Chicago Schools Wonks

There's a new weekly roundup of education news and commentary that's appeared recently, called Chicago Schools Wonks.  It's written by Seth Lavin, the former Chicago school teacher who was among the first to figure out who @mayoremanuel really was. Now he works for John Fritchey and has started a weekly email update every Friday -- "a weekly tip sheet that keeps track of developments in the Chicago schools world."

Last week's edition included a number of good bits.  On the extended day debate: "Every day there’s a story about a flipped school or an editorial praising those that switch. It feels like WWII coverage. Day by day. School by school. Marching toward victory."  Lavin also points to an Esther Cepeda column about the Board's lack of planning and preference for combat over collaboration but notes that "Teachers know what to do with more time," which I'm sure some of you will appreciate hearing.  He points to the National Louis/ Groupon offer and says he thinks it's "gross when ed schools pitch teaching as a solution to under- or unemployment," and reacts queasily to the Sun-Times' call for more attention to emotional development that ends with "do it for Derrion.”

Check out the full edition below, and email Seth to sign up if you like it (  If Lavin can continue to find things that the rest of us miss and make points that aren't obvious or monolithic then this could be really useful and interesting.  As with the daily papers and other sites, I'll do my best to update you on its contents if you can't bear the thought of checking yet another source for education news and commentary.  And if there are other interesting emails or blogs or Twitter feeds out there that you like and that I should be tracking let me know.


Hi everyone,


First, welcome eduwonk-ers! I think that post doubled the Wonks community. Be warned-- you’re jumping into the middle of something that moves fast. Fortunately many of you are teachers (or were teachers, or work with teachers) so I trust you’re used to figuring stuff out sans context, directions, explanation, etc. (ha!)


Also many of you are in the Chicago school system, which is great news for us all. You’re all sources now. Let me know what’s going on so we can all end up with better insight.


Here goes…




This is still the main story in town, which is a win for the Rahm press office (pat on the back, Tom). Most of you know new state law means CPS can lengthen the school day and year in 2012 without sign-off from the union. CPS offered teachers a 2% raise (after rescinding a scheduled 4% raise) if they’d agree to extend this 2011 school year, but CTU said no. Now CPS has made an offer to every CPS school individually: $150K in extra principal discretionary funding and a ~2% teacher raise if they add 90 minutes to each school day. To make the change schools hold a closed-door teacher election and a majority of teachers vote to waive pieces of their 5-year CTU contract. Becky Vevea has details in a story that’s CNC’s most read:


Three schools made the switch and got visits from the Mayor on the first day of school. Since then a fourth flipped. CPS says more principals are thinking about it, like the one at Disney Magnet: Now charters who already have a longer day want in on the deal:


Arne Duncan’s publicly backing Rahm and the longer day, saying he regrets not getting it done when he was in charge:


Aldermen voted unanimously (if non-bindingly) to back a longer day, with some saying they’ll work the phones to push schools in their wards:


Karen Lewis and CTU are ballistic, calling this bribery, bullying and emotional blackmail: They’re also complaining to the labor relations board. They’ve said they want a “better school day” and/or a longer one for which they’re fairly compensated, but they’re sure losing the press battle. Every day there’s a story about a flipped school or an editorial praising those that switch. It feels like WWII coverage. Day by day. School by school. Marching toward victory. Good guys (Rahm, Duncan, Brizard, fair-weather aldermen) prying the district from the hands of the bad guys (CTU).


WBEZ has a cool spreadsheet showing the length of the school day and year for each Illinois district. Chicago’s year is the 2nd shortest (longest is the one run by the juvenile justice department). They really need a Scott Smith or Brian Boyer to visualize this data. Could become something cool:


I like Esther Cepeda’s Sun-Times column. Calls out Rahm/Brizard for making this into a political battle when they haven’t put thought into what schools will actually do with extended time. She’s right, though I think on this one a well-developed central office plan’s unnecessary. Teachers know what to do with more time. Her bigger point’s dead on—that Rahm/Brizard seem to prefer the public political battling part of school reform to the fully baking ideas/investing in quality control parts.




Arne Duncan’s on a school reform=economic stimulus bus tour through the rust belt that ends in Chicago today. This is a classic political move that everybody does to kick-off reelection season: send the cabinet into the hinterland to show off the accomplishments of your administration.


Duncan, Rahm, Brizard, Gov. Quinn, State Sen. Lightford (who wrote SB7) and unnamed “labor officials” are at Schurz to talk Illinois reform. Wave when you drive through Logan Square. Lynn Sweet has details:


Schurz is 95% low-income and 80% latino. 14% of students met or exceeded expectations on 2010 state tests. Here’s the Schurz data page from CPS:


NYT live-blogged earlier parts of the tour on Schoolbook, their new NYC-schools focused online section: @beckyleah15’s been live-tweeting the more recent parts for CNC.




School starting this week brought some pretty fascinating national educoverage.


NYT led the Sunday print edition with a massive Matt Richtel piece on the impact of new technology in schools. Punchline: despite everyone’s best efforts no one can reliably link increased investment in classroom technology to improved student performance.


Sam Dillon covers a Houston pilot program where traditional schools are experimenting with strategies from high-performing charters. Says the Houston superintendent, “if you see something good, why not try to replicate it?” Amen. It’s a formal experiment with a control group and the whole thing is Roland Fryer’s project. Yes, that Roland Fryer. How has it taken 20 years for someone to do this formally?


Jay Mathews surprised me by coming out against the Common Core. Jay’s an old-school schools watcher who wrote the book on KIPP and Jaime Escalante. His reasoning:


Column Five made a cool infographic on declining American confidence in public schools. (Go Nick!)




The Erickson Institute, one of Chicago’s least-talked about, most awesome eduentities got a Catalyst write-up on a $5M federal grant for its Early Mathematics Education Project. One of their pilot schools, Brentano, is the neighborhood school where my son may be taking math lessons in 4 years. Glad they’re on it.


An Edsector blogger posts “It’s the Common Core Standards, Stupid,” which calls out the Trib for misunderstanding the difference between curriculum and standards. Good primer on Common Core implementation in other districts (notably Cleveland). Thanks, Lynn, for sending:


Dystopia is upon is. Groupon has a deal for a $950 Intro to Teaching class at National Louis University. National Louis, by the way, is where TFA Chicago high school teachers take their certification classes. (I think it's gross when ed schools pitch teaching as a solution to under- or unemployment. That’s what this is, right?)


Interesting parent post on the NPN blog about putting your kid in a Track E (extended calendar) school. Author writes: “As for me, I’m looking forward to the October break, when I’ll make use of a CityPASS I have to hit all the museums when they aren’t loaded down with all those regular track kids on break.”


CPS says first-day attendance was 94.7%, highest in 4 years.


Sun-Times edit board wants CPS to prioritize social/emotional skills. The editorial’s only half clueless and the message is, overall, a good one. Still the “do it for Derrion” close makes me a little sick given that it came out the day after a fatal 100-person brawl in Altgeld Gardens. Unlike the one that killed Derrion, this melee didn’t have a youtube video, so the Sun-Times covered it with 101 words:


Rosalind Rossi profiles ChicagoQuest, CICS’ new game-based charter high school. Not nitty-gritty coverage but interesting: game designers co-founded the school and are working with teachers all this year on curriculum development.


Vevea looks at Johnson College Prep, one of the newest schools in the Noble Network. She writes up their efforts to catch new freshman up academically, highlighting the extra week they get before everyone else starts school. My impression is the pre-week has more to do with discipline norming than academic catch-up (how much can you remediate in a week?) but I’m glad Vevea’s giving the issue some ink.




Erin and Katie! I worked at Bain with these guys and now they’re Broad fellows. I wonder if that’s an effect of Bain’s work on the launch of Rowe Elementary. Want to see a 15-slide ppt presentation management consultants wrote about how to design a charter school?


Rahm Emanuel. I know, I know, but he’s definitely accomplished one thing: a reinvigoration of outside money-raising for Chicago school reform. He got AT&T, Microsoft, Hyatt and Garrett Popcorn to underwrite free CTA rides on the first day of school, which CTA had earlier been hesitant about. (Before: and after: He also got the Groupon guys to do a school supply donation and to directly fund principal merit pay: Maybe he’ll be able to get Gates to come back to Chicago in a big way. I’ve always heard they scaled back involvement here because they didn’t get along with Duncan or Huberman. Can anyone verify that? Maybe DS or Alexander Russo?


MIKA! Finally. Mika, you are an amazing educator. You’ll be an administrator very soon but I hope you know you’ve been a school leader for the last three years. I owe you more than Skylark tater tots.


Conor. For turning 1, saying “hi” and reading 20 minutes a night with his parents.


Aaaaand all the CPS teachers who just finished the first week of school. Particularly the new ones. It’s not the best job in the world but it is the best work. Thanks for all you do.


And thanks everyone.




*****ABOUT THIS******


This is an experiment. My hope is to build a weekly tip sheet that keeps track of developments in the Chicago schools world. I'm not claiming to be especially qualified to do this; it's just that I've wanted it to exist for a long time and it keeps not existing. Guiding beliefs are 1) Chicago children deserve the world's best education and 2) currently they're not getting it. Other than that there's no orthodoxy. You're getting this because I thought you might want it. If you don't, write me and I'll unsubscribe. If you're reading this because someone sent it to you and you want it, write me your name and email address. If I'm getting something wrong (or right) or you want me to think about something, email me.

Leave a comment