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Duncan/Daley "Failed to Make Grade" in Chicago
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- Subject: Duncan/Daley "Failed to Make Grade" in Chicago
- From: Bob Schaeffer <email@example.com>
- Date: Sun, 17 Jan 2010 16:04:11 -0500
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The Chicago Tribune, long a booster of school "reform" under Mayor Daly
and his hand-selected schools CEO Arne Duncan, runs a long, front-page
story demonstrating that yet another so-called "miracle" was a failure.
In many ways Chicago has been a model for Race to the Trough and other
unproven schemes Duncan has advocated in his first year as U.S.
Secretary of Education
DALEY SCHOOL PLAN FAILS TO MAKE GRADE
Chicago Tribune -- January 17, 2010
By Stephanie Banchero
Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close
down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to
improve the educational performance of the city's school system,
according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.
Scores from the elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are
nearly identical to the city average, and scores at the remade high
schools are below the already abysmal city average, the analysis found.
The moribund test scores follow other less than enthusiastic findings
about Renaissance 2010 -- that displaced students ended up mostly in
other low-performing schools and that mass closings led to youth
violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms.
Together, they suggest the initiative hasn't lived up to its promise by
this, its target year.
"There has been some good and some bad in Renaissance 2010, but overall
it wasn't the game changer that people thought it would be," said
Barbara Radner, who heads the Center for Urban Education at DePaul
University. "In some ways it has been more harmful than good because all
the attention, all the funding, all the hope was directed at Ren10 to
the detriment of other effective strategies CPS was developing."
Turning around public schools is the core of Daley's efforts to keep the
city vibrant. But the outcome of his ambitious education experiment is
as important to the nation as it is to Chicago. The architect of
Renaissance 2010, former schools CEO Arne Duncan, is now the U.S.
Secretary of Education -- and he's taking the Daley-Duncan model
national as part of his Race to the Top reform plan.
Duncan is using an unprecedented $4.35 billion pot of money to lure
states into building education systems that replicate key Ren10
strategies. The grant money will go to states that allow charter schools
to flourish and to those that experiment with turning around failing
schools -- all part of the Chicago reform.
Illinois education officials hope to get a piece of the pie and are
preparing an application for Tuesday's deadline.
Renaissance 2010 was launched in 2004 after decades of school reforms
failed to fix chronically underperforming schools. City leaders promised
to close the worst schools and open 100 innovative ones that would rely
heavily on the private sector for ideas, funding and management. Central
to the plan was an increase in charter schools, which receive tax
dollars but are run by private groups free from many bureaucratic
Daley and Duncan credit the program with injecting competition and
invigorating a stagnant system and say it has laid a foundation the
district can build on.
"We haven't looked at all the data, but our belief is that Renaissance
2010 dramatically improved the educational options in communities across
Chicago," said Peter Cunningham, Duncan's spokesman, who followed him
from Chicago to Washington. "We believe that it is contributing to
Chicago's overall success. Renaissance 2010 and Race to the Top both
reflect a willingness to be bold, hold yourself to higher standards and
push for dramatic change, not incremental change."
Cunningham and other supporters argue that many new schools, mainly in
low-income and high-crime neighborhoods, are outperforming nearby
traditional schools. They say attendance rates, parent satisfaction and
student engagement are higher. And they point out that expecting
significant gains from startup schools is unrealistic.
On Saturday, Daley said the program will yield measurable results, but
that it will take time.
"I'll accept any criticism, and any adjustment of it, we'll look at it,"
There have been some bright spots.
Most of the elementary schools overhauled by the Academy for Urban
School Leadership, which changes the school staff but leaves the
students in place, are outperforming their previous selves. The Noble
Street charter schools, which operate in some of the toughest
neighborhoods, have college-going rates that even suburban schools would
envy. And innovation has flourished, as the city's first all-boys public
high school, Urban Prep, opened in Englewood, and the Chicago Virtual
Charter School went online.
The business community embraced the reform agenda and has ponied up $50
million to the Renaissance Schools Fund, a nonprofit created by the
Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. The group has awarded
about $30 million to 63 new schools.
Currently, 92 Renaissance 2010 schools enroll 34,000 children -- about 8
percent of the district total. Seven new schools will open in the fall,
and the city plans to announce new school closings within the next few
The new schools mirror the district demographically, except they enroll
fewer special education students and those who speak English as a second
Chicago school officials don't publicly track the performance of the
Renaissance 2010 schools. But Ron Huberman, who took the helm of the
city schools when Duncan left, said he has crunched the numbers and
about one-third of the new schools are outperforming their neighborhood
counterparts; one-third are identical in performance; the rest do worse.
A Tribune analysis shows that in Renaissance 2010 elementary schools, an
average of 66.7 percent of students passed the 2009 Illinois Standards
Achievement Test, identical to the district rate. The Ren10 high school
passing rate was slightly lower on state tests than the district as a
whole -- 20.5 percent compared with 22.8 percent. But it's identical at
17.6 percent when selective enrollment schools, where students test to
get in, are removed from the equation.
Only a quarter of Renaissance 2010 schools had test scores high enough
to meet the federal goals set by No Child Left Behind, the signature
education policy of the George W. Bush administration. Chicago students
as a whole still post some of the lowest test scores on national math
and reading exams.
A series of studies released last year paints an unimpressive picture of
One report, commissioned by the Renaissance Schools Fund, found that
children in the fund-supported schools had low academic performance and
posted test score gains identical to students in the nearby neighborhood
"The Renaissance Schools Fund-supported schools will need to rapidly
accelerate the academic performance of their students if they are to
realize their own expectations," researchers wrote.
Phyllis Lockett, president of the fund, said their most recent analysis
was more encouraging. Using test data not yet publicly available, the
study found that pass rates in their schools are now 4 percentage points
higher than those in comparable neighborhood schools.
"It's not like we are ready to cheer and scream success," Lockett said.
"Our schools are doing very well but we've got to raise the bar. It's
not good enough to 'just be better than the neighborhood schools.' But
with the complexity of opening a new school, that's a good early goal."
Opening new innovative schools was only half of the Renaissance 2010
strategy. Closing the lowest performers was the other component -- and
nothing created more disruption to the city's educational landscape.
Even in schools with single-digit pass rates, violence-filled hallways
and embarrassing absentee patterns, parents picketed the streets and
filled the school board chambers, begging that their schools be left alone.
But Duncan stood his ground and closed schools. The migration of
teenagers across racial, cultural and gang boundaries burdened a high
school system already struggling to educate students. Violence escalated.
Some point to the 2005 closing of Carver High School as the flash point
for the September death of Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old Fenger High
School student who was beaten, kicked and smashed with large planks of
wood about a half-mile from school. District officials converted Carver
into a military academy, sending teenagers to other schools, including
Fenger. The two groups never got along and tempers flared inside and
outside the school, culminating with the beating caught on videotape.
The academic outcomes of the displaced students wasn't any better. A
report, issued in October by the Chicago Consortium on School Research
at the University of Chicago, found that students from closed schools
landed, for the most part, at campuses that were just as bad and then
progressed at the same predictably low levels.
One positive outcome: students who ended up in higher-performing schools
made more academic progress.
Duncan, pained by the increased violence, embraced a new strategy in
2006. Known as the "turnaround," it replaces the school principal and
teachers with more effective educators, but leaves the children in place.
The Academy for Urban School Leadership has transformed eight schools
under this model. Three of the four elementary schools that have at
least two years of test scores have seen an uptick in results.
At Harvard School for Excellence in Englewood, for example, pass rates
increased from 32 percent to 56 percent since the private, nonprofit
group took over two years ago. Principal Andre Cowling, a former Army
captain who served in the first Gulf War, attributes the progress to a
razor-sharp focus on data, parent outreach, teacher training and a
culture of safety and learning.
"Before they took over it was like World War III inside the school,
fights everywhere," said Wanda Wilburn, who has three children at
Harvard. "But they came in and stretched their hands out to us. Our kids
are learning now."
Despite the program's mixed reviews, Daley promised this month to push
forward and expand Renaissance 2010.
Huberman cautions against tossing out the entire strategy, a reflex
typical in education reform. Instead, he plans to promote the components
that work and get rid of the ones that don't -- even if that means
closing down underperforming Renaissance 2010 charter schools, he said.
Huberman has promised that students displaced by school closings will be
guaranteed spots in higher performing schools and will be assigned staff
members to help them adjust to their new schools. He told the Tribune on
Friday that he also will set aside coveted spots in magnet schools to
accommodate them. Huberman also promised to devise safe passage plans to
make sure children can get to their new schools safely.
"The first phase of Renaissance 2010 was the organic part of a brand-new
reform," he said. "In the second phase, we need to put our energy behind
the proven factors that work and drive them hard. If we had not gone
through stage one -- as painful as it might have been -- we could not
get to stage two."
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