Studies cast doubt on CPS strategy

  • By Jay Field
  • February 18, 2009 @ 9:00 AM

Students at two elementary campuses in the controversial Chicago Public Schools  turnaround program aren’t performing appreciably better than kids in nearby neighborhood schools.

That’s a key finding in one of two new reports released yesterday by the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Turaround supporters say the analysis is flawed. It comes as the Chicago Board of Education nears a key vote next week on a district plan to close, consolidate, phase out or turnaround 22 city schools.

In a turnaround, a school’s existing staff is dismissed and a new principal, specially trained to guide the overhaul, takes charge, hires new teachers, gives them more coaching and support, adds heft to the curriculum and pushes higher expectations and a more disciplined culture.

The study, by UIC education professor Pauline Lipman, says results from the  first two turnaround schools provide little evidence, so far, that the strategy works.

At one of them, Sherman School of Excellence, 40 percent of students met or exceeded state standards last year.

Three nearby schools, Holmes, Johnson and Yale elementaries, posted nearly identical scores. They are candidates for the turnaround program this year.

“Sherman is not really doing any better than the schools that they want to turnaround (this year), which are right near Sherman. So it’s the same kids, same neighborhood,” says Lipman.

She noted that the turnaround program was launched two and a half years ago.

"It’s a very short time to have any data,” says Lipman.

The turnaround schools are managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit group.

Tim Cawley, AUSL’s managing director of finance and administration, says Lipman's study is flawed.

“They’re looking at the score in the absolute,” says Cawley, “If you look at Sherman and Harvard and their trend—from where they were when we took them over to where they are now—there’s no question that they have made more progress, during that time, than the neighborhood schools,” he says.

Over the past three years, the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards at the Sherman and Harvard Schools of Excellence have risen by 11 and 13 percent respectively.

It’s a better three-year record than any of the five elementary schools proposed for turnaround next fall.

Nonetheless, grassroots education groups are seizing on the UIC study to bolster their fight against the newest batch of proposed turnarounds.

The intensity of the back-and-forth between the grassroots groups and the district and organizations like AUSL is part of an ongoing struggle over the future shape and identity of the nation’s third largest school system.

One version -- pushed by Mayor Richard M. Daley and U.S. Education Secretary and former city public schools CEO Arne Duncan -- is a system of innovation, spurred by opening up the public schools to private and non-profit partners with the financial resources and ingenuity to help it improve.

Charter schools are a big part of that model. But a second UIC study, The Charter Difference, is casting doubt on their effectiveness at the high school level.

Among the findings: neighborhood high schools enroll more low-income and limited English proficient students than charter high schools, but have three-year ACT composite scores that are identical to charters.

The Chicago Teachers Union and grassroots groups worry charters and other partnerships with outside groups are an attempt to privatize public education.

But yesterday, Barbara Eason-Watkins, CPS chief education officer, refused to back away from the district’s embrace of charters.

“The high demand for enrollment is an indication that charter schools are thriving, and we have an obligation to meet that demand by bringing even more quality options for education to families across Chicago,” she said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

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VITTORIO JACKSON, 02-18-2009

Barbara Eason-Watkins is a sell out. Barbara, we have to get off the Daley Plantation!!!