'BLACK AND WHITE' IN PIECES. CTU Analysis of charter schools shows curriculum failure, test prep mania, and huge teacher turnover and lack of continuity
The massive Chicago Teachers Union study of Chicago's schools has been under-reported in all of the major media, and is likely to continue to be so. After examining the report in total, Substance has decided not only to report on its overall content, as we did on December 1, but to do a separate analysis and report on each of the pieces.
One of the most dramatic facts uncovered by the CTU researchers is the turnover of charter school teachers that results from the treatment of those teachers in non-union and anti-union charter schools. Despite claims to the contrary, Chicago charter schools are generally (not unanimously) test prep factories, as the report documents.
The introduction to the report in outline establishes the CTU critique of Chicago's charter schools:
"The Educational Failure of Charter Schools: One of the biggest myths about charter schools is that as a whole, they outperform CPS neighborhood schools. However, in addition to insignificant average differences, certain populations of CPS students have better outcomes when they attend neighborhood schools instead of those run by charter operators. Charters have performed worse even in high-need areas. Among elementary schools with a 90 percent student population that qualifies for a FRL and are at least 90 percent black, charters average at the 33rd percentile in reading test score gains. Their neighborhood school counterparts score at the 43rd percentile, outranking charters by 10 percentile points on reading test score gains. CPS magnet elementary schools also significantly outperform comparable charters on CPS’ accountability measures. On average, non-selective magnet schools outrank charters by 12 percentile points in reading and two percentile points in math.
"Test Prep Network: The Noble Network has a laser-like focus on ACT scores despite a lack of predictive validity for college success. Freshmen and sophomores take quarterly “Hedgehog” exams (written by teachers) that utilize ACT style questions and power standards. Juniors are required to take a “collegiate seminar” twice a week after school that is really just an intensive ACT prep course. Since pay is linked to test scores, Noble teachers are forced to spend a large portion on test prep. According to a Noble teacher, “There is a lot of individual pressure by the teachers since it’s tied to pay, which I think makes a significant difference in the mentality for the teachers. I must teach these kids how to do X, Y and Z or else I won’t get my bonus. It’s a much more corporate style atmosphere in general.” Instead of actual teaching, students are drilled to prepare for test questions.
"Teacher Diversity and Churn: In CPS, the percentage of students of color far exceeds the percentage of teachers of color across CPS. However, this diversity gap is especially prominent at charter schools. At charters, more than 95 percent of students were black or Latino/a, while only a combined 30 percent of teachers identified as either black or Latino/a, resulting in a diversity gap of 65 percent across charter schools. The UNO Charter Network has a student population that is 95 percent Hispanic but only 11.6 percent of its teachers identify as Hispanic or Latino/a. The Noble Street Network is composed of 95 percent students of color, but only 19 percent of their teachers identified as black or Latino/a. Annual staff overhaul is a systemic feature of charters. While age and experience certainly play a role in teacher turnover, charter school teacher attrition cannot be explained just by the fact that their teachers are younger and less experienced. While 67 percent of CPS first year elementary teachers returned to their school, only 54 percent of all teachers returned to their UNO campuses. A similar retention gap exists in high schools, with 75 percent of first year CPS high school teachers returning but, for example, only 65 percent of all teachers at Noble. This large turnover in charters influences teacher experience—charter teachers average about four years of experience, compared to 14 years for CPS teachers.
"Reclaiming Real Innovation in Neighborhood Schools: In 2010, Bill Gates said, “Charter schools are especially important right now because they are the only schools that have the full opportunity to innovate.“ Charter “innovation“ has not produced broad achievement gains, and what we do know about their practices indicates that rapid charter proliferation has compounded and amplified the most egregious forms of educational apartheid found in CPS. The supposed ‘bureaucracy’ that holds back innovation in neighborhood schools is not an inherent feature of public neighborhood schools but an intentional policy of disinvestment that withholds resources for innovation in neighborhood schools and gives additional funding and autonomy for charters. There are many innovative approaches that neighborhood schools can use to improve instruction and learning through collaboration and professional development. The Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) focuses on building capacity for ongoing professional development for K-3 teachers and reducing class sizes. Lesson Study, which focuses on teacher collaboration, is another innovation that warrants expansion. The Responsive Classroom format aims to develop social skills of cooperation, responsibility, and empathy in concert with the acquisition of deep subject knowledge, decision making and motivation for learning. These are just a few proven alternatives to the regime of test-based accountability. They can replace our rigorous but meaningless standardized testing practices with assessment systems built on challenging, subject-specific tasks, a wide array of demonstrated knowledge, extensive documentation and active learning.
"CPS must end the failed policy of closing or otherwise acting against neighborhood schools and replacing them with charter schools. Instead, CPS should provide neighborhood schools with the resources needed to give students and parents the schools they deserve."
The general failure of Chicago charter schools, more than 15 years after they were first proclaimed in Chicago as the solution to the "crisis" in urban schools and the way that America will bridge the so-called "achievement gap" is exposed at a time when Chicago officials, led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have been hailing charters, and the leaders of CPS, appointed by Emanuel, have pledge to increase the current number of Chicago charter schools and "campuses" by 60. The CTU report debunks the claims of the charters and challenges everyone to rethink the privatization strategy that has dominated the debate over the solution to the supposed crisis in public education.
The critique comes as a particular challenge to the Obama administration, since privatization and the closing of urban public schools based on test-based "failure" has been the underpinning of the "Race To The Top" national education reform strategy for four years, since the appointment of Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education in 2009. Duncan's claim to the job, while in some trivial accounts was supposedly based on his basketball games with the President Obama, has actually been based on the false claims of his success in transforming Chicago's schools through a massive program of school closings and charter openings that began less than one year after Duncan succeeded Paul Vallas as Chicago Schools "Chief Executive Officer" in July 2001. Duncan's first school closings were announced in April 2002, when he slandered Dodge, Terrell and Williams elementary schools. One of the schools (Dodge) became the first so-called "turnaround" school controlled by AUSL (the Academy for Urban School Leadership). A second (Williams), was turned over to a variety of experiments, at one point hosting inside its building three schools, one of which was a KIPP school that is still moving around Chicago without a permanent home. The third (Terrell) was turned over to a charter school (one that involved the city's unions in its activities).