Chicago fails to close achievement gaps

After 16 years of school reform, Chicago’s “racial gaps in achievement have steadily increased,” according to a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.  White and Asian students are making more progress than Latinos; blacks are “falling behind all other groups.”

Some initiatives, such as closing underperforming schools, may have hurt students, Jean-Claude Brizard, the new superintendent, told the Chicago Tribune.

If school closings destabilized certain neighborhoods, other efforts were ineffective — millions of dollars pumped into countless after-school initiatives and tutoring and mentoring programs geared toward African-American students, only to see math and reading scores languish and many students fall further behind.

The percentage of black students meeting benchmarks on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test has grown at a faster rate than whites’ progress. But the consortium looked at average scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  “NAEP scores don’t just look at a percentage of students that pass a certain cut of points. It talks about the average scores, so it’s a much better way to look at trends over time,” (researcher Marisa) de la Torre said.

Over the last 20 years, graduation rates in Chicago have improved dramatically, the study found. Math scores improved slightly in elementary and middle schools while reading scores “have remained fairly flat for two decades.”

NCLB stands for No Chance for Latinos and Blacks, writes Coach G, who began teacher inner-city Chicago students in 1993. Even in the pre-reform era, two years before Mayor Richard Daley took control of the city’s schools, there was pressure to raise reading and math scores, Coach G recalls.

No Child Left Behind increased pressure to replace “rich curriculum with test prep,” he writes. Schools cut back on teaching writing: In many schools, the three Rs were reduced to two.  Other responses:

  • providing tutoring and other individualized services for on-the-bubble students who were just short of a proficient score the previous year, while neglecting the most deficient and most advanced students
  • preventing students from taking advanced classes if the content wouldn’t be on the test
  • enabling students’ self-defeating behavior
  • holding teachers accountable for results without providing them the support they need to achieve those results

Years ago, a testing guru told me the most effective way to raise students test scores is to teach writing. It even works for math scores, he said. Filling in bubbles? A waste of time after the first five minutes, he said.


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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    Isn’t Arne Duncan the former head of the Chicago schools? Talk about failing upward.

  2. What else is new, more educational reform is simply BOGUS…future generations of students will actually have less general and actual knowledge than the students who came before them (it’s actually happening right now).


  3. Your comment about the effectiveness of writing reminds me of a study I saw years and years ago: Students who were told to study for an essay test did better — even if the test was actually multiple choice.

  4. Richard Cook says:

    I teach armed and unarmed security officers on the southside of Chicago. We had to discontinue having students read sections of the text because they can’t read. I am talking 18-30 year olds. I mean they can’t even sound it out. You are doomed if you have a CPS education and have not gone to one of the magnet schools.

  5. Hmm, that explains something I’d been wondering about. My 3rd grader (Cupertino school district, CA) has to write full-sentence answers not just on his language arts homework, but also on any math homework that has word problems. (The 3rd grade math homework occasionally has word problems I can’t figure myself without resorting to vaguely remembered Algebra, while my first grader is doing simple addition problems that bore him. The current California math curriculum accelerates very quickly.) Hmm, maybe this article also explains why the first grader has reading books that are too easy and writing assignments that are too hard (for a perfectionist – it freaks him out to have to write things he can’t yet spell without help).

  6. Sharon, I agree. First graders used to start with copying from the board; date, weather etc. – thus learning capitalization, punctuation and the spelling of common words. For example: “John Doe, Friday, November 11, 2011. Today is Veterans’ Day. It is sunny and windy.” After copying came dictation, using words kids should know how to spell. Of course, kids had spelling words every week, too, and all written work was corrected. By the time kids were asked to write sentences on their own, they had the grammar and spelling skills to do so.