Stumbling To The Finish Line

My end-of-year wrapup, "Stumbling To The Finish Line," starts like this:

"The school year just ended for the Chicago public schools, and
everyone who's not doing summer school seems pretty relieved to have
gotten out alive.  It was a mess of a year - full of turmoil and difficulty and tremendous amounts of uncertainty. By most accounts, there's more turmoil to come."

To read the rest, click below or surf over to The Beachwood Reporter, where it can be found in the Politics section. 

First featured at the Beachwood Reporter:   

Stumbling To The Finish Line: Chicago Schools Slip Into Summer

By Alexander Russo Russo

The school year just ended for the Chicago public schools, and
everyone who's not doing summer school seems pretty relieved to have
gotten out alive.

It was a mess of a year - full of turmoil and difficulty and tremendous amounts of uncertainty. By most accounts, there's more turmoil to come.

Looking back at the past nine months, the only things CPS hasn't had
are a patronage scandal or high-level embezzlement. But the way things
have been going it seems like either one could come along any day now.

Known in previous years as a place of educational innovation,
Chicago now just as often follows what's happening in New York City -
or gets used as a cautionary tale for mayors in other cities who want control over the school system.

The governor's Meeks-inspired education plan wouldn't have solved Chicago's funding problems for long - and already seems dead in the water.

The mayor's vaunted Renaissance 2010 initiative now gets more heat for the schools it closes than the ones it opens up.

Local school councils, once a centerpiece of community involvement and control, have withered from inattention.

Now five years old, the Arne Duncan era seems to be slowly falling
apart with the departures of school board president Michael Scott and
chief operations officer David Vitale, and the demotion of chief
educational officer Barbara Eason Watkins.

There are some bright spots, of course.

There's been no big ethics scandal (like in Philly).

At most schools on most days, teachers and parents and principals
cooperated enough that the kids probably get some learning done.Though
problematic (and on the rise in some places), school violence seems
like it's much less of a problem than in some other big cities. And the state and city have made tremendous progress on early childhood education.

The school district has gotten much better at finding and hiring new
teachers - and has grand plans to do better at keeping them.The
percentage of families who send their children to public school
continues to rise - even as the overall population of school-age
children in the city continues to fall.

At many of the small new schools popping up around the city there is
tremendous energy and hope to go along with the deep-seeded challenges.
And nearly 100 high-performing schools have been given new autonomy to
do things as they best see fit.

Of course, the final verdict - this spring's test scores - won't be
out for a few weeks. But they probably won't make much of a difference.

In part, that's because they're using a new test this year - not the
Iowa test that's been used for decades - and so it won't be easy to
compare results to previous years. Even more so, the test scores just
don't stand much chance of eclipsing all of the mishaps and twists and
turns of the previous school year.

Alexander Russo Russo is the proprietor of the District 299 Chicago public schools blog. For further reading, he recommends "How We Compare: Education" (Chicago magazine) and "Special Report: What's Better and What's Not" (Catalyst Chicago).

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