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School Reform, Chicago Style


Ohanian Comment: Reading the first paragraph or so, I thought I'd be posting this item in the "Good News" category. Very early in my career we used proactive tactics to get students into school. These were kids from rather chaotic homes who just needed a little extra "encouragement" to get into school.

But then I kept reading. And soon found data madness. Chicago people call it "relentless collection and application." You can read a puff piece on Don Fraynd here. He got a few years of teaching experience at a Jesuit college preparatory school.

NOTE: In May 2011, the Chicago Tribune published a puff piece on the turnaround miracle at Marshall High. At the time, it didn't seem worth the trouble of posting it. But the piece below goes into much greater detail, indicating the kind of data mania that will be brought to schools across the country in the name of school turn around. This is what the Feds are paying for: the Duncan Model.

Once again, Chicago leads the way.

You don't have to be from Chicago to be concerned about what FSG Social Impact Consultants are up to. Listing their "featured clients" as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Nestle, World Wildlife Fund International, Pfizer, and NewSchools Venture Fund, these folk produced School Turnaround Field Guide in September 2010. Here are the opening paragraphs of the Executive Summary:


More than 5,000 schools, representing 5 percent of
schools in the United States, are chronically failing,
according to the latest U.S. Department of Education
statistics. These schools serve an estimated 2.5 million
students. The number of failing schools has doubled
over the last two years, and without successful
interventions, could double again over the next five years.

Bold Action
To combat this problem, the Obama administration
announced its intention to use $5 billion to turn
around the nation's 5,000 poorest-performing schools
over the next five years. This is a bold challenge
to a system that has succeeded at turning around
individual schools, but has never delivered dramatic
change at a national scale. To foster urgency and
innovation, the federal government is providing
unprecedented levels of funding and strong direction
for policy changes to support school turnaround.
District, state, private, and nonprofit education
leaders across the country have responded with an
unprecedented level of attention to school turnaround.

The report states that the following "advisory group made up of key practitioners and experts in the education field provided vital counsel for this project. FSG sincerely
thanks them for their guidance and insight."
- Alan Anderson, Chicago Public Schools
- Karla Brooks Baehr, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
- Andy Calkins, The Stupski Foundation
- Matt Candler, Candler Consulting
- Justin Cohen, Mass Insight Education
-Josh Edelman, District of Columbia Public Schools
- Donald Feinstein, Academy for Urban School Leadership
- Donald Fraynd, Chicago Public Schools
- Kelly Garrett, Rainwater Charitable Foundation
- Robert Glascock, The Breakthrough Center, Maryland State Department of Education
- Leah Hamilton, Carnegie Corporation of New York
- Jennifer Henry, New Leaders for New Schools
- Jennifer Holleran, Independent Consultant
- Joanna Jacobson, Strategic Grant Partners
- Greg John, The Stuart Foundation
- Richard Laine, The Wallace Foundation
- Frances McLaughlin, Education Pioneers
- Jordan Meranus, NewSchools Venture Fund
- Courtney Philips, KIPP Foundation
- Deborah Stipek, Stanford University School of Education
- Courtney Welsh, New York City Leadership Academy

The report was financed "in part" by the Wallace Foundation. Read the report and you will see that tying teacher pay to student test scores is a key turnaround strategy. Reminder: Before Richard Laine became Director of Education Programs at the Wallace Foundation he was head of Education Policy and Initiatives at the Illinois Business Roundtable.

Here is a list of FSG's school clients: Academy for College Excellence
Chicago Public Schools
DC Public Schools
Institute for Learning
Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools
Lawrence Hall of Science
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
New Jersey Charter Public Schools Association
New Schools for New Orleans
New York City Leadership Academy
New York State Juvenile Justice System
Newark Charter School Fund
NewSchools Venture Fund
Sausalito Marin City School District
Southern Regional Education Board
Stanford University
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
Xavier University

Notice any patterns here?

Employee Job Losses

Would you like to deconstruct Mr. Fraynd's statement here?


Mr. Fraynd said the data he tracks have played a role in disciplinary actions and job losses for employees of his office and the schools he oversees. The data haven't been used against teachers, as their union contract bars it. But by 2013, such benchmarks as student academic growth will become part of broader teacher performance evaluations.


Chicago bases its turnaround discipline policy on the New York City police system: Act on every misdemeanor. Teachers are required to log every incidence of student misconduct, from texting in class to fighting. Corporate-politicos say they want teachers to be trained in a clinical medical model. The truth of the matter is that they require teachers to act like cops--when they aren't busy performing their jobs as factory foremen.

Note that in the Chicago turnaround model, 80% of the teachers are "replaced," and two number crunchers are brought in. And an undisclosed number of those left are "managing" online instruction--meaning students sit at computers and work through assignments at their own pace. They sit at computers and "do this/do that." They work at their own pace, meaning it takes some longer to fill in the multiple choice answers than others. Read carefully and you will see that students in these classes are working on different subjects. So this isn't a "class," this is a factory for completing scripted assignments.

I suggest that schools that want to get students to attend should take the drastic action of scrapping a curriculum designed in the late 1800's and take the bold step of offering them a curriculum that means something.


Here are the Course Objectives for Freshman English for John Marshal Metropoliitan High school:
By the end of your freshman year in English, you should be able to do the following:
  • Understand subject/verb agreement.
  • Understand the eight parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, interjection, conjunction, preposition, pronoun)
  • Utilize conventions of proper English in both writing and speaking.
  • Apply varied sentence structure and word choice to oral and written work.
  • Independently develop pieces of writing (including persuasive essays) through a series of drafts utilizing editing and outlining.
  • Increase reading comprehension while expanding vocabulary.
  • Here are the Course Objectives for Freshman English Honors for John Marshal Metropolitan High school:
    By the end of your freshman year in English, you should be able to do the following:
  • Understand subject/verb agreement.
  • Understand the eight parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, interjection, conjunction, preposition, pronoun)
  • Utilize conventions of proper English in both writing and speaking.
  • Apply varied sentence structure and word choice to oral and written work.
  • Independently develop pieces of writing (including persuasive essays) through a series of drafts utilizing editing and outlining.
  • Increase reading comprehension while expanding vocabulary.
  • Here is the syllabus for English III, taken from the John Marshal Metropoliitan High school
    Course Description and Overview
    The English III course will stress ACT/PSAE preparation. The English III course will establish solid foundations in word, parts of speech, grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation usage. Students will gain a thorough overview of homophones, a strong MELCON paragraph, and structuring a solid essay. Students will have the ability to revise and edit paragraphs with conviction. This course will supply students with the principles needed to successfully encounter the ACT and PSAE.

    Course Objectives
    Upon successful completion of the English III course, students will be able to and will have addressed the following CRS (College Readiness Standards):
    * revise vague nouns and pronouns that create obvious logic problems;
    * provide appropriate punctuation in straightforward situations;
    * recognize and use the appropriate word in frequently confused pairs;
    * use an adverb or adjective form to ensure straightforward subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement;
    * determine the need for punctuation and conjunctions to avoid awkward-sounding sentence fragments and fused sentences;
    * decide the appropriate verb tense and voice by considering the meaning of the entire sentence;
    * identify the basic purpose or role of a specified phrase or sentence;
    * delete obvious synonymous and wordy material in a sentence; and
    * revise expressions that deviate from the style of an essay.
    Be still, my breaking heart.

    By Stephanie Banchero

    CHICAGO--At 7:15 on a chilly May morning, Marshall Metro High School attendance clerk Karin Henry punched numbers into a telephone, her red nails clacking as she dialed.

    "Good morning, Miss MeMe," she said to Barbara "MeMe" Diamond, a 17-year-old junior with a habit of oversleeping. "This is Ms. Henry, your stalker."

    Turning Around Marshall High

    The timing of the call was key. Earlier in the year, Ms. Henry and a co-worker were spending nearly two hours a day calling every student who hadn't checked into school by 9:30 a.m. But weekly data tracked by their office found that only about 9% of those students ever arrived. So they changed tactics, zeroing in on habitual latecomers like MeMe, and delivering wake-up calls starting at 6:30. On that May morning, 19 of the 26 students called showed up.

    "I just stay in bed if no one calls me," MeMe said. "That 6:30 call be bugging me, but it gets me here."

    District officials are betting that data--the relentless collection, evaluation and application of them--can serve as a wake-up call for Marshall as well.

    Chicago won $20 million in federal money over three years to help improve its worst-performing schools, part of a $3.5 billion program that targeted 1,247 failing schools nationwide. The district is kicking in another $7 million in local money, and officials were determined to invest in programs that would help them measure progress, use the information to fine-tune tactics on the fly, and hold staff and students accountable for the results.

    "We want to move investments to things that work," said Don Fraynd, the district official overseeing Marshall's turnaround.

    One year in, results from Marshall are far from conclusive, but district officials see promising trends. Average attendance rose 22 points to 75% for the year, and 79% of freshmen were on track to advance to 10th grade, up from 34%. At each grade level, scores on standardized tests improved from fall to spring in English, math, reading and science. Other Chicago schools that have been in the program longer have reported similar gains.

    It's unclear whether the program can be sustained. Chicago's district, which has a $5.5 billion budget, faces a $712 million deficit. It has slashed its share of the turnaround funds by 60% for next year.

    Data collection and analysis aren't new to public education; Houston's district was an early proponent and judged it a success. But few districts have embraced them to manage student and staff performance the way Chicago has. Mr. Fraynd said the data he tracks have played a role in disciplinary actions and job losses for employees of his office and the schools he oversees. The data haven't been used against teachers, as their union contract bars it. But by 2013, such benchmarks as student academic growth will become part of broader teacher performance evaluations.

    Chicago's program was partly modeled on CompStat, a New York City police system that required precinct commanders to analyze and answer for weekly crime statistics. Proponents said CompStat sharply reduced crime, though critics said the pressure led precincts to manipulate results. Similar concerns have been voiced about data-driven reforms in schools.

    An informal 2009 study by the Chicago Teachers Union found that a third of teachers felt pressured to alter student grades, in part because of the district's focus on data. The union said it doesn't object to data analysis to manage teacher performance, but worries that it will be used to punish teachers rather than help them. CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown said the union opposes the district's proposed method for incorporating student test data into teacher evaluations, calling it "unreliable and erratic."

    Mr. Fraynd said he's not worried about data manipulation, noting a new system that can detect, for example, whether a teacher gave passing grades to students with low test scores.

    Larry Cuban, professor emeritus at Stanford University's school of education, says schools that allow data to drive decisions risk "perverse outcomes" that make aggregate numbers look better but don't improve educational outcomes for most students. He pointed, for example, to schools that focus on getting students just below passing level on state exams over the bar, while ignoring children at the lowest levels.

    "When the data is in charge, you have remote control of schools and classrooms," he said. People make decisions "on how best to move the data points, not on what's best for children."

    At Marshall, many staffers grumbled about the data-collection and entry requirements. Teachers, for example, had to log every incidence of student misconduct, from texting in class to fighting. Deans and department chairs input scores from every classroom teacher observation.

    For Didi Afaneh, the year ended in frustration. As lead freshman teacher, she was responsible for keeping students on track to pass to 10th grade. She missed her goal by one percentage point, despite a series of steps teachers tried, from before- and after-school tutoring to visiting students at home to assigning mentors and counselors.

    "For people who bust their butt every day to reach kids, and still we don't make our goals, it gets really depressing," she said at a May staff meeting .

    Others, like assistant principal Matt Curtis, embraced the process but worried the school was applying and measuring too many incremental changes without determining what works. "It's very hard to get any sense of cause and effect," he said. "We need to home in on a strategy or two and make the commitment to run with that."

    District officials targeted Marshall--a basketball powerhouse spotlighted in the documentary "Hoop Dreams"--based on some grim statistics. It had the city's lowest percentage of freshmen on track to become 10th-graders, and the lowest attendance rate among Chicago's conventional high schools: 53%. Half its students were dropouts; only 3% passed state proficiency exams. Most came from poor homes in violent neighborhoods.

    The 118-year-old building stands in East Garfield Park, a depressed West Side neighborhood where redevelopment efforts stalled. A few blocks away, a sign on a vacant lot heralds the construction of a new condo project. Expected completion: 2008.

    The school used its turnaround funds to replace 80% of its faculty [emphasis added], revamp curriculum and enhance anti-truancy efforts, among other steps; it adopted the CompStat-style system to measure progress on all those fronts.

    Two number crunchers at Marshall digested tens of thousands of data points, from the frequency of fights to cheerleaders' GPAs. Charts lining the hallways listed attendance rates of individual students. Staff members gathered regularly for "performance management" meetings to review data and outline solutions.

    During one meeting in May, a chart projected on screen showed that only 22% of students enrolled in online courses--where teachers supervise classrooms of students following lectures or reading textbooks online--were on track to complete them on time, down from 32% in February. Mr. Fraynd wanted an explanation.

    One teacher cited unmotivated students and absenteeism as factors. But Mr. Fraynd wasn't buying it. He said he had dug into the data himself and found that regular attendees and frequent absentees had similar completion rates.

    "What I haven't heard you address is the behavior of the teacher in the room," he said. "On my observations in the classrooms, I don't see active mentoring happening, and I am curious about why."

    James Dorrell, a teacher who oversaw an online classroom, noted that the such classes can be tough to manage because students work at their own pace, on different subjects. "If I sit down with one kid for 10 minutes, then the other kids get distracted."

    Principal Kenyatta Stansberry, who's ultimately responsible for the stats, proposed more training for teachers in data analysis so they can better track students, and a requirement that teachers complete detailed reports on student progress every five weeks. She also pledged to be more selective in picking teachers for the online program.

    Kyle Birch, a first-year special-education teacher, adopted Marshall's data mining to scrutinize his own teaching methods. He picked apart every answer on one 40-question exam and found only 17% of his students could graph a sloped line, despite his spending days teaching the skill.

    So Mr. Birch summoned his students outside and had them plot points with chalk on a grid drawn on the sidewalk. He made them walk a path connecting the dots, hoping the movement would aid their comprehension. In retesting later, he found that most of them understood.

    Mr. Birch also scanned the data for clues on which of his special-education students might succeed in a mainstream math class and moved four of them up. "The data opened the door for these kids," Mr. Birch said.

    Marshall's most aggressive turnaround efforts focused on its most persistent challenge: attendance. Two years ago, barely half the students showed up on an average day.

    Such absenteeism can doom broader reform efforts. Research shows that dropouts follow a process of gradual disengagement, where students miss more and more school until they find it impossible to catch up. Sporadic attendance makes it difficult for teachers to stay on pace with their lessons.

    Ayesha El-Amin Calhoun, head of the attendance office, tried a number of tactics to boost attendance, from calling kids at home before school to dangling common attendance rewards such as bus passes and MP3 players. She also hired "student advocates," to cruise neighborhoods searching for students. Each of these efforts was measured, evaluated and, when warranted, adjusted or dropped.

    At a Jan. 27 meeting, Ms. Calhoun reported that her office was most effective with the most chronic absentees: 88% of students who showed up just a third of the time during the first quarter boosted their attendance the second quarter after some contact with her office.

    She and her co-workers decided to focus more effort on students who were chronically late or absent, calling them before school and sending advocates out to find them. By the end of the year, attendance had risen to 75%.

    What made the biggest difference, Ms. Calhoun concluded, was not the calls, but the quantity and quality of interactions between students and her staffers. "The kids who make a connection to Ms. Henry or other adults in this office are the ones who keep coming back," she said. She wants her staff to spend more time cultivating relationships with students like MeMe.

    The most successful attendance program--the Calhoun Challenge--evolved over time. At the beginning of the year, Ms. Calhoun asked 74 chronically truant students to sign in every day for six weeks.

    During the first few weeks, their attendance improved to 50% from 45%, but eventually tailed off to about 40%.

    "I realized a short-term goal of 10 days was [more] attainable," she said.

    From there, Ms. Calhoun kept tweaking the challenges to boost response rates and test variables. In late October, she asked 43 frequent absentees to sign a contract promising to attend school for 10 straight days. In that span, they nearly closed the 20-point gap between their attendance rates and Marshall's average. Once the challenge ended, the students lapsed.

    Next year, Ms. Calhoun plans to open the challenges to more students, with competitions pitting siblings or groups against each other and follow-up contracts for students who slough off. She also plans to devote more effort to students who have the intellectual ability to do well in school, but fall behind because of absenteeism.

    Sharief Raines, an 18-year-old senior with a toddler at home, took the challenge after missing every school day in December. In January, she showed up 12 of 19 days. Ms. Calhoun even watched the baby one afternoon while Sharief did homework. "I saw Dean Calhoun was trying to help me," she said. "I didn't want to let her down."

    Sharief graduated June 11.

    Write to Stephanie Banchero at stephanie.banchero@wsj.com

    — Stephanie Banchero
    Wall Street Journal

    2011-06-25

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304665904576381763818188984.html?mod=djemITP_h

    IL


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