It's teacher hunting season!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ravitch chimes in on illusory reputation of Duncan and Chicago schools

The close them down, spill out the staff and rebuild them approach is under full swing in Chicago. The media loves a story of someone performing miracles in tough situations. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan received media accolades for his closing and reopening strategy in Chicago.
Maybe people should scratch the surface and engage in a bit more critical thinking, both as they research for the media and as they digest the media. As in the situation of George W. Bush and the alleged education miracles in 1990s Texas, we have a phony situation in Chicago. We should have learned our lesson then. The Texas reality was manipulation to produce attractive test scores.
As New York University professor Diane Ravitch tells us, the real record of Duncan's close-and-reopen schools strategy is unimpressive. It progressed with data frenzy, data manipulation and in the end, no improvement in the results.

The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago released a report ("Still Left Behind")
earlier this year that documented the lowered cut scores on Illinois's state tests, which gave the illusion of progress in Chicago. Chicago students are still far behind, and progress during Arne Duncan's tenure was meager. The report reaches these key findings:

"Most of Chicago's students drop out or fail. The vast majority of Chicago's elementary and high schools do not prepare their students for success in college and beyond.
. . .
Similarly, the scoring of the state tests in New York was dumbed down dramatically from 2006-2009, and it became possible for students to reach Level 2 by random guessing. Proficiency rates on state tests soared dramatically at the same time that the state's scores on NAEP remained flat. As a result of the state's dumbed-down tests, New York City's accountability system crashed, and 97 percent of all elementary and junior high schools were rated A or B because of their alleged gains on the state tests.
. . .
New York City and Chicago are two districts that adopted competitive business practices, aggressively closing down schools and spurring competition. What are the results? Grade inflation on state scores, but neither district saw significant improvement on NAEP since 2003. (NYC did get a gain for its 4th grade students in math in 2007, but not in 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading, or 8th grade math, and in 2009, the state's math scores were flat, which indicates that the city's were, as well.)

Living as we do in an age when test scores are so easily manipulated and so often fraudulent, we should proceed with caution before using them to determine the fate of students, teachers, principals, and schools.

The close and reopen strategy leads to the "failure" of other schools, as weaker students get pushed to the remaining large schools that are forced to take them, as told in this story on Adlai Stevenson in the Bronx, and this story on Richmond Hill in Queens. Once the crowded atmosphere weakens students enthusiasm and the gap between ninth grade enrollees and graduates increases, the Chancellor clamours for the schools to be shut down.
Jamaica High School's death knell has been sounded. See this post, on the planned closure of Jamaica and eight other schools. And this is stirring much activism in the activist teacher community. New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, fresh from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's weak victory is running forward with a growing list of schools to shut down.
We should peruse lists of shut down large comprehensive high schools. Lists here and here (Norm Scott's). It has been going on since the 1970s, with the closing of Julia Richman in Manhattan, and a new wave that began with the closing of Eastern District (Brooklyn), James Monroe (the Bronx) and Andrew Jackson (Queens), all in the mid-1990s. Serious study needs to be made: what good came of these closures? The residual schools in the same campuses have similar difficulties (e.g., Regents scores, graduation rates) as the earlier schools. If the record of closing down and reopening has made no profound progress, then we need to look to different strategies to improving education for the students in the city.

I have previously posted here and here about how the curriculum options for students are different in schools in minority neighborhoods, contrasted with schools in white neighborhoods. This pattern and the linked trend of school restructuring is exclusive to minority neighborhoods and is a massive civil rights class action lawsuit waiting to be launched.
A race to the top, to the best of aspirations, sounds nice on paper. The reality is that Duncan is pushing a poisonous plan that will encourage other school systems to pursue the same unfounded policies that has accomplished nothing in Chicago and in New York.

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