Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss: November 13 – November 19, 2021

CPS should embrace charter schools to steady district enrollment

By The Illinois Network of Charter Schools

“Numerous factors are affecting these enrollment numbers, including the latest census data that show Chicago is facing an overall population decline. It only makes sense that the district would lose enrollment as a result. But while there isn’t one magic fix to CPS’ enrollment challenges, there are several tools at its disposal that can make an immediate impact—including the simple tactic of empowering parents with high-quality public school options to meet their students’ individual needs right here in our city. Chicago’s charter public schools do just that. Charter opponents will try to explain away their popularity and push false narratives that charter schools take away students from district-run schools. However, the math on this reasoning simply does not add up.  In fact, charter schools create enrollment stability for the district by keeping families in Chicago Public Schools.”


Truly Coming Home: Johnson College Prep Celebrates Homecoming

By the Noble Network of Charter Schools

“Homecoming at Johnson College Prep has always been a joyous time, but this year was even more special. Traditionally, homecoming is a time where we celebrate our fall sports and show our Puma Pride. And while we did do that, this year was truly about coming “home.”  On March 13, 2020, JCP closed its doors and, unbeknownst to us, would not reopen until over 18 months later. This left us with the question of how can we curate school spirit through computer screens? We tried, from virtual pep-rallies to spirit weeks and town halls on Zoom. But as Motown stars Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell once said, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.” It was amazing to be able to hold this year’s homecoming in person again.  We kicked it off with Spirit Week; students voted on the theme of each day to decide how they wanted to dress up. They definitely shocked teachers when their “Throwback Thursday” fashions were inspired by the early 2000s!”


After canceling classes, Chicago vaccinated about 6,600 students

By Mauricio Pena for Chalkbeat

“More than 6,600 Chicago school district students received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last Friday as part of the citywide Vaccination Awareness Day aimed at getting school-aged children inoculated. But rates of uptake were not even across the city, with Black and Latino students trailing behind.”


Chicago did away with mandatory fall tests. Will that hurt the district’s pandemic recovery?

By Mila Koumpilova for Chalkbeat

“Many youngsters had tuned out remote instruction by the previous spring — despite the banana suit and pizza hat Farder donned to grab their attention on screen. Now back to learning in person full-time, Farder set aside extra time to gauge how well students knew their letters, sounds, and other early reading basics. The results galvanized her: Many of her students were missing skills they would normally master halfway through kindergarten. Across the city, educators such as Farder have worked to size up the pandemic’s impact on learning, using tests, quick check-ins, and classroom observation. But the district itself has no panoramic picture of what the damage is. Over the summer, it discontinued its contract with the nonprofit NWEA to provide the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, a math and reading test once mandatory for all campuses. Instead, just as schools tackled bouncing back from pandemic disruption, the district started phasing in two new suites of optional assessments.”


Federal aid helps Chicago schools put a bigger focus on mental health

By Carolyn Thompson for WBEZ Chicago

“Last month, three major pediatric groups said the state of children’s mental health should be considered a national emergency. The U.S. Education Department has pointed to the distribution of the relief money as an opportunity to rethink how schools provide mental health support. Mental well-being, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said, needs to be the foundation for the recovery from the pandemic. The pandemic relief to schools totals $190 billion, more than four times the amount the Education Department typically spends on K-12 schools annually. Mental health investments have gone into staff training, wellness screenings and curriculum dedicated to social-emotional learning. Still, questions remain over how schools will find ways to make the benefits last beyond the one-time infusion of money, handle privacy concerns, and track the effectiveness of their efforts. The implementation worries Katie Dockweiler, a school psychologist in Nevada who sits on the state board of education. “Not all programs are created equal,” she said. “It really comes down to how it’s implemented, school by school. And there’s great variability there.”


Illinois sees uptick in youth COVID-19 cases, school outbreaks heading into Thanksgiving break

By Karen Ann Cullotta, Tracy Swartz, and Joe Mahr for The Chicago Tribune 

“An uptick in youth COVID-19 cases in Illinois in recent weeks is fueling school outbreaks and student quarantines, just days before the start of the Thanksgiving holiday break. In the past two weeks, the average number of youth cases reported, ages 0-17, has risen from 628 a day to 1,020 a day, which equates to a 62% increase, based on a seven-day average, according to a Tribune analysis of state health department data. All age groups are seeing major jumps, with a 57% rise in cases for those ages 0-4, a 59% rise for those ages 5-11, and 71% rise for ages 12-17. As schools approach Thanksgiving break, the recent spike in cases is approaching the peak level of the fall 2021 surge for youth cases, which was an average of 1,228 a day, recorded on Sept. 4, in the early weeks of kids returning to classes. But the recent figure, accurate through Tuesday, remains notably lower than the pandemic’s highest average daily tally of new youth cases — 1,532 — which was reported exactly a year earlier, on Nov. 16, 2020.”


National fight is creeping into Illinois schools over what is read, taught and who belongs

By Susie An for WBEZ

“With the return of in-person learning this fall, American culture wars are igniting in some Illinois schools. This week, critics of “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a book about coming out as non-binary, turned out in force to call for its removal at a high school district board meeting in west suburban Downers Grove. And Equality Illinois, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said groups around the state this fall are seeing an influx of reports of harassment toward LGBTQ students.”


‘Unprecedented’ number of reports of harassment, bullying of LGBTQ students, advocates say

By Clare Spaulding for The Chicago Sun Times

”Groups across the state are working together to hold schools accountable, offer training resources and make sure no LGBTQ students “fall through any cracks,” Ruiz-Velasco said. Name calling, destruction of property and assault are just some of the incidents reported recently to LGBTQ support organizations. Though anti-harassment provisions have existed in schools for decades, advocates attribute the increase at least partly due to the pandemic, said Grecia Magdaleno, policy and advocacy manager with the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. Students took the time to “look inward,” resulting in more coming out — and then a backlash. Schools must ensure all students can learn, something that can’t happen without “supportive and affirming learning environments” for LGBTQ students, Magdaleno said. It’s a matter of teachers, administrators and other adults at schools bearing that responsibility, Magdaleno said — and not trying to “change people’s personal beliefs.”