Bigger Than Ren-10?

Chicago Schools Wonks' Seth Lavin tells us that Oliver Sicat's Board presentation from last week (see above) is a very big deal: "Over the next 5-10 years portfolio could redraw the district, drastically shifting what Chicago schools exist where and who runs them. That’s huge. Easily as impactful as Ren2010."

I'm not sure I buy the notion that Ren10 was all that big a deal or that this new program will transformative but it's worth thinking about.

Here's Lavin's full entry on the topic (from Friday):


Oliver Sicat, CPS’ new portfolio chief, gave his first Board meeting presentation. Everyone covered it but I’m not sure anyone gave it the emphasis it deserves.

Catalyst: “Board sets the stage for more school closings”

CNC: “CPS lays groundwork for school closings”

Trib: “CPS to use tougher standard for evaluating schools”

Basically Sicat said:

  • CPS is going to get more stringent in evaluating school performance
  • A lot of CPS schools perform really poorly
  • CPS will close schools that are incorrigibly bad
  • CPS will initiate turnarounds, help charters expand and open new school so students who currently have “seats” in bad schools will instead have “seats” in good ones (they love talking about seats).

I’m a broken record here but we all need to watch this office. This stuff has never been centralized in this way before. Over the next 5-10 years portfolio could redraw the district, drastically shifting what Chicago schools exist where and who runs them. That’s huge. Easily as impactful as Ren2010. More controversial, too.

Some of that comes out in Sarah Karp’s Catalyst coverage, which emphasizes the near-term impact of the first school closings. Karp quotes Sicat: “Students will be moved to schools that are dramatically better than the ones they were attending and they will continue to progress.” She adds “Sicat said each student will be given a transition plan, specifying which school they will be assigned to and what their other options are.” Initial set of closings to be announced in December. Look out.
Here's also some new coverage from Catalyst and the Tribune.

CPS announces draft criteria for school closings Catalyst:  This year’s round of school actions will be the first to take place under the stringent requirements of the new facilities law. CPS is also required to draft a 10-year facilities plan and a 5-year capital improvements plan, with community input.

CPS releases school-closing guidelines Tribune: CPS said the weight given to academic performance is the biggest change in criteria for determining this year's list of closings.


Rest of Chicago Schools Wonks from Friday:


Sicat gave this presentation to explain the broader goals of his office. Look at slide 7. Two maps, side-by-side, one is “Quality of K-8 Schools” and one is “Utilization of K-8” schools.

~125K students have seats in underperforming schools. Those map almost exactly with underutilized schools. That means we’ve got dozens of bad, half-empty schools. The strong implication? Close them.

Provocative. Even more provocative is the given explanation: “Parents are moving their kids to where the good schools are located.” Huh? After reading about Sicat’s presentation a smart friend e-mails:

“I find it staggering that this was presented as "parents voting with their feet" and no reference of any kind to the history of the state st corridor/ projects coming down. These schools aren't empty because parents voted with their feet (at least not exclusively). They are empty because the projects in which those children lived were demolished. They were probably shitty before, but that didn't help. Um... so... Do you think he just doesn't know that??”

Other questions: what if the reason successful schools are successful is that the higher-need student population is sitting in other schools? How do we know moving a student to a school whose test scores are higher makes that student more successful? How can we be sure “high-performing” means “producing academic growth” and isn’t just a reflection of less poor areas having higher student performance than more poor areas? How are we equipping higher-performing schools to succeed with the influx of students whose performance far lags their new classmates’?

Doesn’t mean this plan is wrong. Just means we need a little more discussion and a lot more public thoughtfulness, please.


Brizard gave a “who I am, what I’m here for” speech to the Urban League. Lorraine Forte writes up his emphasis on CPS’ racial achievement gap. VideoTranscript.

Joravsky and Dumke list 25 local financial heavy-hitters they see having intriguing access to the new mayor. Lots of big-time Chicago school reform donors on there.

42 of the city’s ~100 charters don’t have what CPS considers an extended day. Rahm and the Board announced a new incentive program for them to lengthen their days, too. Opting in earns schools $75K plus $800 for each teacher. Some Chicago charter teachers have unions but most don’t. Will teachers vote? Or will principals just choose?

Math check. Vevea reports the Board set aside $4.4M for the program but has CPS saying it’ll cost $6M. Sarah Karp has CPS sayingit’ll cost $5M. Either way: $75K * 42 schools = ~$3.2M. 42 schools * 15 teachers per school * $800 = ~$500K. So that’s ~$3.7M. Where’s the rest go?

Looking more and more like there really is a plan to bring universal recess next year. Good on CPS. Theresa Gutierrez covers for ABC7. (h/t Catalyst “In the News”)

Advance Illinois wants the state to amp up its annual school report cards, adding more rigorous metrics like college readiness and graduates’ college persistence. WBEZ has a good write-up (no byline, maybe b/c they need a statehouse reporter). More detailed legislative play-by-play by Jim Broadway in Catalyst. Compare proposed new report card to the old one, which @tribapps uses to make this awesomeness.

Russo introduces us to an NCTQ report comparing effectiveness of different states’ school reform law. SB7 may be too water-downable and weak on weak teachers.

Rebecca Harris covers the report, too, adding a check-in on IL’s progress updating teacher and principal evaluations. Read to find out how you may end up being rated.

Vevea has a good read on the labyrinthine world of CPS selective-school admissions (and the cottage industry of admissions consultants blooming on the complexity like mold on stale bread). Cute picture of 3-year old with a school fair-branded tote bag.

IG questions residency waiver Board gave Tim Cawley, suburbanite, now CPS’ CAO. Cawley wants stability for his adopted daughterat her suburban school. Probably 10 CPS teachers fired last year for residency violations wanted stability, too.

IL’s still working on an erasure analysis designed to surface state test cheating. Meanwhile it’s released 6 years of school-reported cheating incidents. 9 in Chicago. I like Linda Lutton’s coverage, especially her data table, which names the suspected classrooms at the listed schools (subject/grade, not teacher name).

I also like Joel Hood’s story on a track meet almost cancelled because CPS laid off the race director the day-of without sorting out a replacement. Good peephole into the havoc caused by frequent staff shifts and directional changes. Ask CPS contractors (or principals) what it’s like working with the district and they’ll tell similar stories of turnover, inconsistency and confusion. Doesn’t mean stability’s worth foregoing change. Just a reminder that reform means reforming things.

Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, and teaching blogger won IL teacher of the year.


Rahm. It was bound to happen at one point or another. Everyone wrote up his nasty comment in response to CTU’s regulatory challenge to the longer day plan. Said Rahm of CTU: “Start cheating a kid out of an education, how cheap is that?”


I’m no one’s protector here. The teachers union has problems. It’s politically clumsy, for one thing. Also self-interested, hyper-protective and territorial in the face of change—sometimes to the detriment of the system. But the teachers union is made up of teachers. Teachers spend their lives with children, in schools. Kids are their universes. That’s how they want it to be. They choose that every day.

Kids were never Rahm’s universe. Schools were never Rahm’s universe. Some people jumped on him right away for sending his kids to private school and for hitting CPS like a warrior-prophet after a life of relative indifference to public education (don’t tell me White House work or Congress count). I didn’t jump on him. I don’t think his background’s that relevant, frankly. If he hires good people, makes good moves and does it all thoughtfully then he’s cool with me....

Unless he get’s self-righteous. Unless he starts out-and-out attacking teachers. Unless he really tries to look down his nose at teachers like he’s on the side of kids and they’re in it only for themselves. Because that’s bullshit. That’s the kind of thing that enrages me and everyone I know who’s spent more than an hour teaching children in a school. Come into our classrooms and tell us you can help us help students, if you can. But don’t you dare come into our classrooms to preach to us what it means to care about our kids.

I don’t like being angry. Or using foul language. Good writers can express themselves more forcefully without it, right? Ugh. I guess I messed that up. Sorry. Let’s move on.


Kate. You are the best. And you paper mache-ed the most amazing Moses-sized turtle costume I’ve ever seen. No attachments here but follow @sethlavin and I’ll tweet a picture at some point this weekend.

Noreen. Again! For reading people of the week, at least.

Celeste. Also again. For inspiring the Notebook’s VICTORY in the Open Philly data race. Also for turning 21. Enjoy your..first…drink…. Have a lot of fun and do what you need to do. Just make sure at least one person’s reasonably sober all the way through the night. 21 can be a doozy of a birthday.

Austin. Also again! For passing your test! (Carter you get one, too, for your role in my 21st birthday)

Natasha. For just (please, it’s all I ask!) wanting to see your 1st graders now that they’re 2nd graders. I can’t think of anything more heart-warming.

Mika, for continuing the revolution.

Sonia. Love the work RYH’s been doing on extended day. I owe you an email.

Mr. IBM. Didn’t know you read this thing. Pretty cool. Glad to help.

John. Ending small-scale pot arrests would help Chicago’s students unbelievably. I bet 75% of the people arrested for carrying pot are either supposed to be in school or have kids in school.

Tia. For slowing it. It’s hard. I know it’s hard. Well done.

Thanks everyone. Happy Halloween.



*****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.



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  • So, the Consortium on Chicago Research, power point page 8 says that over 20 years, African-American and Latino student had no reading score improvement and only incremental math score improvement; also, the reading and math scores between white an African-American and Latino elementary student in Chicago was larger than seen nationally.

    Conclusion by Oliver Sicat - outline a plan to reinforce and accelerate the very initiatives that brought us to this outcome?

    Hate to say it, sounds like CPS has a plan for academic genocide.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    As a tax payer I am angry that our money has supported Ren 2010 which failed, except for well heeled and connected schools, which are few. So why expand a failed program? Common sense, no?

  • Chicago parents, students, teachers, ESP's and anyone who works for the Chicago Public Schools, watch out! The s____ has hit the fan! Emperor Emauuel has spoken, and many schools will be consolidated or closed in the 2012-2013 school year!

  • Chicago lost 200,000 people in the last ten years according to the 2010 census.

    Doesn't it make sense that a consolidation of some kind would be in order?

    Isn't that logical?

  • In reply to Johnny:

    How many students have we lost? We have a large population who is not counted in the census.
    Are we promoting a high drop out rate to save monies? (huge class sizes in the overcrowded high schools, unsafe environments, and no support for students with disabilities) Remember
    what happened at Gage Park a few years ago when a principal was fired because he refused to overload his classrooms?

  • Yes, it does but then how does CPS justify opening all of the charters and giving buildings away for a dollar?

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    What charter school has been given a building for $1? In my experience, charters that take over former neighborhood school buildings sign long term leases, in which a portion of the per student funding charters receive from the state and city are put toward the cost of operating and maintaining the building. Keep in mind the per pupil funding that charters receive is less than what a neighborhood school receives (necessitating the massive amounts of fundraising they engage in) and that charters, love them or hate them, are part of the public school system.

  • I am not justifying charters, just consolidations.

    Kansas City closed half of their schools last year - I think CPS will/should follow that model and close 50? schools and give the buildings away to community organizations or churches.

  • In reply to Johnny:

    That is too much like right for CPS. The day that these idiots do right is when Hell freezes over and pigs fly. As you and I both know, that will not be happening anytime soon. Rahm is B!+@hing about finances, but I bet he will not follow your suggestion. His @$$ is in bed with the crooks. I see J. C. doesn't like following the law because his @$$ has a discrimination suit back in Rodchester, NY. LOL

  • In reply to CPSD299:

    J. C. is just in Chicago to be Rahm's "Yes Man." He has no control of the school system, Rahm does. What a waste of a salary. The same goes for the Board of Education.

  • CPS has already committed academic genocide by failing African-American and Latino students. While I do not doubt that most principals and teachers in these schools have the best of intentions, these schools are failing and CPS has not provided the support or resources they need as there are too many of them and not enough money to go around and the situation is now even more dire. Many of them should be closed or consolidated so we can take scarce resources and use them more wisely, such as more effective principals, actual support and development for teachers, technology, libraries, etc. The status quo, it is time to admit, has not worked. Not closing schools benefits LSCs, parental convenience, teachers job security, lunchroom aides, politicians, and others, but it has never benefitted a student to stay in a school that is failing because for many students, education is only ticket out that they have. The problem as I see it has always actually been what is the alternative and I would rather see some courageous thinking that maintaining a status quo we know doesn't work.

    That being said, my worry is that there has been such a talent drain at CPS and so many outside agendas feeding at the trough, that no one will remember what hasn't worked before and more importantly, why it hasn't worked. That is already evident. CPS is terrible at lessons learned. CPS has also never been good at figuring out what is really necessary to execute. So new plans are consistently poorly executed. And that is evident too, even more so now, that there are no resources and no one to think this through.

  • According to the IIRC website, CPS had 426,814 students in 2000 and has 403,770 this year. That is a decrease of 23,000 students.

  • In reply to Johnny:

    From what I've read, many families were moved out of the area as a result of the CHA's transformation plan. Thus there are some schools in areas where buildings were torn down that aren't operating at full capacity. While closing facilities in these areas might make some sense, their plans extend far beyond this, I fear. I understand CPS is moving to make itself into something called a "portfolo district." So, yes, keep your eyes on the Office of Portfolio indeed.

  • In reply to Johnny:

    Thanks for the information. About a thousand teachers retire every year, more leave the profession yet CPS is still laying off teachers but hiring new, younger, cheaper ones who will not stay and not ever qualify for pension. Why would any teacher want to teach in raise and longer hours. CPS is imploding.

    Does anyone know if the special education population has decreased over the past five years due to the inanity of SBPS/RtI and the electronic referral process?

    We are now being told we must write IEPS for 3-5 year olds we have never met because of CHILD FIND.... this is definitely a workload violation BUT we do not follow the law -J-CAR...can't the CTU force CPS to follow ISBE guidelines? HELP!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    According to ISBE data in 2011 CPS had 52,894 students with IEPs, in 2010 CPS had 53,810 students with IEPs. This represents a one year decline of 916 students or 1.7%. The total enrollment of CPS according to ISBE in 2011 was 403,770 and in 2010 was 404,589. The total enrollment decline was 0.25%. Because of overall enrollment decline was so small it is unlikely the decline in special education students was due largely to an overall enrollment drop. It would appear that there was a drop in CPS special education identification rates.

    But I would add that it is important to note that over the last 15 years I have seen the total number special education students as low as around 49,000, so the current dip may not continue.

    Rod Estvan

  • Don't forget you can sign up for seth's email by writing him at sethlavin at gmail dot com

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    The goal is to nearly completely "Charterize" the Chicago Public Schools. Plain & simple. I believe we will have 3 types of schools in the future: Selective Enrollment (Northside, Whitney, Payton, etc.), a small number of Military and or Vocational related schools (also selective enrollment), and then the privately run Charters. Good luck to those charter school operators in figuring out poverty. Right now Rahm & crew are completely downplaying or completely ignoring the improvements that have been made in the areas where the city gave a shit for a minute, like some of their Culture of Calm efforts, (which are being completely unfunded as we speak) and at the same time making the bar impossible for any school to reach except for those already there or those who will given every "exception" in order to be successful. All under the slogan of doing what is best for children. Yeah right.

  • I take issue with saying CPS has committed academic genocide. The parents of the students who are failing have done this to their own children. If most parents in these awful schools would read to their kids, stop letting them roam the streets, turn off the TV, talk to their kids and help them with their homework, the schools they attend wouldn't be awful anymore.

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