From the Chicago Tribune comes more bad news on education reform. That's right, the plan (largely blaming teachers and closing schools) that the new federal program is based on doesn't work. So much for data-based decision making and new reason to be concerned about Republican folks like Indiana's Mitch Daniels are so giddy about it.
Daley school plan fails to make grade:Renaissance 2010 officials defend efforts to upgrade education for Chicago students over last 6 years
By Stephanie Banchero, Tribune Reporter
January 17, 2010
Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city's school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.
Scores from the elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are nearly identical to the city average, and scores at the remade high schools are below the already abysmal city average, the analysis found.
The moribund test scores follow other less than enthusiastic findings about Renaissance 2010 -- that displaced students ended up mostly in other low-performing schools and that mass closings led to youth violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms. Together, they suggest the initiative hasn't lived up to its promise by this, its target year.
"There has been some good and some bad in Renaissance 2010, but overall it wasn't the game changer that people thought it would be," said Barbara Radner, who heads the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University. "In some ways it has been more harmful than good because all the attention, all the funding, all the hope was directed at Ren10 to the detriment of other effective strategies CPS was developing."
Turning around public schools is the core of Daley's efforts to keep the city vibrant. But the outcome of his ambitious education experiment is as important to the nation as it is to Chicago. The architect of Renaissance 2010, former schools CEO Arne Duncan, is now the U.S. Secretary of Education -- and he's taking the Daley-Duncan model national as part of his Race to the Top reform plan.
Duncan is using an unprecedented $4.35 billion pot of money to lure states into building education systems that replicate key Ren10 strategies. The grant money will go to states that allow charter schools to flourish and to those that experiment with turning around failing schools -- all part of the Chicago reform.
Illinois education officials hope to get a piece of the pie and are preparing an application for Tuesday's deadline.
Renaissance 2010 was launched in 2004 after decades of school reforms failed to fix chronically underperforming schools. City leaders promised to close the worst schools and open 100 innovative ones that would rely heavily on the private sector for ideas, funding and management. Central to the plan was an increase in charter schools, which receive tax dollars but are run by private groups free from many bureaucratic constraints.
Daley and Duncan credit the program with injecting competition and invigorating a stagnant system and say it has laid a foundation the district can build on.
"We haven't looked at all the data, but our belief is that Renaissance 2010 dramatically improved the educational options in communities across Chicago," said Peter Cunningham, Duncan's spokesman, who followed him from Chicago to Washington. "We believe that it is contributing to Chicago's overall success. Renaissance 2010 and Race to the Top both reflect a willingness to be bold, hold yourself to higher standards and push for dramatic change, not incremental change."
Cunningham and other supporters argue that many new schools, mainly in low-income and high-crime neighborhoods, are outperforming nearby traditional schools. They say attendance rates, parent satisfaction and student engagement are higher. And they point out that expecting significant gains from startup schools is unrealistic.
On Saturday, Daley said the program will yield measurable results, but that it will take time.
"I'll accept any criticism, and any adjustment of it, we'll look at it," Daley said.
There have been some bright spots.
Most of the elementary schools overhauled by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which changes the school staff but leaves the students in place, are outperforming their previous selves. The Noble Street charter schools, which operate in some of the toughest neighborhoods, have college-going rates that even suburban schools would envy. And innovation has flourished, as the city's first all-boys public high school, Urban Prep, opened in Englewood, and the Chicago Virtual Charter School went online.
The business community embraced the reform agenda and has ponied up $50 million to the Renaissance Schools Fund, a nonprofit created by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. The group has awarded about $30 million to 63 new schools.
Currently, 92 Renaissance 2010 schools enroll 34,000 children -- about 8 percent of the district total. Seven new schools will open in the fall, and the city plans to announce new school closings within the next few weeks.
The new schools mirror the district demographically, except they enroll fewer special education students and those who speak English as a second language.
Chicago school officials don't publicly track the performance of the Renaissance 2010 schools. But Ron Huberman, who took the helm of the city schools when Duncan left, said he has crunched the numbers and about one-third of the new schools are outperforming their neighborhood counterparts; one-third are identical in performance; the rest do worse.
A Tribune analysis shows that in Renaissance 2010 elementary schools, an average of 66.7 percent of students passed the 2009 Illinois Standards Achievement Test, identical to the district rate. The Ren10 high school passing rate was slightly lower on state tests than the district as a whole -- 20.5 percent compared with 22.8 percent. But it's identical at 17.6 percent when selective enrollment schools, where students test to get in, are removed from the equation.
Only a quarter of Renaissance 2010 schools had test scores high enough to meet the federal goals set by No Child Left Behind, the signature education policy of the George W. Bush administration. Chicago students as a whole still post some of the lowest test scores on national math and reading exams.