Chicago's local public radio station WBEZ jumped into the exciting world of school reform program evaluation this week and as one might expect, they made quite a muck of it.HUBERMAN: We're continuing to learn from what's worked well in Renaissance 2012…2010!...and what we need to improve on…
ambi: tape rewind
Did he say Renaissance 2012??HUBERMAN: No, that was just a slip, Linda.--WBEZ report from Jan. 12, 2010.
While several previous studies and analysis of Mayor Daley's signature Renaissance 2010 campaign have either been inconclusive or shown it to be a flop, leaving the district with a widening so-called achievement gap and essentially no better off than it was before the expensive and divisive campaign started, this new "study" is dazzling only in its mystification.
It was supposedly concocted with the help of Columbia Teachers College, appears to be little more than a pre-election gambit at resurrecting a discredited reform strategy of mass school closings in targeted neighborhoods and turning them over to private operating companies.
The study pitches itself, "a progress report, not a final grade." But that implies that Ren10 is still alive and kicking with the final verdict still in doubt. The BEZers like Linda Lutton must not have read or listened to their own report from a year ago, "Renaissance 2010: A Tainted Brand", announcing that the mayor and former schools chief Ron Huberman had already declared the program over, kaput, dead and buried. In fact after the plan's Civic Committee architects called the results of the mayor's reform "abysmal," Huberman even banned use of the term Renaissance 2010 within the hallowed halls of 125 Clark Street. And for good reason.
WBEZ report's low-lights
This is what WBEZ did: grade by grade, subject by subject we compared test scores from the Renaissance 2010 schools to the neighborhood schools right around them.Do any credible researchers still consider this a valid way to measure school reform progress? Please write in and let me know who you are.
WBEZ found a third of the city’s Renaissance 2010 schools do not beat out their neighborhood comparisons even half the time.Huh? What?
Interim schools chief Terry Mazany: Clearly, as I’ve been saying, there is no silver bullet.
Who could argue with that? Although Ren10 was pitched as a silver bullet by the mayor, Arne Duncan and the Civic Committee. Duncan even rode the rigged results of this Chicago Miracle all the way to Washington.
Overall, WEBZ found Renaissance elementary schools outperformed nearby schools 58 percent of the time on the grades and subjects students were tested in.And what did they do the other 42 percent of the time or in subjects that weren't tested? For example, Huberman cut important foreign language programs, ostensibly to save money, because foreign languages aren't tested. Is this making any sense yet? It's more or less left to the University of Chicago's Tim Knowles, himself a charter school starter/operator to sum all this up.
KNOWLES : Are we willing to live with some margin of error? We should be, because we’re trying to create new paths forward for children and family.Tim, of course there is always some "margin of error." That's not the problem here. It's comparing, closing, or privatizing schools and firing thousands of teachers based on a single, standardized test score. Ah, but you already know that. Right? Remember Tim, it's those kids, parents and teachers that have to live with your margin of error, not you.
KNOWLES: The city should make Renaissance 2010 routine.But why, Tim? The study is inconclusive. Previous studies called it a failure. Why make it "routine"/
KNOWLES: But along the way, we should be doing careful cost-benefit analysis. And asking ourselves is this worth the upheaval.Ah yes, a cost-benefit analysis. Harvard grad school tuition wasn't wasted. But why along the way? Why not do it before we embark?
KNOWLES: The critical question is whether more children are being better educated now. And whether the results justify the costs.
Yes indeed. Now you're talking. Please consider real studies, not just those done by radio stations, that answer those two questions along with questions of equity (the gap, remember?) before resurrecting Ren10 and "making it routine."
Previous looks at Renaissance 2010
The Chicago Tribune, January, 2010:
- "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."
- "Only a quarter of Renaissance 2010 schools had test scores high enough to meet the federal goals set by No Child Left Behind."
- "Nothing created more disruption to the city's educational landscape."
- "Chicago students as a whole still post some of the lowest test scores on national math and reading exams."
- "Even in schools with single-digit pass rates, violence-filled hallways and embarrassing absentee patterns, parents picketed the streets and filled the school board chambers, begging that their schools be left alone."
- "The new schools mirror the district demographically, except they enroll fewer special education students and those who speak English as a second language."
Furthermore, although researchers note that the initiatives are still in the early stages and that more time may be needed before drawing definitive conclusions, descriptive analyses show that the average standardized test performance of freshman students in most high schools in all three initiatives remained similar to historical levels relative to overall CPS performance.SRI International (June, 2009)
Overall, we found no dramatic improvements. We did find a few hopeful signs, but results were generally mixed.