This month’s issue of Catalyst is all about the failure of Chicago Public Schools’ flunking policy.
It starts with an editorial by Editor-in-Chief Lorraine Forte titled: “Kill student retention and get real about learning.”
the policy has been watered down in the past 15 years because of outside pressure, including a major 2004 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research that definitively showed the dramatic negative effects of retention—in particular, the far greater risk of eventually dropping out. More recently, the advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education put the issue on the front burner when it filed a federal civil rights complaint against the district’s retention policy because of its disparate racial impact.
The issue reviews the problems with retention, how the policy has affected schools and students. and what districts have and haven’t done to address students’ needs.
I especially appreciate the quote from former CPS Chief Education Officer Blondean Davis, who implemented retention for CEO Paul Vallas but is now “skeptical” of the practice. Catalyst reports that in Matteson School District 162, which Davis serves as schools superintendent, “very few students are held back and the process is subjective, done in consultation with teachers, parents and principals. ‘I’ve had a lot of time to think about it,’ Davis says. ‘Retention has to be the last resort.’ ”
Life-long learners, right, Blondean?
I’ve always wondered why Catalyst — and the Consortium’s retention studies, for that matter — go to some length to avoid acknowledging the impact of PURE’s 1999 Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaint.
In the quote above, Catalyst’s Forte refers to “outside pressure” that led to changes in the policy over the past 15 years, but only specifies the Consortium report as an example.
Their timeline of events (p. 10) says that in 2000 “school advocates convince CPS to alter the policy.”
Similarly, the Consortium’s 2004 report, “Ending Social Promotion: The Effects of Retention,” mentions that “the policy was challenged in a civil rights complaint” (p. 10).
Credit where credit’s due…
The fact is, it was PURE’s 1999 complaint alone that forced the biggest change in the policy, that is, ending the use of Iowa test scores alone as the retention trigger.
As a result of that complaint, OCR undertook a year-long investigation of CPS’s promotion policy, leading to complaint resolution procedures which resulted in CPS revising the policy at the end of the summer of 2000.
PURE and our lawyer, Elaine Siegel, were given advance copies of the draft revised policy and found continued problems with it. We quickly prepared a formal list of concerns. OCR intervened and, after a series of conversations with the CPS Law Department, a final agreement was struck which, while not everything we wanted, at least did the following:
- specified that students would be evaluated using multiple measures;
- added a parents’ right to a review, including the parents’ right to bring in their own examples of the student’s work as evidence of appropriate skills and knowledge;
- required an annual report on any disparate impact of the policy based on race or national origin.
This happened four years before the Consortium publicly criticized the policy.
Just makes me wonder about the hesitancy to give a small parent advocacy group its due. Are the rich Chicago funders really that scary? Listen, they have tried – without success – to kill PURE off so that we would no longer be able to challenge the cockamamie ideas of their favored school leaders. So, they can’t be all that powerful – certainly not more powerful than the truth, anyway.