One of the highlights of the TFA 20th anniversary summit was certainly when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a rousing speech at the closing ceremony. The most impressive part of his speech was when he described the transformation of Englewood High School in Chicago while he was heading that school district. He said that they shut it down because 60% of the students were not graduating. They replaced it with three charter schools. One of those charters, the all boys Urban Prep, just graduated their first class and 107 students graduated and got accepted to college.
He says then “Same children, same community, same poverty, same violence. Actually went to school in the same building with different adults, different expectations, different sense of what’s possible. Guess what? That made all the difference in the world.”
You can click the link below to see the whole speech, or watch the relevant 2 minutes by clicking on the lower link.
Pretty amazing and convincing that all we need is harder working teachers to overcome poverty and turn failing schools into wildly successful ones. Unfortunately, it’s a lie. This is what happens: Charters exaggerate (lie) about their stats then the stats get used to convince politicians and billionaires to change public policy. The fact that Duncan is using this story shows that this farce goes all the way to the top. Surely Obama believes this story.
When I heard it, it sounded pretty far fetched. So I did a little bit of Diane Ravitch style investigative reporting to get to the truth behind that facade.
According to this article, it was not the ‘same children’ attending Urban Prep as would have attended Englewood High School. They had the typical lottery which excludes certain families. It also had a mandatory three week program for students who got accepted, which eliminated even more students. And then, they did the typical ‘weeding out’ of kids who weren’t performing. Also, how could it be, literally, the ‘same children’ if Urban Prep is all-male while Englewood High was co-ed?
Duncan seems to imply that the 107 students who graduated was a 100% graduation rate. Then this article points out that the 107 does not account for the fact that the original group was not 107 but, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card, 166 students. Suddenly 107 out of 166 doesn’t sound quite as good. It’s about 64% which is a lot better than 40%, I know, but considering they had ‘creamed’ to begin with, I don’t know how good even that is. Here’s another good post about the Urban Prep myth.
Then it gets worse when you look at what their test scores (and I know that test scores don’t tell the whole story of what’s going on in a school). You can see their results at the official Illinois site. This is the bar graph from the site showing a 15% in 2009 and 17% in 2010. In my original post I had checked the ‘All Tests’ radio button which made the district and state scores seem higher. I hope everyone believes that this was an honest mistake and not some attempt to ‘pull a Duncan.’
It’s scary that even the Secretary of Education would resort to this type of bending of the truth to advance an agenda that fails to meet the needs of the hardest to educate kids.
If he was going to give just one example of a school that worked, couldn’t he have come up with even one that was a genuine success in the whole country?