Friday, July 17, 2009

The real story from Chicago

This letter is in this week's Education Week: as that is only available to subscribers, I post it here in its entirety (the author wants it widely distributed):

PURE letter in Ed Week
From Julie Woestehoff of PURE:

My letter on the truth behind the Duncan-Chicago myth is published in this week's Education Week.

In case you're not an online subscriber, here's what I wrote:

With billion of dollars and millions of children's lives at stake, Education Secretary Arne Duncan's claims about his record in Chicago merit special scrutiny, especially if federal education funds are tied to requirements that districts across the nation rapidly replicate the "Chicago model."

Advocates in Chicago have a special vantage point for this effort. We have been comparing Mr. Duncan's rhetoric with reality for several years, and finding significant factual errors and misstatements. His comments in "Start Over" fit this pattern.

For example, Ms. Duncan says, "Chicago success proves that we as a nation can expect dramatic and quick turnarounds in our lowest-performing schools." Yet the Rand Corporation (2008) and SRI International (2009) found that Chicago's new schools perform only "on par" with traditional neighborhood schools. Yet the traditional schools serve more low-income, special education, and limited-English proficient students.

Mr. Duncan states that "In every elementary and middle school we turned around, attendance rates improved." But state data for the 2007 "turnaround model," Sherman Elementary, show that attendance dropped from 91.4% the year prior to the takeover to 90.6% in the first year of the takeover. Attendance nearly recovered its pre-takeover rate at 91.3% in 2008. That's not a terrible record, but it's not an improvement.

Other post-turnaround data for Sherman are even more troubling. By 2008, the data show a 20 percent drop in enrollment, a 10 percent drop in the number of low-income children, and a 17% increase in the mobility rate.

Reality, not hype, should provide the context for considering Mr. Duncan's urgent call for bold and rapid change. Yes, our children need better schools, schools with more resources, more time, smaller classes, better-supported teachers, safer buildings, more participation of parents and community, and programs with a real track record of success. We fear that following Mr. Duncan's lead will send us at breakneck speed down a $5 billion-dollar path to privatization, national standardized tests, and loss of local control over schools, leaving our children even farther behind.

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