A lot of the general public believes the media live only to dig up scandal. Untrue. (Usually we don't have to go looking too far for it anyway.)
Here are some good-news headlines I'd like to see, or write, in the coming school year:
District scraps 'principal discretion' at elite high schools
The scandal about clout in admissions to the district's high-performing, selective admissions high schools has died down, and it's far from clear that any law was broken. But the controversy has given the district a black eye it can ill afford, and giving principals the authority to hand-pick even a small percentage of students is just asking for trouble. The policy reinforces the notion that "The Chicago Way"--i.e., back-door deals--is acceptable, and that who you know matters more than who you are or what you've accomplished. On paper, the policy is supposed to foster more diversity by letting principals bring in promising students who don't quite make the admissions cutoff. But in fact, black and Latino enrollment in elite high schools and magnet elementary schools is on the decline. Why not get rid of any whiff of clout and swap principal's discretion for a 5 percent random (and supervised, to keep everything open and above-board) lottery for all those students who just missed the cutoff score for admissions?
CPS launches 'Teacher for a Week'
We all know there are teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom--and lawyers who shouldn't be in a courtroom, doctors who shouldn't be practicing medicine, politicians with no business holding public office and executives who shouldn't be running companies. But no one takes up teaching because it's easy and lucrative. And there's a reason why so many rookies quit within the first few years--it's a hard job and to a large degree, thankless. So instead of yet another round of the one-shot Principal for a Day, why not have business execs and civic honchos shadow a veteran teacher for a week--and no, I don't mean a teacher at a Northside College Prep or a Lenart Gifted. Have them show up at school when the teacher does, work with them in class and on after-hours lesson-planning and paper-grading, help them call parents and tutor youngsters who need extra help. It's guaranteed to be a reality check and give city leaders a far more substantive view of what's really needed to make schools, and communities, better.
District, teachers union score deal to lengthen school day, year
We're almost 10 years into the 21st Century and still operating on a school calendar from the 19th. Chicago has one of the shortest days and years in the country, and as a nation we lag behind other developed countries, where 200+ days of school per year is common. It's time to make this happen and give students more time for academics and for so-called 'extras' like art and music.
CPS targets millions to hire 'student advocates'
For all the talk in the education world about the need for innovative approaches to educating struggling students, it's always been puzzling to me why there isn't more emphasis on the need for support staff. Counselors and social workers can make a significant difference, particularly when students face difficult home lives because of family unemployment, a parent's imprisonment, homelessness and other issues. Yet Chicago schools have far fewer of these staff than is called for by national groups. I'd like to see every school in a poor neighborhood have at least two to three people charged with giving kids and families extra help so that students can focus on learning--not babysitting a younger sibling while Mom goes to work or worrying about losing friends because their family is being evicted.
Chicago reports progress on national tests
Chicago schools have made progress on state tests, but still lag behind other urban districts on the national test that allows for cross-city comparisons, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Given that the state made its test easier, higher scores on the NAEP would be one sure sign that Chicago kids are, in fact, learning more--or not.
Chicago reins in mayoral control with new school board
This is about as likely to happen as pigs are to fly. In fact, even less so. But if we elect people to the Water Reclamation District, surely there ought to be some sort of publicly-chosen representation for publicly-run schools. A new board of elected members as well as mayoral appointees would sweep some fresh air into this body, which discusses much of its operations behind closed doors. Sure, decision-making might get messier. But to those who champion mayoral control, I have one question: What happens when it's a mayor you don't like?
A milestone to celebrate: A year with no CPS students murdered
This headline speaks for itself.