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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Did Education Secretary Arne Duncan Really Leave Chicago Schools a Mess?

Did Education Secretary Arne Duncan Really Leave Chicago Schools a Mess?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012 03:35

That might be a good question for reporters to pose to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel given his strong stand against Chicago's public school teachers. (It is appropriate to refer to this as a battle between Emanuel and the teachers. Almost 90 percent of the members of the bargaining unit voted to authorize a strike. This is clearly not a case of a union imposing its will on its members.) Emanuel has insisted that the schools need a major overhaul because they are badly failing Chicago's students.

Emanual's position is striking because Chicago's schools had been run for seven and half years, from June of 2001 until January of 2009, by Arne Duncan. Duncan then went on to become education secretary for President Obama, based on his performance as head of the Chicago public school system. Apparently Emanuel does not believe that Duncan was very successful in improving Chicago's schools since he claims that they are still in very bad shape.

There is no dispute that students in Chicago public schools are not faring well. Only a bit over 60 percent graduate high school in five years or less. However, this doesn't mean that the reforms that Emanuel wants to impose will improve outcomes, just as Duncan's reforms apparently did not have much impact, if Emanuel is to be believed.

Diana Ravitch, a one-time leading school "reformer" and assistant education secretary in the Bush administration, argues that charter schools on average perform no better than the public schools they replace. The main determinants of children's performance continues to be the socioeconomic conditions of their parents. Those unwilling to take the steps necessary to address the latter (e.g. promote full employment) are the ones who do not care about our children.

Comments (12)Add Comment
Misplaced blame
written by David, September 11, 2012 8:33
Once again leaders (and parents) blame teachers for the failings of education administrators. The downward spiral of american education intensifies as administrators and patents cling ever more tightly to the corporate governance model, which we all know benefits only the top administrators.
written by skeptonomist, September 11, 2012 10:35
Dean is right and 95% of the people who write and speak about this issue start from the unjustified assumption that somehow teachers and school administrators can overcome the disadvantages of a low-income environment. If that assumption were correct poor performance would occur as often in suburban and high-income areas as in inner cities and rural areas. On the whole, school "reform" is really aimed at privatizing schools and breaking unions, not building up public schools; it is something that would almost certainly increase overall economic and societal inequality.
The key issue: 'value added' evaluations based on high stakes tests
written by William Berkson, September 11, 2012 2:26
The key issue that the press is not reporting on is the issue of firing teachers based on whether their teachers progress from year to year on standardized tests. Briefly, the evidence is that the variation in a class's progress year to year due to non-teacher factors is much greater than the teacher factors. So teachers end up being fired arbitrarily for teaching more poor, special needs or English language learners, among other things. Diane Ravitch has links to the research in a post on her blog today: http://dianeravitch.net/2012/0...-nonsense/
written by PeonInChief, September 11, 2012 2:31
That 80% of the kids in Chicago schools are eligible for free or reduced price lunches is probably the most important factor. It would be nice if Rahm spent more time on issues like jobs, wage increases, affordable housing and the like, instead of expecting teachers to overcome child poverty all by themselves.
written by fuller schmidt, September 11, 2012 3:24
Rahm is a money-grubber- he gets his cut from the school privatizing industry for sticking with the standardized testing scam. Does anyone know a teacher that thinks standardized testing has any validity?
written by Mitch Beales, September 11, 2012 3:36
I would like to see an experiment where students from a highly rated suburban school were bussed to a "failing" inner city school and vice versa. Does anyone think the performance of the students would be reversed? Yet the BOE's approach to "turning the school around" is to move new faculty, staff, and administrators into the same crumbling building to serve the same underprivileged and abused students. Can anyone really believe this will work? As long as rich kids are in one classroom and poor kids in another nothing will change.
written by liberal, September 11, 2012 4:45
William Berkson wrote,
Briefly, the evidence is that the variation in a class's progress year to year due to non-teacher factors is much greater than the teacher factors.

Yeah, the science behind using testing to reward teachers is just terrible and completely lacking.
Poor and urban minority kids' performance improving!
written by fairleft, September 12, 2012 6:45
Unfortunately the Big Lie works, and very few know the facts of recent years regarding education test scores. Kevin Drum, quoted in the Daily Howler, corrects the misimpression, writing about the state of the art educational testing, the NAEP's TUDA:

"Not every big city participates in TUDA, but most of the biggest have participated since 2003, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, DC, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York. And these results are consistent with plenty of other NAEP results: poor and minority kids are still doing a lot worse than middle-class and non-minority kids, but they are making progress. ... Given the usual NAEP rule of thumb that ten points is equal to one grade level, these urban kids have improved their math and reading performance by anywhere from half a grade level to a full grade level in just eight years.

"There are plenty of nits to pick with data like this, and I've picked some of them in the past. Still, why is it that progress like this so rarely gets reported? ..."

written by liberal, September 12, 2012 9:06
fuller schmidt wrote,
Does anyone know a teacher that thinks standardized testing has any validity?

Of course they have validity. There's nothing wrong with standardized tests per se. The problem is with their role, where they're used for teacher and school evaluation, and the incentives that creates (teaching to the test, and teacher/school-directed cheating).
written by fuller schmidt, September 12, 2012 1:29
Sorry, liberal, I didn't mean to mislead you that no testing has validity. Teachers complain continually about how the standardized tests are implemented and evaluated.
rahm emanuel
written by mel in oregon, September 12, 2012 5:45
emanuel is egotistical & not very intelligent. when he was white house chief of staff, he consistently proposed very conservative ideas which obama lapped up like a thirsty puppy. then he made 6.6 million working for a bank. now he becomes mayor & wants schools to have 40 kids per classroom & to teach to the test. his own kids go to a toney private school. rahm emanuel is somewhat like his idol al capone.
written by tee jarado, September 13, 2012 11:56
The problem is not "bad schools"; it's bad students.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.