A campaign for good schools and jobs

Five months from now, Chicago voters will go to the polls to choose whether to send Mayor Rahm Emanuel back to City Hall for another term. It’s no secret that Emanuel is not popular right now among Chicagoans. But whether or not another candidate can ride the wave of discontent into the mayor’s office is still a big question mark.

Drug policy should focus on teaching, not punishment

Jesus Velazquez got caught at school with a marijuana pipe in his backpack. What happened next is exactly what shouldn’t take place if a school district’s goal—or, from a larger perspective, a community’s goal—is to get kids who make dumb mistakes back on track. Jesus was suspended for 10 days, referred for an expulsion hearing and sent to a diversion program instead of being expelled. He ended up failing most of his sophomore classes and is now facing a fifth year in high school. Surely this was a case in which a non-punitive response—mandatory drug education or participation in community service—made better sense. 

Slowing the revolving door

Sometimes a telling story emerges virtually by accident. That’s what happened with our report on teacher attrition at turnaround schools, published in this issue of Catalyst In DepthDeputy Editor Sarah Karp was poring over state teacher service records and noticed that, surprisingly, teacher turnover didn’t end once a turnaround was in place. Not only did most existing teachers disappear with the turnaround—a process that requires teachers and other staff to reapply for their jobs—but most of the hand-picked teachers who replaced the veterans quickly vanished too.

A grand vision for career prep

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced in 2012 that the district would open 10 International Baccalaureate programs in high schools across the city, a small but telling detail didn’t make the news: The IB’s then-new Career Certificate program, designed to give students a rigorous IB-style education while tailoring coursework to their career interests, would be a cornerstone of the “wall-to-wall” programs. 

A question of involvement

Any adult who was successful in school will likely remember that their parents played a defining role in that success. What happens during the roughly six-hour school day is only part of the learning equation. Who else but a parent or guardian will make sure children attend school and complete their homework?

Turning a new page on literacy

A  week after the Board of Education voted to close 50 schools this coming fall, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told an audience at the City Club that it was time to leave behind the acrimonious battles that have marked this school year. “Whatever has happened this past year is done,” Byrd-Bennett said. “It is a new beginning. … It is time to turn the page.” Sadly, it’s unlikely that the storms of this tumultuous year will dissipate easily or swiftly.

For smooth school closings, CPS has many promises to keep

As the saying goes, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Unfortunately, that saying does not bode well for the thousands of children who will be displaced when 54 schools shut down this year. It’s also a bad omen for communities. The last thing Englewood, Austin or any of the neighborhoods—most of them poor and black—that stand to lose schools need is another boarded-up vacant building.

Closing the opportunity gap

Every year, a high-stakes gamble begins.Parents across Chicago take their children to be tested for selective elementary schools and programs, the first step in a potentially make-or-break scenario. The district has 16 schools and programs for gifted students starting as kindergarteners—plus 10 more for older elementary students—and these schools and programs send large numbers of students on to the district’s gems: the selective high schools that invariably score at the top of the heap on state achievement tests and offer students a broad array of rigorous courses, engaging electives and enriching after-school activities.

Leadership from top to bottom

By the time this issue of Catalyst In Depth reaches our readers, the dust will have settled on the city’s first teachers strike in 25 years. Daily picketing will be over, children will be back in school, misleading radio and TV ads will be off the airwaves and the overheated bluster and rhetoric about lazy teachers and greedy unions will, with any luck, be replaced by more rational discourse from cooler heads. But an equally contentious fight over school closings is on the horizon.

Schools should provide help for traumatized children

On the surface, the two stories are unrelated: the appalling upsurge in shootings and homicides in Chicago this year and the Chicago Teachers Union’s announcement of plans for a strike authorization vote. But look closer—there’s a connection. Union leaders want the district to negotiate on a host of issues, among them the lack of social workers and other mental health clinicians in schools. It’s a need that’s become more critical given this year’s upsurge in violence.