Why Duncan's record in Chicago is a problem
It’s an all too familiar story.
Someone gets appointed to a big job because he supposedly got great results at his old job.
It doesn’t take too long for people to realize that the supposedly great results weren’t so great--but the boss has taken the new organization on the same route anyway.
This is the story of Rod Paige as education secretary under then president George Bush early in this decade, and now, according to a Washington Post story today by my colleague Nick Anderson, of Arne Duncan as education secretary under President Obama.
Paige, a former superintendent of Houston’s schools who earned his doctorate in physical education, came under tough criticism for his record in that Texas school district when it became known that the progress made in keeping kids in school appeared to be a statistical trick of under-reporting by high schools.
Now we have Duncan, who the president knew for years in Chicago and hailed as having made enormous progress during his seven years as Chicago school chief, starting in 2001.
Anderson tells us that Duncan tried a lot of approaches to turn around the city’s struggling schools. He got rid of staff, brought on people who are supposed to be experts in turning around schools and shut down those schools thought to be impossible to fix.
There were more efforts, too, but you get the idea. He tried a lot of things.
Some may have helped in some places, but nowhere was there a great turnaround like the one he now demands from other cities.
When, for example, Obama appointed Duncan in December 2008, he said standardized test scores had risen in Chicago’s elementary schools by 29 percentage points during Duncan’s seven years as superintendent.
Well, not so much, it turned out.
According to one research group that issued a report this year, the real improvement was only about 8 percentage points.
And while Obama said that Duncan had improved Chicago’s dropout rate during each of his seven years as Chicago schools boss, which appears to be true, he didn’t mention that 70 percent of 11th graders still fail to meet state standards. Oh, and about half of Chicago’s kids who attend non-selective-enrollment high schools still drop out.
Another research group found that Duncan’s closure of low-performing schools did little good for students, Anderson reported.
Duncan himself did not call his work as Chicago schools chief an educational miracle, but he never stopped others, including Obama, from making more of it than there really was.
My point? Progress is hard. Progress is uneven. Progress takes different approaches.
No one person has the answer for everybody.
Yet Duncan has decided on specific routes for progress that school districts must take in order to win some of the billions of dollars in federal funds he is dangling--$3.5 billion in grants for systems to turn around weak schools and $4 billion for states to pursue innovation.
This is why so many people are upset at Duncan -- especially those who had hoped Obama would change the educational dynamic of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” era, with its emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests and charter schools.
They had hoped Duncan would take the country away from NCLB. Instead, he seems to be ratcheting it up, based on a record in Chicago that is hardly shining.
So here we go again. Most unfortunately.
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| December 29, 2009; 9:18 AM ET
Categories: Education Secretary Duncan, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top | Tags: education reform, no child left behind
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