national newsletter

Lessons from an integration effort in Chicago

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! Sarah Darville, Matt Barnum, and Camille Respess here, working to help you make sense of efforts to improve education across the country. 


The big story

Like in many districts across the country, schools in Chicago are deeply segregated. But the merger of two schools — Ogden, with mostly affluent students, many of them white; and Jenner, largely black and low-income — changed that this year in one community. 

A year after the merger, the school is one of the few in Chicago with no racial majority in the student body.

How that happened is the subject of a deep-dive this week by our colleague in Chicago, Adeshina Emmanuel. His story shows how a successful merger could offer a new model for how communities — in Chicago and beyond — can tackle thorny education challenges, including declining school enrollment and segregation. It also shows how bumpy such integration efforts can be, even when they are community-driven.

The merger brought clear benefits: Students from Jenner had the opportunity to access a more rigorous curriculum, and their school avoided outright closure, the fate of many similar schools. More broadly, students said the merger brought together young people who lived nearby but rarely had opportunities to connect.

But there were also challenges. Families from Jenner often felt sidelined in key decisions, and a traditional Black History Month celebration did not take place at the new school. And there were stark racial disparities in suspension rates at the school.

Teachers and students there say they’re committed to making it work. “These obstacles that keep coming, they cannot be the end all be all for us,” first-grade teacher Jezail Jackson said. “They just can’t be, because we all just deserve more.” 

Read more here.


Local stories to watch

  • New rules in Denver will limit the expansion of some of the city’s charter networks. The district’s student population is declining, empty buildings are scarce, and fewer schools are being closed. That’s pushed the school board to require newly approved schools to open within a few years. A few charter networks agreed to give up approvals for schools they haven’t yet opened
  • Chicago is considering a new school rating system that looks at students’ long-term success. The proposal would grade elementary schools in part on how well they prepare students for high school, and grade high schools on how well they help students plan for life after graduation. Still, test scores account for a significant portion of those ratings.
  • An “innovation school” that sent Indianapolis students to Thailand is hitting pause. The school launched last year, but is struggling to find a stable funding source after being jump-started by philanthropy. It’s not accepting new students for next year. “Innovation is messy,” its founder said.
  • Indiana teachers are continuing to (quietly) push for higher pay. More than 60 teachers confronted administrators at the entrance to a conference this week, though without shouts or chants. It’s the latest in an ongoing fight in that state, where teachers haven’t walked out but have rallied at the Capitol over salaries that lag behind those in neighboring states.
  • New York City took a step toward reducing the influence of police in schools. A revised agreement with the NYPD says that police should not arrest students “whenever possible” for low-level offenses like spitting or graffiti, and school staff should not call in the school’s safety agents for infractions like uniform violations or cutting class. The city is also moving to limit suspensions longer than 20 days. 

Research roundup

  • Here’s the latest data on American private schools: About two-thirds are religiously affiliated, and about 80 percent of private school students attend one of those schools. That’s according to new data released by the federal government. The data also shows that two-thirds of private school students are white, while only 9 percent are black and 11 percent are Hispanic. Other research has shown that private schools are disproportionately and increasingly made up of affluent students.
  • Principal turnover drives teacher turnover up and student achievement down, according to a North Carolina study. That’s not too surprising, though the impact on both is fairly small. Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter whether a principal left in the middle or at the end of the school year — which is different than recent findings on the effects of teacher turnover.

DeVos watch

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is in Colorado Springs today to speak at a 20th anniversary event for a nonprofit that promotes school choice. More than 100 teachers are expected to protest DeVos’s arrival. 

In a recently published Q&A with L.A. School Report, DeVos talked about her proposed education freedom scholarships. Asked about schools successfully serving English language learners, she said didn’t “have a specific example of a state or a district that’s doing particularly well.”

Vetting documents from the Trump transition, obtained by Axios, noted that DeVos didn’t support President Trump in July 2016 due to “serious policy differences” and that DeVos doubted Trump’s demeanor.


2020 vision

  • Prep yourself: The first round of Democratic debates kicks off tonight in Miami. It’s a two-night event that will feature 10 candidates tonight and 10 more tomorrow. We’re going to track everything the presidential hopefuls say about education. For a complete guide on where the 24 Democratic candidates stand on education, read our cheat sheet
  • The Washington Post is the latest to examine the Democratic presidential candidates’ skepticism of charter schools. 
  • Joe Sestak, a former U.S. representative from Pennsylvania, announced his candidacy earlier this week. His education plan includes a universal pre-K program. 
  • Carmel Martin, a former assistant secretary for policy and budget at the Department of Education under the Obama administration, and who most recently worked at XQ, is Beto O’Rourke’s new national policy advisor
  • Asked if he’d support a moratorium on charter schools at an American Federation of Teachers town hall in Miami yesterday, O’Rourke said, “I believe, as originally envisioned, there is a role for charter schools.” For-profit charters don’t fit into this vision, he said. 

Names to note

Kim Anderson is the new executive director for the National Education Association.

Aleesia Johnson was named superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. She’d been serving as the district’s interim chief.


What we’re reading

  • A team of researchers found that the school system in Providence, Rhode Island is in dire straits. Providence Journal
  • Houston school district leaders are making a big bet on addressing students’ out-of-school needs, with plans to hire 300 staffers. Houston Chronicle 
  • Summit charter schools terminated three teachers who supported the school’s unionization efforts, highlighting disagreement among teachers and between teachers and network staff. The Mercury News

(Photo by Stacey Rupolo)