Friday, May 11, 2012

Chicago Uses Math to Ease Budget Problems

The only thing more alarming than the $700 million dollar deficit the Chicago Public Schools is running this year, is the fact it's had these budget deficits for many years before miraculously getting saved by founding money in Springfield, Washington, or by searching the lobby furniture in Hyatt hotels for loose change.  However,  this isn't a depressing story about budget woes because CPS has found a way to extend the school day and save money at the same time.

Currently CPS students have a 5 hour and 45 minute day, which is about 45 minutes less than the state average.  This is because over 30 years ago, the Board asked the teachers to move their lunch to the end of the day and have a closed campus schedule.  While many suburban districts go 6 and a half hours with a study hall, CPS has a day that is intense, but short.

Next year, CPS will go to a 7 hour day for students that will require teachers to do 35 minutes more teaching a day and 15 minutes more supervision at the elementary level.  They are expected to this for a 2% pay increase.  The automatic roughly 4% pay increase most teachers earn up to year 12 for experience would instead be frozen.  Basically, CPS is asking teachers to work 10 more days and go from a 6 hour and 15 minute day with 45 minutes of lunch after school to a 7 hour and 25 minute day.

However, the part that I just love is CPS is now telling teachers they're not getting their salary for a 7 hour and 25 minute day, but for a 7 hour and 40 minute day.   Those extra 15 minutes are too be banked and used to make teachers stay after school or come in on Saturday for professional development.  You see a new law lets CPS add as many hours to the work day as they want.  It seems to me that it's sill to tell teachers that they're banking 15 minutes a day.  Why not make it 2 hours a day?   It's not like it costs CPS any money.  However, this would allow teachers to owe CPS 10 hours at the end of the week.  Surely, the city could use 10 hours of free labor.  There are a lot of charter schools that would love to have some certified teachers, but there are also buses to drive and parking tickets to write.

CPS has taken a bold step in using math to stretch their spending, but can't we go just a little further?  You have to wonder what Juan Rangel could do with 30,000 certified teachers who owe the city 10 hours of work each week. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reflections on the New School Venture Fund Summit

Flying into San Francisco for this year's NSVFS, I felt myself extremely lucky.   Not only was I sipping a wonderful Mimosa in my seat, but I was going to the New School Venture Fund Summit for the first time in three years.  For those of you who haven't been, NSVFS is a lifetime changing experience.  The place is full of the optimism for changing the world that only comes from giving two years of your life to teaching our nation's youth or managing a hedge fund.  It's a place where deals are done and where people who desire to serve our students come together with experts who spent nearly 400 days reaching young minds.

There was great corporate sponsorship at the Summit.  JP Morgan Chase was there with a powerful message that nobody cares more about the children of the 99% than the adults of the 1%.   Even Target hosted the opening reception showing that they believed in the future of our children regardless of how much their business relies on the children of third world countries producing clothing and other goods for their stores.

Actually, things got rather ugly at the opening reception.  There was a horrible mix-up and the hospitality table had fresh pineapple.  Let's just say that Pearson was not pleased and the pineapple was quickly removed to be replaced by a plate of pigs in blankets.  I was doing so much schmoozing and drinking, you can bet I was glad that the hotel pool, didn't have any chemical to discolor urine if you get my drift.

Later that night, we all gathered round to see a movie that I think will change education in America called I Won't Back Down.   It may just have been the liquor talking, but I think I Won't Back Down was as good as anything I've ever seen on Lifetime.  The movie will be this generations Not Without My Daughter.   Ben Austin gave a rousing speech on the need to get parents to feel more disdain for their children's teachers, so that we could have a chance to finally see the parent trigger pulled.

The next morning I was up with only a few hours sleep for morning yoga class.  That may have been a big mistake as I was hoping to meet some of the young reformers.  There were a lot of very attractive 25 year old retired teachers who were making their way into policy, but I soon collapsed on the mat for a much needed hour nap. 

I gave our presentation on the art of counseling out difficult students.   I think people were very excited to hear charter success stories this year after all the bad press and if our 22% reduction in stabbings doesn't count as success I don't know what is.  Charter schools can save a lot of money, improve test scores, and reduce problems with difficult students.  If you are willing to fine the students like Noble Charters in Chicago, you can make some nice pocket change as well. 

I attended two fantastic presentations during the day as well.  Forethought Academies, is behind the push for more power points in schools.  They gave a great power point on how power points make learning more fun and engaging for children.  At the end, they even showed a trick to make a fireworks display at the end of your power point.

The other presentation was by Young Educator and New Teacher Alliance.  They were looking for ideas on how to push out older teachers with five or more years of experience out humanely with a minimum of fuss.  They took several ideas from a science fiction novel called the giver.  They suggested having a party for teachers on the last day of their fifth year and having a "release party" for them.

The final speech of the night was by Rahm Emanuel who had the best quote of the who event saying, " failure is the most important thing in your life because it teaches you who you are."  He then went on to explain his goals for transforming the Chicago Public Schools by closing down those schools where too many kids are failing the standardized test. 

Rahm also warned that if you give parents a choice, they'll take it.  I assume this is in reference to his unwillingness to meet with parent groups unhappy with his plans for a log unfunded school day.  Finally, Rahm called for more educational entrepreneurs to set up shop in Chicago.  I will agree, there's a chance to make a real buck here.