Chicago Teachers Union rejects Consortium study on 'turnarounds'

In a strongly worded statement issued on January 8, 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union challenged a report to be released on January 9, 2012, by the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research that purports to show that "turnaround" works. Chicago Public Schools is currently asking that an additional ten schools be placed in "turnaround", six of them the the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) and four under the CPS turnaround office. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the proposals at its February 22, 2012 meeting.

Once again in February 2012, the University of Chicago's "Consortium on Chicago School Research" has released a heavily dataed but flimsily critical "study" justifying another of the controversial programs of Chicago's public schools. Without even mentioning that under Illinois law, "Turnaround" is actually the discredited program of "Reconstitution", the Consortium study on Chicago's turnaround was released in advance of the February 22, 2012 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The University of Chicago's release of the study is obviously to promote the continuation of "turnaround" — despite the fact that "turnaround" has failed both as a strategy in corporate America (long before Mitt Romney's predatory work, a guy named Al Dunlap was being hailed as the "turnaround specialist" in Chicago — "Chainsaw Al" — until it was revealed that his methods were fraudulent) and in CPS. But because the University of Chicago can get away with publishing controversial research that would be exposed as marketing were it to come from others, the latest study has received wide play in Chicago's media. Nevertheless, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported, some of those who worked on the study have warned against it. "Rebecca Maynard, commissioner at a regional agency within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)," reported Sun-Times reporter Rosalind Rossi, "said IES withdrew plans to publish the study because 'parts of the report were written in such a way that could suggest the study was intended to answer more complex questions than was judged to be possible with the available data.’'" The current study represents a long line of Consortium study which have served to cover up the 15-year failure of mayoral control and Chicago's corporate "school reform." The controversial Consortium study was released early by the University of Chicago, despite challenges to its statistical methods and some of its findings. Consortium people denied that the release of the study was timed to support the proposals to turnaround an additional ten schools this year, or to support the continued use by CPS of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

The CTU statement issued as a press release follows:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Stephanie Gadlin. February 8, 2012 312/329-6250

CTU Urges “A Dose of Reality” In Response to Researchers’ New Report on Chicago School Turnarounds

CHICAGO - The Chicago Teachers Union said today that an upcoming report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago on Chicago’s destructive school turnaround policy could benefit from a dose of reality. The report must be considered in light of some important facts.

The record of Chicago schools that have been closed and replaced with new school administrations, one of the four models studied in this report, reveals that these schools end up serving a new, and generally more advantaged pool of students. In essence, the school closing and turnaround policy - pushed on school communities as a so-called reform - only pushed struggling students out of school.

The CTU, parents, and students across the city are concerned about another result of these polices which the CCSR research overlooks: the tremendous reduction in black teachers in our schools. This fact harms students and their ability to relate to their teachers. As a result, the CTU has joined with a group of Black teachers to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that the school board’s 2011 layoff policy has had a disparate impact on black teachers.

According to the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, Chicago's public school have been undergoing a kind of almost religious salvation since corporate "school reform" began with the passage of the Amendatory Act giving Chicago's mayor complete control over the school system in 1995. Despite the fact that the earlier reform, which gave Chicago decentralization and local schools councils had produced results that were better than anything that came after 1995, the official U of C version of history (above, in the September 1995 report) dates "reform" from the onset of mayoral control, with barely a nod to the decade preceding it. Unlike the blatant corporate attack on the Chicago public schools (like William Bennett's "America's Worst" slander), the Consortium studies have routinely gotten wide play because of their imprimatur. Among the features of Chicago reality generally ignored by the Consortium are the continuation of vicious racial segregation in the city's public schools, the bankruptcy of the city's charter schools as educational institutions, and the failure of so-called "turnaround" (except in its marketing claims). A growing number of critics are showing that without the fraudulent claims made on Chicago's behalf by the Consortium, Chicago's corporate "school reform" would long ago have been even more widely discredited than it is today.A glaring oversight in the CCSR report is the fact that of all the AUSL schools ONLY ONE isn't on probation despite numerous years under AUSL management. In fact, AUSL had to ask the school board for a one-year extension on its five-year contract for Sherman Elementary for failure to reach its academic goals. We note with continued dismay that Chicago’s unelected school board members continue drain millions of public dollars from regular neighborhood schools while they instead invest in charter and other private-sector school models which have been shown by numerous studies to educate students no better than comparable neighborhood schools. Interestingly, the CCSR research also didn’t address what most Chicago residents know – Chicago’s charter and turnaround school contracts are being granted to politically connected enterprises.

It is clear that the jury is still out on efforts to reconstitute, turnaround, and close high schools. The CCSR report itself indicates that the 9th grade on-track-to-graduate rate, which CCSR acknowledges is critical, goes unchanged at most of these schools.

We also challenge the re-enrollment data in the CCSR report. At many of the AUSL schools the figure is 80 percent or less, and our figures show big drops in enrollment.

Finally, we note that school closings, according to a previous CCSR report, had no impact on student learning for displaced students, and yet CPS continues to insist on this action. Overall, the reform experiments we see in Chicago today are at best untested and incremental changes. They are not the kind of true educational reforms – from reduced class size to investing increase resources in schools – that are built to last. Sadly, what is happening in Chicago schools right now is only radical disruption in the lives of students and their families.


Study: CPS has some success turning around grammar schools, not high schools

BY ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter February 9, 2012 12:06AM

Updated: February 9, 2012 12:08AM Only weeks before Chicago School Board members vote on whether to turn around a record number of schools, a new study indicates Chicago’s “turnaround” elementary schools produced better academic gains than other “worst of the worst’’ schools that did not undergo similar reforms.

Chicago’s public high schools were another story. There, researchers from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research found that, after four years, “turned around’’ high schools did not perform differently than similar struggling high schools on at least two important indicators.

And, said Consortium co-author Elaine Allensworth, although the elementary gains are “statistically significant, whether they are substantially significant is a matter for interpretation.’’

After four years, sixth graders in turned-around schools were 3.5 months ahead of kids in similar low-scoring schools in reading and 4.5 months ahead in math, Allensworth said. Turned-around elementary schools narrowed their test score difference from the district average by almost half in reading and almost two-thirds in math after four years, the study said.

Consortium researchers rushed the analysis into print, releasing only an “overview of findings’’ and not the final report, because they said they wanted to inform the current debate over Chicago’s turnarounds and stop inaccurate “rumors’’ about what their study actually showed.

Allensworth noted that there weren’t enough schools in any one of five CPS turnaround models studied to say that one worked better than any other. However, School Board members will vote later this month on whether to use two of the turnaround models studied – both involving giving all the adults in a building pink slips — on 10 failing schools.

CPS officials quickly seized on the study to tout the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which turned around 12 of 36 schools studied and, if approved, will oversee six more.

“I would say the report shows there’s promising and encouraging data about our turnaround models in particular and about AUSL as an example,’’ said CPS Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso.

In elementary schools, the AUSL model comes with $300,000 in one time start-up costs, $141,000 for an assistant principal, $420 per pupil for five years, and teacher “coaches’’ that visit new or struggling teachers at least three times a week. Plus, schools sites are spruced up physically.

“All the schools would thrive if they were given the resources AUSL has,’’ Chicago Teachers Union researcher Sarah Hainds said Wednesday. “The model is still in an experimental stage and a full evaluation should take place prior to expansion.’’

However, CPS officials said some schools targeted for shakeups are among the top 25 in the district for per-pupil funding. “Resources alone are not the answer,’’ Donoso said.

School reform researcher Geoffrey Borman said it’s difficult to control for the huge influx of resources some turnaround schools receive, as well as the fact that, in one model studied, some neighborhood schools were “turned around’’ by replacing them with schools that picked kids by lottery.

“There are many limitations to this study and if one were to take a true, critical eye at these results, they do not conclusively show these reforms caused these schools to turn around in the way described in the report,’’ said Borman, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To make such a conclusion on such a high-stakes matter, Borman said, CPS should randomly pick turnaround targets from a basket of similarly failing schools, and compare them to other schools in the same basket.

The study was released amid a drama about whether it would be published by the federal Institute of Education Sciences, where the Consortium’s former director, John Easton, now serves as director.

Rebecca Maynard, commissioner at a regional agency within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), said IES withdrew plans to publish the study because “parts of the report were written in such a way that could suggest the study was intended to answer more complex questions than was judged to be possible with the available data.’’

Allensworth said the Consortium used comparison groups “developed with input from” IES reviewers, but Maynard nixed publication anyway.


Progress seen at city 'turnaround' schools

U. of C. group cites improvements in math, reading skills at elementary level

By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune reporter. 12:07 a.m. CST, February 9, 2012

A study of Chicago's most aggressive efforts to reform failing schools, including replacing school leadership and staff in "turnaround" efforts, finds that targeted schools did improve even though students continued to score below district standards.

On state tests, underperforming elementary schools improved reading skills enough to cut in half the gap that once existed between their performance and district standards and did well enough in math to cut the gap by two-thirds, according to a report by the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research. But at the high school level, the report concluded thatCPS' efforts — overhauling school staff or closing schools and then opening charters in their place — had little effect.

"Is it enough change? That's a matter for debate," said Tim Knowles, director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, which oversees the consortium. "Is it significant change, given the trajectory of turnaround schools compared to other schools at the bottom? Absolutely."

The report comes as the Board of Education is set to vote on closing seven low-performing schools, and "turn around," or replace staff with specially trained teachers and administrators, at 10 other failing schools. The study will no doubt add fuel to an already charged debate.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Teachers Union responded by announcing it planned to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the Feb. 22 school board vote.

"We note with continued dismay that Chicago's unelected school board members continue (to) drain millions of public dollars from regular neighborhood schools while they instead invest in charters, private-sector school models which have been shown to educate students no better," said a news release from the CTU.

The Academy for Urban School Leadership, which has two former officials now at the helm of Chicago Public Schools, stands to get contracts to manage six more turnaround schools this year. All but one of the turnaround operator's schools are still on probation despite its efforts — an omitted fact that CTU called a "glaring oversight" in the report — and critics have argued that gains at AUSL schools do not dramatically outpace improvements at traditional neighborhood schools. They say that, to justify the financial and emotional cost to the community, AUSL turnaround schools should be performing at a much higher level than they are.

"The Board of Ed needs to be responsible to understand these programs are not working," said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. "In order to do something devastating to the community, the results need to be clear and compelling. And these results are not."

CPS countered with statistics supporting AUSL's track record.

"What's really impressive is its consistency in gains. Even as AUSL grows and scales up, we see gains that are very significant," said Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso, who at one time served as a principal at a turnaround school in another city.

Tim Cawley, the district's chief administrative officer who previously was in charge of AUSL's operations, pointed to Morton Elementary, the only school that saw a dip in scores after turnaround, but which went on to become what he described as AUSL's "miracle" school.

"Morton went down in the first year and then scores skyrocketed," Cawley said. "It's now higher than the district average" for meeting and exceeding state standards.

Some have accused AUSL of kicking out lower-performing students in the turnaround process to enhance academic gains, but the report found that 55 to 89 percent of students re-enrolled after the CPS intervention, a rate similar to prior years with other operators. But CTU officials challenged that stat, saying their records show big drops in enrollment.

The report studied 36 schools that adopted one of four models recommended by the federal government as part of a national push to reform chronically failing schools — replacing principals, replacing staff through either district-led or AUSL-managed turnarounds and replacing underperforming neighborhood schools with charters, and then compared them to the worst schools in the district that underwent no change, seeing how far they deviated from district averages.

The study's co-author, Elaine Allensworth, said the report was released early because of "rumors" circulating about its findings. A final study will be released in a few weeks. The report was to have been co-issued by theU.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, but the federal agency did not sign off on it.

"Parts of the report were written in a way that could suggest the study was intended to answer more complex questions than was judged to be possible with the available data," said Rebecca Maynard, the commissioner at the institute who did not approve the consortium's report.

She added: "We felt the text needed to be revised so that it was clearer. A study can be technically done well, but if it's not communicated well, people can take the wrong conclusions."


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