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NCLB Outrages

Chicago Schools Eye No Big Shifts at Failing Sites

Ohanian Comment: Read this minimalist account that passes as reporting and you glimpse how the corporate NCLB plan meshes with the corporate Chicago play.

By Tracy Dell'Angela

Twenty-one Chicago schools will face the most drastic sanction available under the federal No Child Left Behind law this year, but school officials say they don't plan any big changes.

At schools that failed to meet state testing standards for six straight years, the law calls for "restructuring"--a designation that could have forced closure, state takeover or staff shakeups.

But the Chicago Public Schools system announced Tuesday that it had already taken the most important steps toward reforming the 12 elementary and nine high schools tabbed for restructuring. Instead of creating a new plan, Chicago said that its own system of retooling schools fits the federal definitions.

Only schools that receive federal money for low-income students are subject to the penalties.

"We're already very serious about restructuring. We see restructuring as a very valuable opportunity to move our reforms forward," said Xavier Botana, director of Chicago's No Child Left Behind programs. "There have been radical reforms in these schools. The fact that we haven't done it on the federal timeline is not an affront to the federal law."

All 21 schools already are on probation--the city's designation--because of low test scores. This local sanction shifts control over these schools from the principals to the area administrators, who oversee budgets, staffing and curriculum decisions.

District officials say this qualifies as a management change, even though it began long before the restructuring designation took effect.

Management change is one of six restructuring options outlined under federal law. Other possibilities include turning the schools' operation over to the state; reopening them as charter schools; hiring an outside group to manage the schools; replacing all or some of the school staff; or undertaking "other major restructuring . . . that produces fundamental reform."

Two elementary schools on the restructuring list--Doolittle East and Howland--have closed under a proposal to reinvent them as "Renaissance 2010" schools. The district had voluntarily closed several other underperforming schools in recent years.

Five schools on the restructuring list will become "Fresh Start" schools under a partnership agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union, a program that gives teachers a large voice in designing reforms at these struggling schools. These include two elementary schools, Hamline and Medill, and three high schools, Collins, Marshall and Richards.

The other elementary schools are Bethune, Cather, Faraday, Farren Fine Arts, Pope, Tilton, Carver Middle and Morton. The other high schools are Carver Military Academy, Farragut, Harper, Manley, Tilden and Wells.

The district will bring in a consultant to analyze the other 14 schools. Learning Point Associates will be paid about $1.5 million for this, officials said.

— Tracy Dell\'Angela
Chicago Tribune


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