Monday, October 14, 2013

Performance Policy

Claudinette (Didi) Schwartz, CPS Director of Assessment, also spoke to the PTA Advisory Council last week about her department's work. Her office sits within the CPS Office of Accountability under John Barker. 

Her introduction, like most of her remarks, were heavy on the education version of corporate speak: Assessments are a reflection of learning expectations. Assessment is a constant process, not an end-game. It happens every day, in every classroom, with every student. At least in theory it does.

Like Annette Gurley, she was short on time and most of her talk took the form of a Q&A session, which I've transcribed from my notes below:

Q. Explain the reduction in number of assessments for this AC2013-2014 versus AC2012-2013.

A. We reduced the number of assessments because 
(a) we wanted to increase instructional time   
(b) we wanted to emphasize that we assess students not on one measure

Looking at data points are equally important. District eliminated fall NWEA tests except for those students who didn't take the spring test and tehrefore didn't have a baseline test. The NWEA baseline allowed us to diagnose interventions and ways to work on them. 

Q. Can networks administer NWEA this fall anyway?

A. No. The NWEA is not available except for students in the primary grades who didn't have a baseline test from last year. Schools do not have to use NWEA as a fall baseline assessment they can also use DIBELS or another assessment tool. Testing in January is optional, although schools determine whether or not to give the mid-year NWEA assessment which measures a midpoint progress of skills. The end-of-year NWEA assessments is given to all 2nd-8th graders in late spring. 

Q. Is there NWEA training in place for parents?

A. No. The District doesn't have training for parents on how the assessments work and/or how they can help their kids through the assessment. We do have parent reports and strongly encourage teachers to print out these reports and share/explain them to parents. Assessment is not available at home. It asks skills-based questions, but those skills can be developed and practiced anywhere--not just on a PC. 

NWEA is a multiple choice test, starts at grade level and then gets easier or harder depending on how a student answers. Multiple choice in itself a bad thing. ACT is multiple choice and has been for 70 years, but when students can answer complex questions in this way, it can be a valid assessment tool. The NWEA asks a balance of questions between basic and stretch or complex questions.

PARCC will have multiple choice and construction response questions. Multiple choice may have multiple right answers or a matching activity. Constructive response is another term for "performance-based response." The District is looking at making the same components in a paper-based test in the lower grades. The PARCC is not a traditional timed test. It is an assessment meant to feel more like classroom work with the results given to teachers for help in developing tasks and interventions.

Q. Are there accommodations for students with IEPs?

A. There is so much we can do to accommodated IEP modifications with the PARCC. We can do more with font, size, color, and contrast. We can add a line reader. Some modifications, such as magnification, will be available to all students, while other modifications are set by the teacher.

The District is still determining what kind of read-aloud accommodations/modifications will be made for ELL students. It is a matter of determining whether the District is measuring English language or comprehension? 

Q. Are any Illinois programs based on Massachusetts's protocols? 

A. Yes. CCSS was developed by a coalition of states. Looked at what college students need, and what industry needs. Looked at the standards and then unpacked backwards down to K. 

Q. Can you share the new CPS Performance Policy?

A. Ryan Crosby, who manages the relationship with ISBE, also owns the performance policy. 

Q. Can you explain the changes to the ISAT and the way that was communicated to parents? 

A.  CPS sent letters home to parents announcing the difference in ISAT cut scores. The bar is still higher and test content is still changing. Communications are coming. Schools' accountability based on NWEA--not ISAT--in FY2014-2015. In the first year of anything, there are challenges. The transition from ISAT to PARCC for accountability purposes won't begin until FY2015-2016

Q. Are there sample questions from the NWEA?

A. Yes. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teaching and Learning

Yesterday's PTA Advisory Council meeting was a bit disappointing. Our speakers, Annette Gurley and Claudinette Schwarz, each spent what felt like very short periods of time with us. It gave us just enough time for an overview, but not for the rigorous, deep dive discussion that I've come to expect from the monthly PTA Advisory meeting. 

Annette Gurley introduced herself by saying that the title of her office (Office of Teaching and Learning) is actually quite descriptive and accurate of the work done by the office. What her office does is to enhance teaching to provide better learning for the students within the system, she said. 

All this talk of Common Core and emphasis on college, career, and life success is actually important. The rigor of teaching in the 21st century focuses on teaching students to think critically and solve problems--the kinds of tasks they'll need to perform daily in our post-modern, meta-data, information-obsessed economy.  In other words, the very opposite of what Esmee Greenfeld is apparently doing at the NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies. Rote memorization--the kind of kill-and-drill learning environment that many of us grew up in--is no longer relevant, Gurley said. 

This departure from the teaching methods that brought us through an industrial age is a game changer for everyone--from teachers to students to their parents. There is a renewed emphasis on experiential learning. Gurley quoted Richard Elmore's "task predicts performance" philosophy, saying that the professional development sessions her office are conducting focus on helping teachers to design tasks that help students think critically. (I've since read a bit on Richard Elmore, and it's nice to see a CPS Central Officer quote someone who actually makes sense. )

Gurley also acknowledged that the current academic year is a huge transition year for her office. She suggested that parents take time regularly to learn more about Common Core and its ongoing implications for children and families. 

She spoke about the changes in cut scores for the ISAT, a state decision to mitigate the collective shock we'll all feel when the District switches to the PARCC assessment next year. I prefer to think of the PARCC assessment as a way to make sure our schools are teaching our children what they need to know--not as an opportunity to trip them up and spit them out. I suspect Dr. Gurley has a similar philosophy. She told us that she doesn't want children to get to the PARCC and then not be able to complete it.

She told us that a sample 5th grade question on the PARCC tripped her up, and that her office has found the rigor expected of the PARCC to be "an eye-opener." 

In addition to preparedness for PARCC, Gurley reviewed the emphasis on the NWEA assessments, saying that these tests are diagnostic in nature and the baseline tests from last year are being used to develop Learning Maps that are aligned to each individual's learning growth targets. Only children who didn't take the NWEA in the spring last year had to take it this year, Gurley said. These Learning Maps allow a teacher to customize learning experiences to each child, providing time for acceleration or intervention (remediation) during times built into the school day for such work.

Gurley told us that CPS typically categorize learners into three tiers: ones get the lesson 80 percent of the time; twos need a little extra support to get the lesson 15 percent of the time; and threes still don't get it even with extra support. Gurley estimates that there are 3 "threes" in every classroom in CPS. Oy. The recommended intervention for those threes are 3x45-minute sessions each week. Although Gurley noted that good teachers differentiate anyway, I can't help but to wonder how any teacher with 37 kids in his/her classroom has the physical space or the head space to devote to 8% of the class, 5% of the time.  

With Greenfeld's article fresh in my mind, I asked Dr. Gurley about homework. She told me that the individual learning can take place in the classroom, but that it doesn't have to. Sometimes it takes place in a pull-out class, but sometimes it takes place at home via homework. What she said about homework is fuzzy within my notes, but I was left with the impression that the new Teaching and Learning paradigm is going to drag me into the role of after-school/homework tutor. Homework is an opportunity for students to reinforce and practice what they've learned at school, and for parents to preview and understand the concepts their children are in the process of acquiring. If I look at the bright side, it's possible that I may finally learn higher-level math.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Education: a Muse

Last week, I met with BoE member Deborah Quazzo about my pet project during one of her board office hours slots. The meeting was not productive on my end, but as we were walking out, Ms. Quazzo paid me what I consider to be a compliment when she asked me what subject I teach. 

I don't teach, and don't think I'd make a very good classroom teacher. As this TFA has-been writes, teaching is as much about classroom management as it is about teaching. Especially in many CPS classrooms. 

But I am a learner and consider myself an advocate for anyone else who follows a similar path. I am reminded of my days as a lycĂ©enne; in French, the word for "teach" and "learn" is the same: apprendre. This is a conflation Americans could stand to make. 

I guess you could say that Education is in my DNA. It's only now that my kids are in school in a debt-ridden, politically questionable system once deemed "the worst public school system in America," that I've realized how deeply and widely the theme of education--both as a journey and as a destination--ran through my childhood. 

In my family, we talk about education a lot. My parents were each the first in their families to go to college and as their parents' only children of the Baby Boomer generation, embraced the culture of the time that held that formal education was critical to financial success. They were part of the 6 percent in 1970 that has now become the 70 percent of degree-earning bottom/top quartiles in 2011

But they were also part of the minority who were able to gain advantages despite their relative economic, political, and socially disadvantaged backgrounds when they landed in the college-bound HS track in NYC in the 1960s. My father was the youngest child of an orphaned, first-generation Hungarian Jew and a first-generation Roman Catholic Italian who learned to speak English only after she started school in Union City, NJ as a child. He graduated from Bronx High School of Science. 

Bronx Science is considered by many to be one of the first specialized magnet schools in the country, let alone NYC. Interestingly, the NYC BoE counts nine SEHSs (or Specialized High Schools) in its "portfolio." Compare that to Chicago's 10 SEHSs, despite a significantly smaller student population (400,000 ish to NYC's 1.1 million), and the popular demand for more SEHS seats becomes murky. Why create more tracking for the top XX percent (or as Sue Serra in this Reader article states, the top 10 percent)? Where is the equity in creating echelons of HS within the public system? 

But creating echelons in the public system is exactly what we're doing when the Chicago Board of Education allows Ald. Michele Smith to cede her public comment time to two Lincoln parents who happen to agree with her development plans without enforcing its own rules about such tactics. And it's exactly what it's doing when Estella Bertran rushes the anti-development side off the microphone in later public comment. It's exactly what we're doing when Todd Babbitz makes system-wide decisionsbehind closed doorsabout whether adding air conditioning or resolving overcrowding within CPS buildings are a better use of its $200M capital budget. It's exactly what we're doing when application-required charter schools claim they're "open enrollment" on the public record. It's exactly what we're doing when mostly Northside schools use parent fundraising to pad the CPS budget gap, leaving SpEd teachers like Jacqueline Casimir out of work.

And that's just (some of) the inequalities in CPS. State-wide, even nation-wide, the contrast between the haves and have-nots educationally is more striking. In Illinois, our property tax structure rewards rich districts and penalizes poor ones, and ISBE per-pupil foundational spending recommendations don't even come close to covering the extrinsic costs of educating Illinois's children. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

CPS's EFMP: A critique

In early September, CPS embarked on a series of community engagement meetings ostensibly to gain feedback on its 10-year Educational Facilities Master Plan, a draft of which the District published in May. Critics of the 458-page document maintain that it offers little substance about what, exactly, its “long range plan and current recommendations” are. 

They're right. I've read it.

There's very little of substance in the document, which I had somehow imagined would read more like this June Board of Education Report. Most of the EFMP reads like a group project paper, with the unifying theme taking the form of an oft-repeated refrain of its "educational goals" of who, what, where, and when the District teaches its students. 

In 78 pages of summary text, the District makes exactly nine statements of what it will do, although it offers little--if any--plans as to how it actually will accomplish these goals. 

p. 49: "We will be constructing and replacing playgrounds for those schools that have the capacity for them." 

Except that CPS fails to mention which schools have the capacity for playgrounds, which schools need them replaced versus new ones, when these playgrounds will be constructed, and what and how the budget will be. 

p. 49: "We are expanding certain facilities to provide universal Full Day Kindergarten. In our FY13 Supplemental Capital Plan, we have allocated approximately $13.4 million in classroom build-out to prepare all schools for Full Day Kindergarten. Another $2.0 million has been set aside for kindergarten appropriate furniture across the district."

I wonder how K students in 1/2 day K managed without furniture all this time? I looked up the FY13 Supplemental Capital Plan and there are only 13 schools listed in the plan as receiving funds. One of them is Smyser, which lists its ideal enrollment as 860 and its actual AY2012-13 as over 1,000. How on Earth 
can CPS carve space out of an overcrowded 81-year-old 

p. 50: "We will expand Gifted/Selective Enrollment opportunities." 

Because there will be more seats? Or is this an allusion to the work scheduled to be done at Walter Payton? 

p. 56: "We will expand our International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes."

p. 56: "We will expand STEM Elementary Schools and Programs, and Early College STEM" 

p. 62: "We will expand Career and Technical Education....During SY13-14, CTE academies or CTE programs will be added to 6 high schools (Roosevelt, Southside Occupational, Prosser, Gage Park, and South Shore). Of these, Roosevelt and Southside Occupational will require facility modifications to support the expanded program offerings. In SY14-15, CTE academies or CTE programs will be added to 5 high schools (Bowen, Farragut, Kelly, Ray Graham, and Foreman). Of these, Bowen and Ray Graham will require facility modifications to support the expanded program offerings."

Finally: some substance! But still: lots of questions remain about what sorts of facility modifications will be required to support expanded CTE options. Also, while computer science and drafting are included in CTE, it's unclear if those will be among the offerings at these 11 high schools. 

p. 67: "We will expand our Service Leadership opportunities....For SY2013, two proposals were submitted into the Call for Quality Schools authorization process to expand Rickover Naval Academy and Marine Math and Science Academy to include 7th and 8th grades. While the Board of Education has approved these grade level expansions, the schools will require new, larger facilities to support the increased demand for both its existing grades as well as the additional 7th and 8th grades. Furthermore, both Rickover Naval Academy and Marine Math and Science are co-located schools that will more easily achieve building efficiency standards once in their own building." 

p. 68: "We will be elevating Arts Education to a core subject." 

Great, but no funding or capital improvements set aside at this stage, which suggests that this is an afterthought, not an actual budgetary priority. 

p.69: "We will provide innovative, bold and effective instructional practices for students with diverse learning needs while being a credible, supportive partner for schools, parents, students and the community at large. All student s with disabilities have the right to access quality public education options designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for postsecondary education, employment and independent living" 

Again, no funding or monetary amounts mentioned in conjunction with this. Another afterthought. 

p. 15: "We have protected and increased investments in programs that boost student learning such as full school day, early childhood development and maintaining class size, while at the same time expanding high quality school options across the district to give parents more choices." 

Would to know how CPS can justify maintaining class sizes of 28-38 students/classroom--if we use AY2013-14 numbers--as a good thing.

"Expanding high quality school options to create nearly 6,600 new seats in high quality magnet, selective enrollment, Charter, International Baccalaureate, Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs"

How to discount "new" seats from seats converted from existing programs within an existing building? Indeed, p. 56 details new programs at existing schools: 

"In Fall of 2013 CPS will open 5 new IB high school programmes (Farragut, Kennedy, Juarez, and Bronzeville), expand 6 other high schools to become Wall to Wall IB high schools (Hyde Park, Senn, Taft, Lincoln Park, Clemente, and the new Back of the Yards High School), and if recommended school actions are approved, will implement new IB in the following elementary schools: De Diego, DePriest, Ellington, Fiske, Jenner, Mollison, and Wells."

p.17: "Similarly, we need a long term view into population trends in areas of overcrowding, particularly in areas where we may be contemplating capacity expansions. "There are approximately 65,000 fewer students enrolled in neighborhood elementary schools in areas that are underutilized today than enrolled 10 years ago."  

Does this reflect a real population shift or increased enrollments in charter schools in some areas? The "schools of choice" argument suggests that many children go to school outside their neighborhood schools. I wonder how in-depth CPS got into the demographics? Did they perform any impact studies? 

p. 39 "If a principal enrolls out of area students, year after year, as the school’s capacity is increasingly utilized, a school can become overcrowded. Because of this, for elementary and high schools with traditional geographic attendance area boundaries (e.g., neighborhood schools), CPS measures the school’s actual enrollment efficiency, based on total enrollment relative to capacity, as well as the school’s notional enrollment efficiency, based on the percentage of enrollment consisting of students residing within that school’s attendance area boundary. The notional enrollment efficiency rating assists the District in determining the extent to which a neighborhood school’s efficiency or inefficiency relates to a high or low number of out-of-area students enrolled relative to the facility’s capacity." 

Translation: if you are overcrowded because you over-enrolled non-neighborhood kids as a school of choice, too bad. This suggests that the District thinks that only magnet, SE, and charter schools should be "schools of choice" within the District. Choice is an illusion. Indeed, if you look at the "notional utilization" rate assigned by CPS to each "overcrowded" District school, the utilization rate drops down to a more reasonable level. Belding's 139% becomes 110%, for example. However, Gray, Palmer, Prussing, and Smyser hold steady at utilization rates at 126% and up. 

p. 42: "We believe that if these alternative methods of overcrowding relief were fully deployed, overcrowding could be solved with approximately $500-600 Million, but it is unrealistic to expect those other means could be successfully deployed to resolve each of these situations."

There are only 13 schools targeted to receive additions to relieve overcrowding, (p. 46) although the authors of the document fail to include status (and cost) of the projects within this report.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Price versus Value

As anyone reading this blog in the past, oh five years, knows, I am a card-carrying PTA member. But in the Internet age, it's difficult to be a member of a volunteer-based organization that also charges dues. A common thread in PTA membership recruitment is what units get from PTA. Why pay to join PTA when you can join advocacy groups like Raise Your Hand, Parents 4 Teachers, Common Sense Coalition, or More Than a Score for free? 

Indeed, if you don't value membership in the PTA, there is probably little I can say to change your mind about the importance of the nation's oldest dues-based advocacy organization. But if you're on the fence, here are some reasons why PTA is a good value:

PTA has longevity and staying power.
Unlike the other groups that have popped up in Chicago over the past five years, the PTA's history runs longer than a century. I am not questioning the validity and good created by these other organizations in calling attention to the problems of CPS. Nor am I saying that being older and better established means an organization is fail proof, as the recent collapses of Jane Addams Hull House and Catholic Charities have demonstrated. But, being old and well-established can have some advantages, like having a seat at the table in policy discussions, brainstorming sessions, and on advisory boards.

PTA makes decisions democratically, using due process.
Unlike newer organizations that lack structure for--or worse, deliberately exclude would-be stakeholders from--determining their organizational agendas, PTA follows a formal process to direct its agenda. Progress toward reform is made more by bottom-up movements than it is by top-down mandates.

PTA's strengths come from within.
We are (almost) all volunteers. Why pay $5 to volunteer? Because PTA gives you a structure in which you can channel your volunteer efforts. Since its inception as the National Congress of Mothers in 1897, PTA has sought to improve children's lives in the areas of education, arts, juvenile justice, bullying and conflict resolution, nutrition and wellness, child labor, and parent engagement.

PTA has influence.
Because of the reasons above, PTA has some influence among local, state, and federal decisionmakers. PTA's standards for parent involvement formed the basis for the NCLB standards for parent involvement, and it helped in the adoption and rollout of Common Core.  

PTA has a relationship with CPS.
Since 1996, the PTA Advisory Committee has enjoyed an insiders' view to CPS departments, programs, initiatives, and policies. Departments present and seek feedback at monthly meetings, and members of the advisory committee share their ideas for increasing family engagement at the school, network, and District levels.

PTA advocates for all children and youth.
This is what it all comes down to. Although it does charge nominal per-capita dues, the PTA is not an elitist organization. It works to advocate for all children and youth. I am making a difference in my children's lives, but I also want to make a difference in the lives of their peers and classmates at their school and through the District. 

As with paying it forward and exhibiting kindness and respect toward others, being a part of the PTA is the right thing to do. I fondly remember the Jaycee-sponsored carnivals of my youth. Rotary International sent me to Belgium and then to France on cultural exchanges when I was a high school student. Alternative Spring Break allowed my college self to support forestry service in Virginia. I subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell's hypothesis that successful individuals come from a cultural background that values hard work and seeks to lend a helping hand. The PTA mission seeks to improve the lives of children and youth; my mission in life is to improve the lives of all members of the society in which we live.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's Back

CPS is back in session and with it, the PTA Advisory Council. 

I seriously don't understand why more parents don't attend this monthly meeting. Although like many open meetings in the city, it is held downtown during the workday, it is absolutely a wonderful pipeline to new initiatives and information coming out of CPS and a great way to network with other involved parents within the system. It is not limited to PTA members or member PTA representatives, although we encourage and support members of the group to join the PTA. Our CPS host is Carl Hurdlik, Community Coordinator within the FACE office, and our PTA moderator is Cassandra Eddings, a parent and volunteer who can be reached at ilptaadvisory at gmail dot com.

Our meeting today focused on a presentation from Andy Pickett and Jamie Tully with the LearnWell initiative. Part of the overall Healthy Schools campaign, CPS's LearnWell initiative centers on physical education within CPS, and is functionally organized under the Office of Health and Wellness. Is CPS really listening to parents and community members? I couldn't tell you, although the existence of this entirely grant-funded department/initiative suggests to me that they are.

Andy and Jamie shared with us an overview of a new CPS Physical Education policy that covers everything from suggested instructional minutes and methods to individual waivers to inclusion techniques. A central idea is that children should have 60 minutes of physical activity each day, or 150 minutes of P.E. time each week. For this fall, the LearnWell team has started a pilot program called 30/20/10 in 36 elementary and high schools. Under the pilot, children have 30 minutes of P.E., 20 minutes of recess, and 10 minutes of classroom exercise each day.

Sounds great, right? 

Right. Except that right now, there are little to no funds to support this policy, which will become a mandate when the BoE votes on it in October 2013. As a Blaine parent articulated and the LearnWell team confirmed, there are no budgetary concessions for this within the restrictive per-pupil allotments under which all District schools must now work. And I believe Andy and Jamie when they said that they understand the physical and budgetary constraints under which the vast majority of schools must work. But I'm not concerned about my kids having to go through gym class in a field, on a sidewalk, or within a hallway--all (good) suggestions made by the LearnWell team. I'm concerned because this kind of unfunded mandate stuff from CPS is maddening and ongoing.

The Boy has had daily recess and weekly P.E. classes since he started kindergarten six years ago, so I get the importance of free play and daily movement. Indeed, Andy pointed to research in the Kansas City schools that said behavior problems plummeted when children had daily physical activity. And his team's professional development meeting in August drew a crowd to its training and informational sessions. But even with the team's proposed three-year gradual policy rollout, the fact remains that school administrators must identify and budget for P.E. instruction within their schools. 

To encourage creativity and provide some financial support for schools that are willing to identify Wellness Champions, create Health and Wellness Committees, and really engage around student activity, the LearnWell team will release an RFP on October 1st under which schools can apply for small grants of up to $2500 to implement wellness initiatives in their communities.

In addition, the LearnWell team will work to educate parents, principals, and teachers about the role of P.E. in high schools. While elementary children in Illinois are only required to have gym once/week, the ISBE waiver permitting CPS to bypass gym requirements for its students in 9th and 10th grades will end at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Overcrowding on the NWside

Last night, I attended the North/NWside Collaborative's community meeting at Taft High School. This was to provide feedback on the CPS Educational Facilities Master Plan. Todd Babbitz conducted the presentation and took feedback. His employee, Portfolio Manager Ben Felton, co-moderated. Ben spoke to the PTA Advisory Council last year.

Irritatingly, the drafters of the CPS Education Facilities 10-Year Draft Plan have divided the city's schools in yet a new way, using some of the city's 17 community areas rather than the FACE designation of Networks or the Areas previously established by our federal Secretary of Education. 

This makes an apples to apples comparison difficult. Does CPS deliberately slice and dice the data a new way each time? In February 2013, we discussed overcrowding in the O'Hare Network, which contains 44 elementary schools, of which 21 were deemed above ideal utilization rates by CPS itself. In the Facilities draft, the O'Hare, Ravenswood-Ridge, and Fulton Networks were combined and then subdivided again into Albany-Irving, Sauganash, Ravenswood, and other community areas. 

My comments here--and my comments last night--concern the Albany-Irving area specifically, as these students and their families are my neighbors and/or friends. Under the draft plan, Albany-Irving has 31 schools, 10 of which are overcrowded by CPS's 30-to-a-homeroom averaging formula. Tim Meegan, whose point often gets lost in his "everything is wrong with CPS" perspective, pointed out in his comments that the only school in the Albany-Irving area that is under-utilized is Aspira-Haugan Middle School--and this despite overcrowded conditions in the three schools nearest to the building. And yet, although CPS owns the building (or at least paid for it), it appears to have no plans to phase it out. (Perhaps as part of the "several" charters that CPS has closed, per Barbara Byrd-Bennett?) 

Presenter Babbitz asked for directed feedback to the plan, asking participants their opinions on the "guiding principles" outlined in the draft plan, priorities, and suggested solutions. Of course, since the BoE and CPS provide most parents with only two minutes of speaking time, most people use public forums like these to vent all of their frustrations with CPS on the poor, but highly paid, Central Office soul sitting on the stage, while Network managers hover in a cluster nearby. Last night was no exception. 

Ald. Smith droned on for nearly 15 minutes about the overcrowding at Lincoln Elementary, causing one parent in the back row to stand up with a "point of preference" that Smith had outrun even the most lenient timekeeping of a two-minute speaking allotment. Ald. Arena kept it briefer, highlighting three 45th ward schools with the worst overcrowding conditions (Hitch, Belding, and Prussing) and noting that 85 percent of 45th ward residential real estate are single-family houses. (And to his point: this neighborhood has enjoyed a steady, owner-occupied, mid-price range residency since 1942; contrast that with Census figures for Halsted and Fullerton for the same era. The data is available in the government records section of Harold Washington Library.)

Two speakers--Decatur's principal and a parent of a 13-year-old--advocated for more SE considerations. Three speakers advocated for more space/additions/improvements for Taft H.S. One, a teacher and parent, William Angel, pointed out that the feeder schools for Taft have mostly received additions without thought to where these students will go for high school and where they can put them within Taft. Six speakers alternately challenged and agreed with Ald. Smith about Lincoln Elementary, suggesting that a neighborhood with $1.2 million SFHs didn't need an addition/expansion just because they were rich and demanded it. Others suggested instead that CPS de-magnetize Newberry and/or LaSalle (because the rich people demanded it? Oy vey.) Two speakers from Wildwood Magnet (is this a magnet or a magnet cluster? lists it as a magnet) spoke about severe overcrowding at their school. Jill Wohl from Raise Your Hand live-tweeted it from the forum if you'd like more information from the forum.

I hadn't gone in to the forum intending to speak, but did want to provide feedback on on parts of the draft plan that I read:

My name is Caroline Bilicki, and I have three children at Disney II Magnet School. I have three comments on the draft plan. One--really more of a question: How can CPS promote a 21st century learning environment without a science lab, like Scammon or Murphy, or without a tech lab, like Belding or Henry?

Two it's not so much that I'd like to see you offer more programs, but sustain what you have. As Ben knows, I sit on the PTA Advisory Council, and every year, we are introduced to new heads of new initiatives that disappear 12 months later. 

And three, another question: Why does CPS want to pursue choice as a strategy? Is this a method to reduce costs? Is this something that parents want? Because I'm pretty sure that most NWside parents don't want charters as a choice. Another comment on choice: with open enrollment, neighborhood CPS schools become "schools of choice" in ways that belie the Census projections used by CPS in the Albany-Irving areas and/or within the O'Hare Network. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Down to the Nitty GRITty

At each of the past three BoE meetings I've attended, the budget looked large. Everyone from Barbara Byrd-Bennett to Laurence Msall to Tim Cawley brought up pension reform in August. Tim Cawley also brought up the need for additional revenue from Springfield. Pension reform is a sticky wicket as well as a straw man in my opinion. I think that reforms to the state pension should be forward-going only. That is, the Illinois General Assembly can move to a defined contribution plan for current teachers and civil servants (ahem, elected officials), but it may not strip pensioners of their restful, albeit meager retirements after 40+ years in the trenches of CPS.

However, an increase in the state income taxation process is something I can get behind. And it's a common theme at the BoE. BBB brought it up. Karen Lewis brought it up. Even Henry Beinen brought it up.

At last: a common cause for education wonks in Chicago.

I hope it works. I've attended several presentations put on by the Illinois League of Women Voters,  the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and most recently, A Better Illinois, about the subject of Illinois's tax mess. I have found the argument increasingly convincing each time. 

The more I learn about the campaign, the more I think it makes sense. Illinois was one of the first states in the union to promote many child-focused initiatives. It would collectively do well to reclaim some of that positivity (as opposed to notoriety) by funding its state programs fairly and more appropriately. If that means that I pay more tax, so be it if that is fair. However, I'm inclined to think it would be more fair for corporations to pay their fair share of tax, rather than doling out foundation dollars to the CEO/Board of Directors' pet causes. (If corporate foundations still want to do so, great, but the public good should not depend on private monies to survive/exist.) 

According to information provided by Advance Illinois, Illinois ranked 48th in state funding of education, as a percentage of total funding, in 2009-2010. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) allegedly funds schools at a rate of $11,634 per pupil per year, which puts Illinois in the middle of the pack. But given that my kids' school received just over $4,000 per pupil for the 2013-2014 academic year, I'm not sure what accounts for the nearly $7K per pupil difference. Pension payments? 

As this HuffPo analysis of the NEA stats says, Illinois is the most regressive in its education funding.  And this (downstate) reporter explains how the published numbers are not the same as what school districts actually get. 

So now that I've established how low the rate at which Illinois funds its schools actually is, back to my point: this is unacceptable. Now a base state ranking means that  one state has got to be last, but there is last by a neglible amount (Illinois versus Utah or Idaho) snd there's last by a ridiculous amount (Illinois versus New York or Massachusetts). This difference is revolting, it's disgusting, it's criminal, it's base. And I don't see how we can raise future productive citizens of the world if our students aren't getting the support they so desperately need. 

I want to move to Iowa like I want a hole in my head, but Iowans know how to breed--and educate--a thinking body politic. And they do this in part by funding their education system from a fair and equitable income tax structure. As do 33 other states that follow a graduated rate income tax (GRIT) structure. In fact, all of the other Midwestern states follow GRIT--except Indiana, which appears to be only steps ahead of Illinois in shady educational policymaking. 

Under GRIT, the plan is simple: increase revenues by changing the income tax in Illinois from a fixed rate flat tax (currently 5 percent, will sunset down to 3.75 percent in fiscal year 2016 and drops again to 3.25 percent in 2024) to a graduated rate. That means that those with a higher income will be taxed at a higher rate and those at a lower income will be taxed at a lower rate. There are several models floating around about what this might look like in Illinois. According to one of these models, those at the top income brackets would see only a 3 percent increase in income tax payable to Illinois. 

I daresay they (we?) can afford it. What do you think? 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Still Boring

Last week, I attended the August Board of Education meeting, mercifully without my children, who would not have sat through another two-hour filibuster masquerading as the CEO's Report. Public participation began at nearly 1 p.m. and as speaker #58, I was one of the last people called to the podium.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Board members were more willing to interact with me. Except David Vitale--he still looked bored (or, as The Boy said in June, like he had to pee). Or maybe it was my promise to come back every two months until the Board responds to my request. Andrea Zopp complied, although she questioned my premise. 

My public comment was about a little-known issue that has become increasingly important as the Board has codified its enrollment and admissions policies, and discontinued long-held admissions practices:

Illinois general superintendent of schools Ted Kimbrough wrote, "The most important instructional resource is staff, particularly teachers." This is as true in 2013 as when he wrote it in 1992 in an analysis of the first 7 years of state report card data. 

I believe that the Board of Education recognizes on some level the instructional importance of CPS teachers. But teacher salaries are only one part of the resources our teachers and our schools need. 

That is why I am here today, again, to urge the Board to reconsider its magnet and selective enrollment admissions policy #602.2. As you may recall, I was here in June to address the Board on the same topic. And I will return every two months to speak to this issue until the Board takes it for the serious matter that it is. 

The current policy as it is written is exclusive by omission. There is no policy concerning teachers' children within the system, and there is a perception among parents and the general public that teachers have some kind of clout list to get preferential treatment, like children of returning Rhodes scholars. That's just not accurate. 

Chicago is often a pioneer in its policies and practices. Sometimes that has produced positive results and sometimes that has produced negative results. From my research, I can't tell if magnet schools around the country grant admission to their teachers. But I can tell you that if Chicago embraces a policy for teachers' children, it will be a mark on the positive side of pioneering programs.

So I stand here today to ask you to what I need to do, what you will do, to ensure that great teachers are retained in the schools where they teach. I know it is not the Board's practice to respond to public participants, but I'm speaking to with respect and an expectation of accountability, and I expect that you will do the same. 

Please make this process more transparent for parents, teachers, students, LSCs, and other citizens of Chicago. 

For the record, as far as I can tell, there is no clout list for teachers and administrators within CPS. I can't say whether Mayor Rahm Emanuel maintains his own clout list (given the way politics in Illinois works, it wouldn't surprise me if he did), but I'm fairly confident that Barbara Byrd-Bennett does not. (If she did, perhaps Tim Cawley would be a Chicago resident.) I know Jean-Claude Brizard did not. These stories may be anecdotal, but I can name at least five CPS teachers and administrators who have played--and lost--the admissions lottery, like everyone else now fleeing the City for more educationally and financially sound pastures. 

Also, for the record, I'm not asking for automatic entry for teachers' kids. The only admissions that are guaranteed are those at one's own neighborhood District school. Charters, magnets, gifted, classical, and out-of-boundary neighborhood schools all require some type of admissions filter and I am not advocating for a change. 

What I'm ultimately asking for is the following: 

Amend the BoE policy 602.2, Board Report #11-0824-PO2 to include enrollment for elementary-aged children of teachers+* after siblings in both entry and non-entry@ years. Sample wording is provided below in bold: 

“Elementary Magnet School Lottery Selections – Entry Level: 
a. Siblings 
– All sibling applicants shall be offered seats to the extent space is available. Lotteries will be conducted as necessary if the number of sibling applicants is greater than the number of available seats, and a designated sibling wait list shall be established if there are more sibling applicants than available space. To be eligible, the enrolled sibling and the applicant sibling must reside in the same household and must be attending the same school at the same time for at least one school year. For the purposes of this policy, the term sibling means natural siblings, step siblings, foster siblings and adopted siblings, as evidenced by documentation required by the CEO or designee. A sibling of a student who will be graduated, or who is scheduled to transfer to another school, prior to the enrollment of the sibling who is applying for admission, shall not be eligible for this priority. 

b. Teachers Elementary-Aged Children
-- After placing siblings as described above, all teachers’ elementary-aged children shall be offered seats up to ___ % of the remaining seats. To be eligible, teachers must have worked at the magnet school for at least one year prior to application. The applicant and the teacher must reside in the same household and must attend school and work at the same school at the same time for at least one year

b. c. Proximity Lottery
– After placing siblings and teachers’ children as described above, 40% of the remaining seats will be allocated to the proximity lottery and the balance to the citywide SES lottery. Proximity determinations will be made by the CEO or designee through a geocoding-based proximity analysis conducted prior to the lottery. All applicants will be placed into the proximity or citywide lotteries based on the application address. If the number of proximity applicants is less than the number of seats allocated for the proximity application process, those applicants will be given offers and the remaining seats will be filled through the citywide SES lottery. 

Where there are more proximity applicants than available seats, computerized lotteries may be run for applicants residing within a 1.5 mile proximity radius of the elementary magnet school and a 2.5 mile proximity radius of the magnet high school. The proximity radius is determined by a straight line method that does not consider driving distances. A sufficient number of offers will be made in lottery order to fill the seats allocated to the proximity selection process. The remaining proximity applicants will be placed on a proximity wait list. In an effort to ensure ongoing diversity in these programs, if more than 50 percent of the entire student body, according to the current 20th day file, is comprised of students within the proximity and if more than 50 percent of the student body is any one racial or ethnic group, no proximity lottery will be held for that school. Where both conditions are met, all applicants, including those living in the proximity area, will be placed into the citywide SES lottery.”

+Q: How will this work for elementary-aged children of H.S. teachers, like those at Ogden, Alcott, etc.?
*Q: Should this include aides, administration, office staff, and/or custodial staff?  
@Q:  Should this include both entry and non-entry years? 

Early critics of this plan include part of the Chicago PTA (the P in PTA), who believe that teachers have a secret in. This perception persists despite system-wide changes to the admissions policy in 2011, 2010, and 2009. The District needs to confit its admissions policy for neighborhood schools as well as for magnet and SE schools. Policy by omission isn't transparent. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hello, Hello

I don't know if it's HuffPost's editing or poor writing, but many blog posts on the site seem to be cut off before the author explains his/her significant discovery, revelation or point. 

Take for example Debra Pickett's recent post, Goodbye to All That, which is making the rounds among my online Chicago communities. At the risk of boiling down it even further, Pickett's message is "Some CPS schools are elitist within the system. I am moving to Wisconsin."

Swap out "the suburbs" for "Wisconsin" and you've just defined one of the main messages of Chicago's well-to-do urban middle-class parents, especially as they justify their flight outward. My response to this sentiment remains unchanged, and I've become almost deadened to any emotion whenever I hear of another family moving in protest to outside of city boundaries. I'd make a comment about asses and doors here, but as a hardened city resident, I've no longer got the time to invest in fair weather Chicagoans. Real estate in my neighborhood is like a revolving door as young families with a toddler age into young families with a kindergartener, look at CPS, freak out, and move out. 

You see, I'm too busy donating my time to making my kids' magnet school able to continue to provide its students with a top-notch public education. A K-college graduate of public school, albeit mostly very good ones, I've no idea what a private or parochial school looks like. I can only assume it doesn't get Title I monies or state aid.

However, Pickett's charge of ludicrous parent-led fundraising did resonate. I've have read enough policy papers and statistical analyses to know that the kind of money raised by Picket's former school makes the process of educating everyone better. Even the "poor kids" will benefit from the time, resources, money, and effort put in by Pickett's peers at Oscar Mayer. 

But the problem is not in the fundraising itself. It's in the control and the direction of funds by those who've raised them. I think this is what CPS's legal department is struggling--and failing--to regulate as it attempts to tighten the reins on school-based fundraising. 

Raising funds in a challenging economic climate is, at best, challenging. San Franciscans have panhandler-fatigue; Chicagoans have nonprofit-with-a-cause fatigue. In a four-block span in the Loop yesterday, I avoided representatives from Illinois PIRG snd Children International. I'll sign a petition on the street, but I'm not giving a 22-year-old my credit card number to lobby my congressperson. 

A few months ago, I attended a series of workshops on grant writing and the grant making process. The series was well-run, well-attended, and informative. What I learned was also rather revolting: corporations have found a way to privatize nonprofit giving, using large sums of tax-free cash to influence organizations directly, rather than paying their fair share of taxes and letting state and federal social service agencies decide which programs and initiatives to advance. If I wasn't so horrified, I'd think it a rather brilliant interpretation of the one-per centers' golden rule. 

I much prefer Aesop's version. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

And then what happens?

It's no doubt a function of being a plugged-in mother of three, but it seems to me that American culture is divided on the subject of children in the public space. I've had many a conversation with childless individuals in which they offer advice on how to rear children or simply complain about their behavior.

I, too, had a lot of ideas about parenting before I become one. Things that were once horrifying (babywearing) became daily practices. Things that once seemed reasonable (spanking )_ became not so reasonable. But one that  hasn't changed over the past 11.5 years is my relationship with and attitude toward risk.

I generally think of myself as risk-averse. I don't gamble, take out ARMs, or cross against the light. But I d have a basic trust in society and my fellow humans. Some would say that's naive--and maybe they are right--but as an anxiety sufferer with its swirling thoughts and worst-case scenarios, I have come to embrace this basic human trust rather than become crippled by my fears.

While stories like this are increasingly rare, they do reflect my larger belief that it's OK to teach my children to embrace the world rather than flee from it. That less harm can come from teaching them to trust themselves than can come from teaching them to fear everyone and everything.

I feel I should point out that I am not teaching them to ignore their fears. Although I have not read Gavin de Becker's Gift of Fear, it is a practice that my children--and myself--employ instinctively. After all, The Girl, now 8, has run into the house on more than one occasion to report to me that there's a creepy guy sitting in a van with the motor running on the street outside our house. Each time this happens, I've responded with a reassuring hug for my daughter and a trip outside myself. The guy, as it turns out, is our next door neighbor's father, an aging general contractor and lifelong smoker who is now suffering renal failure. He looks a little different (and a little creepier) than when The Girl first met him.

Letting my children loose in the world so that they can explore it safely is my job as a parent. To me, teaching my children to interact with other people, to become self-sufficient and self-reliant, to build and build upon life experiences, and to trust themselves is probably the third most important thing I can teach them, just after unconditional love and treating others with kindness and respect.

In May, I attended a talk given by the Free-Range founder herself, Lenore Skenazy. That experience--being in a preschool classroom with 30 other mothers (and a smattering of fathers) who shared my philosophy on letting kids be kids, even in the big, bad city--gave me the high of a shared connection or a great deal at the Treasure Store. So I spent the summer giving my kids increasingly longer leashes. The Girl walked to the corner store and back with a friend. Five times. The Tot Who's Not, age 6, finally learned to scooter and started doing scooter laps around the block. The Boy got a new bicycle and began roving around the neighborhood on his bike. Except for 2-3 neighborhood boys whose parents share my philosophy, the only other kids he met were 6th and 7th grade boys from his school.

Earlier this week, after dropping The Girl off at the movies with her girl scout troop, I found myself with 90 minutes to kill in a Barnes & Noble, where I settled in with a stack of magazines and a cup of coffee. Among the mags was Real Simple Family, which featured a cover story on helicopter and overprotective parenting. The first page of the story featured wisdom from, yet again, Ms. Skenazy, who reiterated the difference between taking risks and engaging in risky behavior.

It's a good reminder for us all. There are risks in merely existing in our world, but risky is walking home through an unlit secret passage in the dark, accepting a drink in an open cup from a stranger, or waiting until your kids are in college before you let them leave the house without you. 

After the first time I let The Girl go to the corner store and The Tot Who's Not scooter around the block, I asked each of them if anyone had approached or talked to them. Giving me the look that clearly said, "Mom, you are Looney Tunes," they reported that no, no one had talked to them, approached them, or motioned them to get into a car. I answered with a what-if, and each of them gave me the withering look and said, "Scream and run like hell."

It's the same look they give me when I repeat, for the gazillionth time, some warnings before sending my boys into the men's restroom: "Remember: don't talk to anyone and if anyone tries to touch you, scream as loud as you can and run like hell." The Boy has heard this so many times that I don't even bother to repeat it to him. He recently told me, "Mom, this is imprinted on my brain!" The Tot Who's Not has heard it less often, but he'd risk peeing on the floor rather than enter the ladies' room with me in public under any circumstance.

This is how I prefer it. And I think this is how most girls age about 8 and older would prefer it as well. I can't imagine having to fumble with an early period in a public restroom while sharing a stall wall with your 3rd period classmate. This is why it's a problem for a mother to bring her 8-year-old son into the ladies restroom with her, as one mother wrote that she did when the question of allowing opposite sex children use the opposite sex public restroom arose recently on a popular Chicago message board. Other answers to the question ranged from age 5 to age 34. I am not making this up.

My boys were 6 and 4 when I began encouraging them to use the restroom designated for their gender. Part of this was laziness on my part as The Boy would invariably ask to pee just as we sat down to eat something. But then part of me realized that the fear of using the Target restroom is, essentially, a phobia: irrational and not statistically likely. Since then, I've trusted my boys to use the men's public restroom and trusted the world to let them do their business without comment or incident. And so far, the public restroom public has been worthy of that trust. And that's been true at K-Mart, Target, the library, tollway oases, O'Hare airport, the grocery store, the park, and the beach.

On a related note, I found myself facing another "Am I crazy?" moment this week while I listened to two parents at a school event discuss how to get crossing guards in place to protect their 4th-7th grade children while they walked 1/2 mile or less to school. When I said that The Boy walks the same route with 50+ morning commuters, they said that they didn't feel comfortable letting their children walk the same route alone because of a nearby SRO and shelter, and exit-ramp vagrants. They then went on to say that because they work in public service, they have a different perspective than I do. 

I've been reflecting on this conversation all day and mostly I want to know: What do these parents know that I do not? Should I be more concerned about exit-ramp vagrants? I've passed these folks many a morning on my way to work and they usually look as if they are sleeping it off. Whatever it is. I can't imagine any one of them rising from their cardboard-backed slumber to bother me or my kid. In two years of commuting the same route, I've had 1 person ask me for money, which I would call neither harassment nor particularly damaging an experience. Yes, I am an adult and these types of interactions should be no big deal to me. But how did they get to become no big deal to me? Experience and exposure. 

I understand that law enforcement sees the underbelly of Chicago, and I, in my safe NWside neighborhood and mostly daytime roving, don't have much exposure to it. But I've looked up the crime statistics for my police district and I still don't get it. What am I missing? What do police officers and public servants see happening in our area that I do not? Does the department issue crime alerts for only some of the incidents that happen in our precinct? Do police and fire departments track the crimes that they were able to prevent from happening? Do these departments redact crime reporting? 

I'm pretty sure that despite a lot of anecdotal, on-the-job experiences, the statistics--at least those reported by our police precinct--do not bear out the idea that great harm comes from school-aged children being approached by strangers on the street in our area. In the highly unlikely scenario that an exit-ramp vagrant, SRO or shelter resident approached my kid on a well-lit, well-traveled public street, the question I wanted to ask, but didn't is: and then what happens? And how do you know?

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Nickeled and Dimed

Lately, it seems that CPS parents leap to righteous indignation at the slightest provocation. Or no provocation.

Take for example the discussion about school fees that is currently raging on the Raise Your Hand Facebook page and at playgrounds across the city. School or student fees are a common way for school districts to supplement their costs for disposable instructional materials (like workbooks and subscription services), technology upkeep, and even the basic implements required for classroom learning. School fees are not new, nor are they unique to the city of Chicago. 

I remember paying fees during my high school years in a Chicago suburb 20+ years ago. And these fees included everything from the essential to the ridiculous, such as the mandatory suit rental for the ugly, ill-fitting, black nylon swimsuit uniform we were all required to wear during our annual swimming units in gym. Yes, I know (in retrospect) that we were lucky to even have daily P.E., let alone an indoor swimming pool or instructors who could teach us how to put our pants around our shoulders to prevent ourselves from drowning. 

Now, I know that few parents trust anything that comes out of CPS these days. Perhaps justifiably so. And one of the problems in this one-size-fits-all district is that school/student fees are left to the discretion of principals and LSCs. So the fees are as varied as the schools themselves. Disney II asks its families to pay $160 per student in a combined supplies and instructional materials fee. For me, that equates to $480. I'm not going to lie: this amount presents a financial challenge for my family. Garage sale proceeds, lemonade-stand receipts, consumer survey payments, and birthday checks combine to meet our obligation. 

And it is an obligation. Like getting my kids to school each morning on time, well-rested, and with full bellies, I pay my kids' school fees because giving them the tools they need to learn is one of my responsibilities as a parent. It's the same reason that I sit down with them while they do their homework, feed them a healthful dinner, and read them books every night before bed. I pay my student fees in cash, in full, before school starts because I believe it is the right thing to do.

Our school does make things easier for parents to pay school fees, giving parents the opportunity to pay fees by credit card or an installment payment plan, and offering parents a financial hardship waiver. But for every waiver, the school has to eat the cost of those supplies and those instructional materials, squeezing an already limited budget even tighter. I believe I also have a responsibility to improve opportunities for the collective as much as I can--and pushing school fees onto everyone else is shirking in that responsibility. 

Out of interest, I researched school fees in some of Chicago's tonier suburbs. These are areas where home values, prices, and property taxes are high. And they must pay school fees. Of the four districts I checked, they all have 'em. In Hinsdale, students paid $200-$225 each in student fees in 2011-2012. In Naperville, student fees vary from $42 for PK and K students to a sliding scale that goes up to $145+ for middle and high school students. At Oak Park River Forest high school, students pay $355-$540 before they can come to class. And in Lake Forest District 67? They'll take families to small claims court if they don't pony up the $230/student that is assessed each year by the district. 

At our school, the compliance rate for student fees payments has been about 75 percent. I am not sure how this compares with compliance rates at other schools within CPS, or those with similar student populations. In determining whether to increase student fees from the 2012-2013 academic year or to keep them flat for 2013-2014, our LSC members asked everyone we knew for information on student fees. This list is by no means complete, but can give some idea of the variation in fees assessed by LSCs throughout CPS. 

  • Murphy Elementary - $30/family. Source: June Murphy LSC meeting
  • Taft High school - $275+/student. Source: Nadig Newspaper
  • Belding Elementary - $35-40/student. Source: Friends of Belding
  • Burley Elemenrary - $50-70/student. Source: Friends of Burley
  • Inter-American - $55-110/student. Source: PTO
  • Decatur Classical - $175/student. Source: parent
  • Edison RGC - $250/student grades 1-8; $400/student K. Source: parent
Have a school fee to add? Please leave it in the comments. 

I realize that many families of CPS students cannot afford the student fees payments asked of them. If you live in Lake Forest, you expect to pay $800K for a house and $15K in property taxes and HOA dues each year. Paying an extra $300/student for school fees is chump change. But in Chicago, we persist in the notion that public education means free.

It doesn't.  

However, given the ways in which people can (mis)interpret public and printed statements, it's easy to see how conflation occurs.  The National Center for Learning Disabilities illustrates this beautifully with its Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) Myths and Facts table. After all, you cannot accurately judge intent from a pithy remark. This is probably why we pay lawyers $300/hour to write pages of legalese that clarify the intent behind every statement.

The idea of free public education is an interesting one, and will take more analysis than I want to make at this point in my day. It has been covered by conservatives, turncoats, and neutral parties alike. Follow the links if you are interested to read more on your own.