Adult works with two Morton Elementary students

Slow Start for CPS Tutor Corps

Last June, Chicago Public Schools announced it would earmark $25 million to create the CPS Tutor Corps, a group of 850 new, part-time hires, 400 of whom would focus solely on literacy in grades K-2 in the “highest-priority” elementary schools.

But the rollout has not gone smoothly. In December, WBEZ reported that CPS had lowered its hiring goal for this year from 850 to 650 tutors. Contracts with the curricular vendors–Amplify for literacy and Saga Education for math–were not finalized until well into the school year. Although the first wave of tutors entered school buildings in October, they did not receive training on the tutoring curriculum until January for math and February for literacy. 

According to a February 22 email from CPS press officer Evan Moore, the district currently has 450 tutors in schools. The district declined to provide a list of those schools.  The district also declined to make CPS Tutor Corps manager Ellen Kim available for an interview. Communication with tutors suggests some face challenges from payroll problems to conflicts between tutors and classroom teachers.

Nonetheless, tutors also observe the district making strides toward its vision of high-dose, research-backed tutoring to help younger children learn to read and support older children with math.

‘My Hope Is It Will Really Propel Kids’

Even before receiving the Amplify tutoring, Rebecca Perlow Vaughn said she was able to work on phonics in small groups with kindergartners at Sherman Elementary. According to Vaughn,  21 of the 30 kindergarten students she has been working with never attended pre-K. Though a few students arrived already reading, most of the class was learning to associate letters and sounds. She spent the fall working with students in pull-out groups. “I was encouraged when they were getting to the point where they could see a letter and say, ‘oh, that’s easy.’”

“I have not started tutoring with the reading program yet,” said literacy tutor Anna Shane. Shane, a mom of four and a former CPS second-grade teacher, tutors primary-grade students at Morton Elementary. “We’re still in the launching phase,” she said. Up to now, she supported youngsters as they moved through classroom literacy centers. “The kindergartners right now, we are excited about where they are.” With her in the room, “the kids have been getting more small-group direction with an adult.”

Shane recently finished Amplify’s literacy curriculum training, and says Morton’s administrators are setting up tutoring groups. “My hope is that it will really propel kids forward at a faster rate,” she said.

To Shane, bringing in the first wave of tutors as early as October made sense. “Everybody has been able to get to know students, build relationships, build trust with the staff, too.” With trust already built, launching the formal tutoring program will move faster and more smoothly, she observed. 

‘I Was Really Surprised They Were Starting Us with Zero Training’

Former CPS Tutor Corps member Shontae Hughes had a different experience. Hughes previously worked for a company that sold copiers to CPS schools, so her long wait from hiring to onboarding came as no surprise. However, she said, “I was really surprised they were starting us with zero training” on the curriculum.

At Carter Elementary, Hughes worked with a kindergarten class. She tutored “maybe four” students at a time in both reading and math. Hughes, who lives in North Austin, requested a school close to home. She didn’t get it; she went to Carter Elementary, on the South Side near Washington Park.  The commute plus payroll issues forced her to resign in early 2022.

“The whole idea of the program is super-awesome,” Hughes said. “I definitely wanted to be a part of that. All of our kids, after two years, especially our Black and Brown kids, they need that push. Hopefully it becomes a successful program.” 

Photo credit: Morton School of Excellence web site.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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