Friday, December 9, 2011

The real Chicago "miracle" -- Arne Duncan still has a job

The only miracle emerging from the past decade of Chicago's corporate-style school reform is that former CEO and current Sec. of Education Arne Duncan hasn't resigned from either posts out of sheer embarrassment.

The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) once again put Chicago near the bottom compared to other large urban districts with similar demographics and concentrations of poverty (85% of CPS students live in poverty). Significantly, the biggest drops in reading scores came during Arne Duncan's time as CEO when the media was spinning the myth of a Chicago "turnaround miracle."

A new report on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress taken by 21 big-city districts was the second analysis in less than a month to indicate that, despite more than a decade of massive investments in corporate-style reform, and despite a heavy administrative emphasis on test-prep and big push on  reading skills,  Chicago’s elementary-grade reading performance has barely budged for years. The Sun-Times reports that the so-called "achievement gap"  between white students and black and Latino students— showed no real shrinkage since at least 2003 in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading. In fourth-grade reading,

Most interesting -- Chicago’s NAEP reading doldrums occurred during a huge reading push ordered by former Mayor Daley and carried out by then-Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan, now the nation’s Education Secretary.

The Sun-Times reports however, that "real progress didn’t show up until 2011 — after Ron Huberman took over the Chicago Schools CEO helm in 2009 and shifted the district from Duncan’s emphasis on reading coaches to a new emphasis on data analysis."

I suppose the lesson here is that the real key to progress in school reform is manipulating and spinning data reports (Huberman's specialty) rather than the imposition of programmatic reform. Duncan's success came after he and his media team fabricated the myth of a Chicago turnaround "miracle" which later formed the basis for federal education policy, including Race To The Top.

Peter Cunningham, Duncan's media guy, tells the S-T: 
“The information we had [from state achievement tests] showed [CPS] was showing great success... We weren’t gaming the numbers."
My experience tells me that whenever the spinners claim that they aren't gaming the numbers -- they're gaming the numbers."  If Cunningham has some previously unrevealed evidence of great progress, perhaps he wouldn't mind sharing it with us. Until then, we'll go with the NAEP results.


  1. As journalist Claude Cockburn once said, "Don't believe anything until you hear the official denial."

  2. Mike, isn't that all number churning caused by the Hawthorne effect?

  3. There is a Hawthorne Effect in a sense, Matt. Since test scores are the gold standard, schools that are being studied focus their efforts of testing preparation. The test drives the curriculum, shapes the school day and school year. all in response to the fact that they are being studies for evaluation purposes. Thus you might expect that with all the emphasis on the test and all the funding driving that emphasis, and all the teaching to the tests, etc... that test scores would surely rise across the board and that schools would fulfill their mission under NCLB that by the year 2014, all children would be scoring above the norm. (What a contradiction there!). But in fact, as you can see from the latest NAEP test results, it's quite the opposite.

  4. Why would Arne Duncan be embarrassed? He doesn't understand well enough (or care enough) to be embarrassed! It's absolutely amazing (in a very tragic sense)that just when we thought NCLB would go away, that American education would get better & begin to heal when Bush went bye-bye, that, instead, under Obama & Duncan it's gotten worse--much, much worse. So much worse, in fact, that this country's education system may never recover. And yet, the NEA endorsed Obama--way back in March, way before the convention--without even attempting to ask, to make it a condition for endorsement--that Arne Duncan step down, resign, & be replaced with someone like Diane Ravitch (or, even, Diane, herself!).Because, as we who care & we who ARE educators, & we, who understand & who do what needs to be done for our children, Duncan and his boss and his DOE have done more to rend and to rip and to tear the fabric of American education to shreds.
    And they don't care.


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