Grant to Union To Verse Chicago Teachers in Reform

By Ann Bradley — February 19, 1992 4 min read

The Chicago Teachers Union last week received a $l.l-million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to support a three-year effort to help the city’s 26,000 teachers apply research about effective teaching and learning practices in their schools.

The grant--believed to be the largest ever given to a teachers’ union by a private philanthropy--is part of the foundation’s Chicago Education Initiative, a 10-year, $40 million commitment to supporting school reform announced in/990. (See Education Week, Oct. 17, 1990.)

The donation will support the new C.T.U. Quest Center, which will disseminate information about promising teaching practices and award grants to 40 schools to test their ideas for improvement.

The planning for the Quest Center also was supported by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

The project reflects a concern that the decentralization of school authority in Chicago, mandated under a 1988 reform law enacted by the state legislature, has yet to produce comparable reforms in instruction.

“It is recognized here that the school-reform legislation changed governance,” said Deborah Walsh, the director of the Quest Center, “but that there has been relatively little change in the classroom as a result of the legislation.”

The center next month will announce a competitive-bidding process to solicit “radical, innovative ideas for transforming teaching and learning,” Ms. Walsh said.

In June, the first 10 schools will be selected for the project, which will begin in September.

In each of the second and third years of the grant, an additional 15 schools will be chosen to work with the center.

The schools will receive planning grants and intensive assistance from the center to develop new models of schooling.

Financial Incentives

At the end of a three-year period, schools that have demonstrated the most success with their projects will receive financial rewards, Ms. Walsh said.

The Quest Center plans to raise more money to make the incentives available.

“We’re hoping to make it significant enough to really be meaningful to people who, for three years, put a commitment into an effort to try and make changes,” Ms. Walsh said.

Over three years, the center expects to assist 1,500 teachers, support-staff members, and principals working with 30,000 children.

In addition, the Quest Center will provide information, conferences, presentations, and school visits to other Chicago schools.

It also will offer a 45-hour course for teams from restructuring schools that want to learn more about assessment, curriculum and standards, and teaching strategies.

To kick off its work, the Quest Center next month will host a conference for city educators to share its vision of “restructured” schools.

In such schools, according to the center’s literature, students will be active rather than passive learners, teachers will coach rather than lecture, and students will be encouraged to learn at their own rates in flexible groups.

For example, the center will encourage teachers to break down schools into smaller ‘“houses,” create teams of teachers to stay with students for three to five years, use multi-age grouping, and develop interdisciplinary lessons.

Through its outreach efforts, the center plans to expose teachers to new research about how children learn, Ms. Walsh said, and about which techniques have been found to be most successful in the classroom.

Turning Point for Union

The schools that will work with the Quest Center will be chosen by the centers governing board, a majority of whose members are teachers.

Members also include Ted D. Kimbrough, the general superintendent of the Chicago schools; Leonard Dominguez, the city’s deputy mayor for education; and Chicago-area education professors, researchers, and business leaders.

A national panel of advisers will assist the governing board.

Peter Martinez, the senior program officer for the MacArthur Foundation’s Chicago Education Initiative, said the Chicago Teachers Union’s “recognized standing with its members and with the board of education place it in a unique position to be one of the most effective initiators of needed changes.”

Mr. Martinez said he believed the Chicago-based foundation’s grant was the largest ever donated to a teachers’ union.

The creation of the Quest Center and the support of a major national foundation mark a turning point for the C.T.U., union leaders acknowledged. Members of the union had engaged in a series of bitter strikes before the 1988 reform law was passed, and they threatened to strike again last year over a salary dispute.

“After years of neglect and blame by state government and others unwilling to support our schools, Chicago educators are receiving the recognition they deserve,” Jacqueline B. Vaughn, the union’s president, said last week.

Added Ms. Walsh: “We’re hoping to break some stereotypes here.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 1992 edition of Education Week as Grant to Union To Verse Chicago Teachers in Reform