“A huge mistake” – Chicago increases drop outs, kills successful programs

We have persistently urged Chicago school leaders to stop flunking students because flunking doesn’t work, costs too much, and raises the drop out rate.

A report coming out today puts a dollar cost on the human tragedy of school drop outs. It’s a lot, as Greg Hinz points out in Crain’s:

“The study, based on U.S. Census data, suggests that dropouts nationally will be a net drain on the government, collecting an average of $70,850 more in benefits like food stamps in their lifetimes than they’ll pay in taxes. In comparison, the typical high school grad will make a net positive contribution of $236,060.”

Compare this drain on the economy with the huge benefit of programs like Chicago’s Child Parent Centers, which, according to University of Minnesota professor Arthur C Reynolds, returned an estimated $11 for every $1 spent. Until CPS shut the programs down as “too costly.”

“A huge mistake”
In a 2009 Early Ed Watch blog article, Lisa Guernsey wrote,

Consider an education program so effective that its impact can be measured 19 years later, so well-studied that it can be backed up with decades of scientific evidence on children’s improved skills in math and reading, and so impressive to policymakers that it continues to be championed around the country 40 years after its launch. These are the superlatives that come with Chicago’s Child Parent Centers. So you might figure they’re flourishing as part of the Chicago Public Schools’ early childhood programs, right? Not so. Their numbers are dwindling. In the mid-1980s, there were at least 25 CPCs serving more than 1,500 children. By 2006, there were 13. Today, 11 are still open, according to the Promising Practices Network. Enrollment in 2009, as reported by the Chicago Public Schools, is down to 670, less than half of what it once was. It now represents just 2 percent of the system’s total preschool enrollment.

Update to Guernsey’s numbers: Looks as though another CPC has closed since her article. CPS now only lists 10 CPCs.

According to Guernsey, Dr. Reynolds believes that Chicago’s misguided focus on flunking students was a major factor in the demise of the CPCs:
Reynolds lays much of the blame on the push to end “social promotion” – the practice of advancing children to the next grade despite failing grades – that marked the Chicago Public Schools in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This was when Paul Vallas and then Arne Duncan were leading the schools. “It was a decision made by Vallas and continued by Duncan,” Reynolds said. “It ended up being a huge mistake.” The school district spent “hundreds of millions” on remedial efforts that had little effect on students’ progress, he said, siphoning money away from early education.
Another culprit may be the No Child Left Behind Act and its over-emphasis on reading and math. Barbara Bowman, head of CPS Early Childhood Programs, told Guernsey about the department’s focus shift due to “the newfound emphasis on literacy instruction that came in the early part of this decade before she came on board. As officials looked at how to allocate the schools’ money, Bowman said, ‘The Title I funds for literacy grew, and the Title I funds for early childhood shrank.’ “
It’s not just the corruption on view today at the Federal building that we all need to keep our eyes on. It’s the day-to-day mismanagement and misdirection of precious taxpayer dollars which somehow always end sup hurting our most vulnerable people.

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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.