Jun 16 2011

Same Kids, Same Building, Same Lies — Redux

A few months ago after attending the 20th anniversary summit, I wrote a post about my progress in investigating a school that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan singled out in his keynote speech.

Urban Prep is a small charter school that is located in what was once Englewood High School in Chicago, which was closed down in 2008 because of its high dropout rate and poor test scores. Duncan was head of Chicago Public Schools when the decision was made to shut down the public school. He cited the statistic that all 107 graduates were accepted into four year colleges, which got a big ovation from the crowd. In investigating I learned that the school originally had at least 166 students and that their state test scores, which Duncan neglected to mention, were 17% passing. Another stat which I did not write about was that under the No Child Left Behind program the school has failed to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) since it has opened.

Diane Ravitch mentioned my findings in an op-ed in the New York Times that has gotten a lot of attention. Her critics have found a way to twist her words to false conclusions rather than try to figure out the bigger implications of her words.

She was NOT saying that students in poverty are not capable of learning. As an historian of education who has written over a dozen books and has a celebrated career that includes being assistant Secretary of Education under George H. Bush, it is bizarre that anyone would accuse her of not knowing something that only the most ignorant people in the world don’t know — that it is possible for a student in poverty to overcome his or her obstacles and get very high achievement in school.

She was also not putting down Urban Prep. The statistics are what they are, and she was just revealing them to make a point that is much bigger than whether or not the kids and teachers at Urban Prep are doing a good job.

Her point is that Duncan, in his attempt to prove that the reforms that he is promoting (shutting down ‘failing’ schools and replacing them with charters) is working. She is pointing out the hypocrisy that Duncan will shut down one school with poor test scores and then ignore the poor test scores of another when that school could be used to prove what a good job he is doing.

When he selectively ignores the statistics that make him look bad he deceives the public into thinking that his reforms work.

Ravitch is not the one who puts much stake in test scores, Duncan is. The low test scores don’t mean that good things aren’t happening at Urban Prep. They certainly seem to be. But the fact that the public school that it replaced had low test scores too doesn’t mean that good things weren’t happening there as well. That’s the point.

Looking at the fact that the school, while being praised by Duncan, also failed to make AYP could mean two things. Either the school is not very good OR the way AYP is calculated is not very good. When I looked into it, I saw why AYP was not made, and why AYP will never be made under the current definition, and why I don’t think ANY school in Chicago is making AYP. Under NCLB, every school must get 100% proficiency in Math and English by 2014. So there is a pacing chart with goals that schools must meet to be making progress that is considered even ‘adequate.’ For 2010 it was to get 77.5%. For 2011 it will be to get 85%. For 2012 it will be to get 92.5%. For 2013 they get a break and get to rest at 92.5% for another year. Then in 2014 they will need to get 100%. So it is not the school that is messed up, it is the calculation of AYP that is messed up. That’s really what’s going on here. Already, over 80% of the schools in the country are defined as ‘failing’ by this metric. Next year is will be 90%. How is this supposed to make students and their teachers feel that all their hard work results in being labeled a failure?

The CEO of Urban Prep, Tim King, wrote a response to the Ravitch op ed in a recent Huffington Post article. In it, he admits that the test scores were only 17% passing. But rather than reach the same conclusion as Ravitch, which is that schools should not be shut down and teachers fired over poor test scores and failure to make AYP, instead he writes something that struck me as desperate and offensive to his own students.

“These critics should be comparing apples-to-apples; not apples-to-grapefruits.
Rather than paralleling our students’ performance to children from all across Chicago, let’s examine how Urban Prep students stack up against their peers: other African-American males in non-selective public high schools.”

Is he saying that black kids are apples while white kids are grapefruits, an entirely different species of fruit? Is he saying that their scores are OK, considering that the kids are black?  Am I crazy or is this a horrible example of low expectations and racism?

If he really feels that it is unfair to compare students of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds, then why doesn’t he try to influence his buddy Duncan to change the education policy in the country to account for that?

2 Responses

  1. danielleinthed

    I actually volunteered at Urban Prep last summer, and it’s true that the school is doing some wonderful things. True, it needs some work. The average ACT score, for example, is still a far cry from where it should be. According to their 2009 data (taken from their website) the average is a 16.5, which is better than the district average but is certainly not a score that we should necessarily celebrate. However, despite the standardized test scores/college admissions test scores, Urban Prep is a wonderful institution full of very promising young men, and the teachers are truly dedicated and committed to their pupils.

  2. Chris Stewart

    Given the legendary “gap” in achievement between black and white students it might be fair to call them apples and grapefruits. Comparing how poor students of color perform against their peers across schools makes sense.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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