Thursday, February 9, 2012

Who will turnaround the turnarounds?

"We note with continued dismay that Chicago's unelected school board members continue (to) drain millions of public dollars from regular neighborhood schools while they instead invest in charters, private-sector school models which have been shown to educate students no better." -- Chicago Teachers Union

Last summer, we learned that L.A.'s mayor-run and privately-operated turnaround/charter schools were a miserable failure,  even when compared to struggling regular district-operated public schools. Similar results are now being reported in other urban districts where contract-hungry corporate reformers are imposing top-down turnaround solutions to complex problems.

Now the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research reports that, after four years, “turned around" high schools in Chicago have failed to outperform the city's similar struggling high schools. The report studied 36 schools that adopted one of four models required for federal funding under Race To The Top  — replacing principals, replacing staff through either district-led or AUSL-managed turnarounds and replacing under-performing neighborhood schools with charters, and then compared them to the worst schools in the district that underwent no change, seeing how far they deviated from district averages.

Elementary schools being run by politically-connected AUSL, showed some statistical gains. But only with greater resources. Even with those resources there is no evidence that these initial bumps can be sustained. the pattern has been for those test-score gains to flatten out over time. But at the high school level, the report concluded that CPS' efforts — overhauling school staff or closing schools and then opening charters in their place — "had little effect."

The Sun-Times reports that CPS bureaucrats were quick to seize on the small bump in elementary scores to tout AUSL, which ran 12 of 36 schools studied and, if approved, will oversee six more.
“I would say the report shows there’s promising and encouraging data about our turnaround models in particular and about AUSL as an example,’’ said CPS Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso.
Of course Donoso, like other CPS officials who now serve only at the pleasure of the mayor and spin things accordingly, can say what she wants. But the spin is politically, not educationally driven. Clout-heavy AUSL has from the start, benefited from backing from the Civic Committee, former mayor Daley, current mayor Rahm Emanuel and Sec. of Ed Arne Duncan. Emanuel even selected a former AUSL top executive to oversee CPS' finances and named AUSL's previous board chairman, David Vitale, as president of CPS' Board of Education.

Donoso should at least mention that in elementary schools, the AUSL model comes with $300,000 in one time start-up costs and $141,000 for an assistant principal. One can only imagine what comparative outcomes might have looked like if struggling neighborhood schools got that kind of support.

Actually, for all the public attention and extra political and financial support, AUSL's results have been mixed; some students have made  progress, but as a group they still lag well behind district averages ... with many ending up on par or even below comparable neighborhood schools. According to the Tribune, AUSL has also been accused of "kicking out lower-performing students in the turnaround process to enhance academic gains."

Yesterday, the Chicago Teachers Union responded by announcing it planned to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the Feb. 22 school board vote to give AUSL even more schools to operate.

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