While you mull that one over, I want to know who the genius was that told Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel that Houston schools were really great? It must have been one of the billionaire experts on the corporate-reform education team. David Vitale? Penny Pritzker? Or maybe Emanuel ran into former ed secretary Rod Paige back in D.C., who told him there was a "Texas Miracle." That b.s. story actually propelled former Texas Governor George Bush into the White House in 2000 along with former Houston superintendent Paige as his ed secretary. In any case, everywhere Rahm goes these days, whenever anyone asks him for an example of what he wants to do with Chicago schools, he answers, "Uh, Texas--Houston, Texas."
At yesterday's forum at Malcolm X College students got to ask questions of the next mayor about how he'll be different from outgoing Mayor Daley and how he plans to improve the city's dropout rate. Obviously prepped by one of his experts, Rahm offered his now-stock answers--charter schools, merit pay, and a longer school day. He also threw in principals, who he calls the "franchisee owner of the school building."
In Houston, says Rahm, "if you start in the Chicago Public School system in kindergarten and your cousin lives in Houston, and you both go all the way through high school, the cousin in Houston spends three more years in the classroom."My god! Is this true? Three years more in the classroom? That cousin must be a genius (or bored out of their freakin' mind). Well, at least his or her ACT score may be a wee bit higher, if -- and this is a big if-- they're not poor. The average ACT score for Houston's public high school students is 19.7, compared with 17.3 for Chicago, writes Trib columnist Eric Zorn. But that 2.4 difference doesn't seem like much of a miracle, does it, considering the three years of extra time in the classroom. Besides, who is this "average" Houston student they keep talking about anyway? Whose cousin is it? I've always wanted to meet them.
What I do know is the gap between white students in Houston and the district's students of color is about the same as those in Chicago. Not only that, but HISD schools have failed to make AYP under No Child Left Behind standards, for three years in a row. Funny, Rahm failed to mention that.
Zorn adds that, "87 percent of Chicago's pupils are classified as 'low income,' compared with 79 percent of pupils in Houston labeled 'economically disadvantaged.'"
Maybe Rahm's experts should have thought of that. Get 8 percent fewer poor kids in your school and your scores will go up by a couple of points on average, that is. As Houston Supt. Terry Grier told his board of trustees last week:
"We want all of our schools to be on an upward trend. We have kids in our very best schools that need help. But I can promise you it's a lot easier to get help when you're surrounded with children with means. Our biggest challenge in our district is fighting poverty. You look at the achievement gap between free and reduced and non free and reduced. "And it's not like anyone is actually arguing against lengthening the school day. The CTU is all for it, providing teachers get paid for the extra work. What a concept!
Chicago's elementary school day generally begins for students at 9 a.m. and ends at 2:45 p.m., with no recess and just 20 minutes for lunch. Well, there it is. Just restore recess and adequate time for play (lots of learning goes on during play, Rahm) and bodda-bing, you have your 3 more years of learning. And I guarantee at least a 1.3 rise in ACT scores--on average that is. As for the cousin--well they've probably already dropped out. You see, Houston's dropout rate matches Chicago.
Oh, and guess what? HISD's board just announced that they are cutting the district's summer school week down to four days as a budget-cutting measure. The reason--HISD will lose $173.6 million in state funds in 2011-12 and $217.3 million in 2012-13.
Yes, Rahm, the more time you spend learning, the more you are learning. True enough. Try it!