Tag Archives: Chicago Public Schools

Districts Pick Up State Slack on School Report Cards — But Shouldn’t Duplicate Efforts

As my colleagues noted yesterday, Denver leaders are currently hosting conversations about their local school rating system, called the School Performance Framework (SPF), and deciding whether they will abandon this local system in favor of Colorado’s state rating system.

Districts around the country are facing similar choices this year — whether to build, adopt, or abandon a local rating system — as states roll out new report cards. The federal Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015, requires states to improve the way they rate schools. In response states created report cards with key performance data for every school in their state. But not all communities were satisfied with their state ESSA report card.

Some districts created — and others are currently considering — localized school rating systems to fill in the gaps. These are an enormous opportunity for school districts, but one with many risks if districts do not heed the lessons of the past and pay attention to today’s context. In the case of Denver, it’s clear that local options must be built carefully in order to survive shifting political contexts.

ESSA report cards promised to include more impactful data than required by ESSA’s predecessor No Child Left Behind. Yet the truth is many state report cards are no better than what came before. An April 2019 analysis by the Data Quality Campaign found that many state report cards still lack critical information — including the progress and growth of different student groups and students’ access to high-quality teachers — making it difficult for families and communities to understand if and how schools are serving their kids.

boy walking and balancing on a log with the header for the site "School Performance Frameworks" across

As school districts step in to create local versions of school report cards, the question is: will these local remedies provide a more complete picture of school quality or will they confuse parents and other stakeholders even more?

The answer: it depends. Continue reading

Lessons from Chicago Public Schools on Meeting the Needs of English Language Learners

Chicago Public Schools serves over 360,000 students, 18.7% of whom are English language learners (ELL). The Spanish-speaking student population, in particular, makes up about 35% of the total student population. I spoke with Felicia Butts, Director of Teacher Residencies at Chicago Public Schools, about their growing bilingual teacher residency program.

headshot for Felicia Butts, Chicago Public Schools

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Could you tell us about Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) residency programs focused on preparing educators to work in bilingual classrooms?

The bilingual residency program provides an accelerated two-year master’s degree in which graduates receive a master’s degree, professional educator’s license, and an endorsement in bilingual education and English as a Second Language (ESL). We have two bilingual residency program tracks: one focused on early childhood education and the other focused on elementary education. Our residents undergo a suite of carefully curated professional development modules that include support from the Office of Language and Cultural Education. Residents receive support in teaching in bilingual and dual-language classrooms while working in specific grade bands. They also receive professional development in cultural competence and social emotional learning.

During the first year, residents are matched with carefully vetted mentors and placed in training sites. We facilitate a matching process where [incoming residents] get to choose who would be the best fit for them to work with. Teacher residents spend a full year in the training site side by side with the mentor teacher to get training and support, guidance, and coaching. During this first year, residents work in a full-time position where they receive a $35K salary with benefits. In the second year, residents are hired as teachers of record in their own classroom, earning a full teacher’s salary, while they work on the bilingual and ESL endorsement.

How many teacher candidates did you serve last year, and do you hope to see the program grow?

Last year we had 11 bilingual elementary residents. This year, we have 21 bilingual elementary residents, and nine early childhood bilingual residents. We recently opened up our recruitment cycle and are hoping to grow. Our recruiting targets are 25 for each of the program tracks for the 2020-2021 cohort. (The overall size of the residency program, which includes special education and STEM teachers, is 90 people this year.)

For the early childhood education cohort, we have to do significant outreach. The interest is there, but there are many systemic barriers for candidates to overcome, including culturally and linguistically limited tests such as the ACT, TAP, and SAT. Recently, the governor provided some reprieve, eliminating these tests as program entry requirements. We’re looking forward to being able to get candidates enrolled with fewer barriers.

Which languages do you currently serve?

We are currently serving Spanish, the most commonly spoken home language in CPS other than English. We’re hoping to expand to the top five most spoken languages in Chicago: Arabic, Urdu, Cantonese, and Polish. In order to train a group of teachers bilingually in one of the other top four languages, it would require a classroom with that language as a main mode of instruction. With the cohort model being a critical part of our residency program, it would be challenging for a resident to be in a program with predominantly Spanish language speakers. Continue reading

Building a School Performance Framework for Families? Lessons from Chicago.

Families and communities need access to reliable, understandable information about school quality to make decisions for their students. One tool district leaders can use to provide this information is a school performance framework (SPF). But SPFs are only useful to families if they are designed with families in mind. If leaders treat the needs of families as an afterthought during the design phase, it should be no surprise when families don’t use the tool.

Chicago Public Schools' School Quality Rating Policy screenshot

In our recent project at SchoolPerformanceFrameworks.org, my co-authors and I identified family and community information as one of three primary “use cases” that could shape SPF design decisions. My colleague Bonnie O’Keefe explains the concept of use cases and offers another example — school continuous improvement — here.

An SPF designed to show families and communities how schools are performing should include:

  • Early, authentic, and ongoing engagement of families and community members in the design process: District leaders should involve families from the beginning to understand what information they need or may already have. This can be accomplished through task forces, roundtables, or listening sessions, or by administering parent surveys. Leaders should be cautious not to engage only the most visible stakeholders, but instead should use various methods to engage families that will be most impacted by the SPF. Inauthentic engagement risks alienating key stakeholders and reinforcing harmful power dynamics.
  • The information families and community members most want to know: Families typically prefer a higher level of detail, a focus on outcomes, and a summative rating, because they are easier to understand. This contrasts significantly from the granular level of detail school leaders might need. If leaders create a tool that primarily serves families, the SPF might be less useful to school leaders or system leaders.
  • Results displayed in an understandable and accessible way: One reason families may struggle to understand school performance frameworks is when they are full of jargon. For example, parent advocacy organization Learning Heroes has found that someone could misread the phrase “School Climate” on a school report card to mean building temperature as opposed to the quality of school life. District leaders should present data to families that is free of jargon and available in high-quality multilingual translations.

Many of the districts profiled in our report have made improvements to their SPF over the years to make them more accessible to parents. For example, the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) in Chicago was not originally designed with families in mind, but the growth of school choice options prompted the district to make changes to give families access to more transparent, shared information across schools. SQRP reports now include the size of the school, the names and contact information for school leaders, programmatic offerings, and information about transportation options to each school. Reports are available in multiple languages and families can easily find the definitions of key terms within one click.

To learn more about other use cases for SPF design, and other long-standing local SPFs, visit SchoolPerformanceFrameworks.org.

Five Lessons on School Performance Frameworks from Five Cities

While an increasing number of cities have implemented school performance frameworks (SPFs), very little has been written about how these tools compare with one another.

SPFs provide information on school performance and quality across a variety of measures to numerous stakeholders, and New York, New Orleans, Denver, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. have all had their own version for, in some cases, more than five years.

Still, few resources exist for district leaders interested in SPF redesign or development. That’s where Bellwether’s newest project comes in.

Continue reading

Lessons in Managing the Gut-Wrenching Process of School Closures

“I’ve never felt that way before, walking into a room and just being in total knots and also knowing the right thing to do.” That’s how former Denver Public Schools board member Mary Seawell recalls the night she and the majority of the board voted to close Montbello, an academically failing but popular neighborhood high school. As we interviewed district and community leaders for our Eight Cities project, the subject of school closures elicited a nearly universal response: emotionally draining and gut-wrenching angst.

photo of Mary Seawell, former Denver Public Schools board member, by Alexander Drecun — from EightCities.org

Photo of Mary Seawell by Alexander Drecun, via EightCities.org

While the superintendents and community leaders we spoke to acknowledged school closure as a painful but necessary tool, our interviews also reflected a culture shift: Some districts are no longer forcing closures of low-performing schools in the absence of quality alternatives. Instead many districts have started more carefully planning closures to minimize disruption and prioritize student success. Two recently released reports reinforce the need for districts to mitigate the pain of school closures by ensuring better alternatives already exist. Continue reading