Fact Checking Arne Duncan could prove to be a full-time job

Fact Checking Arne Duncan could prove to be a full-time job

Susan Ohanian - December 31, 2009

Maybe it's time to reread Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan's July 2008 testimony to the House Education and Labor Committee. As Duncan offers bribes to the states that agree to deform the very roots of how they do education in hopes of getting a share of the money pot, it is vital to examine the misrepresentations, exaggerations, and downright lies on the agenda he’s selling. $3.5 billion in grants for school systems to turn around weak schools and $4 billion for states to pursue standardization.

During his seven and a half years as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Arne Duncan, who has no teaching experience and not teaching or administrative credentials when he was tapped for the job by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2001, hosted numerous media events designed to distract rather than inform the public. Above, Duncan was preparing for a December 19, 2007, media event at CPS headquarters awaiting "perfect attendance" awards to school children. Duncan had scheduled the event for TV news cameras when his staff learned that anti-war protesters were going to hold a press conference prior to the day's Chicago Board of Education meeting to protest Duncan's expansion of military high schools and JROTC programs. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.July 2008 Congressional Testimony by Arne Duncan

• Chairman George Miller

• Members of the House Education and Labor Committee

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the Chicago Public Schools. Let me also thank Representative Danny Davis for his longstanding leadership on a myriad of policy issues from this committee that have benefited the Chicago Public Schools.

I would further like to thank committee members Judy Biggert and Phil Hare for their bipartisan support and good common sense approaches to education policy. Their work on this committee and devotion to promoting high standards, quality teachers, and viable school options too has benefited Chicago. Chicago Public Schools serve over 400,000 children. 85% percent of our children live below the poverty line. 90% are minorities. All of them have potential. Tapping the potential of underprivileged, inner-city children represents the greatest educational challenges facing our country. In many ways we are meeting this challenge. In many other ways we are still falling short.

OHANIAN COMMENTARY: Duncan Lie 1: "In Chicago, virtually every important indicator of progress is moving in the right direction: test scores, attendance, and graduation rates. We're on a winning streak. In 2001, less than 40 percent of our kids met state standards. Today, almost two thirds do and more than two-thirds of our 8th graders are at or above state standards..."

OHANIAN FACT CHECK: Miami, Houston and New York had higher scores than Chicago on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Boston, San Diego and Atlanta had bigger gains. Even fourth-graders in the much-maligned D.C. schools improved nearly twice as much since 2003. --Washington Post, front page, Dec. 29, 2009

FACT CHECK: Of the remaining nine cities in the NAEP trials, only Cleveland and the District of Columbia, both under mayoral control, showed less growth for black eighth-graders. For Latino eighth graders in Chicago, the 8% proficient or better in math in 2003 rose to 12% in 2007. Among the other nine cities studied, only Charlotte and New York showed less growth. Moreover, gaps in achievement between black and white students and between Latino and white students were large (25% of white eighth-graders scored at or above proficient, with 4% of black and 8% of Latino eighth-graders at those levels), and they grew between 2003 and 2007 for grades 4 and 8.(—Gerald Bracey, The Bracey Report, November 2009, published in Substance, December 2009).

FACT CHECK: Both Bloomberg/Klein and Daley/Duncan have touted rising state test scores as proof of their success. But analysts in both cities have shown that the rises only show how easy it is to manipulate test scores. In New York, a narrow range of standards is tested and the content from year to year is highly predictable. In Illinois, the state made it easier for systems to meet the standards with new item formats and lower passing scores. (—Gerald Bracey, “Mayoral Control of Schools The New Tyranny,” Huffington Post, July 21, 2009)

FACT CHECK: On July 11, 2006, Mayor Daley pointed to the surging test scores and said “With these results, it’s clear we are on our way to becoming the best urban school district in the nation.” This prompted the editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune, to declare that “They must be teaching some new kind of fuzzy math at Chicago Public Schools” and to point out that the state board had lowered the passing score for eighth-grade math from the 67th percentile to the 38th.—Gerald Bracey, The Bracey Report, November 2009

Lie 2: Duncan: "Our high school students are out-gaining the State of Illinois and the nation on the ACT test that is needed for admission to college. More and more of our high school students are taking college-level courses and more and more of them are testing well enough to earn college credits."

FACT CHECK: The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which represents business, professional, education and cultural leaders, concluded in June (2009) that gains on state test scores were inflated when Illinois relaxed passing standards and that too many students still drop out of high school or graduate unprepared for college.

It depends on what 'is' is Déjà Vu: Duncan said: "On the national test comparing Chicago to other cities (NAEP) and to the nation – we've gone up 11 point since 2002 while the nation has gone up just 3, so we're closing the gap. Hispanic students scored the highest of any other big city school district on this test so gains are being made among key subgroups as well."

Lie 3: Duncan: "We began tracking college acceptance rates three years ago and the numbers have risen every year. Today, over half of our graduates go to college. This progress can be attributed to a few simple strategies that we have relentlessly pursued since the City of Chicago — under the leadership of Mayor Richard Daley — assumed full control of the school system in 1995."

OHANIAN FACT CHECK: Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of seniors state that they expect to graduate from a four-year college, only about one-third enroll in a four-year college within a year of high school graduation, and only 35 percent of those who enroll received a bachelor’s degree within six years. (— Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, April 20, 2006).

FACT CHECK: “We are setting them up for failure,” he says. “I know a lot of damn good tradesmen, who work good hours and make six figures. But yet, we tell these kids to go to college and then when they can't make it, they feel like they failed.”-- Craig Chico, president and CEO of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, Catalyst, Feb. 2009

Research on harm-to-children-be-damned Award: "The first thing we did was end social promotions— which is the shameless practice of passing children each year even though they are not ready — and ultimately graduating them without the skills they need to succeed."

FACT CHECK: "In this report, we focused on the question: Did retaining these low-achieving students help? The answer to this question is definitely no. . . .Close to 20% of retained third and sixth graders were placed in special education within two years of the retention decision. . . . Students who were the lowest achievers in the school system (the majority of whom were retained) experienced a deterioration in their relative performance after retention. . . ."— Consortium on Chicago School Research University of Chicago, Study “Ending Social Promotion: The Effects of Retention,” April 2004

Keep ‘em in school 24/7 Notice: "Before the accountability and intervention measures of NCLB, Chicago took the initiative to hold students accountable to annual state assessments, to identify students in the most chronically failing schools, and to provide intervention services including mandatory summer school, after school programs, alternative schools with smaller class sizes and extended day programs."

Deviation from Script Death Penalty: "We got back to basics with our curriculum, aligning it to the state academic standards all the way down to optional daily lesson plans. We put great emphasis on literacy with reading coaches in schools and a daily requirement of two hours of reading time — every school, every student, every grade, every day. We have since expanded this approach to math and physical science and now we are looking at the social sciences."

Train ‘Em Young So Poor Kids Can Continue to Die a Nation Always at War: "We began opening new schools to offer more educational options including five citywide high school military academies ranging from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. This past year the military academies had some of the highest attendance rates in the city. We are looking at an Air force Academy for the fall of 2009 for students."

Walmartization of Public Education Award: "This fall, Chicago will also have about 75 charter schools operating among the 625 schools in our system. Some of them are single-sex high schools — many others have specialized areas of focus while others are simply traditional public schools operating outside of conventional restrictions."

FACT CHECK: "Polaris was just the latest Chicago charter school to receive significant support from the Wal-Mart people and others in the corporate elite. According to the Walton Family Foundation Web site, the Waltons have invested $2.3 million in the Noble Street charter schools in Chicago and $1.3 million in the Chicago Charter School Foundation which operates the Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS)..." –George N. Schmidt, Substance, Oct. 2007

Lie 4: Duncan: "Almost all of them are succeeding — and they all have waiting lists with parents eager to enroll their children in our system. More recently, we have become even more aggressive about opening new schools – and closing down schools that are failing. We are one of the few districts in the country that has shut down underperforming schools and replaced the entire school staff. This turnaround school strategy has taken some of our lowest-performing schools and doubled or tripled test scores within a few years..."

FACT CHECK: "'Turnaround' is the corporate phrase that Duncan is using this year to describe the reconstitution process, since research has shown across the USA that reconstitution has failed to improve inner city schools. During the 2007-2008 school year, the Chicago Board of Education established an 'Office of School Turnaround' under a $150,000 per year 'Chief Turnaround Officer.' But the main reason for forcing 'turnaround' on the four elementary schools is false. None of them send the majority of their students into the supposedly "failing" high schools.- Only one of four elementary schools being reconstituted actually 'feeds' into 'failing' high school...” George Schmidt, Substance, May 2008

FACT CHECK: Duncan’s principal modus operandi has been the 'turn around.' As he explained his strategy to the National Press Club on May 29, “[What] we did in Chicago was we moved the adults out. We kept the children, and brought in new teams of adults—same children, same families, same socioeconomic challenges, same neighborhoods, same buildings, different set of expectations, different set of beliefs. And what we saw was dramatic changes.”

OHANIAN FACT CHECK: Very little of this statement is true. Yes, the adults were removed, including custodial, security, clerical and cafeteria staffs. But the children did not remain the same. For example, one school Duncan has held up as a model is the Sherman School of Excellence, an elementary school. But data indicate that during Duncan’s strategizing, enrollment dropped, mobility increased, and the percentage of low-income students at Sherman declined substantially. Not surprisingly, with the influx of more affluent students, the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards on the state test rose — from 30.5% to 40.3% in reading, over two years. Especially in light of the changing population, these modest results hardly seem to justify this reform as a “national model.” Oddly, in fact, the current percentage of Sherman students who meet or exceed standards is smaller than at some other schools currently slated for similar “turnaround.” Moreover, on the state science test, Sherman scores actually fell after the reform. — Gerald Bracey, The Bracey Report, Nov. 2009

Lie 5: Same kids — different teachers — new leadership and a new educational approach — and the results are dramatic.

OHANIAN FACT CHECK: Arne Duncan has promoted the most vicious street gang violence by closing schools (e.g., Austin and Calumet) and flipping them into the hands of charter hucksters, leaving the majority of the kids from those communities to fend for themselves (or risk their lives during long bus rides across gang borders). . . . Arne has the resources to track every kid who was dumped from high school when he closed Austin High School beginning in 2004. Instead, he makes up “facts” to wow the gullible and the tabloids, while simply lying about the realities underlying how his policies have created the problems."—George N. Schmidt, Substance, January 2008

OHANIAN FACT CHECK: "[W]hen a school goes through turnaround, it loses the social fabric an experienced and professional staff provides. As the nation witnessed the horrific stomping /beating death of a Christian Fenger High School student on YouTube, they saw a “turnaround” become the deadliest school reform of all..." Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, high school teacher Deborah Lynch pointed out that “reform” at Fenger meant “dumping all the staff, even the engineers,” thereby removing human capital from the school. . . . The school website indicates that along with extensive building renovations, “a highly talented faculty and staff were hired,” which means that when Derrion Albert was killed, no one in this turnaround school had known the kids for more than three weeks. —Gerald Bracey, The Bracey Report, Nov. 2009

FACT CHECK: Chicago's "Renaissance 2010" plan targets 15 percent of the city district's alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification. Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and "performance" schools. Kearney's web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, "Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations." — Henry Giroux, “Obama's Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling,” Truthout, July 2, 2009

FACT CHECK: The Paul Bremer Viceroy Award: This is the kind of bold reform that would not be possible without the strong support of the Mayor and local elected officials. "Picture Paul Bremer, the erstwhile “viceroy” of Baghdad, only without the boots. You now have Arne Duncan and his troupe of zealots privatizing everything in sight at the Chicago Board of Education and in the “Office of New Schools.” Of course, just as Bremer would have been nothing without George W. Bush and the crazies in the Washington Think Tanks that write the privatization scripts for the world, so Duncan would just be another washed up former professional ball player if Mayor Daley and his corporate buddies weren’t backing his massive privatization plans. Superintendents all across the country envy Chicago’s governance structure because the buck stops with the Mayor and he stands with us in challenging the status quo, pushing the envelope and driving change." —Editorial, Substance, August 2008

ARNE LIE: "The fourth thing that we have done is to greatly expand learning opportunities by investing heavily in pre-school, after school, and summer school. Start the Brainwashing at Birth Imperative: The outmoded notion that schools should only operate for 6 hours a day and 180 days per year makes no sense in an information society where success is a function of knowledge.In an ideal world, every one of our children should be constructively engaged from birth to age 18 – for as many hours as possible."

OHANIAN FACT CHECK: Sociologist Paul von Hippel found no academic advantage for Year Round School students compared to those on a traditional calendar. The Ohio State University professor presented his findings Aug. 11, 2007 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. See more facts about year-round schooling at Summer Matters,

ARNE LIE AS POLICY: Bring in the Generals and Accountants Trained by the Broad Foundation: "The last major strategy involves raising the quality of principals and teachers and this effort includes several important dimensions. We boosted the standards for principal selection — cutting the eligibility list in half and challenging a new generation of school leaders to meet these higher standards. At the same time, we are much more aggressively recruiting teachers — attracting more than 10 resumes for every opening. A decade ago, we would get maybe two or three. As a recent independent report from the Illinois Education Research Council confirms, the quality of teaching — even in hard-to-staff schools — is dramatically better today than a decade ago. Over six years, CPS has dramatically improved the quality of its teaching force.We have gone from just 11 national-board certified teachers to more than 860 — with hundreds more in the pipeline. The percentage of teachers leaving CPS after just three years dropped from 36 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2007. We recognize that need to do a better job retaining quality teachers in our lowest performing schools. All new teachers get a mentor, and in particularly tough neighborhoods, about 300 teachers this year worked more intensely with coaches from the Chicago New Teachers Center, with plans to expand the two-year-old program to another 30 schools this fall."

FACT CHECK: Teacher stability has decreased, especially in low-income schools and predominantly black schools. Black, white and Latino teachers have all been moving out of those schools at increasing rates. —Gerald Bracey, The Bracey Report, November 2009

FACT CHECK: "Obama's call for change falls flat with this appointment, not only because Duncan largely defines schools within a market-based and penal model of pedagogy, but also because he does not have the slightest understanding of schools as something other than adjuncts of the corporation at best or the prison at worse." —Henry Giroux, “Obama's Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling,” Truthout, July 2, 2009

CLAIM: Teachers in Chicago Competing with Teachers Near Urbana-Champaign Sprint Run-Offs: CPS has narrowed (by 27 percent) the quality gap between CPS teachers and the area with the highest caliber teachers, near Urbana-Champaign between 2001 and 2006.

FACT CHECK: The district has focused on hiring teachers who lack classroom experience but have stronger academic backgrounds. The theory is that a teacher’s high score on the ACT and and the competitiveness ranking of the teacher-preparation programs attended by a school’s teachers. count more than lack of experience. . . . Recent inexperienced teachers are bringing with them stronger academic capital—a factor whose positive effect on student performance tends to counter the negative impact of teacher inexperience –study from Illinois Education Research Council, financed by Joyce Foundation of Chicago

Performance-based compensation/Union Sell-Out Gold Star Award: Thanks to the federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant, we worked with our teacher’s union to introduce a pay for performance program that offers bonuses for great teachers. In fact, the very first payouts are happening this month. Performance-based pay for teachers will also be expanded from 10 to 20 high-need schools this fall.

FACT CHECK: Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's Chief of Staff, speaking on Cspan was much clearer about one core question that Duncan sought to avoid [at the NEA convention]: Why have school? Emanuel said, “’s a conveyor belt for the US economy...Arne is promoting charters, national standards, pay for performance, assessments...the states will compete for (stimulus) money on the basis of lining up with those reforms.”—Rich Gibson, Substance, July 3, 2009

AREN LIE ABOUT HIGH SCHOOLS: "Our biggest challenges today are reforming high schools and increasing funding. Chicago has a comprehensive high school reform effort underway that includes intensive coaching and mentoring as well as an overhaul of the curriculum. It started in 14 schools two years ago and expands to 45 by this fall and we expect it will yield positive results. We have also developed a host of programs aimed at transitioning students into high school, increasing college enrollment, raising college entrance exam scores, and providing more coaching and counseling for high school students. For all our progress, however, we still have a long way to go to close the achievement gap -- and getting there requires more support from every level of government. Our state ranks among the worst states in the country for education funding, providing barely a third of the overall cost. Today, Chicago spends $2,000 less per student than Boston. We spend about half of what some of our suburbs spend. We are certainly grateful for every dollar we get from Washington -- and we welcome even more money to expand Head Start, tutoring and after-school programs..."

Suck-up to Corporate-Politico Power Award:" We also appreciate the core goals of the No Child Left Behind law, including performance transparency among subgroups and higher standards for all, but we think the law can be improved in other ways that will advance the same goals. Should you take up the issue of reauthorizing or reforming NCLB, we will gladly provide more detailed comments. I just want to thank you again for the opportunity to be here..." 


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