Notebook

illustration by Kurt Mitchell

Footnote

Timeline | Elsewhere | In Short

Ask Catalyst | Math Class


TIMELINE

Jan. 15: ISBE controversy

Gov. Rod Blagojevich ignites a firestorm, calling the Illinois State Board of Education a “Soviet-style bureaucracy” and announcing plans to scrap it for a cabinet department he would control. Weeks later, he makes a pitch for a law gutting most of ISBE’s power, leaving it mainly as a consulting body. Supt. of Education Robert Schiller goes on the defensive, saying Blagojevich targeted ISBE because it refused to make political hires and accusing the governor of trying to deflect attention from a more pressing issue: school funding.

Jan. 28: Dropout policy

Aiming to cut the dropout rate, the Chicago Board of Education amends its absenteeism and truancy policy and includes specifics regarding when schools may drop students from enrollment. Some activists cry foul, however, over a provision allowing schools to drop students “when advised orally by a student over the age of 16 or his/her parents.” Critics note that with a single telephone call, students who are not yet adults could drop out without their parents’ knowledge or consent. The legal age to drop out is 16.

Feb. 12: Budget deficit

With the governor preparing to announce his state spending plans, Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan announces the district may have to cut up to 1,000 school-based positions to help close a $200 million budget gap for next year. Chicago Teachers Union President Deborah Lynch, up for re-election this spring, threatens to sue to keep teachers and aides from losing their jobs. The board says it hopes to make most cuts through attrition and the need for fewer teachers because of declining enrollment.


ELSEWHERE

New York City: Contract talks

The first bargaining session in months between the teacher’s union and the city ended after barely two hours, with union President Randi Weingarten blasting the city’s contract proposal as an insult to teachers and “a total kick in the teeth,” according to the Feb. 7 New York Times.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration wants a streamlined contract eliminating most work rules and ending virtually all seniority rights, giving the city wide latitude to manage the system’s 1,200 schools. The city also wants to pay higher salaries to teachers in shortage areas like math and science and in troubled schools, and to teachers “who demonstrate the ability to positively impact student performance. The union wants raises for all teachers.

Talks resumed Feb. 12.

Oregon: School finance

Five foundations are taking matters into their own hands—and turning to the general public to make the case for reform of the state’s school funding system.

The Chalkboard Project, organized by Foundations for a Better Oregon, plans to hold town hall meetings, focus groups and Internet discussions to get input from the public on how to improve schools, according to the Jan. 19 Business Journal of Portland.

The first target will be school funding, says Doug Stamm, executive director of the Meyer Memorial Trust, one of the five foundations. “We feel that our kids are being shortchanged. There is no strong leadership on this issue,” Stamm said in the Jan. 7 Education Week. “There is a general consensus that [school funding] haunts the state as one of its top issues.”


IN SHORT

“I’m not one to blame others for what I did, but if the school had steered me the right way, it could have helped.”

Phillip Parker, an alternative school student and former dropout, in a Jan. 9 Sun-Times article on the ongoing dropout crisis


ASK CATALYST

In December, a No Child Left Behind after-school program started up at Kozminski Elementary. How is it different from the after-school program that [CPS] has been running for years? And why did it take until December to start?

Donald Everhart, Kozminski LSC Chair

The program is the result of NCLB, which requires districts to offer tutoring to low-performing children at schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress. By October, only 16,300 students—about 12 percent of the 133,000 students who were eligible, had signed up, so CPS asked the state for permission to use some of its tutoring funds for its own academic, after-school program instead. CPS didn’t get the go-ahead until mid-November; hence the December start-up.

The board replaced an existing math and reading curriculum that was mostly drill and remediation with more engaging activities, such as teaching reading and writing through journalism projects, according to Beth Swanson, CPS director of after-school programs. Most schools have combined the NCLB initiative with the existing after-school program, and switched to the new curriculum and materials, she adds.

E-mail your question to or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60604.


MATH CLASS

$24 million. That’s the likely minimal cost to the Chicago Public Schools of a proposed law that would raise the required attendance age, also called the dropout age, to 17. The calculation assumes that 16-year-old dropouts—who totaled about 2,400 last school year—would stay in school for at least one more year. It also assumes per-pupil spending of $10,000, which is what it was last year in Chicago’s public high schools. Extra state and federal money would help cover the cost.

Sources: Consortium on Chicago School Research and the 2003 CPS Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.