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.

Friday, May 12, 2006

When the going gets tough, create your own study

News from Chicago's School 'Renaissance'
May 12, 2006 Have the schools changed? Or just the studies? Just last month, the U. of C.'s Consortium on Chicago School Research found only 6.5 percent of CPS freshmen went on to earn four-year college degrees by their mid-20s, and among African-American and Latino males, only 3 percent. That study looked at the high school graduating classes of 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003. Remember, Mayor Daley took over the school system in 1994.
When Congressman Luis Gutierrez used the Constorium's miserable numbers to build a case for himself as the city's next mayor, CPS leaders came to their boss' rescue the only way they could. They quickly produced another study showing that lots CPS kids were going to college. The Chicago Sun-Times ("CPS study paints rosier picture on grads") reports:
Despite a recent study exposing dismal college graduation rates for Chicago Public Schools students, a new CPS analysis has found that more of its college-bound grads went to four-year schools last year than the year before. Sixty-four percent of those graduates went to four-year colleges and universities in 2005 -- compared with 60.2 percent in 2004. That's significant, officials say, because studies have long found students who attend four-year institutions are more likely to complete their degrees. CPS' analysis also showed an increase in overall college enrollment -- 46 percent of graduates were college-bound last year, compared with 43.5 percent in 2004.
Schools CEO Arne Duncan is ecstatic about the new study. The Consortium study was old hat, he said. It ended three years ago. The CPS self-study goes up through 2005.
"I'm very encouraged," said schools CEO Arne Duncan. "The number of graduates going on to college is up, the number going to four-year colleges is up, and that's true for every ethnic group.
What an amazing turn around in just two years of Renaissance 2010! Well maybe not. The two studies were hardly comparing apples and apples. The Consortium study looked at how many entering freshman ended up with a college degree. The CPS self-study looked only at how many graduating seniors entered college. That way they didn't have to count hundreds of thousands of kids who droped out before the senior year. Also, by averaging in the high schools with selective enrollments, like Whitney Young and Northside College Prep, the CPS spin doctors were able to cover up the great gap that exists between these schools and neighborhood high schools. Northside Prep for example, sends about 90 percent of its kids to college while neighborhood schools send about 20 percent. Average them together and you can say that about 60 percent of CPS kids are going to college. Even with this convoluted research by the CPS bureaucracy's own Commisar of Postsecondary Education, it was almost impossible to put a smiley face on the results. Bordering on the darkly humorous were the stats from Kelvyn Park High School. The CPS study found Kelvyn Park had the worst rate of grads going to college in the whole city. The bad news was that only 21.2 percent of KP's grads went to college in 2005. But the good news was, that this was an increase over 2004 when only 20.9 went. There was also a jump in the percentage of the 21. 2 percent kids enrolling in four-year schools, from 52.1 percent to 67.1 percent. Are you dizzy with success yet?
Kelvyn Park High School Principal Sandra Fontanez-Phelan credited a higher priority placed on college enrollment with helping to boost the percentage of graduates going to four-year colleges. She also credited college prep programs in neighborhood schools like hers.
To put those numbers in perspective however, Kelvyn Park, a large (1900 students) school with a mainly Hispanic population, had 400 seniors last year compared with 600 entering freshman. Not bad for a Chicago neighborhood high school. They only lost about 200 kids between the sophomore and senior year. Of the 400 who didn't drop out by the 11th grade, about 300 graduated. The 0.3 percent increase in college-bound kids from 2004 to 2005 meant one more kid enrolled in college than in 2004. Seven more of the 21% of college-bound kids enrolled in a four-year, rather than a two-year school than did in 2004. We can't put all this on the school. How are kids supposed to afford four-year universities when even state institutions like UIC are costing $20,000/year? There are so many other factors both inside the school and outside, that influence post-secondary choices that it makes no sense to think that the differences between Whitney Young's and KP's numbers are just about curriculum or teaching methods. All this political spinning isn't really about the kids or about sending them successfully to college with the resources and academic tools needed to graduate. High schools lik KP and even Whitney Young are organized specifically not to send every kid to college. They are heavily tracked schools with AP and honors courses for the elite kids and non-college track courses for those who are deemed "not college material." In other words, the schools are doing exactly what they are organized to do, track and sort kids. We know what has to be done at schools like Kelvyn Park, to truly leave no child behind. The question is, do we as a community have the will to do it? It starts with leadership. Then we have to do away completely with 2,000-kid high schools, especially when 1,900 of those kids are from low-income, and minority families. Smaller learning environments with the same resources they have in suburban schools, a challenging, focused curriculum and highly-qualified teachers and guess what? You've got a real renaissance. _______________________________________ Kelvyn Park Principal Fires Back at the Tribune From the Chicago Reader:
The story across the front page of the April 21 Tribune reported on a gloomy new University of Chicago study on the city’s public high schools. “Of 100 Chicago Public School Freshmen, Six Will Get a College Degree,” said the headline. Back on page eight reporter Tracy Dell’Angela looked inside some Chicago schools to see what was going on there. Her sidebar noted in passing that the city’s top five schools sent at least 80 percent of their graduates to college. By contrast, “for the bottom five high schools—Kelvyn Park High School, Tilden Achievement Academy, Wells Community Academy, Orr Community Academy and Farragut Career Academy—a third or fewer of graduates enrolled in college, most of them going to two-year colleges.”
Those were the extremes. Dell’Angela sensibly focused on two schools in the middle range, George Washington and Bogan. But her story infuriated one principal, who gave me an earful, and I asked Dell’Angela this Monday if she and the principal had talked. Dell’Angela had been out of town, so the complaint was news to her. “Washington or Bogan?” she asked.
Kelvyn Park.
“It was so hurtful,” Sandra Fontanez-Phelan had told me, “and I’m really mirroring the hurt of my staff, the hurt of my kids, the hurt of my family.” She was preparing a packet of letters from teachers and students to send the Tribune, and she’d talked to her alderman, Ray Suarez, about holding a news conference to set the record straight. Fontanez-Phelan, who’s finishing her fourth year at Kelvyn Park, told me that after reading Dell’Angela’s story people from the West Logan Square community called to ask if she’s been lying to them when she says how far the school has come. “It’s irresponsible to put out information and not clearly indicate that it’s information from the past,” she told me. “It’s irresponsible not to say what’s going on today.”
Thursday May 11, 2006 - 06:24pm (CDT)