Education in Chicago: Chicago Public Schools Have Improved? Baloney!

Nothing that Paul Vallas, Mayor Daley or Arne Duncan did in the last 15 years has had any significant effect on the number of CPS students who can read, write and do basic math acceptably. It's all an illusion.
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The latest education report ("Still Left Behind: Student Learning in Chicago's Public Schools," June, 2009) of the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago prompted me to think: What if these crude, vulgar businessmen and lawyers who live in the suburbs, hampered and blinkered as they are by their upbringing, training and class on the subject of "education," are closer to the truth about schooling in Chicago than our Chicago Public Schools bureaucracy, our State Board of Education and Mayor Daley's publicity team?

After having read and reflected on this report, I think the Civic Committee has a much firmer grasp of the realities of public education than our professional educators, politicians and publicists.

The Civic Committee report urges us not to trust Daley and former CPS chief Arne Duncan's claim that they have turned around the massively failing Chicago Public Schools since 2000.

The reform supposed to have taken place in the last 15 years in the Chicago Public Schools is a lie, a fraud whose victims are not only the public, but also the politicians and educrats and teachers unions themselves.

They justify their blindness, their convenient self-delusion, by telling themselves that Illinois needs more federal money -- the awarding of which is partly based on showing you've raised test scores -- in order to finance further reform that will have real teeth and meaning in it.

The authors of "Still Left Behind" assert that in 2006, "changes in the [Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or 'ISAT'] test (and testing procedures) made by the Illinois State Board of Education made it much easier for Chicago public school students to achieve scores that met state standards."

In the subject of reading, the Civic Committee says, there was no huge, miraculous 21-point gain from 2004 to 2008 in the percentage of city eighth-graders who met Illinois standards.

Same thing for math. The official figures say that the number of eighth-graders who met Illinois standards increased from 33 percent in 2004 to 70 percent in 2008.

No, says the Civic Committee. It's all bunk.

The Civic Committee reasons like this: If our middle-school kids had made solid, impressive advances in reading and math from 2004 to 2008, we would have seen a significant rise in the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) scores of our 11th-graders in 2007 and 2008.

In fact, the percentage of Chicago 11th-graders who met state standards in reading, math and science in 2008, as determined by the results of the PSAE, was exactly the same as it was in 2001: 27.2 percent.

And that 27.2 percent figure is more than four points below the mark (31.4 percent) achieved by Chicago high school juniors in 2005, before any eighth-grade classes who made those alleged big gains in their ISAT reading, science and math scores starting in 2004 could have possibly progressed to the 11th grade.

The committee's logic is compelling.

The stark conclusion: Nothing that Paul Vallas, Mayor Daley or Arne Duncan did in the last 15 years has had any significant effect on the number of CPS students who can read and write acceptably and do arithmetic, fractions and elementary algebra easily. It's all an illusion.

There is a weakness in the Civic Committee report. The writers of "Still Left Behind" don't tell us how these changes in the test and test procedures were made in 2006. They don't tell us what these changes were. They don't give real examples from the tests before and after the changes were made. They don't show how, in detail, the old test was harder than the new.

Yes, I know that there are substantial legal issues in bringing the facts before the public. Perhaps the Civic Committee couldn't cite chapter and verse from the two tests. Perhaps it would have been illegal and impossible to put them side by side to show how the difficulty of the older test had been lessened.

But surely the Civic Committee could have found some way to discuss the changes in test content and procedure so as not to give away critical information or to compromise the next administering of the easier post-2006 version of the ISAT test.

(In my next blog, I'll discuss the diminishing likelihood that any Chicago school reform will ever take place.)

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