Saturday, July 11, 2009

Arne Duncan and Chicago Schools

Crain's Chicago Business -- June 30, 2009
By Gregory Hinz

Chicago Public School reform largely has failed, with the vast bulk
of students either dropping out or unprepared for college and apparent
gains at the grade-school level more perceived than real.
That's the bottom line of a blockbuster report released Tuesday by
the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, a report that directly
challenges the legitimacy of one of Mayor Richard M. Daley's major
claimed accomplishments.
Titled "Still Left Behind," the report freely uses terms like
"abysmal" to describe the true state of public education in Chicato. The
report was prepared by committee President R. Eden Martin, a lawyer,
with analytical support from Paul Zavitkovsky of the College of
Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Half of the students drop out by high school, and of those who remain
until 11th grade, 70% fail to meet state standards, the report says. In
fact, "In the regular (non-magnet) neighborhood high schools, which
serve the vast preponderance of students, almost no students are
prepared to succeed in college."
The report directly challenges widespread claims by current and former
CPS officials that local students have shown substantial progress over
the last decade on standardized tests.
For instance, it notes a 2006 letter from then schools CEO Arne
Duncan, now U.S. secretary of education, stating that the share of CPS
students meeting or exceeding state standards had leapt 15 points in one
In fact, it says, the change occurred because of a change in the test,
not because of real educational gains. As a result, it points out, while
a test cited by local officials showed that 71% of 8th graders met or
exceeded state standards in 2007, a national test taken here the same
year showed just 13% were up to par.
Similarly, while the test employed locally reported that the share of
8th graders meeting math standards grew from 32% to 71% from 2005 to
2007, the national test, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education,
showed scores effectively flat, moving from 11% to only 13%.
The report does note that the changes in the test were ordered by the
state, not by CPS
CPS officials and Mayor Richard M. Daley had no immediate response to
the report, but Ron Gidwitz, former chairman of the State Board of
Education, said he believes its results are on point.
"It hard to refute their conclusions when you look at the evidence,"
including how CPS students do on college-enrollment tests, Mr. Gidwitz
said. "We haven't made nearly as much progress as people thought."
A spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union said she hopes the report
spurs more cooperation between school management and teachers. "We know
what's needed," she said.
Mr. Duncan's office did push back some.
While the data in cited in the report may be accurate, "We disagree
with their conclusions," a spokesman for the secretary said. "There's
been tremendous progress in Chicago schools" in recent years.
The spokesman noted that, even using test data as adjusted by the
committee, the share of 8th graders performing at or above the statewide
average incrased a third beween 2001 and 2008, from 24.3% to 32.1%. In
addition, the average ACT college score increased a point, to 17.9%, and
the number of students taking advanced-placement courses sharply
increased, the spokesman said.
The committee's Mr. Martin said he would not call the entire
school-reform process a failure largely because it also has sparked the
formation of more charter and other innovative schools, schools that
according to the report perform better than CPS schools.
Mr. Martin denied that his groups advocacy for charter schools at all
affected its data or analysis. The committee, which represents Chicago's
largest firms, has helped raise $70 million to open new, small schools,
Mr. Martin said.
Mr. Martin did praise new schools CEO Ron Huberman. "He's doing
everything right," Mr. Martin said. "They're going to squeeze everything
possible out of the operation and put it into charters."

- "Still Left Behind: Student Learning in Chicago Public Schools" is
online at


schools said...

I love reading this article, a very informative one. Nice article, thank you.

JLFord said...

Arne Duncan, a good and knowledgeable person, but not yet ready to resolve the problems afflicting urban community schools. This was apparent when he was superintendant of schools in Chicago and now as Secretary of Education. He must convene leaders form affected cities along with parents and teachers to discuss root issues from the bottom up. Throwing a few dollars to unsuccessful community groups and organizations will not help the kids or resolve the problems. Even though violence in and around schools impact all races and economic groups - the solutions require different strategies.