universal pre-k

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is on a high-speed timeline for his universal pre-K rollout

PHOTO: Getty Images
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to provide universal pre-K across Chicago by 2021

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has clearly articulated his vision for a free, universal prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds in Chicago, staging events throughout the summer to spread the word. On Thursday the mayor stood at a playground to announce the expansion of an early childhood program at Passages Charter School in Edgewater.

The announcement coincided with a data release today by Chicago Public Schools that shows promising early results from its preschool programming. Third-graders who attended CPS-run prekindergarten in 2012-2013 showed slightly higher GPAs (of 0.09), better attendance (by approximately 1.6 days), and a 3 percentile point increase in math and reading scores on the national NWEA exam compared with children with no known pre-K education.

“As an educator, I know that nothing is more important than getting kids into school earlier,” said Chicago schools CEO Janice Jackson, referencing the results today.

Passages Charter, which is operated by Asian Human Services, will more than double capacity in its early-childhood program by September, going from two preschool classrooms that each serve 20 students to five that serve up to 100. The center will also include a family room where parents — many of whom are refugees — can learn English and help each other navigate life in a new country. Passages already runs a similar program in the West Ridge neighborhood, near the intersection of Peterson and California, said Cindy La, director of education for Asian Human Services.

“We’re teaching them English, but we’re also talking about what it means to go to the doctor, or go to the post office. Even things like over-the-counter medications can be unfamiliar,” said La. Having the parents in the same building as the children helps provide support for the whole family and reinforce education in multiple generations.

Her boss, Asian Human Services CEO Craig Maki, made a similar point. “We want to make the building a community building where we take care of families.”

The announcement tour highlights what makes the mayor’s pre-K plan so intriguing — and complicated: the constellation of providers the city must lean on to offer universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds regardless of their family income, a goal Emanuel aims to reach by 2021. All in, the program will cost $175 million. Walls are being knocked down to build capacity at neighborhood schools like Lazaro Cardenas Elementary in Little Village and Dore Elementary in Clearing as well as charters such as Passages.

The city also is doling out grants to expand capacity at community-run centers such as Gads Hill Center in Brighton Park and small businesses, such as Little Angels Learning Center in Englewood. Some of the spending for pre-K construction and expansion projects will be funded by the new $1 billion capital budget that the Board of Education passed in July.  

Phase one of the pre-K rollout starts this fall, with the city promising spots for 3,700 additional children from families that make less than $46,000 through a menu of programs housed at traditional CPS schools, charters, and community centers. Ultimately, parents who apply for the spots can fill out one application and find a menu of options depending on where they live. The common application is open on a City of Chicago-run early learning portal, but it is several pages long and can be confusing in parts. There’s more work to be done to streamline it and make it easier for families, said Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, the mayor’s chief of early learning.

La, of Passages, said some families were not comfortable using the online portal yet, so they had received 45 paper applications for their expansion spots this fall. Currently, their program serves 3- and 4-year-olds: some spots are free and funded by Head Start, others are funded by a matching state grant and on a sliding fee scale. The most any family pays is $350 per month.

The timeline to be ready by the time classes resume in September is so tight that, at Passages, the construction workers were already at work before the morning press conference started. They paused in the parking lot to wave attendees to a tiny playlot behind the school and started up their drills and saws again as soon as the crowd began to disperse. A fixture in the neighborhood, the stately brick building at the corner of Bryn Mawr and Ashland avenues once housed the city’s first coed Catholic high school, St. Gregory the Great High School, before the Archdiocese of Chicago closed it in 2013.


Lawmakers pledge to ‘put some legs’ to new Colorado education plan

PHOTO: Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat
Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes stressed that a new education blueprint respects local control, as state Rep. Bob Ranking, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, and Gov. John Hickenlooper look on.

With just a few weeks left in office, Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled an educational blueprint for Colorado that he hopes his successor, governor-elect Jared Polis, will take to heart.

The proposals range from increasing teacher pay and making training opportunities more relevant to the classroom to forging partnerships between business and education. They urge policy makers to build on ideas that have already worked at the school or district level. They also suggest revamping the school finance formula, a challenging task that has eluded lawmakers so far.

The legislators who served on the Education Leadership Council that wrote “The State of Education” praised the final product and promised it wouldn’t languish on a shelf. State Sen. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat and former teacher who will chair the Senate Education Committee, said she was committed to “put some legs on it.”

State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale who served as co-chair of the Education Leadership Council with Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, said that a common refrain during his years in the legislature has been that the state lacks a broad vision for education. That’s made it difficult to move forward on thorny questions.

“The State of Education” provides that vision, Rankin said, and can serve as an “anchor” for lawmakers drafting bills and district leaders looking for new ideas. It’s also a way to show the public how Colorado could be a national leader in education, starting in preschool and continuing all the way through retraining for workers changing careers, he said.

Anthes stressed that the report is not a new set of mandates for school districts and that the plan respects Colorado’s principle of local control.

“We recognize that local context matters,” the report summary reads. ”While the subcommittees came to consensus on the principle and strategies for their components of this plan, we know that not every improvement strategy is right for every community.”

Even as the plan lays out ways to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, it also highlights the state’s acute need for many of those students to choose careers in education. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who was heavily involved in the project, noted that the “talent pipeline” for early childhood teachers in particular needs to be larger and that pay and opportunities for advancement will have to increase if more workers are to enter and stay in the profession.

The report calls for higher base compensation for teachers, for financial incentives like loan forgiveness and paid student teaching, and for evaluating and improving the working conditions in “hard-to-staff” schools.

It also calls for maintaining a high bar through teacher licensing and for alternative certification programs — used by many to enter teaching as a second career or after majoring in something other than education — to have equivalent standards.

At the same time, the report said the state should monitor licensure policies that may disproportionately discourage teachers of color as Colorado seeks to have a teacher workforce that looks more like the students it serves.

In contrast to earlier pushes for school improvement that focused on test-based accountability for schools and teachers, this report frequently mentions flexibility, collaboration, support, respect, and empowering educators.

The report calls for schools to provide a greater diversity of learning experiences for students, to be more flexible in where learning occurs, and to pay more attention to the challenges students face outside the classroom. It calls for deeper exploration of the community schools model, which involves greater collaboration between parents and teachers and a wide range of services not just for students but also for parents and younger siblings.  

“The State of Education” was developed by the Educational Leadership Council, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, educators, business and community leaders, and heads of state agencies convened by Hickenlooper in 2017. Members used input from more than 6,000 people who took an online survey about their education priorities, some 500 people who attended more than 70 roundtable discussions, and 100 people who served on four subcommittees.

Lawmakers will be weighing these ideas without a major new revenue source after the failure of the Amendment 73 school tax increase. Polis campaigned on a platform that included funding full-day kindergarten and significantly expanding access to preschool, while some lawmakers have suggested special education needs more attention.

Rankin said the state budget has money for targeted programs — Hickenlooper’s proposed 2019-20 budget already includes $10 million to fund ideas developed by the Education Leadership Council — but he also stressed that districts and local communities don’t need to wait for the state to pursue the ideas in the report.

“There is significant money going into education even after the failure of Amendment 73,” said Rankin, who also serves on the Joint Budget Committee. “There’s always room for new initiatives, whether they happen out in rural Colorado or in Denver Public Schools. I think it’s going to be up the districts themselves within their budgets to take up some of these priorities.”

Members of the incoming Polis administration have been briefed on the plan, and Hickenlooper said he hopes the plan will prove useful. A spokesperson for Polis declined to comment on the report.

Hickenlooper said providing all students with a good education is essential to maintaining Colorado’s strong economy.

“We will not stay No. 1 if we do not invest in our kids,” he said.

Read the full report here.

growing enrollment

Denver Green School is the district’s pick for a new middle school in growing Stapleton

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Workmen frame the walls in new affordable housing units in Stapleton in August 2018.

To serve a growing number of middle school students in the family-focused northeast Denver neighborhood of Stapleton, district administrators have recommended opening a middle school replicating the popular Denver Green School.

The seven-member Denver school board is set to vote on the recommendation Thursday night. Should the board approve it as expected, a second location of Denver Green School would open next fall on a shared campus north of I-70 in the area of the neighborhood known as Northfield. The campus is already home to Inspire Elementary School.

Enrollment in Stapleton schools is expected to increase as new home construction brings more families to the area. The new middle school would start with sixth grade next year and add a grade each year. The district has requested the school eventually be able to serve as many as 600 students.

A committee of parents, community members, and district employees reviewed applications from three schools interested in filling the district’s need for a new middle school. Committee members said they chose Denver Green School because of its stellar academic track record; its success with serving a diverse student population, including students with disabilities; and the fact that the person who would be its principal is an experienced leader.

Denver Green School is rated “blue,” the highest district rating. The original Denver Green School is a K-8 but the Stapleton school would be solely a middle school.

High Tech Elementary School in Stapleton also applied to fill the need by adding middle school grades. The third applicant was Beacon Network Schools, which already has two middle schools in Denver.

All three applicants are district-run schools, not charter schools. Denver Green School is part of Denver Public Schools’ first “innovation zone.” Being in a zone gives Denver Green School more autonomy over its budget and operations than a regular district-run school has.

The new Denver Green School would be one of six middle schools that families who live in the Stapleton, Northfield, and Park Hill neighborhoods can choose from.

Thursday’s vote will bring to a close a process the district calls the “call for new quality schools.” Instead of simply building and operating new schools, Denver Public Schools puts out a request for proposals, inviting anyone with an idea for a new school to apply. The district then facilitates a competitive selection process. The school that’s chosen gets to open in a district building — a prize in a city where school real estate is at a premium.

In this case, some Stapleton parents were disappointed that the district’s most requested middle school, McAuliffe International, didn’t apply. McAuliffe already has one replication — McAuliffe Manual Middle School — and Principal Kurt Dennis said the timing was not right for another.

“We have several excellent leaders in our pipeline that would love to open a new school, but the timing didn’t work for them in terms of where they are both in their careers and with their families,” Dennis wrote in an email to Chalkbeat. “If opportunities were to open up in the future, we would be interested, but not for the fall of 2019.”