"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Duncan's Chicago Miracle Turns Mirage

On January 2, I laid out some evidence that showed Duncan and Congressman Miller were reading from the same script on the Chicago Mirage. Others have come forward with evidence, too, about Duncan's claims, but Duncan has offered no corrections. Instead, he has continued to repeat the same set of lies. Why wouldn't he continue to lie, when education "reporters" never bother to do a fact check.

Here is, yet, another big chunk of a major defibrilizer, and a good one, offered by Mathew Blake. Will one reporter ask Duncan a question about any of this?
. . . .Nowhere to go But Sideways

Duncan’s reputation and reform efforts, though, coexist awkwardly with students’ actual performance during his time as Chicago school CEO. One metric that compares students across the country is the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test administered by the Department of Education. NCLB requires that in order to receive Title 1 funds –federal money sent to the states and intended to go to the neediest schools – each state must test 4th and 8th graders every two years in math and reading. NCLB also created a “Trial Urban District Assessment” that compiled a record of math and reading scores in 11 cities, including Chicago, scores that now include tests from 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

The NAEP records show that CPS student performance was very poor in 2002 and did not improve by 2007. On the NAEP reading test, scored from 0-500,, Chicago 8th graders got an average score of 249 in 2002. In 2007, they got an average score of 250. The nationwide average in 2007, by contrast, was 261.

In 2002, 15 percent of all Chicago 8th graders were judged “proficient” at reading. In 2007, that number had increased by all of two percent — 17 percent of all Chicago 8th graders were judged proficient. Nationally, for 2007, 29 percent of all 8th graders were deemed proficient at reading.

Chicago 4th graders not only fare worse than the national average in reading – they do worse than other urban school districts. In 2002, Chicago 4th graders scored an average of 193. In 2007, the average did jump to 201. But this score was not just significantly lower than the national average but the average among the 11 assessed urban districts, which was 208. The percentage of Chicago 4th graders who scored at the proficient level in 2007 was 16 percent compared with 22 percent in other urban districts. Only Cleveland and Washington, D.C. did worse. Moreover, the gap in scores between poor students – defined as those eligible for the federal school lunch program – and the rest of the district actually increased between 2002 and 2007. . .

NAEP Math tests were another area where Chicago students fared poorly. Fourth grade math scores made the modest jump from 214 to 220 between 2003 and 2007. But just 16 percent of CPS 4th graders were judged proficient in Math compared with 28 percent in other urban schools districts and 38 percent nationally. The story is the same for 8th graders: scores made a modest climb from 254 to 260 between 2003 and 2007. But in 2007, 13 percent of CPS fourth graders were proficient compared with 22 percent in other urban school districts and 31 percent nationally.

There are standardized tests besides NAEP, but unfortunately, CPS students have done poorly on those as well. In June 2007, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research looked at scores on the Illinois Standardized Assessment Test. The consortium praised CPS for narrowing the reading gap between 8th graders, but noted that even these eighth graders, the highlight of Chicago’s results, were still more than a grade behind their peers across the state. “One still cannot escape noticing the very large gaps between Chicago and the rest of the state,” the study concluded.

Is it fair to hold Duncan accountable for these test scores? “I think you can absolutely hold the CEO and the school board accountable for these students because they have a huge impact on where the resources are spent,” says Linda Lenz of Chicago Catalyst. “The CEO is the one who needs to push things in the right direction. They’re the one who pushes the city for more after school programs. The change and ideas for schools often come at the local not the state or national level.” Don Moore, executive director of the Chicago-based education advocacy and research group Design for Change, takes a somewhat different view. “In CPS, Mayor Daley calls the shots,” Moore says. Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the Chicago group Parents United for Responsible Education, agrees. “Key decisions are made on the fifth floor of City Hall (the Mayor’s office),” Woestehoff wrote in an email, “not the fifth floor of CPS (the CEO’s office).” But these arguments concede that it is city government that primarily shapes CPS policy and performance. And even if Mayor Daley really called all the shots, Duncan is now taking these reforms – be they his or Daley’s or someone else’s – national.

The better defense of Duncan is that his reforms need more time. This was the crux of the University of Chicago school research consortium’s argument about Renaissance 2010. U of C studied the first 23 schools that opened under the program, the majority of them charters, and found that “the overall academic performance of the average student in Renaissance School Fund-supported schools is very low, as it is at most schools in the district.” But the study reported that, “It is unusual for students to demonstrate large learning gains on standardized tests during the first few years of a school development.”

But a RAND study published earlier this year – and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave $21 million to the Renaissance 2010 Fund – found that, nationally, charters don’t make a difference. “In a majority of cases,” the study’s authors concluded, “The results suggest that differences in the performance of charter schools and traditional public schools are small or nonexistent.” The study admitted that methodologies for school comparisons are not a perfect tool, especially when looking at elementary schools. But it more confidently compared students at public middle schools and high schools to those at charters: “Non-primary charter schools are producing achievement gains that are approximately equivalent to those of traditional public schools.”

“We have an opportunity before us to lay the foundation for a generation of education reform,” Duncan said at Brookings, “And it requires us to hold each other accountable both for what we do and for what we say.” In the context of Duncan’s CPS record that’s a frustrating comment – When, and to what extent, should he be held responsible?

Duncan stresses data. But while other policymakers, like Bush’s first Education Secretary Rod Paige, looked at students, schools and state-wide performance, Duncan is more focused on how data evaluates the effectiveness of teachers. He won praise for improving the aptitude and preparedness of Chicago teachers, but this hasn’t, yet, translated into better students or a better school district. People made fun of George W. Bush for promising that NCLB would lead to every student scoring proficient in NAEP reading and math tests by 2014—a tidy six years after the end of his second term. But no one can say when data that keeps teachers on their toes will actually benefit students and heal a school system.

Arne over America

Nobody was a bigger winner from the stimulus bill than the Department of Education. A federal agency with an annual budget of about $45 billion, DOE saw $115 billion in stimulus money. The money is mostly for perennially under-funded long-time programs like Head Start and money to stabilize state budgets. But it also included outlays like a $4.3 billion in “Race to the Top” funds. There is also a $545 million school improvement program that Duncan can spend how he wishes. Duncan hasn’t yet allocated this money – yet more discretionary cash will come from the 2010 fiscal-year budget and maybe also a re-authorized NCLB.

But he has spelled out in the past two weeks – at Brookings and then in Michigan, California, Vermont, and West Virginia – what he wants the Race to the Top and capital improvement money spent on: States should come up with sophisticated data systems that can hold teachers accountable for student performance. This data should also track students from kindergarten through not just twelfth grade but college graduation. Duncan is also advocating for “turnarounds” at the 5,000 worst schools in the country, which he calls “drop out factories.” In San Francisco this week, Duncan blasted California as currently unworthy of Race to the Top funds because the state was not using student achievement data to evaluate teachers. “The data doesn’t tell the whole truth,” Duncan said. “But the data doesn’t lie.”

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