Where is Rahm Taking the Schools?

This is an article by my dear friend Don Rose, reprinted from the Chicago Daily Observer, Austust 20, 2013

No One Wants to Go to Charter Schools Anymore, Charter Schools are Too Crowded

by Don Rose

There are so many twists and turns in Rahm Emanuel’s school plans it’s hard to figure out exactly what he has in mind—apart from wrecking the Chicago Teachers Union.  He sure doesn’t seem to be helping the kids, which should be his first order of business.
    As noted in previous tirades, he’s closing about 50 schools and keeps coming up with different reasons why. Economics was the first line until some knowledgeable folk pointed out there would not be that much saving. He also posited that all the kids from closed schools would be going to better performing schools, which turned out to be another fiction. Add the fact that many classroom sizes will swell well beyond anyone’s idea of optimal for learning.
    Earlier he mandated a longer school day so the kids’ basic courses could be enriched with arts and culture. Then came a series of budget cuts that resulted in the firing of more than 3200 teachers and support personnel, causing beleaguered principals to cut staff—paradoxically in the arts and other enrichment areas.
     Thus far he’s turned a deaf ear to parents urging him to use money from his Tax Increment Financing slush fund for schools.  Saving it for developer/donors?
    Ah, but even though he is cutting budget and personnel for regular public schools he magically came up with enough money to open a batch of new charter schools—some of them in areas where he closed down regular public schools.
    Surely by now he must be aware that, on the whole, charters perform no better than traditional public schools—and if we are to look at a dramatic new report from New York, they may even be doing worse.
    New York has been ahead of Chicago in introducing the “Common Core” curriculum—the latest experiment in development of national standards (read “tests”) that are theoretically the embodiment of what every student should know, grade by grade. It is supposed to be an improvement on traditional standardized reading and math tests by trying to teach and measure critical thinking. Not a bad goal in itself, to be sure, but the whole thing is completely unproven and in the eyes of many may be setting impossible goals.
    In any case, New York tested its students on the Common Core curriculum and less than a third of all kids passed in Mayor Bloomberg’s self-proclaimed miracle system. Worse yet, a couple of the largest charter groups, including the highly touted KIPP schools, underperformed the regular public schools at many grade levels. In one KIPP charter only 11percent of 5th graders passed the math test and 16 percent the reading test. Another group of charters passed with flying colors, but even those were outshone by the top public schools.
     So why, with an impoverished school system, is Emanuel picking kids’ pockets to gamble on more charters?
     The only serious rationale for charters is to create successful models that can be proliferated in the public system. Ain’t happening.
     Beyond that it’s either union busting or a step toward privatizing public education.

5 Responses

  1. I agree that it’s crazy to create new models of schools, implement them poorly (by over-enrolling them, beyond their design sizes), and then claim they do not work. However, Deb, you are doing some harm there by using NY results on the Common Core test, which we already knew the kids weren’t going to pass, to condemn Chicago’s (or New York’s) plans–nobody even thought New York gave a valid test. As you know well, those tests don’t even begin to test anything of worth, such as creativity, place-based knowledge/wisdom, ability to collaborate and form meaningful relationships, or even what teachers are actually teaching.

  2. “Surely by now he must be aware that, on the whole, charters perform no better than traditional public schools—and if we are to look at a dramatic new report from New York, they may even be doing worse.”

    Why would he “know” this? It’s utterly untrue.

    • This is just one of many citations of the evidence of charters not outperforming public schools: Preston, Courtney, et al. “School innovation in district context: Comparing traditional public schools and charter schools.” Economics of Education Review 31.2 (2012): 318-330. And this does not account for the many charters that are closed for poor performance, which skews the evidence in their favor.

      • Yes, there are reports which support this idea. You could also have found reports in 1905 supporting the idea that a horse delivers better performance than an automobile, and reports in 2007 that the Facebook would die a quick death.

        Looking at charters without placing them in the context of an emerging ecosystem is disingenuous to the max.

        What is here called ‘skewing the evidence’ is just one example of being honest about the nature of emerging ecosystems. Yes, emerging ecosystems have lots of failures. THAT IS WHY THEY WERE CREATED–TO ALLOW ROOM FOR FAILURE.

        Would you judge the success of the NAACP by ‘averaging’ it with the previous civil rights movements that did not succeed? Of course not.

        Anyone who knows a thing about innovation knows that you need a number of small failures per big, successful innovation. That’s how we got all of the resources you turn to on the Internet.

        So back to the data. Two successive CREDO studies have shown the value that charters deliver to students. Honestly reading them shows what parents themselves have discovered in real life–having options gives kids a much better shot at a real education.

      • If charters are not better on average than in what way are they better? For every innovative charter I can show you an equally innovative public school. Charters have also been shown on average to serve less second language learners, less students with disabilities, especially sever one’s.

        The success or failure of an individual or even group of charter schools does not prove that charter schools as a strategy is effective. But since many many public schools are very successful as well, at least a many percentage-wise as charters, it shows that public schools, as a strategy, is at least as effective as charter schools.

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