Chicago report shows perils of NCLB sanctions against schools, teachers

Test-driven reforms of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act have been tried and failed in Chicago, according to a report, “Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation.”

Scripted curricula, reconstitution, grade retention based on test scores, the undermining of local decision making and increased privatization have been “educationally counter-productive” in Chicago, according to the report.

The report was sponsored by Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) and Designs for Change, along with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

FairTest’s Executive Director Monty Neil and Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director of PURE, spoke about the report at a January 18 forum on high-stakes testing in Chicago.

“The failure of test-driven school reform in Chicago should provide a warning for the country,” said Neill. “The Chicago schools most affected by test-based grade retention and takeovers continue to fare poorly. No wonder NCLB has not been successful in significantly improving academic performance nationally: it is based on a failed model.”

While the report notes that NCLB does not require all of these, “the test-focused environment created by NCLB encourages these harmful practices.”

The report is based on a review of academic studies of Chicago schools, which show, for example, that that Chicago’s retention program harmed rather than helped students, CPS test scores flatlined in schools where central office controls replaced local decision making, and top-down interventions over 10 years did not work.

“The city’s most recent ‘reform’ effort, ‘Renaissance 2010’ is NCLB Chicago-style,” explained Woestehoff. “There is no evidence it will help the thousands of low-income children in our city who desperately need high quality schooling. Instead ‘Renaissance 2010’ reduces parent involvement, promotes privatized school management, and reinforces an extreme focus on testing.”

PURE, FairTest and Designs for Change highlight the fact that many schools in Chicago have been steadily improving, but not by following the path of “punishment and privatization promoted by business and political interests and enshrined in No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”

Don Moore, Executive Director of Designs for Change, added at the January 18 forum, “The nearly 150 steadily improving elementary schools in Chicago prove that decentralized reforms can work. The next step is for those successful schools, which are overwhelmingly low-income, to help others.

A Designs for Change study, The Big Picture, contrasted 144 initially low-achieving schools that now have steadily rising test scores with more than 100 other initially similar schools that have not shown sustained improvement despite central office intervention.


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