Houston math teacher + internet = Chicago “miracle” cure

It only took Houston high school math teacher Gary Rubenstein a few minutes on the internet to bust the latest Chicago Public School myth – the “triumph” of a “dramatic turnaround” specialist principal now working her magic at Marshall High School, as described by a recent Tribune article.

Gary writes:

“I’m not an education reporter. I’m just a guy with a computer and a healthy amount of skepticism and internet access. I also am someone whose been in education for twenty years and am fearful about the direction it has been taking.

“So when I learn about a new miracle school I get worried since whatever statistics are being used to praise that school are also being used to shut down and fire the staff of another school.”

It turns out that Gary’s skepticism is well-founded. The new principal at Marshall, whom the Tribune sets up as a miracle worker, comes from a four-year stint at another CPS turnaround, Harper High School. Gary’s internet research on Harper finds that a third of the students left, while test scores barely budged over the past four years.

The Trib reports that “the state poured in millions of dollars to turn (Marshall) around.” So far, all they seem to have to show for it is a drop in enrollment – the school “lost” 161 students out of an enrollment of about 1000 – and stricter discipline.

Yet the school is made to sound like an absolutely fabulous place where “school officials expect significant gains over 2010” test scores. Yeah, that’s what we call a school miracle in Chicago – a place of rapturous expectation. We learned that from Arne Duncan’s “dramatically better” promises.

Media outlets like the Tribune are still using this sort of empty cheerleading to prop up Fed Ed Head Duncan’s demand, funded by millions in Race to the Top money, that we must move fast to fire experienced teachers and replace them with, well, other people.

But turnarounds aren’t really making a difference. You don’t have to take my word on this. The conservative Fordham Foundation released a report a few months ago saying that regular schools and charter schools (gasp – charter schools?) simply haven’t changed much even after being turned around:

After identifying more than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states, analyst David Stuit tracked them from 2003-04 through 2008-09 to determine how many were turned around, shut down, or remained low-performing. Results were generally dismal. Seventy-two percent of the original low-performing charters remained in operation—and remained low-performing—five years later. So did 80 percent of district schools.

But it’s the false rhetoric of success that’s fueling the propaganda machine which has successfully convinced a lot of policy makers to get on board with the drive to dismantle teachers’ unions, privatize public schools, and turn teaching into testing.

We need to listen to Gary and to other sensible folks like him. We need to do our own research and share it just like Gary has done. It’s not so hard to do. It’s also essential if we’re going to save public education for our children and for the future of our democracy.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Support PURE!
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.