Chicago Public Schools’ academic struggles top Chicagoans’ concerns

Chicago Public Schools’ academic struggles top Chicagoans’ concerns

Half of Chicagoans said their biggest concern was “students not learning enough academically.” They expect Chicago Public Schools to “prepare students to go to college.” But the Chicago Teachers Union is demanding more schools that fail those expectations.

Chicagoans think the Chicago Public Schools district is doing a lackluster job, with over half giving it a “C” grade in a poll by Public Agenda, a national, nonpartisan research organization.

Only 3% of Chicagoans think CPS deserves a grade of A.

Chicagoans’ top concern: students are not learning enough. Chicago parents said students’ preparation for and path to college was a primary expectation of schools.

Additionally, Chicagoans pointed to student and teacher attendance as among the best indicators of school quality.

Data shows Chicagoans have reasons for their concerns. Just 1-in-4 CPS student can read or perform math at grade level. The percent of students enrolling in college after high school graduation is decreasing. And for those who do enroll, another study found many are struggling to finish college in four years – just 30% get their bachelor’s in four years compared to 47% nationally.

Absenteeism has skyrocketed during the past few years. Teacher attendance in CPS is worse than the average across the state.

Yet the Chicago Teachers Union is pushing a school model that fails on the metrics about which Chicagoans and Chicago parents have the greatest concerns.

Specifically, CTU is pushing to expand the number of sustainable community schools in the district to 200. The push is despite the 20 sustainable community schools already in the district underperforming on every important measure.

Chicago schools disappoint on the metrics parents care about most

The poll by Public Agenda revealed how Chicagoans and Chicago parents feel about Chicago’s public schools. It also revealed their desires for how a school ought to operate and what its objectives should be. Below are a few examples of survey responses and how Chicago schools fare against Chicagoans’ wants for CPS – and how CPS is failing to measure up.

“Insufficient academic learning”

Chicagoans’ most common answer to what is the most pressing issue facing CPS: “students not learning enough academically.” Nearly half of Chicagoans cited this as one of the three most pressing issues needing to be addressed.

There is good reason for concern. In 2023, 26% of students in grades 3 through 8 across all of CPS could read at grade level and about 18% could do math proficiently. For 11th grade CPS students, only 22% could read at grade level and 19% do math proficiently.

Yet the proficiency rate of students at CTU’s favored sustainable community schools is even worse. In grades 3 through 8, the average percentage of students meeting reading proficiency is just 13% and math is less than 5%. For 11th graders, reading is just 4% and math is 2%.

Parents were split on whether they felt CPS students have recovered from the academic impacts of the pandemic, with 47% disagreeing and 46% agreeing. The statistics show students have not rebounded. Reading and math proficiency rates for all tested grades are still below the rates in 2019, the final full school year before the pandemic-era school closures. Math proficiency is especially lagging.

When asked about important indicators of school quality, more than two-thirds, or 65%, of Chicagoans listed test scores as important. A 2013 study also had 65% of Chicago respondents pointing to test scores as important indicators of school quality.

There is variance in how many respondents said test scores are important based on demographic group. According to the poll, “More Black residents, compared to Latino and white residents, say student test scores are important.”

“Prepare students for college”

Over half of Chicago parents said their primary expectation of schools is to prepare their kids for college. There were 69% who said they would be disappointed if their child did not try to go to college.

Nearly 4 of every 10 CPS high school graduates will not go to college. That’s according to data which shows the rate of graduates enrolling in post-secondary education within 12 months after graduating is 59% in CPS.

Statewide, the rate of post-secondary enrollment in universities and community colleges within 12 months of graduating is 65%.

The rate of college enrollment is even lower for graduates at CPS’ eight sustainable community high schools – the model CTU is pushing. At those schools, the average rate of post-secondary enrollment within 12 months across the schools is 47%, over 10 percentage points below the average across all CPS schools.

Like parents, over two-thirds of Chicagoans, 67%, also listed college enrollment rates as an important indicator of school quality. Once again, there were demographic differences in who sees college enrollment rates as important indicators of school quality, as “more Asian, Black and Latino Chicagoans believe college enrollment rates are important indicators of school quality compared to white residents.”

“Student and teacher attendance”

Chicagoans pointed to student and teacher attendance as among the best indicators of school quality. Eighty-eight percent of Chicagoans rated “teacher attendance” as a 4 or 5 on a one to five scale of importance as an indicator of a school’s quality, with five being very important. “Student attendance” was rated 4 or 5 by 86% of respondents.

And on yet another metric, CPS is not meeting Chicagoan’s expectations.

Teacher attendance is measured by the Illinois State Board of Education as the percentage of teachers with fewer than 10 absences in a school year. In 2023, 57% of CPS teachers had fewer than 10 absences. Statewide, that number is at 64.4%.

The average daily attendance across CPS has been declining. The average daily student attendance rate was 88.3% in 2023, compared to 93.2% in 2019.

CPS’ failure to engage students shows in the chronic absenteeism rate. Chronic absenteeism has skyrocketed. It is defined as the percentage of students missing 10% or more school days per year, or about 18 days, with or without a valid excuse. Chronic absenteeism in CPS went from 24% in 2019 to 39.8% in 2023, after peaking at 44.6% in 2022.

In Chicago’s sustainable community schools, absenteeism is far worse. In 2023, the 20 sustainable community schools averaged 53% – more than half – of their students chronically absent.

“Replacing teachers who are consistently under-performing”

Chicagoans strongly support replacing teachers who are consistently under-performing at academically failing schools, with 78% strongly or somewhat strongly supporting that move.

According to the RAND Corp., teacher quality is a significant factor affecting student performance. In a report about teachers’ impact on student performance, the author found “teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including services, facilities and even leadership.”

Chicagoans understand the importance of having quality teachers and providing training to teachers, as 82% support providing additional training to teachers in a struggling school. Additionally, 71% support hiring more support staff and counselors.

According to ISBE data, 86.3% of teachers in CPS were rated as proficient or excellent in 2023, down from 91.4% in 2019. Yet many students in CPS are struggling to reach proficiency in core subjects.

The CTU is a barrier to the district replacing teachers who are underperforming, with union contract rules prioritizing the union’s interests in keeping teachers who aren’t measuring up over what’s best for students. In its current demands, the union is trying to water down teacher evaluations.

If CTU gets its way, evaluations would change from annually or biennially to once every three years. Tenured teachers rated “excellent” or “proficient” would be on a three-year evaluation schedule, with all other tenured teachers on an annual rating schedule. What’s more, the number of observations per cycle would be lowered from three to two, with a third observation conducted only if the observer and the teacher agree.

“Not too confident…CPS budget is being spent effectively”

Nearly three-quarters of Chicagoans said they are “not too confident or not at all confident that the CPS budget is being spent effectively.”

About half of Chicago parents think CPS needs more money while the other half think CPS needs to do a better job spending the money it already has.

CPS is spending $29,028 per student this school year. That includes all the district’s expenditures, such as operational spending, debt servicing and capital expenditures. CPS’ spending per student is the second highest among Illinois’ 10 largest school districts, which average nearly $22,400.

Yet CPS and CTU think the district needs more money, and they are willing to sacrifice teacher time in classrooms to demand more, even as reading and math proficiency is extremely low in district schools.

Just this month, hundreds of CTU members left their classrooms  – while still being paid – to  lobby lawmakers in Springfield for an additional $1.1 billion in district funding. They didn’t get it and CPS faces a $400 million deficit as CTU is making pricey demands for a new contract this summer.

The data doesn’t lie. CPS is spending more money to do a poorer job at educating students. Clearly, Chicagoans and parents’ main concerns are not being addressed, and throwing more money at the problem isn’t a solution.

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