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Chicago Schools Report Contradicts Obama and Duncan

Susan Notes:

Substance, the only newspaper of education resistance, provides complete coverage of Chicago schools every day.

Of course it is significant that this report comes from Duncan/Daley corporate backers.

By Greg Toppo

New research from a Chicago civic group takes direct aim at the city's
"abysmal" public high school performance - and puts a new spin on the
academic gains made during the seven years that Arne Duncan led the
Chicago schools before he was named U.S. Education secretary.

The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, a supporter of
Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's push for more control of
city schools, issued the report June 30. It says city schools have made
little progress since 2003.

Its key findings stand in stark contrast to assertions President Obama
made in December when he nominated Duncan as Education secretary.

And though the findings are by no means as explosive, they're
reminiscent of revelations from Houston in 2003, when state
investigators found that 15 high schools had underreported dropout rates
under former superintendent Rod Paige, who by then was George W. Bush's
Education secretary.

In December, Obama said that during a seven-year tenure, Duncan had
boosted elementary school test scores "from 38% of students meeting the
standards to 67%" - a gain of 29 percentage points. But the new report
found that, adjusting for changes in tests and procedures, students'
pass rates grew only about 8 percentage points.

Obama also said Chicago's dropout rate "has gone downevery year he's
been in charge." Though that's technically true, the committee says it's
still unacceptably high: About half of Chicago students drop out of the
city's non-selective-enrollment high schools. And more than 70% of
11th-graders fail to meet state standards, a trend that "has remained
essentially flat" over the past several years.

Even among those who graduate, it says, skills are poor: An analysis of
students entering the Chicago City Colleges in fall 2006 showed that 69%
were not prepared for college-level reading, 79% were not prepared for
writing, and 95% were not prepared for math.

"Performance is very bad, very weak," says Civic Committee president
Eden Martin.

Obama also said Chicago students' ACT test score gains "have been twice
as big as those for students in the rest of the state." Again,
technically true - ACT data show that Chicago students' composite score
rose 0.9 points from 2002 to 2006, while Illinois' score rose 0.4
points. But Chicago students' composite score of 17.4 was lower than the
statewide average of 20.5.

Timothy Knowles, who directs the University of Chicago's Urban Education
Institute, says the report highlights "a highly irresponsible state
reaction" to the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"In essence," he says, "many states have lowered (passing) scores on
standardized tests to create the public appearance they are meeting
federal standards. This practice sells children short - and the states
that engage in it are, ironically, leaving themselves behind."

Knowles says Chicago schools are moving in the right direction, with
"some extraordinary new schools" and promising performance from black
and Latino students, for instance. "However, the Civic Committee report
reminds us these successes are fragile . and there is unambiguous
evidence that Chicago has miles to go before it sleeps."

Duncan spokesman Peter Cunningham says Chicago schools "made significant
gains across a range of indicators" under Duncan. "While we still have a
long way to go, it is absolutely misleading and irresponsible to suggest
that there has not been progress."

Blogger Alexander Russo, who writes about Chicago schools, says the
findings show that nearly 15 years into mayoral control, the city school
system "isn't nearly as improved as many have been led to believe."

"What I find particularly appalling is that Duncan and Obama - supposed
champions of transparency and using research rather than ideology - have
cited Chicago's inflated test scores, even though they knew the
increases were exaggerated."

/ Read the report here [pdf file].

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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