Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chicago schools report contradicts Obama and Duncan

New research from a Chicago civic group takes direct aim at the city's "abysmal" public high school performance — and puts a new spin on the academic gains made during the seven years that Arne Duncan led the Chicago schools before he was named U.S. Education secretary. The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, a supporter of Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's push for more control of city schools, issued the report June 30. It says city schools have made little progress since 2003. Its key findings stand in stark contrast to assertions President Obama made in December when he nominated Duncan as Education secretary.

And though the findings are by no means as explosive, they're reminiscent of revelations from Houston in 2003, when state investigators found that 15 high schools had underreported dropout rates under former superintendent Rod Paige, who by then was George W. Bush's Education secretary.

In December, Obama said that during a seven-year tenure, Duncan had boosted elementary school test scores "from 38% of students meeting the standards to 67%" — a gain of 29 percentage points. But the new report found that, adjusting for changes in tests and procedures, students' pass rates grew only about 8 percentage points.

Obama also said Chicago's dropout rate "has gone downevery year he's been in charge." Though that's technically true, the committee says it's still unacceptably high: About half of Chicago students drop out of the city's non-selective-enrollment high schools. And more than 70% of 11th-graders fail to meet state standards, a trend that "has remained essentially flat" over the past several years. Even among those who graduate, it says, skills are poor: An analysis of students entering the Chicago City Colleges in fall 2006 showed that 69% were not prepared for college-level reading, 79% were not prepared for writing, and 95% were not prepared for math. "Performance is very bad, very weak," says Civic Committee president Eden Martin.

Obama also said Chicago students' ACT test score gains "have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state." Again, technically true — ACT data show that Chicago students' composite score rose 0.9 points from 2002 to 2006, while Illinois' score rose 0.4 points. But Chicago students' composite score of 17.4 was lower than the statewide average of 20.5.

Timothy Knowles, who directs the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, says the report highlights "a highly irresponsible state reaction" to the federal No Child Left Behind law. "In essence," he says, "many states have lowered (passing) scores on standardized tests to create the public appearance they are meeting federal standards. This practice sells children short — and the states that engage in it are, ironically, leaving themselves behind." Knowles says Chicago schools are moving in the right direction, with "some extraordinary new schools" and promising performance from black and Latino students, for instance. "However, the Civic Committee report reminds us these successes are fragile … and there is unambiguous evidence that Chicago has miles to go before it sleeps."

Duncan spokesman Peter Cunningham says Chicago schools "made significant gains across a range of indicators" under Duncan. "While we still have a long way to go, it is absolutely misleading and irresponsible to suggest that there has not been progress."

Blogger Alexander Russo, who writes about Chicago schools, says the findings show that nearly 15 years into mayoral control, the city school system "isn't nearly as improved as many have been led to believe." "What I find particularly appalling is that Duncan and Obama — supposed champions of transparency and using research rather than ideology — have cited Chicago's inflated test scores, even though they knew the increases were exaggerated."


British government forcing up the costs of private schooling

Hundreds of independent schools could lose their charitable status unless they increase fees for middle-class parents to fund more bursaries, a landmark ruling indicates today. Two of the first five schools to be investigated by the Charity Commission have failed the tough new requirement of providing “public benefit”. The long-awaited decision has ramifications for fee-charging schools with charitable status, which make up the majority of the independent sector. The tax breaks that they receive are worth a collective £100 million.

The independent sector reacted with anger and said it could take legal action against the commission. It said that parents, already struggling in the recession, were likely to end up paying higher school fees to subsidise poorer families. The commission had focused on the financial benefits, it said, while placing little weight on whether less wealthy schools shared their facilities with the community or had forged links with state schools.

The two schools that did not pass the charitable test are relatively small prep schools. Both failed because they did not offer enough bursaries, even though they were praised for running initiatives which helped local children and organisations. One, Highfield Priory School in Fulwood, Lancashire, does not provide bursaries because it keeps fees as low as possible, and does not accrue a surplus. The other, Saint Anselm’s School in Bakewell, Derbyshire, does offer bursaries worth up to 100 per cent of fees to poorer families, but the number was not deemed sufficient by the commission.

Simon Northcott, the head teacher, said: “As a stand-alone prep school, we just don’t have the pot that other schools have. We failed only because we’re not producing enough bursaries. But nowhere in the course of this process has the commission given us a clear idea of what we need to achieve. “It’s like being told you’ve failed a maths exam but without being told what the passmark is.”

A spokesman for Highfield Priory said: “The governors of Highfield Priory are disappointed at the Charity Commission’s conclusion on public benefit. However, the continued success and sustainability of the school is not in doubt. Highfield Priory has served the local community well for nearly 70 years and our aim remains to continue to provide a high-quality education for public benefit, affording pupils many opportunities to succeed academically, creatively, artistically, musically and in a wide range of sports both at local and regional level. “The governors will now consider fully the implications of the Charity Commission report and respond to it after taking professional advice.”

The 2006 Charities Act puts a new onus on charities to prove their public benefit, and the commission has assessed a dozen organisations, including the five schools. Independent schools have been waiting with trepidation for clarification on what constitutes “public benefit”, and were assured that schools would be judged individually.

David Lyscom, head of the Independent Schools Council, said that he was deeply disappointed by the commission’s findings and its focus on the amount of means-tested bursaries provided by each school. He said: “The implication of the commission’s findings appears to be that many schools must now aim to provide a significant — but still unspecified — proportion of their turnover in full bursaries. “This will inevitably lead to fee increases for the vast majority of parents, putting the benefits of an independent education beyond the reach of a greater number of children. “We will be expressing our concerns very loudly and will have to look very carefully at the legal basis of the Charity Commission judgments, and consider whether we need to take further action.” When asked if this could include legal action, Mr Lyscom said: “It is one of a range of options we could take.”

He added that, in focusing on bursaries, the commission had played down the significance of partnerships with state schools and ignored the £3 billion a year that the independent sector saved the public purse in educating children.

Schools which were concerned that they would be judged purely on the money spent on bursaries have been assured that this will not be the case. Dame Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the commission, had previously acknowledged that bursaries may not be an option for some smaller schools. However, the findings are likely to send shivers through low-cost schools that operate near the margins and may be struggling. The recession has already taken its toll on the independent sector, with several small independent schools closing or merging in the past year. The governors of Highfield and Saitn Anselm’s have three months to confirm their intention to address the issues raised by the commission, and a further nine months to provide a plan of how this will happen.

A spokesman for the commission said: “It is not correct to state that the Charity Commission’s initial public benefit assessments of charitable independent schools focused only on the provision of means-tested bursaries. “We have been very clear throughout this process that, although fee reductions are an obvious way of making the services of a fee-charging charity more widely accessible, that is not the only means of achieving this.”


Australia: NSW teachers dead-scared of their failings being exposed

Parents must not be told if their kid is going to a sink school or has dud teacher

TEACHERS in New South Wales have voted to support industrial action if school league tables are published using national assessment data. NSW Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscombe said he hoped that state ministers would scrap plans to publish league tables before teachers walked out. However, up to 70,000 federation members were prepared to strike next year if necessary.

Speaking in Sydney at the federation's annual conference, Mr Lipscombe launched a scathing attack on NSW Education Minister Verity Firth for her support of tables comparing schools' performances. He also criticised sections of the media, saying some newspapers stood to gain financially from their publication. "Verity Firth needs to have a bit of backbone. "The minister needs to stand up for the people of NSW. "She has been prepared to take a stand on other issues and she needs to take a stand on this. "Certain newspapers support league tables because they know parents will be curious about how schools are performing. "Politicians and some newspapers who stand to gain financially are the only ones who support this."

Federation executive member Michael de Wall added: "This is political karaoke - out of tune and disturbing for those of us who have to listen to it."

The conference passed a motion supporting "all appropriate measures, both political and industrial" if 2009 national assessment data was used to publish league tables. It heard from teachers from across NSW who said such tables would damage schools, children and communities and offer inaccurate assessments of educational performance.

Mr Lipscombe told reporters outside the conference he believed the NSW Government, which has not authorised school league tables for 12 years, was being "blackmailed" by the Federal Government over the issue. "The one thing that's changed is that the Federal Government is now saying that if the State Government withholds its data, it will withhold funding. It is essentially a type of blackmail." He said Premier Nathan Rees' support of league tables was "driven by money".

However, the conference voted against a motion calling for Ms Firth's resignation, after Mr Lipscombe said it would divert attention from the core issue.

NSW is pushing ahead with legislation to allow media outlets to publish comparisons of schools' performance, overturning last month's opposition amendment to the Education Act which prohibits their publication. The Education Act allows the State Government to provide detailed information about schools to the Federal Government, in return for increased federal funding.

Under the Opposition amendment, NSW media are not allowed to publish information comparing different schools.


No comments: