Sunday, November 22, 2009

Report Questions Duncan’s Policy of Closing Failing Schools

Interesting twist here. Wonder how this will play into the plans that states are outlining to receive federal RTTT funds.

Here's the link to the full report When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools


October 28, 2009

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan presided over the closing of dozens of failing schools when he was chief executive of the Chicago public schools from 2001 until last December. In his new post, he has drawn on those experiences, putting school turnaround efforts at the center of the nation’s education reform agenda.

Now a study by researchers at the University of Chicago concludes that most students in schools that closed in the first five years of Mr. Duncan’s tenure in Chicago saw little benefit.

“Most students who transferred out of closing schools re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak,” says the report, which was done by the university’s Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Furthermore, the disruptions of routines in schools scheduled to be closed appeared to hurt student learning in the months after the closing was announced, the researchers found.

The reading scores of students in schools designated for closing “showed a loss of about six weeks of learning” on standardized tests in the months after the closing announcement, the report said. Math scores declined somewhat less, it said.

Partly because of the disruption caused by the closings, Mr. Duncan changed strategy after 2006. Instead of closing schools permanently, or for a year, and then reopening with a new staff, he shifted to the turnaround approach, in which the staff of failing schools was replaced over the summer but the same students returned in the fall.

The new report focused only on the elementary schools closed permanently from 2001 to 2006, and thus offers no conclusions about the effectiveness of the turnaround strategy.

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for Mr. Duncan, noted that the report also found that students who ended up in higher-achieving schools showed more gains on standardized tests.

“Clearly, the students who transferred to better schools did better, but the ones who went to similar schools did not,” Mr. Hamilton said. “That’s why we worked in parallel to create more new high-quality learning options.”

Still, the report’s findings are likely to provoke new debate about Mr. Duncan’s efforts to encourage the use of Chicago’s turnaround strategy nationwide. He has set the goal of closing and overhauling 1,000 failing schools a year nationwide, for five years, and Congress appropriated $3 billion in the stimulus law to finance the effort.

A review of the history of school reform efforts, published in the current issue of Education Next, a journal published by Harvard University, argues that school turnaround efforts have failed more often than not.

“This leaves reform advocates in a pickle,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “The Obama administration’s solution is that we’re going to make all the lousy schools better, but that’s harder than the administration has let on. The next most attractive alternative is to shut them down, and let the kids go to other schools, but this Consortium report has found that that brought little benefit to students in Chicago.”

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