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Education Mon Aug 30 2010

Catalyst Report On Charters Demonstrates Duncan's Record of Failure

That Arne Duncan is a professional failure has never really been up for much debate. He achieved precisely zero of his objectives as head of the schools in Chicago, and failed upward into the President's administration mainly for his skills at self-marketing and the President's bizarre desire to appear "tough on teachers".

Catalyst Chicago in its latest issue[PDF] is digging into what teachers and parents have known since at least 2005: that the Renaissance 2010 program is a disaster, that privatization and charter schools have done nothing but increase opacity, decrease accountability, and aggravate the bifurcation of the school system; and that whatever improvement CPS has seen since the Mayor took over the school system in 1995 is due not to the free market unicorns sneezing their econowoozle magic on the evil teachers unions, but to gentrification.

As opponents of public school privatization have warned for years, the fascination with "innovation" and "entrepreneurial spirit" is hanging the hopes of a generation on buzzwords and sloganeering. There is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that introducing profit motive and private sector slash-and-burn sensibility would add value to education. Indeed, it hasn't been. What a surprise: firing master teachers and destabilizing the work force has NOT lead to an improvement in retention in poor schools and has not somehow magically improved classroom instruction.

As the Catalyst study points out:

  • On average, charters lost half of their teachers over the past two years, a turnover rate that rivals many low-performing neighborhood schools.
  • Only 16 of 92 new schools have reached the state average on test scores. Of those 16, just eight are charters. The rest are new magnet schools or new satellites of existing magnet and selective schools.

Just as public education advocates have been saying, introducing private operators into the school system with little oversight simply accelerates the problem of bifurcation. Charters are competing with each other for the best students and leaving the public school system to educate kids with poor performing kids, kids with learning disabilities, and kids from the poorest communities. Oh, and kids from multi-lingual households: Latino kids are particularly left behind according to the Catalyst study. The proportion of Latino kids attending high-performing schools has not increased at all since Renaissance 2010 began in 2004.

And, just as predicted, charters inherently prejudice students with highly involved parents, as this story heartbreakingly illustrates:

This spring, Charise Agnew was forced to confront the lack of school options in Roseland as she made an agonizing decision about where to send her older son, Dorian Metzler, to high school. Dorian was one of the top 8th-graders at Lavizzo, one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. In 2010, only about 44 percent of students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT. Agnew had her heart set on Dorian attending Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, a selective enrollment school just to the west of Lavizzo. She had him apply, and then she waited. But Agnew didn't know that Dorian needed to take an entrance exam. Few students at Lavizzo score above the 70th percentile on the ISAT, the cutoff to take the selective enrollment test. So there was no buzz in the hallway. A teacher might have asked about it, but the original 8th-grade teacher was fired and the class had a substitute for two months.

The end result is that no one tapped Dorian or Agnew on the shoulder to tell them about the entrance test. "I just had no idea," Agnew says.

Brooks is the only higher-scoring high school in the area. Agnew's first reaction was to take Dorian's transcript up to Brooks and try to talk to the principal. But selective enrollment school principals can be inundated with pleas from parents to offer their child a slot. Schools set up shields, and Agnew didn't make it past the foyer.

A woman like Charise Agnew is undoubtedly an involved and interested mother. But in an education system perverted by the neoliberal fascination with competition and markets, even her children end up losing out.

dmancool2010 / December 4, 2010 10:24 AM

I'm the 8th grader in the article, and I want to point out that things are going better. I never did get in Gwendolyn Brooks, but I did go to Walter Payton College Prep on the North Side of Chicago. I take the bus and the train, and a little walk, and it takes an hour to get to school, but you know what? It's worth it to attend THE highest performing school in the state of Illinois. This was a feat accomplished not only by myself, but with the love and support of my parents, Charisse Agnew and Early Atterberry. I wish Lavizzo the best of luck as I advance through high school, continuing my hard work and and continuing the legacy. My mother and grandfather we're honors students, and I am the next one. See you in four years.

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