CPS “reforms” increased achievement gap

The Consortium on Chicago School Research has found that Chicago school leaders’ boasts of “dramatic” improvements in our schools over the past 20 years were greatly exaggerated.

In fact, CCSR says, “(A) number of dramatic system-wide initiatives were enacted. But instead of bringing dramatic changes in student achievement, district-wide changes were incremental—when they occurred at all.”

CCSR also found that the achievement gap between white and African-American students has actually widened during the past 20 years of school reform in Chicago, and most markedly while Education Secretary Arne Duncan was CPS CEO.

The decline in equity, with African American students falling behind students from other racial/ethnic groups, is particularly disturbing and has raised questions about the policies around school closings and openings, which disproportionately affected African American students. As we have presented these findings, some people have wondered whether students were hurt by the shuffling of students that occurred when schools were closed, or whether neighborhood schools declined as charter schools proliferated. One CCSR study showed no improvements in test scores for students who were displaced by school closings.

A good place to start making changes

PURE has challenged many of the “reforms” instituted under mayoral control in Chicago, including school closings. We have been especially aggressive fighting against the misuse and overuse of high-stakes standardized tests and CPS’s harmful, ineffective, wasteful elementary student promotion policy. Ending that program would be a good way to redirect the district’s energies in more positive ways.

I sent a letter to CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard this morning asking for a meeting to discuss PURE’s recommendations for alternatives to retention. Now is an especially good time for this discussion since the Office for Civil Rights is concluding their resolution process for our December 2010 discrimination complaint against the CPS policy.

I also sent this letter to the Tribune, which reported on the CCSR study in today’s edition:

Your report about the growing achievement gap between white and African-American students over 20 years of “reform” in the Chicago Public Schools reaffirms our organization's strong opposition to one of the most harmful of these initiatives, the practice of flunking students based on their scores on the annual state tests.

The misuse of and over-emphasis on test scores caused by pressures from media, corporate-style education reformers, and misguided federal laws has forced schools nationwide to teach to these tests, focusing one-sidedly on rote skills and ignoring higher-level thinking. The impact is greater in schools that serve low-income youth, particularly students of color, whose education these laws and policies were supposedly designed to improve.

Chicago’s flunking policy has increased the dropout rate of retained students, has not improved their academic outcomes, wastes some $100 million in scarce school funds every year, and disproportionately affects African-American students.

It must be ended and replaced with intervention and support strategies that we know actually work, such as the Child Parent Center early education model, lower class size, and increased parental involvement.

It's time to stop evaluating and punishing students based on unreliable and often discriminatory standardized tests and put our efforts into programs that really help them.





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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.