Socializing Teachers At Sherman

The most notable thing about Julia McEvoy's pre-Christmas segment on the Sherman Elementary School experiment (Sherman Elementary School Update) -- besides the fact that she managed to beat out several other reporters who are also planning to write about the school -- is that it depicts tensions in schools and among teachers about how much time and effort is required to "socialize" the kids. 

Kids who aren't used to discipline or even being called on to do their homework often push back hard against it.  But that's not the most challenging part.  Teachers like those who were attracted to Sherman -- NBC and otherwise -- don't usually think of themselves as policemen, and you can hear the frustration and growing resentment among some of the teachers in this audio segment at the fact they're not getting to teach. 

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  • Two things that struck me in Julia McEvoy's very good report was the significant increase in the number of special education students (about 35% increase) since the begining of the school year and what I would call grade deflation. I could not tell from Ms McEvoy's report whether the increase in special education students was based on increased identification of existing students or transfers. I have to assume it comes in good part from increase identification.

    What worries me about what I heard is that the dramatic effort at what the report calls socialization could be resulting in some kids who will not conform being identified as behavior disordered or learning disabled. Because of confidentiality rules Ms. McEvoy will never know the answer to this question.

    CPS specialized services [oss] will however know the answer and can retrive the data to determine if students are being overly identified for behavior disorders or learning disabiities with associated oppositional defiant characteristics.

    The Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL)which is playing the major role at this "turn around school," had better be watching this issue very closely. It is a concern to me that AUSL working with National Louis does not have a training program for special education, the 12 month program only offers an M.Ed in instruction as far as I know. National Louis does offer a M.Ed. leading to special education certification and a M.S. in psychology but AUSL does not include these options in its program. I understand that Sherman has a full time social worker and it is not clear to me what role that may be playing in the increase in special education students.It seems that the quick movement to higher standards may be playing a role here and the comment by Ms. McEvoy about better students recieving lower grades I think reflects the imposition of higher standards that may not be reachable at the pace the staff if trying to impose on the students.

    I would have to say that Sherman appears to be getting a pass from CPS OSS for the increase in special ed identification that has not be allowed at other schools. I have to suspect that because of AUSL's role at the school either CPS has ordered OSS not to intervene or regional OSS staff have guessed that is what they are supposed to be doing.

    I was very concerned by the tone of the principal Lionel Allen who sounded very much like a man under attack by the disorder of the students under his charge. Mr Allen served less than a year as an assistant principal at another Chicago K-8 school. According to AUSL he taught American and African-American history for six years in a higher income suburban high school, but he is an African-American who was raised in Chicago. He may still be taking classes at UIC for his doctoral degree. At least on the WBEZ tape I heard he does not seem to be ready for what he has gotten himself into. Maybe he will grow with the job.

    The staff at Sherman seem determined to break the disorder of the children. I fear that once the $10,000 bonus payment to the teachers at the school which requires them to stay for 3 years passes some of these no doubt talented teachers will go. Order is created by culture, it goes beyond the walls of a school. We must function within the world the school exists and maintain order as best as we can. What I heard on the tape was a plan to create order at any cost and it could very well break the teachers before it breaks the students. None the less I hope for the sake of the students that the turn around at Sherman does work.

    Rod Estvan

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