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Chicago Union, Board Draft Learning Outcomes

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The Chicago Teachers Union and the city's board of education, working in quiet partnership despite the district's bitter budget battles, have developed a draft set of standards that spells out what Chicago students should learn.

The union-management effort to create "learning-outcome standards'' is believed to be the first collaboration of its kind, said Deborah Walsh, the director of the union's Quest Center, which assists school restructuring.

Draft standards for grades 4, 8, and 11 are now being shared with teachers, principals, and members of local school councils throughout the city for review.

After public discussions and possible modifications, the board of education is expected to formally adopt the standards in February.

Although many national organizations are setting standards, Ms. Walsh said, Chicago educators decided to set their own standards to help spur reforms in teaching and learning in a city where governance and finance issues have tended to dominate discussions about the schools.

The standards, printed on a "user friendly'' color-coded wall chart, stress integrating academic subjects. They were written with the help of consultants from the Council for Basic Education and were closely modeled on the council's synthesis of academic standards.

An explanation accompanying the chart calls for students to become active learners demonstrating "high levels of understanding and skill.''

"We want to use the chart as a vehicle for a citywide conversation about what our expectations are,'' Ms. Walsh said, "and for moving the reform agenda here off governance and into classrooms.''

'A Composite Vision'

The project, which was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur and the Joyce foundations, began last spring. Over the summer, teams of teachers developed the draft standards.

Written to mesh with state goals for learning, the standards cover biological and physical sciences, fine arts, language arts, mathematics, physical development and health, and social sciences.

The brief descriptions of what students should know and be able to do are markedly different from the detailed sets of curriculum objectives that now exist for each grade, noted Ruth Mitchell, a consultant who worked on the standards project.

"This is not a list of objectives,'' she said. "This is a composite vision of what students should know and be able to do, and not something to go through and check off.''

The math standard for 8th grade says, for example, that students should be able to "derive problem-solving strategies from the analysis and application of patterns, properties, and relationships.''

Eleven schools that are working closely with the Quest Center to restructure their academic programs are now developing prototypes of six- to eight-week units of instruction, curriculum, and assessments tied to the standards.

By June, the project hopes to have completed 100 models for schools throughout the city to use, Ms. Walsh said.

The board of education has indicated that it wants to develop an assessment system that can measure students' progress toward meeting the standards, said Adrienne Bailey, the outgoing deputy superintendent of instructional services.

The system also must spark conversations about the standards and align professional-development opportunities with them, she added.

While none of the work will be easy, she said, "the point is, Chicago is off and running.''

Peter Martinez, the senior program officer for the MacArthur Foundation's Chicago Education Initiative, expressed hope that the standards will "help drive restructuring'' in schools that are not making much instructional progress.

"This also has some definite implications for teaching standards,'' he said. "What kinds of teachers would you have to have in order to be able to produce this level of learning among students?''

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