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NCLB Puts Schools Chicago on Hit List

Ohanian Comment: Note that schools Chicago has identified as "schools of distinction" are on the Feds "failure" list. The article also mentions that the Chicago Teachers Union is working with the District to improve student performance. Unmentioned in this article is that theh CTU uses the AFT curriculum of choice--direct instruction.

Chicago public schools braced for a "logistical nightmare'' Wednesday, revealing that an estimated 250,000 students could be vying for only 5,000 seats under tough new federal standards designed to free students from failing schools.

Officials released tentative data showing that 368 schools--or 61 percent of all city public schools--could have to offer transfers to 54 higher-performing ones under the "choice'' provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.

"With such a long list of schools eligible for choice, following the law becomes a logistical nightmare,'' Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott said.

Statewide, an estimated 209 additional schools also will probably be required to provide students the choice of better schools by the first day of classes, Illinois State Board of Education officials said Wednesday.

However, state officials cautioned that all the numbers were a work in progress. Some schools could be added. Others could be subtracted under a loophole called "safe harbor.''

In addition, Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan doubted that many of the 250,000 students eligible would want to switch schools. Last year, only 8 percent of those offered a chance to transfer expressed interest, and far fewer actually switched.

Schools are supposed to have 45 days to appeal, but most districts will have to scramble just to notify parents in time for the first day of school--which in some cases is only two weeks away. Chicago will notify parents by Aug. 18; hold a lottery on Aug. 26 that gives priority to low-income and low-scoring students, and release each student's new school by Aug. 29. Classes start Sept. 2.

The number of schools on the tentative statewide choice list more than doubled this year, mostly because of a tougher standard for 2003 test results. This year's list was based on three years of state test scores--two years under the old standard and one under the new standard.

Last year, the first year the law was in effect, overall low scores and insufficient progress in five subject matter tests triggered choice. This year, for 2003 tests, only reading and math scores were considered, but the poor performance of just one "subgroup''--such as low-income kids, special education students, African American kids or Hispanic students--was added to the mix.

For previously low-scoring schools, that meant that if 60 percent of students schoolwide or 60 percent of students in any subgroup did not hit grade level on state math or reading tests, then all students would be eligible for choice. That 60 percent threshold was up from about 50 percent last year.

Chicago schools on the tentative choice list included 11 honored as "schools of distinction'' for progress on a battery of measures, including last year's state tests. That included Shields Elementary, which was tripped up by the performance of about 200 special education and bilingual education students.

The news left Principal Rita Gardner reeling Wednesday. Plus, she had no idea whether Shields met the "safe harbor'' exemption.

"I was a school of distinction,'' said Gardner. "We've done nothing but raise our scores. But now I'm on a bad list. I have 2,000 kids. Where would they go? People are fighting to get their kids in here.''

Chicago also conceded Wednesday that 24 of the Chicago choice schools may be subject to the more severe sanction of "corrective action,'' which can include replacing staff. Duncan refused to say whether he would replace staff in those schools, but said he definitely will not do so in three of the 24 schools that have already agreed to work with the Chicago Teachers Union and the district on improving student performance.

— Rosalind Rossi
Choice program could overwhelm schools
Chicago Sun-Times
August 7, 2003


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