What goes ‘up’ but also goes ‘down’ — and sideways — (sort of maybe)?

When it finally came time for Chicago to announce another round of school closings, Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan was in a quandary. How could he claim that he had to close more public schools? Duncan’s office — and his master’s office up the street at City Hall — had been claiming the need for closing public schools (usually to privatize them and flip their buildings into the hands of charter schools) since 2002, when the pre-”Renaissance” renaissance closed Dodge, Terrell and Williams elementary schools.

But, generally, since 2002 Duncan could hide behind a smokescreen of data when he moved to privatize public schools. Low test-scores required the job to “save the children.”

But 2007 was different. Scores at almost all Chicago public schools had gone “up”. And the scores that had gone “down” the most dramatically (at Jones College Prep High School) were at a school that the federal government had just declared a national model. Based on the script he had followed for five years, Duncan should have announced the closing of Jones — or at least its reconstitution, reorganization, reengineering, reinvention, or retooling. After all, the Jones scores had gone “down” from the high “90s” to the low “70s” between the 2005 and the 2006 testing cycles. If earlier scripts were being followed, Jones showed the need for direct radical courageous stern laser-like action on the part of the CEO at City Hall and the CEO down the street from City Hall.

But that wouldn’t work, because the Jones story has been carefully crafted as part of the miracle fables that Chicago passes off in this 12th year since corporate school reform saved Chicago’s public schools by putting them under the control of Chicago’s imperial mayor.

So Arne Duncan did what he always did. He waited for orders from his master at City Hall. Then he tried to avoid answers to specific questions for as long as possible. Then he lied.

Finally, he closed an elementary school he had already closed (LeMoyne) and closed another one that wasn’t really doing that badly (Harvard), without closing it really. And he ignored the high schools because his handlers warned that if any high school was touched this year for having “low” scores, even the most corrupt education reporter in town might wake up from recycling public relations handouts long enough to notice that one high school had suffered the biggest “drop” in scores in the city’s history.

As a result, the public was no clearer about the results of the 2006 Illinois testing program after the results had been released for over a month than the public was before the results were released.

A careful examination of data from across the state raised questions that neither Chicago nor Illinois officials were willing to spend much time answering. One thing was generally clear, but it didn’t take a massive testing program whose cost ran into the tens of millions of dollars to answer that:

The test scores of the more affluent school districts in Illinois were very high.

The test scores in the school districts in Illinois that serve the state’s poorest children were generally very low.

And in Chicago, the scores were very high (in the magnet schools and in the schools that serve affluent children) and average (in the muddled middle of the city’s schools). And scores were very, very low (if only compared with the rest of the state) in those 200 or so schools that serve the completely segregated and completely impoverished children of Chicago’s massive ghettos and barrios.

As anyone familiar with testing could have point out, you didn’t need to spend all that money on testing to learn those facts. In essay after essay and study after study, the “Volvo Effect” (as one expert wryly called it) has always been a best predictor of test results.
Briefly, the “Volvo Effect” states that you can predict the test scores of the children in a school by counting the number of Volvos and other expensive cars driven by the Moms (and sometimes Dads) who drop the kids off at school every day. The higher the percentage of Volvos and Lexuses, the higher the test scores are going to be.

Duncan really didn’t have to worry that there was no rational explanation for what he was doing, or for what had just happened. Nobody in Chicago’s corporate media was going to do more than recycle the PR puffery. Critical questions are not on the city’s media agenda. If they were, the headline would have read “Duncan closing Jones High School after plunge in test scores.”

But that’s not what happened. Instead, in the Alice in Wonder- land world of Chicago’s school news, two elementary schools were bashed, and the city was treated to a headline over the picture of the principal of Jones that read: “Clone this principal!”

If test scores mean anything in the evaluation of schools (and we have long said they mean little or nothing), then cloning Donald Fraynd, principal of Jones, is a call to expand massive “failure.” But the city absorbed the Jones “cloning” headline in early April without nodding. And it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke.


Sign the Petition to Dismantle No Child Left Behind at www.educatorroundtable.org

subscribe to substanceadvertise with substance