Friday, April 11, 2014

Sore Feet, Equity, and LSCs

I am tired. I had a crazy afternoon on Tuesday. It was the first day of spring park district classes for all 3 kids, the second day of LSC elections, and I had a meeting for a few of my projects scheduled with a stakeholder. I spent the day walking from my house, to the second campus, to Athletic Field Park, back to campus, back to Athletic Field Park, and then a little jog over a few streets for dinner, and back to campus again. In flats. The kind that look cute, but have no sole support on hard Chicago sidewalks.
I've spent nearly two years on the Disney II Local School Council, and decided to seek re-election for the next term. In the last election, there were seven parents and one community member running for six and two spots, respectively. We didn't have a second campus and an expanded grade set. The District hadn't just closed 49 neighborhood schools in one fell swoop. And the reformy fervor that is the public (and private) dialogue about public education hadn't yet reached a fever pitch. (Perhaps it has not yet reached its apex, and perhaps it had in 2012 and I just wasn't as aware of it as I am now.) In 2012, I ran because I want to know how stuff works. That remains true today.
I actually thought about not running, but I realized that even if I don't sit on the council, I'd likely attend all the meetings anyway, so I might as well have a metaphorical and physical seat at the table. Even The Girl  knew this, and she helped me to "electioneer" outsize the second campus on Tuesday afternoon, handing out cards with my name and asking them to vote for me. The candidate pool was wider this year, with 10 parents and three community members running for six and two spots, respectively. Everyone told me not to be, but I was worried. 

It's times like these when my insecurities cloud my (limited) ability to see the situation clearly. The Boy believes that writing comes naturally and easily to me. Sometimes it does come easily. At other times, like writing about how I feel about something, such as my fear of not being re-elected to the LSC, a position of importance in my life, writing is difficult. 
I tend to think of the qualities that make me a good council member: persistence, information-gathering, information-sharing, and critical thinking in negative terms: stubbornly annoying, nosy, critical. Although a persuasive writer by trade, self-promotion is not my strong suit. That may be why this blog is still at 7 followers despite nearly 8 years of writing. 
In the end, I gained enough votes to re-gain a seat on the council. Seventy-one people voted for me. I attended the ballot count at the second campus on the night of the election, because going to the source is the fastest way to get the information you seek. It definitely felt like a popularity contest as the election judges read out and recorded the ballot tallies by ballot number. My two fellow council members running for re-election also gained a seat on the council, while the remaining parent spots went to one 7th grade and two 6th grade parents.  
At this point, I have two personal-organizational goals for the council: communications and budget. When I became a council member in 2012, the Office of LSC Relations was in the process of revising its budget training, and just recently got around to rolling out the revised editions to councils. I am perhaps unnaturally fond of puzzles and analytic situations, and a CPS school budget is an ideal example of both. Again, I find myself anticipating with glee both the budget training and subsequent budget analysis. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Fair System? CPS Tiers

It's CPS elementary school admissions-offer letter time in Chicago, and Northside parents (and the Interwebs) can't get enough of the chatter. Everywhere I turn, whether online--CPSObsessed, NPN, Facebook--or in real life--at the park, on the train, in the office--parents are talking about acceptances, waitlist numbers, school tours, first impressions, curriculum and teachers and principals, choices or options, possible moves to suburbia, and the odds. 
It's actually kind of exciting to watch and read and hear about. I know that perspective is a luxury; a luxury that comes from satisfaction with my kids' school and therefore outside of this year's process.
The acceptance date for first-round offers is fast approaching: April 11. I picture a flurry of activity and then silence, leaving new-to-CPS families to spend 5 days hand-wringing during the District's spring break. And as the date of family acceptance or rejection of offers approaches, the annual bitching about the unfairness of the system begins. (There's always bitching, but it gets worse around process dates.)

This is most often directed at the tier system, a method adopted by the Board of Education in 2011 to improve equity of access to magnet and selective-enrollment (gifted/IB) schools by using a formula of SES and other factors to assign each block in the city a tier.
I don't think the tier system is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it does as good of a job at striving for equity as it can do. T
he system is underfunded and under-resourced; sometimes I think the District makes asinine decisions, and sometimes I think the District is doing the best it can. The tier system of admissions in the second category.

There is a mindset among some city (and even some suburban) parents that it's "selective enrollment high schools or bust." This creates a lot of frustration, anger, tears, and threats because Chicago's nine SEHS simply do not have enough seats to educate everyone who wants to attend those schools, and a fierce competition for those seats is one of the results.  

When the public discussion turns to how unfair the (tier) system is for SEHS, I always think of the gifted schools in New York City. There are also nine, And the NYC schools offer admission considerations for disadvantaged students as well. My father attended one of the "Specialized High Schools," as NYC calls them, Bronx High School of Science. In 2013, according to the literature in the link above, the acceptance rate at Bronx Science was 5.3 percent.

When looking at Chicago's data, the complaints about how the system is unfair seem, well, unfair. The tier system doesn't seem to give a hugely unfair or imbalanced advantage to kids who live on statistically less-advantaged blocks. I mean, it's like a 5%.

For SEHS, the current system gives 40% of seats to students in order of pure score rank. Then it takes the remaining 60% of students and divides them evenly among the tiers. Looking at the mean scores among tier 1 and tier 4 students from this year's applicant class, it doesn't look like there is a huge difference in achievement levels at any of the SEHS between tier 1 and tier 4 except at Lane (85.73% T1, 94% T4). And oddly, the mean tier 4 score at Westinghouse is the mean scores for tier 2 and 3, but the percentage difference between tiers 1 and 4 is miniscule - 80.84% (T1) v. 81.79% (T4).

I do understand the frustration with the SE process. But I think it's misdirected at the tier system. I think we'd do better to advocate for stronger programs that serve the 80-92%-level achieving students within our neighborhood/magnet schools, but that isn't a popular opinion in the larger "SEHS or bust" mindset among parents who are engaged in and vocal about their children's education.