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NCLB Outrages

185 failing schools to undergo $5 mil. in changes

Ohanian Comment: Maybe it's naive on my part, but I keep thinking: What would happen if this 5 million and the Reading First gazillions, and all the other 'fix-it' money went directly to the families?

Let's have a study on how having a living wage impacts children's school performance.

As it is now, all the fix-it money goes, as it has for decades, to middle class people to do good deeds. . . with no real change in student achievement.

This observation came to me decades ago when I worked as the GED coordinator for the Neighborhood Youth Corps in Trenton, New Jersey. The Youth Corps, in all its wisdom, decided to abandon the GED prep course but wanted me to stay on as a grant writer.

"Writing grants for what?" I asked myself. And the only answer I could come up with was "Write grants so more middle class people can get salaries." So I quit.

The head of the program offered me $5,000 under the table to stay. And I immediately learned a second important lesson: I learned that I couldn't be bought off for a sum equal to 3/4 of my annual salary. (And hey, I was supporting a husband in graduate school.) One can never actually know a thing like that until one is tested. It is very reassuring to have confirmation.

I repeat my question: When will we have the will--and the nerve--to put all our energies into the real needs families--a living wage?


By Kate N. Grossman

Up to a third of Chicago's public schools are supposed to undergo radical "restructuring" this fall after being branded as chronic failures by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

But for most of the schools, the changes won't be that dramatic; Chicago officials are adopting the least severe of five restructuring options allowed under the 4-year-old law. Their plans will be formally released today.

These 185 schools failed to meet testing goals for at least five years, which means Chicago officials could have fired staff, asked the state to take over a school or converted buildings to charter schools.

But instead, the 185 schools will try multiple strategies, including new curriculum, more intense monitoring, reorganizing and upgrading middle school instruction, and serving fewer grades at a school. Staff at eight schools are choosing new curricula and getting a bigger say in administrative decisions through an existing partnership between the school district and the Chicago Teachers Union.

The Board of Education will spend $5 million, mostly on new initiatives for some of the schools, including a comprehensive literacy program, intensive data analysis to improve instruction and a principal turnaround program.

Some initiatives are new, but many schools will strengthen existing programs, school officials said.

Chicago has taken drastic actions at select schools. Five elementary schools are closing or have closed, two high schools are phasing out and restarting, the staff at one grammar school is being replaced this summer and some principals are being replaced.

But the school system isn't considering a takeover because the state contends that's not allowed, and state law also restricts the number of charter schools.

Would take effect this fall

"The district has been bold; we have been closing schools in advance of No Child Left Behind," said Barbara Eason-Watkins, the school system's chief education officer.

"It does not make sense to totally change a school that fell short in one subgroup [of students]. But schools that are struggling need to make bigger changes."

A few other states, including Michigan and California, already have restructured schools. They also have avoided the most dramatic options.

"They're not abolishing schools, turning them into charters or firing all the staff," said Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., which tracks No Child Left Behind implementation. "Rather, they're intensifying what they were doing in terms of retraining teachers and improving curriculum."

That approach has yielded some early promising results in Michigan, he said. There, 85 percent of the state's 133 restructured schools improved test scores.

It's a strategy that makes sense to many Chicago principals. "You have to give programs time to implement; you don't want to keep changing directions," said Gloria Roman, principal at Roque de Duprey School in Humboldt Park.

The board is expected Wednesday to approve the plans, which will go into effect this fall even if 2006 test results due this summer show progress, school officials say. No Child mandates restructuring if schools failed six straight years. Most of the 185 have failed for five years. The plans must also be approved by the state board.

— Kate N. Grossman
Chicago Sun-Times
2006-05-22


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