Via AOL News comes word of the twenty-five worst schools in the country. And how ‘bout this – Chicago has four institutions on this dubious list, including Robeson HS (#6), Harper HS (#18), Englewood Technical Prep (#21), and Fenger Academy HS (#24). It's the only "big" city with a sizable percentage of such schools. Even Philly schools, with which local readers may be more familiar, had only one make the list (#23 -- Hope Charter School). Smaller cities, like Milwaukee and Columbia, SC, unfortunately had several institutions on the list.
But regarding Chicago schools, weren't these the same schools that were to "benefit" from the Annenberg Chicago Challenge? Yep, this is the same organization in which Barack Obama worked with radical prof Bill Ayers. (In different areas to be sure; I'm not going to rehash here the argument of how well each one knew the other, etc.) This "challenge" was supposed to promote achievement and improvement in Chicago's public schools from the mid-90s to 2001. (Ayers' part of the Challenge was through a group called the Chicago School Reform Collaborative.)
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Chicago has four schools on that top 25 list. Overall, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge was wasted money:
Results suggest that among the schools it supported, the Challenge had little impact on school improvement and student outcomes, with no statistically significant differences between Annenberg and non-Annenberg schools in rates of achievement gain, classroom behavior, student self-efficacy, and social competence.
More detailed analyses can be found here.
Overall, about $160 million was spent on the Challenge. Some more results from Ayers' and company's efforts:
- In 1998-99, just 36% of the Annenberg school students in grades three through eight were reading at or above national norms compared with 35% in Chicago schools citywide. In math, the results were similar. Some 43% of Annenberg students were at or above national norms versus 42% for non-Annenberg students.
- High school graduation rates for both groups of students were the same at 40%. The Annenberg schools edged out Chicago schools in dropout rates 35% to 36%.
- The CAC did not improve the schools, and in some ways made things worse. The executive summary also notes: “Classroom behavior, students’ sense of self-efficacy, and social competence were weaker in 2001 than before the Challenge.”
Keep in mind that former terrorist Ayers had much more of a hands-on responsibility than Obama regarding the Chicago Challenge. And despite Obama's past anti-[non public] school choice/anti-voucher rhetoric, as president he's made some atypical education moves for a Democrat. For one, his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is reform-minded (having been in charge of Chicago's schools after the ill-fated Chicago Annenberg Challenge), and just the other day Obama himself came out in favor of teacher merit pay. Teachers (their unions, actually) have historically been opposed to merit pay; however, they're now cautiously behind Obama, saying that they "could support merit-pay plans as long as they are fair to teachers." (Although the current president of the NEA says "If you pay one teacher more you have to pay someone else less." Obviously, such a zero sum game does not have to be the case.) This makes sense, of course.
I've opined on teacher merit pay often; one such post is here.
Of course, Duncan (and Obama) can only get as far as Congress will allow them to. The recent Omnibus spending bill was stripped of a provision that would have kept 1,700 D.C. poor and minority students (who receive federal aid) in private schools -- a provision favored by Duncan and reform-minded D.C. Superintendent Michelle Rhee.