Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Duncan's Record in Education

From: Chicago Catalyst
Duncan's track record
by Sarah Karp and John Myers
December 15, 2008

In his seven years as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan has taken on a host of urban education policy challenges to varying degrees of success.

This week, Catalyst revisits some of these signature initiatives, and weighs their significance on the national scene.

Today, we look at the efforts of the Secretary of Education designate to transform high schools, offer families more and better school choices and raise the performance bar for teachers, principals and administrators.

Reforming high schools

Duncan’s oft-stated goal was to create the “best urban school district in the nation.” Yet here, as elsewhere, high schools have made little progress.

Overall high school graduation rates improved under Duncan (up to 55 percent from 47 percent), as did college-going rates (up to 50 percent from 44 percent).

Also improved is the district’s accountability around making sure students go to college. Duncan created the Office of Post-secondary Education and charged it with tracking students after they graduate. CPS is one of the few urban districts that partners with the National Student Clearinghouse, a data warehouse, so it can keep tabs on its graduates. And this past year, Duncan personally pushed principals to get more students to fill out financial aid eligibility forms.

But even with these modest improvements, fewer than a third of the students who were freshmen in 2003 and graduated four years later enrolled in college.

Individual schools, particularly neighborhood high schools like Marshall in the impoverished West Garfield Park community, have not done much better under Duncan’s leadership. Marshall’s graduation rate, for instance, is 40 percent, up only four points; and its college-going rate actually declined 4 points to 31 percent.

Meanwhile, districtwide high school test scores remain stagnant—only 31 percent of juniors meet state standards—leading many to question whether CPS graduates can succeed in college or in the job market. All but two of the 10 lowest performing high schools in 2001 lost ground by 2008.

Duncan has used three strategies to fix high schools: Close them down and replace them with new, smaller schools (Renaissance 2010); fire school staff and reopen under new management (turnaround strategy); or infuse classrooms with new curriculum and materials (High School Transformation). On all fronts, long-languishing, often-ignored high schools got some much needed attention. Also, education experts laud the focus that these efforts have placed on what goes on in the classroom.

But problems with high schools are so entrenched and intertwined with poverty that it is difficult to predict whether these efforts will be enough.

High School Transformation, for instance, launched in 2005 with the promise of delivering carefully chosen curricula designed to engage low-income students, and the teacher training to go with it. Currently, 50 schools are participating at a cost of $80 million. The influx of equipment, such as laptops and science lab materials, has been especially welcome in resource-starved schools.

But the implementation has been rocky. Earlier this year, Catalyst reported that hundreds of students in the city’s worst high schools showed up weeks after the school year had begun. On average, students in these schools were absent 50 days or more. Teachers wound up spending weeks doing catch up and back tracking. Meanwhile, this problem has received little attention in recent years, and the one tool schools need to combat it—truancy officers—are long gone. [See High School Transformation]

Duncan concedes High School Transformation has its limits. To fill some of the gaps, he has created programs to keep freshmen on track academically, and to support small groups of students most at-risk of dropping out.

For individual students, these kinds of supports show promise. The question is: Can Duncan bring them to scale, especially nationally?

Also see this piece:

Lisa Schiff, a parent who lives in the Bay Area, wrote this piece on Duncan that provides a perspective from the parental side of things. Much of her content/information comes from PURE, the Chicago-based parent group who are no fans of Duncan. Parents who are part of PURE are against his corporate approach to education and decry that parent involvement is not part of the agenda of Duncan's Renaissance 2010 program, which they perceive as an attempt to privative schools and/or set up charter schools. It remains to be seen how much leeway Obama gives to Duncan in establishing a similar program on a national level, and how Duncan's penchant for standardized testing as the gold measure of success will impact NCLB reauthorization...

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