• Council, assembly, and school board: education funding tag team

    14 August 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the different pension holidays won by Chicago Public Schools, and more.

  • School choices: myths, charters, dollars, and fear

    19 June 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the "more choice" argument for charter schools, and more.

  • Refuting the rationale for closing schools

    5 May 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on what proponents of school closings have missed, and more.

  • Investor-funded pre-K based on false premises, excluded kids

    15 January 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on how the investor-funded scheme demands that some kids not attend pre-K, and more.

  • Does social promotion pass the test?

    18 December 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the justification for staying in school when you don't learn much, and more.

  • School grade levels and homework might work against learning

    15 December 2014

    According to a recent analysis, an estimated 14 percent of ninth-graders in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will earn a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school.

    The analysis, released in early December of 2014 by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, also stated that only 40 percent of CPS high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges.

    The analysis further concluded that:

    • Chicago places close to the national rate (estimated at 18 percent) for ninth-graders earning a degree, and places ahead of other large urban districts.
    • Based on ACT test scores, many CPS students remain unprepared for college.
    • At four of the 10 four-year colleges most frequently attended by CPS graduates, the six-year graduation rates are below 50 percent—presenting a major barrier to college completion.

    The conclusion that CPS students graduate unprepared is not a new one; teachers, parents, employers, and other observers have said the same thing for decades.

    Inside Chicago Government has followed the issue of student preparedness for some time. An aspect that we seldom see popular media address: How might the typical structures of school grade-levels and student assessment work against learning? Teachers and education policy wonks we've interviewed have some interesting ideas about this. Here's a summary.

    1. Homework might not only be a waste of time, but a bad way to assess learning.

    When teachers grade homework, some experts say, they're measuring effort, the ability to complete tasks, and the number of right answers—but not necessarily measuring student competence in the subject, or skill.

    Experts point to two phenomena they've observed:

    ■ Homework doesn’t stick. Even students who get good grades all through college can't recall much of the material on which they had to do homework—the homework that helped them get the good grades. This is because homework often asks students to simply memorize facts, or rephrase what the teacher or text has told them—not internalize content in a way that's useful to them in their lives, or even in a job. Students are rewarded for their knowledge of a subject's content, rather than their mastery of subject-related skills.

    ■ Improving homework performance doesn't affect grades. Education researchers say that "homework help" initiatives—wherein teachers or aides help students with their homework—often don't result in better grades or test scores. This suggests, they say, that either homework doesn't actually helps kids do better in school, or that grades don't work well as a measure of student performance.

    2. Grade levels group students to the disadvantage of many.

    Emotional, social, and intellectual development varies widely among children of the same age. Classrooms therefore might work better, experts say, if they grouped students based on where the students place in a development spectrum—rather than by age, as most grade levels typically do.

    Furthermore, once students are grouped in a grade level, they're expected to meet "accepted" standards for that grade level—rather than perform at a level that's based on where they are in their own development. Forcing students to "pass" a grade level, experts say, not only ignores their individual level of development; it can set up unreasonable expectations for how they should perform at the next grade level.

    3. Knowledge of subject content shouldn't be the only basis for graduation.

    Many agree that high-school graduates should exhibit core competencies. For example, graduates should be able to articulate their thoughts orally and in writing. And they should know how to add, subtract, divide, calculate averages, and figure percentages.

    Beyond that, some experts say, a person graduating from high school would be best served in later life if they know how to (a) regulate their own emotions, (b) work well in groups, and (c) have empathy for people around them. Furthermore, they should understand (and take comfort in) the fact that individuals are not naturally good at some things; rather, they develop skills through practice and hard work.

    The latter point underscores the importance of exposing students to a variety of disciplines such as music, art, and social sciences—without having to memorize or be tested on content. Exposing students to these arts and sciences can help them later—either in school or after graduation—when they're ready to decide in which areas they might want to focus and perhaps work.

  • Banksters not risk-adverse with city purse

    26 November 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on school-program funding becoming dependent on test scores, and more.

  • What Rauner's election means for Chicago

    20 November 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on what actions Gov. Rauner might take that affect Chicago, and more.

  • State/county election brings choice insights

    30 October 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the Sun-Times Rauner endorsement and McKinney resignation as a low moment in Chicago journalism, and more.

  • Reelection run means selective endowment

    13 October 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on parents who vote for Rahm having delusional issues, and more.

  • Emanuel's privatization: a clean sweep?

    2 October 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky, speculating on which city services Mayor Emanuel wouldn't privatize, and more.

  • A principled stand against the administration

    10 June 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the issues about which principals as a group remained silent, and more.

  • The resegregation of Chicago public schools

    19 May 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on whether Chicago schools' resegregation reflects a national trend, and more.

  • Council rules favor mayor

    27 January 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on how aldermen game the rules to bury insurgent motions, and more.

  • Can gentry's video prompt poor parents to perfect schools?

    24 January 2014

    On our Facebook page, a subscriber named Marc recently asked, "Can low income African American parents transform their neighborhood school like the parents of the Nettelhorst school?" He included a link to a 13-minute video (posted on YouTube) that describes how local parents helped improve the North Side's Nettelhorst Elementary School, at Broadway and Belmont.

    My reaction: If they had similar resources, maybe.

    The video features Jacqueline Edelberg, a mother in the neighborhood of Nettelhorst who sought a school to which she could eventually send her young kids. She and another mom toured the nearby Nettelhorst, but found it lacking.

    Speaking in the video of what led her to organize local parents to help improve Nettelhorst, Edelberg recalls, "My husband said, 'You're not working now, go make yourself useful.' "

    That comment underlines what's clear from the video: Edelberg—as well as the parents she helped organize—have spouses, stable income, and good education. I don't think this holds true for many parents of Chicago's public-school students.

    Among those who've written about this disparity of resources is the Chicago Reader's Steve Bogira, particularly in his recent, multi-part series on the inequities of Chicago public schools.

    In an article titled "Three families tell us why they ditched CPS" that appeared on Sept. 26, 2013, Bogira writes, "Middle-class parents tend to be zealous advocates. They're more likely to know an alderman or a reporter, and make noise about a problem their children's school is facing."

    Bogira's article features parents who, like many others, spurned Chicago for the suburbs so their kids could go to good schools. In the article, a parent named Sue opines about the challenges faced by the parents in her former North Park neighborhood, which is populated by many low-income Asian immigrants: "You really didn't get those ethnic groups to participate [in their children's schools], because they're out of their comfort zone, or they're out working numerous jobs, or they don't understand English."

    In an earlier article, Bogira quotes from an essay by Richard Kahlenberg that appeared in the journal American Educator. In middle-class schools, Kahlenberg wrote, parents volunteer more often "and know how to hold school officials accountable when things go wrong."

    I don't mean to imply that one can't mobilize parents who live in poverty, have a low level of education, and/or lead stressful lives. In fact, such efforts exist—like the Parent Mentor Program of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which specifically targets parents in low-income communities.

    But you can't just show low-income parents a video by their middle-class counterparts and say, "Go do this."

  • Charter schools: where does the money go?

    17 January 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the level of scrutiny the public has of neighborhood vs. charter schools, and more.

  • Democracy elusive in Chicago public schools

    12 December 2013

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on how moving special programs out of Lincoln Elementary could solve overcrowding, and more.

  • Alderman wants to know who benefited from charter school

    26 September 2013

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on charter schools' responses to FOIA requests, and more.

  • Rahm: less chess, more Cermak TIFs

    12 September 2013

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on front-end vs. back-end TIF district reforms, and more.

  • Mayor Emanuel: A tough leader for a tough city, or just an a-hole?

    29 August 2013

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on Mayor Emanuel's payback to the Whittier protestors, and more.