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

Monday, July 13, 2009

From the Houston Miracle to the Chicago Sham

From USA Today:
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
New research from a Chicago civic group takes direct aim at the city's "abysmal" public high school performance — and puts a new spin on the academic gains made during the seven years that Arne Duncan led the Chicago schools before he was named U.S. Education secretary.
The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, a supporter of Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's push for more control of city schools, issued the report June 30. It says city schools have made little progress since 2003.

Its key findings stand in stark contrast to assertions President Obama made in December when he nominated Duncan as Education secretary.

And though the findings are by no means as explosive, they're reminiscent of revelations from Houston in 2003, when state investigators found that 15 high schools had underreported dropout rates under former superintendent Rod Paige, who by then was George W. Bush's Education secretary.

In December, Obama said that during a seven-year tenure, Duncan had boosted elementary school test scores "from 38% of students meeting the standards to 67%" — a gain of 29 percentage points. But the new report found that, adjusting for changes in tests and procedures, students' pass rates grew only about 8 percentage points.

Obama also said Chicago's dropout rate "has gone downevery year he's been in charge." Though that's technically true, the committee says it's still unacceptably high: About half of Chicago students drop out of the city's non-selective-enrollment high schools. And more than 70% of 11th-graders fail to meet state standards, a trend that "has remained essentially flat" over the past several years.

Even among those who graduate, it says, skills are poor: An analysis of students entering the Chicago City Colleges in fall 2006 showed that 69% were not prepared for college-level reading, 79% were not prepared for writing, and 95% were not prepared for math.

"Performance is very bad, very weak," says Civic Committee president Eden Martin.

Obama also said Chicago students' ACT test score gains "have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state." Again, technically true — ACT data show that Chicago students' composite score rose 0.9 points from 2002 to 2006, while Illinois' score rose 0.4 points. But Chicago students' composite score of 17.4 was lower than the statewide average of 20.5.

Timothy Knowles, who directs the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, says the report highlights "a highly irresponsible state reaction" to the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"In essence," he says, "many states have lowered (passing) scores on standardized tests to create the public appearance they are meeting federal standards. This practice sells children short — and the states that engage in it are, ironically, leaving themselves behind."

Knowles says Chicago schools are moving in the right direction, with "some extraordinary new schools" and promising performance from black and Latino students, for instance. "However, the Civic Committee report reminds us these successes are fragile … and there is unambiguous evidence that Chicago has miles to go before it sleeps."

Duncan spokesman Peter Cunningham says Chicago schools "made significant gains across a range of indicators" under Duncan. "While we still have a long way to go, it is absolutely misleading and irresponsible to suggest that there has not been progress."

Blogger Alexander Russo, who writes about Chicago schools, says the findings show that nearly 15 years into mayoral control, the city school system "isn't nearly as improved as many have been led to believe."

"What I find particularly appalling is that Duncan and Obama — supposed champions of transparency and using research rather than ideology — have cited Chicago's inflated test scores, even though they knew the increases were exaggerated."

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