David R. Stone | Chicago Reader

Recent Comments

Re: “Two students, two high schools, two divergent paths to college

Hirsch (and other neighborhood schools) lose enrollment due to other Board of Education policies, in addition to charter schools.

For Hirsch, a major blow was the Board’s decision to remove our radio/tv studio, which had been an important recruiting tool for us.

And a few years earlier, Hirsch was hurt by the closure of two other neighborhood schools, Calumet and Englewood High Schools. This led to a temporary increase in enrollment at Hirsch, but (as the Board had been repeatedly warned at public hearings on the school closings), this forced students to cross gang territories. Suddenly, Hirsch had students from three gangs, where previously there was only one. Predictably, violence spiked. Violence has since gone back down, but the school’s reputation (and ability to recruit students) has not fully recovered.

But more recently, Hirsch has been losing students to charter schools and other selective enrollment schools (such as South Shore International School, which the Board opened in a brand new building last year). Besides Comer, another charter school that recruits from elementary schools in Hirsch’s area is Urban Prep (in the Englewood High School building), which advertises with billboards on the CTA buses in Hirsch’s neighborhood.

We have more than just enrollment statistics to show that charter schools siphon away students. I was on Hirsch’s “marketing team,” and my journalism students helped to create a slick recruiting brochure for the school. We held open houses, and our counselors and some faculty members visited local elementary schools. When we talked with seventh and eighth graders, we found that many had already decided on a charter school, after being approached by those schools’ recruiters in sixth grade.

We couldn’t realistically expect to see many of them at Hirsch until a few years later, when they would be pushed out, so that the charter schools could maintain their claim that all of their graduates are admitted to college.

Some charter schools do a better job – sometimes a much better job – than neighborhood schools such as Hirsch. Likewise, (as the original Reader article highlighted) some suburban schools do a better job – maybe a much better job – than inner city neighborhood Chicago Public Schools. But this is accomplished by taking funding away from neighborhood Chicago Public Schools, and leaving too many students behind.

Let’s not destroy neighborhood schools until we can offer a better education to ALL students.
-David R. Stone
CPS teacher

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by David R. Stone on 10/27/2012 at 12:22 AM

Re: “Two students, two high schools, two divergent paths to college

No, I was not defending the status quo. I agree that:
- reliance on property taxes is a problem,
- getting students to meet with others from different backgrounds would be good,
- "cronies, hacks and people with friends in high places” are running the schools (just look at the School Board members for seven examples),
- some principals are not well qualified,
- parents’ attitudes make a huge difference, and
- many schools are better than Hirsch.

But there seems to be no political will for busing students from South Side inner city neighborhoods to North Shore suburbs, or even to North Side Chicago neighborhoods. Every attempt to change the current funding formula – or even to get the state to meet its constitutional responsibility to fund education – has failed. And the problems of having imperfect administrators, imperfect parents and imperfect schools are not easy to fix.

So, no, I am not saying that our current patchwork of underfunded neighborhood school is ideal. I am just saying that for many students (Jasmeen included), the neighborhood school is pretty much all that is available. This means we shouldn’t make matters worse by closing many neighborhood schools and taking resources away from the ones that remain.
-David R. Stone
CPS teacher

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by David R. Stone on 10/25/2012 at 8:17 PM

Re: “Two students, two high schools, two divergent paths to college

Students’ success should not depend on their neighborhood, their race or their family’s income level. The article shows that students like Jasmeen can succeed despite having more obstacles to overcome and fewer opportunities than students like Hayley. Yet the article also shows that racial and economic disparities do make a difference, and it’s no surprise that most of Hayley’s classmates can get into highly selective colleges, and most of Jasmeen’s classmates cannot.

Charter schools, vouchers or other forms of "school choice" will not completely solve the problem. Even when admission is by lottery (as at some public schools such as Hamilton, and at many charter schools), there are many needy families that will miss the opportunity. In neighborhoods where employment is scarce, where one or more parents may be absent, where many kids’ caretakers are poorly educated, and where drugs and violence are common, many families will fail to apply for admission to the "better" schools. With no busing to take them elsewhere, they will attend their neighborhood schools.

I am glad we have magnet schools and other programs that give gifted students a chance to excel. But as long as we have some neighborhoods that are much poorer than others, the best hope for many poor children is their neighborhood school.

The segregation that separates the Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods from the North Shore suburbs meant that Jasmeen and her classmates had fewer opportunities than Hayley’s classmates. Chicago Public Schools policies further erode any hope for equal opportunity by taking resources away from neighborhood schools.
-David R. Stone

Posted by David R. Stone on 10/23/2012 at 11:11 PM

Re: “Two students, two high schools, two divergent paths to college

To answer some specific questions raised in this discussion:

(1) Per capita funding is based on enrollment. Policies that favor charter schools make it harder for schools like Hirsch to recruit students. This means lower enrollment, and thus less funding. Reduced funding means teaching positions and programs must be cut. In a vicious circle, this makes it even harder to recruit students.

(2) Some funding comes from other sources, and Dr. Joyce Cooper (who was principal when Jasmeen and I were there) was better than many other principals at finding sources of funding.

(3) When Hirsch’s radio/tv program was eliminated, those of us at the school were told it was a Board of Education decision, but nobody from the Board ever explained the decision to us. It was NOT a matter of per capita funding, as we had more than enough students enrolled in the program to maintain the radio/tv teaching position.

(4) Yes, Hirsch still has a Law & Public Safety Academy. Hirsch students have done well against other schools in citywide Mock Trial competitions, and graduates from that program have done well in college and careers. This shows that even shrinking neighborhood schools can still have something valuable to offer.

(5) Yes, a principal’s leadership can have a huge impact on the quality of the school. (And “quality” means much more than just high test scores.) I understand that Hirsch got a new principal at the beginning of this school year. She – or any principal – will have trouble recruiting students in the face of Board policies that seem to discriminate against South Side neighborhood schools. At least Hirsch avoided being one of the 17 neighborhood schools the Board closed last year, but I wouldn’t bet on it surviving much longer.

By the way, some of those 17 closed schools had great parent and community support, and were showing significant improvements by all measures, including test scores. So anyone like wjonahan shouldn’t get too complacent in thinking that their success will prevent privatization. Despite what The Welshman says, the charter school issue is NOT “a whole different ball of wax,” but rather an integral part of government policies that take resources away from students that need them the most.
-David R. Stone
CPS teacher, formerly at Hirsch Metro H.S.

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by David R. Stone on 10/21/2012 at 1:10 AM

Re: “Two students, two high schools, two divergent paths to college

As a former teacher at Hirsch Metro H.S., I know that neighborhood public schools can provide a way out of poverty for some students like Jasmeen, but we don’t have enough resources to help everyone. The Chicago Board of Education amplifies the city’s racial and economic disparities by taking resources away from schools such as Hirsch.

The Reader article correctly reports that at Hirsch, “enrollment has withered recently; at the beginning of the year there were only 390 students” – but doesn’t tell why.

One reason is that the mayor’s hand-picked Board kills successful programs that encourage students to attend neighborhood schools. At Hirsch, a Radio/TV program was eliminated, and the Board removed state-of-the-art broadcast equipment. The school’s TV studio was turned into an ordinary classroom, where I taught print journalism to Jasmeen and other students.

When students asked where all the TV cameras, mixing boards, etc. had gone, I joked that the school was so broke we needed to sell the stuff on E-Bay. Sadly, the students believed me, because the school really was broke. Unlike New Trier, we didn’t have money for new textbooks, and my journalism texts were nearly 10 years old.

About a year later, Westinghouse High School (which used to be a high enrollment school with many great vocational programs, open to everyone in its West Side neighborhood) was re-opened as a selective enrollment high school in a brand new building, with a state-of-the-art TV studio.

In Hirsch’s South Side neighborhood, similar shifting of resources led to the creation of charter schools such as Urban Prep and Gary Comer high schools. Their relentless recruiting at the neighborhood elementary schools led to Hirsch’s declining enrollment, as we got fewer entering freshmen.

Highly motivated students like Jasmeen can succeed anywhere, but others are kicked out or encouraged to drop out of the charter schools. When they come to Hirsch a year or two later, missing credits from the classes they failed, we don’t have enough resources to get them all back on track.

And our mayor’s “answer” is to open more charter schools and shut down neighborhood schools.
-David R. Stone
CPS teacher

24 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by David R. Stone on 10/20/2012 at 12:27 AM

Favorite Places

  • None.
Find places »

Saved Events

  • Nada.
Find events »

Saved Stories

  • Nope.
Find stories »

Custom Lists

  • Zip.