor is absolutely interested in making sure we have accurate data,&rdquo; said John Barker, CPS&rsquo; chief accountability officer.</p><p>Emanuel released a statement late Tuesday that said in part: &ldquo;No one questions the facts: more CPS students are graduating than ever before, those students are more prepared for their futures and we&rsquo;re making huge strides in helping struggling kids graduate.&quot;</p><p>It is unclear when the practice started, but the CPS inspector general found problems at one school, Farragut Career Academy, dating back to 2009. School district officials said they did not know how widespread the problem was until contacted by reporters.<br /><br />Barker said now the district is doing a systemwide audit of what are called verified transfers. He also said school staff has been trained on how to enter information into the system, but as of Tuesday, CPS officials could provide no evidence of such trainings or audits.<br /><br />WBEZ and the BGA attempted to contact several of the principals of the schools whose data we looked at. We tried to reach them through phone calls, e-mails and stops by the schools, but each declined our request for interviews on the subject. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey also refused to make any principals available to talk about this story.<br /><br />It&#39;s not just about graduation rates, said Sheila Venson, executive director of Youth Connection Charter School, a network of more than 20 alternative schools in CPS.<br /><br />&ldquo;We have to get a better handle on (the dropout problem),&rdquo; Venson said. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t get a better handle on it if you&rsquo;re hiding it. If you&rsquo;re not looking at it, you&rsquo;re not even looking at who these kids are.&rdquo;</p><p>Once a student is classified as a transfer, school staff have no reason to try to re-enroll him or her in school or to hand their information to a district re-enrollment center. But Venson points out that schools have no incentive to be honest about the numbers because they are under so much pressure to improve their performance on school rating systems that take into account the graduation rate.<br /><br />McCaffrey acknowledged that the district has a problem, but said officials don&#39;t plan to go back and adjust the rates because of the &ldquo;billion dollar deficit.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Obvious red flags and past problems</span></p><p>For decades, CPS has used a number system to identify where and when students are enrolled. The information is used to determine school funding, and also to track students from grade school to graduation.<br /><br />In examining high school records, WBEZ and the BGA found a number of red flags.</p><p>At Curie Metropolitan High School, the third largest high school in the city, more than 100 students every year since 2011 supposedly transferred out to be homeschooled. Homeschooled students are removed from the graduation rate. But annually, most high schools only listed a handful of students as being homeschooled.<br /><br />Curie Principal Phillip Perry did not respond to phone calls or emails. When reporters stopped by his school, they were not allowed past the front foyer and escorted out by a security guard and a woman who identified herself as a police officer, though she did not have her badge evident and was not in uniform.<br /><br />Students and teachers, however, scoffed at the idea that hundreds of high schoolers were being homeschooled on the Southwest Side of the city.<br /><br />Teacher Marina Kalic said that in her four years at the school she has never once heard of a student leaving to be homeschooled. She points out that most students at the school are low-income.<br /><br />&ldquo;Parents don&rsquo;t have the sources and the funds to homeschool their kids,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;They have to go to work. I&rsquo;ve never heard that.&rdquo;<br /><br />CPS&#39; John Barker said that having so many students labeled as homeschooled raises questions.<br /><br />&ldquo;Is that a concern to us? Yes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Are we interested in following up? Yes. What we are going to need to do is that we are going to intervene as far as take a look at these a lot more seriously.&rdquo;<br /><br />Despite having access to this information for years, district officials said they only just became aware of the misclassifications when CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler started looking into it last year at a particular school. In the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fcps.edu%2FAbout_CPS%2FDepartments%2FDocuments%2FOIG_FY_2014_AnnualReport.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGOKs9u4POI5co9tNLmACTi40_URg" target="_blank">annual report</a> released in January, in a section entitled &ldquo;High School Dropouts Masked as &ldquo;Transfers,&rdquo; Schuler found that an unnamed high school &ldquo;systemically and improperly&rdquo; recorded nearly 300 students over five year as transfers, although internal records show they went to GED programs. That school was later identified as Farragut.<br /><br />&ldquo;Illinois law and policy, however, make it clear that students who leave school to attend a GED program are dropouts and not transfers,&rdquo; Schuler wrote.<br /><br />Another 123 students at this school were labeled as verified transfers, many of them labeled as transferred to Mexico, but student records show the transfer was verified in less than 5 percent of the cases.&nbsp;<br /><br />Schuler then took CPS to task for not disciplining the five employees involved and promoting one of them.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">&lsquo;One of the most complicated, debated and discussed statistics&rsquo;</span><br /><br />The concept of a graduation rate seems pretty simple, but in reality, it is complicated. The state and federal government calculate their rates differently, though based on the same premise as CPS.<br /><br />Barker pointed out that it gets even more complicated in a system of choice like Chicago&rsquo;s. A <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786" target="_blank">WBEZ analysis of CPS data</a> shows that in the Class of 2013, about 16,000 of the districts more than 20,000 graduates started and finished in the same place. More than 4,000 switched schools and still graduated, while more than 12,000 dropped out, died, or were labeled &ldquo;out-of-district transfers.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;The graduation rate is one of the most complicated, debated and discussed statistics in all of K-12 education,&rdquo; Barker said. &ldquo;Go in for four years, get out with a diploma, doesn&rsquo;t take into account all of the complicated factors of student mobility in a district like ours.&rdquo;<br /><br />In Illinois, the issue became even more complex when state lawmakers changed the compulsory age from 16 to 17 in 2004.&nbsp; The idea was that schools would have to hang onto students for longer.<br /><br />Some time around then, the CPS system changed so that students were no longer labeled in the computer system as dropouts. Instead, they are supposed to be labeled as &ldquo;unable to locate&rdquo; or &ldquo;consent to withdraw.&rdquo;<br /><br />Venson said this creates all sorts of confusion: &ldquo;What&rsquo;s a dropout? Is it a chronic truant? Is it someone with 20 or more absences? 30 or 40 more absences? Is that a dropout? Is a dropout somebody who formally withdraws?&rdquo;<br /><br />When WBEZ and the BGA asked about the questionable practices around the graduation rate, McCaffrey and Barker continued to point to the future. They said this year, CPS is going to completely redo the way it calculates graduation rates. As of Tuesday, they had not yet provided any details about the new formula. But McCaffrey says district officials are confident that it will result in an even higher graduation rate than in the past.<br /><br />Barker said the district may also reformat the computer system to prevent clerks from entering in transfer codes unless they have documentation.</p><p>This is not the first time Emanuel&rsquo;s administration has come under fire for doctoring figures. <em>Chicago Magazine</em> found that <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/May-2014/Chicago-crime-rates/" target="_blank">dozens of crimes were misclassified</a> or made to vanish altogether.</p><p>Larry Lesser, an associate professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Texas-El Paso, noted that statistics can easily be manipulated to say what people want. In cases where the underlying information is wrong, the agency needs to make sure that people understand how they should report things, mathematicians need to be on review committees and standards need to be enforced.<br /><br />&ldquo;Ultimately,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo; it becomes a question of politics.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation" target="_blank">@WBEZeducation</a>. Sarah Karp is a reporter for the <a href="http://www.bettergov.org/" target="_blank">Better Government Association</a>. You can follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/sskedreporter" target="_blank">@SSKedreporter</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 10 Jun 2015 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163 First lady notes personal struggles in Chicago graduation http://www.wbez.org/news/first-lady-notes-personal-struggles-chicago-graduation-112168 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/michelleobama.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Updated 5:47 a.m.</em></p><p>First lady Michelle Obama drew on her hometown connections and personal struggles from college and the White House Tuesday during a Chicago high school graduation speech to the classmates of an honor student gunned down in 2013 near the Obama family home.</p><p>A boisterous crowd of thousands attended the commencement ceremony for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School, a school that garnered headlines when teenager Hadiya Pendleton was fatally shot on the way home from class. Days earlier she had been in Washington, D.C., to perform with her drill team during President Barack Obama&#39;s second term inauguration festivities.</p><p>Pendleton would have graduated Tuesday. A chair &mdash; draped in purple fabric, her favorite color; a feather boa; and a bouquet of flowers &mdash; was reserved in her honor among her cap-and-gown-clad classmates. Her family was presented with an engraved class ring.</p><p>&quot;Hadiya&#39;s memory is truly a blessing and an inspiration to me and my husband, and to people across this country and around the world,&quot; Obama, dressed in a graduation gown, told the crowd. She went on to say, &quot;I know that many of you are thinking about Hadiya right now and feeling the hole that she&#39;s left in your hearts.&quot;</p><p>The first lady, who attended Pendleton&#39;s 2013 funeral, told students she understood the issues they faced because she experienced some firsthand growing up in Chicago.</p><p>&quot;I was born and raised here on the South Side &mdash; in South Shore &mdash; and I am who I am today because of this community,&quot; Obama said. &quot;I know the struggles many of you face: how you walk the long way home to avoid the gangs; how you fight to concentrate on your homework when there&#39;s too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family&#39;s having a hard time making ends meet.&quot;</p><p>She said the South Side students were tasked with the responsibilities of changing &quot;skewed&quot; narratives about their communities, and would encounter people along the way who would doubt them. She said students could change things by what they say, do and how they carry themselves.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s a burden that President Obama and I proudly carry every single day in the White House, because we know that everything we do and say can either confirm the myths about folks like us &mdash; or it can change those myths,&quot; she said.</p><p>The commencement speech before roughly 2,500 people at Chicago State University was among three the first lady has recently given. She spoke last month at Tuskegee University in Alabama and Oberlin College in Ohio.</p><p>King was chosen from about 200 schools that submitted videos after a challenge issued by the first lady last fall. Schools had to show commitment to college mentoring and financial aid help. King&#39;s video featured a spoof on the ABC program &quot;Scandal.&quot; The show&#39;s cast members sent a surprise video back acknowledging the school&#39;s win, which was played to the crowd and met with cheers.</p><p>The first lady also advised students to ask for help, something she learned while a Princeton University student in the 1980s when she felt &quot;totally overwhelmed and out of place.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If Hadiya&#39;s friends and family could survive the heartbreak and pain; if they could found organizations to honor her unfulfilled dreams; if they could inspire folks across this country to wear orange in protest to gun violence,&quot; she said, &quot;then I know you all can live your life with the same determination and joy that Hadiya lived her life. I know you all can dig deep and keep on fighting to fulfill your own dreams.&quot;</p></p> Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/first-lady-notes-personal-struggles-chicago-graduation-112168 In Chicago, at-risk students are being misclassified http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-risk-students-are-being-misclassified-112152 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/raynard_slide-229b52caea510efe760fecd104fe132ed62383d0-s800-c85.png" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="Raynard Gillispie dropped out of high school and re-enrolled five years later. He is now working to get his diploma this spring. (LA Johnson/NPR)" /></p><p><em>The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out&nbsp;<a href="http://apps.npr.org/grad-rates/">the whole story here</a>. And find out what&#39;s happening&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/06/04/412093161/the-truth-behind-your-states-high-school-grad-rate">in your state</a>.</em></p><p>Five years ago, Raynard Gillispie dropped out of Crane Tech High School on Chicago&#39;s west side and nearly died. He&#39;d gotten wrapped up in gang violence and was shot. Ultimately, Gillispie knew he needed to finish school, but he was anxious.</p><p>&quot;Because people was going to laugh and say, &#39;Oh, you in high school? You 20, you almost 21.&#39; I was always worried about what other people would say.&quot;</p><p>Now 21, Gillispie is about to graduate from EXCEL Academy of Englewood, a so-called &quot;alternative school.&quot; Though it&#39;s a public school, it&#39;s run by Camelot Education, a for-profit education company, and it&#39;s full of students who have not been successful elsewhere.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786%20">Chicago, like many cities,&nbsp;has increasingly turned to alternative schools</a>&nbsp;to try to re-engage students who have dropped out. Over 9000 Chicago students attend alternative schools, a third of which are run by for-profit companies.&nbsp;That&#39;s 8 percent of CPS high school students. Many of these schools run half days, with mostly online instruction. And critics argue they&#39;re often less rigorous than traditional high schools.</p><p>Jack Elsey, Chicago Public Schools&#39; chief of innovation and incubation, says the alternative model is about giving students options. &quot;We are a district of choice, and these are part of our choice portfolio.&quot;</p><p>But Russell Rumberger, a dropout expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says that, in many places, alternative schools function as a way for traditional schools to &quot;farm out their lowest-performing students.&quot;</p><p>As such, it&#39;s important to look at how alternative schools affect Chicago&#39;s reported statistics. Historically, alternative school graduates were considered dropouts and not included in the district&#39;s graduation rate. But, since 2007, Chicago has counted them as regular graduates. And, according to documents provided to WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago as part of a FOIA request, the district is misclassifying hundreds of students who enroll in its alternative schools. Although they attend Chicago public schools, these at-risk students are labeled &quot;out of district transfers.&quot;</p><p>Why does that matter? With that label, students essentially disappear from the district&#39;s rolls. If they do drop out from their alternative schools, it won&#39;t hurt Chicago&#39;s graduation rate.</p><p>Further complicating matters, some of the new, for-profit alternative schools don&#39;t award their own diplomas. Instead, graduates get a diploma with the name of the traditional school they left. In short, when a Chicago student leaves her traditional high school for an alternative school, the district doesn&#39;t have to count her as a dropout. But, if she manages to earn a diploma, the district gets credit for graduating her.</p><p>In the most recently available data, a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">WBEZ and Catalyst analysis</a>&nbsp;found alternative school graduates pushed up Chicago&#39;s publicly reported graduation rate by four percentage points.</p><p>Chicago Public Schools&#39; chief of accountability, John Barker, insists CPS is aware of this dropout loophole and is working to address it through a district-wide audit. &quot;We&#39;re not planning on losing students intentionally,&quot; says Barker. &quot;We&#39;re not planning on having any data that would be erroneous. That&#39;s not our plan.&quot;</p><p>The good news for Raynard Gillispie is that his school, EXCEL, may be an outlier among these new, alternative operators. It runs an almost 9-hour school day and awards its own diploma, which Gillispie says is how it should be.</p><p>&quot;This is the first [such school] in Englewood, and I want to be the first person as part of something new,&quot; he says. &quot;Since I came here, it&#39;s been life-changing.&quot;</p><p><em>For more on this story from WBEZ and Catalyst,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786%20">read the series.</a></em></p><p><strong>Web Resources</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">Same diploma, different school</a></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786">Behind CPS graduation rates, a system of musical chairs</a></p><p><em>&mdash; via <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/06/07/411786246/in-chicago-at-risk-students-are-being-misclassified">NPR Ed</a></em></p></p> Mon, 08 Jun 2015 08:20:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-risk-students-are-being-misclassified-112152 North Lawndale high school to help pay out-of-pocket college costs http://www.wbez.org/news/north-lawndale-high-school-help-pay-out-pocket-college-costs-112128 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/north lawndale college prep.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Here&rsquo;s what Evan Westerfield couldn&rsquo;t understand.</p><p>&ldquo;The student has been talking about studying nursing and then, all of a sudden, they&rsquo;ve changed their mind and say, &lsquo;Nah, I want to go to that school because I want to do business,&rsquo;&rdquo; Westerfield explained. &ldquo;And you look them in the eye and say, &lsquo;What? Where did that come from?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Turns out, his answer was in those students&rsquo; financial aid letters.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re looking at them and you know that behind there, there&rsquo;s this letter that they don&rsquo;t want to show mom and dad,&rdquo; Westerfield said. &ldquo;They go to the school that has the least out-of-pocket cost.&rdquo;</p><p>A couple thousand dollars may not seem like much. But for many poor North Lawndale students, it might as well be a million.</p><p>The school announced last week it plans to step in and pay the difference with the help of local philanthropists. They are creating a financial endowment called The Phoenix Pact to equalize costs for any student with a 3.0 GPA.</p><p>U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan helped open North Lawndale College Prep 17 years ago and returned to the school for the announcement.</p><p>&ldquo;If you guys can start to prove there&rsquo;s not just one amazing young person or one amazing teacher but systemically dozens of dozens of young people every single year (who) can graduate, and cannot just go to college but graduate from college on the back end, you start to let the nation know what&rsquo;s possible,&rdquo; he said. &quot;If you can create a model, the national implications are pretty big.&rdquo;</p><p>There are a lot of cities trying different models to lower costs of college to almost nothing. Kalamazoo, Michigan, gives its public high school graduates <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/magazine/kalamazoo-mich-the-city-that-pays-for-college.html">a full ride anywhere</a>. A number of other cities are trying something similar, through the &ldquo;<a href="http://www.sayyestoeducation.org/">Yes to Education</a>&rdquo; program. Even Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised <a href="http://www.ccc.edu/departments/Pages/chicago-star-scholarship.aspx">free community college</a> to all B-average students in Chicago Public Schools.</p><p>But The Phoenix Pact is different because it steers kids to colleges with a track record of getting students across the stage on graduation day.</p><p>Westerfield said he sifted through years of information on North Lawndale alumni and came up with a list of more than a dozen colleges he calls &ldquo;Success Schools&rdquo;: Universities where more than half of the low-income, minority students graduate on time. Places like Michigan State, Lake Forest College, University of Illinois, and Luther College.</p><p>He said he hopes the new fund not only motivates the school&rsquo;s students, but pushes colleges to raise graduation rates for low-income students.</p><p>&ldquo;Would colleges work a little harder if they&rsquo;re at 45 percent to get over that 50 percent? Maybe not for just us and our little program, but if we can build it out, if we can model what would happen, then someone will copy us,&rdquo; Westerfield said, noting that right now, billions of dollars in federal Pell grants end up going to colleges that have low graduation rates for low-income students.</p><p>&ldquo;The possibility of harnessing all that federal money to drive improvement in our higher education&hellip; could be really good,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>But if anyone starts copying The Phoenix Pact, it&rsquo;s likely to be local. Chicago Public Schools Chief of Innovation and Incubation Jack Elsey was in the room during the Friday announcement too.</p><p>&ldquo;I think this is game-changing,&rdquo; Elsey said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m here because we&rsquo;re watching. We want to see if this is actually going to make the difference to increase graduation rates for low-income kids<strong>.&rdquo;</strong></p><p><em>WBEZ&rsquo;s Linda Lutton contributed to this report.</em></p></p> Tue, 02 Jun 2015 08:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/north-lawndale-high-school-help-pay-out-pocket-college-costs-112128