Friday, August 25, 2006

Whatever happened to Chicago's "small-schools movement"?

Archived post from Yahoo 360 |08/25/2006 12:49 pm

"At some point you have to say no to what this system is doing to kids" --Principal McGreal

August 25, 2006

Latest from inside the "renaissance"...

Renaissance 2010 started as a small-schools initiative. The original plan called for the creation of 100 new SMALL schools by end of the decade. We're past the halfway point now and one thing has become clear. Ren10 is no longer about small schools or high school restructuring. Rather, it's about closing schools, privatizing school management and making high schools larger and larger.

Case in point.

Gage Park parents have been petitioning the board unsuccessfully for years, for a new high school. Gage Park High School, with 1800, mainly-black and Latino students, is bursting at the seams. Only about 30% of Gage Park students make it to their senior year before dropping out. The perfect place for some new small schools and for restructuring the big high school, right? Wrong. Instead, the central office keeps pushing the school to take more and more kids.

Finally, a brave interim princial, Martin McGreal, stood up and said, enough is enough. He refused to enroll any more new students this year, and was immediately fired.

According to the  Chicago Tribune ("Principal stands up to system, gets fired"):
The interim principal of Chicago's Gage Park High School has been fired for refusing an order to enroll more students at his overcrowded school on the Southwest Side.

"At some point you have to say no to what this system is doing to kids," said Martin McGreal, 37, who joined Chicago Public Schools nine years ago as an elementary school teacher. "It's why the system is where it's at. You compromise all the time."
Adds Tribune writer Lori Olszewski:
The dispute brings into focus one of the hottest issues in the school system--the stark difference in conditions between the neighborhood schools and the system's boutique schools, including new charter schools offering smaller classes.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

You've got to believe in the magic of the tests

Archived Post from Yahoo 360

August 3, 2006
Small schools researchers should have waited a year 

Thanks to Chicago ed gadfly Alexander Russo for reminding us of the magic in Chicago's test scores. His District 299 blog "Mel Gibson And Small Schools" carries the latest "Renaissance 2010 Report" on Chicago's 100 new small schools which includes this upbeat announcement:

New Schools Reach New Heights on 2006 ISAT Test
The Office of New Schools is proud to announce that Chicago’s new schools had a 19.1 percentage point increase in the percent meeting/exceeding ISAT composite scores. This increase is higher than the citywide score increase of 15.2. Congratulations to all of the new school administrators, educators, and students for a job well done and reaffirming our mission! 
Thursday August 3, 2006 - 01:34pm (CDT)

But wait a minute. Didn't we just finish reading the Consortium's report about the new small CHSRI high schools that are also part of Ren10? Didn't we just see the media headlines in the Sun-Times, "Small schools gain, but test scores don't show it," or on Chicago Public Radio, "Small Schools Have No Big Advantage"? 

Haven't we been told over and over again during the past two days that small schools were making kids lives better but that lagging test scores meant failure? Didn't the Consortium study report that the small schools weren't r-r-r-rigorous enough and that their low scores were attributable to weak principals and poor professional development? Wasn't it Russo himself who wrote in Catalyst that, "Improving teaching is a low priority at small high schools?"

More importantly wasn't it me in my last blog, listing possible reasons for those weak test scores in the study and even downplaying their importance? Well all I can say now is, what the hell was I thinking?

Of course, the Consortium study was looking at high schools and the high school scores for 2006 haven't been released yet, for some unknown reason.

But it turns out that the Consortium study may have been looking at the wrong scores, the PSAE tests from 2005. If they would have just waited a year instead of putting all their research eggs in one test basket, they may have also seen a 19.1 jump in the scores at the new small schools, weak principals, poor PD and all. 

Of course we don't know what this year's high school scores will reveal. But could it be that the new elementary schools have suddenly become amazingly more rigorous in just one year and that the new high schools did not? I don't think so. 

And silly me once again for not realizing how important a single standardized test score could be in evaluating the new small schools. Here I've been looking at silly things like dropout and attendance rates, year-to-year growth of the kids, safe, trusting school environments and skilled, qualified teachers. 
Now that I've read the Ren10 report instead of that negative Consortium report, I'm once again a believer in the magic of the tests.