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Report Questions Duncan’s Policy of Closing Failing Schools

Susan Notes:

This is not a front-page story. Of course not. It's a small item buried on P. A17 of the New York Times. The Chicago Tribune also gave the item small mention; the Sun-Times has not covered it. Nor have other papers across the nation. Who cares about a small 40-page report? Who cares that Substance has been exposing this fraud for years? Chicago Lies Go National.

How many miracles offered up by secretaries of education do we need before we check immediately for lies? I'd like to say I'm amazed that we didn't learn from the phony Texas miracle offered by George Bush the Younger, a fabrication that served as the lodestone for No Child Left Behind. But who could be surprised? Education scams just repeat themselves over and over and over. So do miracles.

So now the president and his secretary of education inflict the Chicago debacle on the nation, without anybody noticing the success never happened. Of course readers of Substance have known this for years, but we are small in number.

Those who rely on truth are destined to be disappointed: the Chicago turnaround plan is now the model for the nation, with the Gates Foundation helping to create a hysterical rush to get everybody on board. Remember, boys and girls, this is a race. Run, doggie, run.

The Consortium for Chicago School Research Report is below two news items discussing it. Please note that judging Duncan's plan by the way he wants to judge teachers--by student scores on standardized tests--the Report shows a 94% failure rate. And with this record the man who would be called a poster child for the Peter Principle, were it not for the fact that, having been promoted to his level of incompetence, he did not remain there but was sent off to Washington D. C. to spread his incompetence across the land.

The Consortium Report doesn't even consider the way these school reconfigurations disrupt the lives of students. Never mind the social and economic fabric of the community. Never mind the lives of the everybody who worked in those schools whose careers were terminated.

By Sam Dillon

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan presided over the closing of dozens of failing schools when he was chief executive of the Chicago public schools from 2001 until last December. In his new post, he has drawn on those experiences, putting school turnaround efforts at the center of the nation's education reform agenda.

Now a study by researchers at the University of Chicago concludes that most students in schools that closed in the first five years of Mr. Duncanâs tenure in Chicago saw little benefit.

"Most students who transferred out of closing schools re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak," says the report, which was done by the universityâs Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Furthermore, the disruptions of routines in schools scheduled to be closed appeared to hurt student learning in the months after the closing was announced, the researchers found.

The reading scores of students in schools designated for closing "showed a loss of about six weeks of learning" on standardized tests in the months after the closing announcement, the report said. Math scores declined somewhat less, it said.

Partly because of the disruption caused by the closings, Mr. Duncan changed strategy after 2006. Instead of closing schools permanently, or for a year, and then reopening with a new staff, he shifted to the turnaround approach, in which the staff of failing schools was replaced over the summer but the same students returned in the fall.

The new report focused only on the elementary schools closed permanently from 2001 to 2006, and thus offers no conclusions about the effectiveness of the turnaround strategy.

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for Mr. Duncan, noted that the report also found that students who ended up in higher-achieving schools showed more gains on standardized tests.

"Clearly, the students who transferred to better schools did better, but the ones who went to similar schools did not," Mr. Hamilton said. âThatâs why we worked in parallel to create more new high-quality learning options.â

Still, the report's findings are likely to provoke new debate about Mr. Duncanâs efforts to encourage the use of Chicagoâs turnaround strategy nationwide. He has set the goal of closing and overhauling 1,000 failing schools a year nationwide, for five years, and Congress appropriated $3 billion in the stimulus law to finance the effort.

A review of the history of school reform efforts, published in the current issue of Education Next, a journal published by Harvard University, argues that school turnaround efforts have failed more often than not.

"This leaves reform advocates in a pickle," said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "The Obama administration's solution is that we're going to make all the lousy schools better, but that's harder than the administration has let on. The next most attractive alternative is to shut them down, and let the kids go to other schools, but this Consortium report has found that that brought little benefit to students in Chicago."

Chicago school closings' impact minimal, report finds
Chicago Tribune

Oct. 28, 2009
By Azam Ahmed

When Chicago Public Schools began closing schools for poor performance and low-enrollment back in 2001, it ignited a fire that has never quite stopped roaring.

Critics of the policy have marched, protested and fought every step of the way to prevent the closings, arguing that the policy broke up school-based relationships and was disruptive for kids. The district said the initiative was meant to give students a shot at attending better schools.

But a recent report shows there was almost no difference in achievement for students whose elementary schools were closed from 2001 to 2006, mostly because the schools they later went to were among the city's worst.

Only 6 percent of the students landed at top schools, as measured by standardized test scores, according to the report by the Consortium for Chicago School Research. Those students showed significant learning gains.

"We don't know whether we saw only 6 percent going to top schools because those were all the seats available or because parents didn't feel comfortable sending them to another neighborhood," said Marisa de la Torre, one of the report's authors.

The study examined 18 schools where 5,445 students were enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade just before the schools closed. Researchers tracked those students' Iowa Test of Basic Skills scores for three years after their schools' closings.

Researchers found that the greatest negative impact to learning occurred in the window between when closings were announced and the actual closing occurred. Typically, announcements were made in January, six months before schools closed.

Once students began studies in their new environments, they largely made up for lost time and performed on par with the control group selected by researchers, meaning they did no better than before.

At the same time, the handful of students that went to the top schools were scoring at a higher level just a year later. Those who attended schools with a high level of teacher-student trust and personal attention also showed higher gains.

"The quality of the school a kid attends matters," said Robin Steans, director of Advance Illinois, a nonprofit education group. "Obviously the focus and drive to make sure these kids ended up in better placements fell short."

The school board changed policies during the 2006 school year in part to address some of the concerns. Instead of closing schools, it moved to turn around weak schools by firing and replacing staff.

When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools
October 2009.
Julia Gwynne Marisa de la Torre

Find full report here [pdf file].

This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.

The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students. One year after school closings, displaced students who re-enrolled in the weakest receiving schools (those with test scores in the bottom quartile of all system schools) experienced an achievement loss of more than a month in reading and half-a-month in math. Meanwhile, students who re-enrolled in the strongest receiving schools (those in the top quartile) experienced an achievement gain of nearly one month in reading and more than two months in math.

The authors focused on 18 CPS elementary schools closed between 2001 and 2006 due to chronically poor academic performance or enrollment significantly below capacity. The schools enrolled 5,445 students at the time of their closings. To assess the academic effects of closing on these students, the study compares students ages 8 and older displaced by school closings with students in similar schools that did not close. The comparison group provides an estimate of how the displaced students should have performed on a range of outcomes had their schools not been closed.

The study reflects CCSR's commitment to studying education issues that are top priorities in Chicago and districts nationwide. In Chicago, multiple rounds of school closings have prompted a powerful backlash from some teachers, students, community members and advocacy groups. Nevertheless, CPS and many other large urban school systems continue to make school closings a cornerstone of reform, touting the financial and academic benefits of closing underutilized or underperforming campuses.

— Julia Gwynne Marisa de la Torre, comment by Dillon & Ahmed
Consortium for Chicago School Research & NY Times & Chicago Tribune


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