More whoppers in Arne’s Ed Week essay

I just e-mailed this response
to “Start Over,” an essay in the June 12 (June 19 print) Education Week by Arne Duncan:

Considering the billion of dollars and millions of
children’s lives that are at stake, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s
claims about his record in Chicago merit special scrutiny. Mr. Duncan
has made it clear that he intends to tie federal education funds to
requirements that districts across the nation rapidly replicate the
“Chicago model.”

Advocates in Chicago have a special
vantage point for this effort. We have been comparing Mr. Duncan’s
rhetoric with reality for several years, and finding significant
factual errors and misstatements. For these inaccurate statements to
be repeated on the national stage and in service to a potential orgy
of spending on programs that have a questionable track record of
success puts our children’s educational future at serious risk. Chicagoans must speak out and share what we know.

For example, we have
learned that independent research on the Duncan reforms (known
collectively as Renaissance 2010) by the Rand Corporation (2008) and
SRI International (2009) finds that his new schools perform only “on
par” with traditional neighborhood schools. We’ve also found that
the new schools serve fewer low-income, special education, and
limited-English proficient students.

In other words, Renaissance 2010
has yet to yield academic improvement, even with less-challenging
students. Yet Mr. Duncan decries “school officials (who) have been
content with changes that produce nominal progress.”

More
specifically, looking at the data from state school report cards has
taught us to question every dramatic claim that Mr. Duncan makes
about individual turnaround schools.

Here’s an example from
his Education Week essay: Mr. Duncan states that “In every
elementary and middle school we turned around, attendance rates
improved.” But state report cards for Mr. Duncan’s “turnaround
model” for 2007, Sherman Elementary, show that attendance dropped
from 91.4% the year prior to the takeover to 90.6% in the first year
of the takeover. Attendance nearly recovered its pre-takeover rate at
91.3% in 2008. That’s not a terrible record, but it’s not an
improvement.

Other post-turnaround data for Sherman is more
telling. By 2008, there was a 20 percent drop in enrollment, a 10
percent drop in the number of low-income children, and a 17% increase
in the mobility rate. This data strongly suggest that Sherman may be
manipulating its student body to create better student outcomes.

But the clearest case of enrollment manipulation in Chicago
may be Dodge Renaissance Academy, the school where President Obama
made his February announcement of Mr. Duncan’s nomination to head the
U.S. Department of Education, and a school often cited as an example
of the success of the Chicago model. District data show that only 12
students who were enrolled at Dodge when it was closed for turnaround
in 2002 were still there in 2005.

We urge the nation to check
the facts that Mr. Duncan dodges with his rhetoric. Reality, not
hype, should be the context for considering his urgent call for bold
and rapid change. Yes, our children need better schools. They need
schools with more resources, more time, smaller classes,
better-supported teachers, safer buildings, more participation of
parents and community, and programs with a real track record of
success. We fear that following Mr. Duncan’s lead will move us at a
breakneck speed down a $5 billion-dollar path to privatization,
national standardized tests, and loss of local control over schools,
leaving our children even farther behind.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.