Posted tagged ‘Failing Schools’

What Doesn’t Work: AUSL

March 6, 2010

Over the past decade, turnaround schools have been tried hundreds if not thousands of times across the country.  A turnaround is what just happened in Central Falls where all the teachers are let go, a select few are rehired, and the school brings in a new principal and faculty to work their educational magic.  Sometimes, the school is taken over by a charter and sometimes it’s done under a program like AUSL in Chicago.   Today, in a blog posting entitled What’s Possible: Turning Around America’s Lowest-Achieving Schools, The United States Department of Education put 3 slickly produced videos together and pointed them out as proof that the turnaround model works just great.

Keep in mind that the DOE cherry picked these 3 schools.   They didn’t talk about the Green Dot in Watts where not a single student is meeting or exceeding.  They didn’t talk about the many turnaround failures, or the turnarounds that have had to be turned around again because the first turnaround didn’t work (If you make two 180 degree turns, aren’t you back where you started?).   They picked these three shining stars:

AUSL: This is the program in Chicago that over a thousand parents came out to protest this year.   The idea is that if you take a bunch of first year teachers and put them with a novice administrator somehow there will be educational magic created.  Students who sign on with AUSL agree to work four years at their AUSL school and if they leave early they have to repay part or all of their education.

One of the keys to success for AUSL has been to weed out students.   Yes, schools are supposed to educate everybody, but that doesn’t quite fit the AUSL model where suspensions and expulsions are commonplace.  Those expelled students are sent elsewhere–usually to a lucky public school down the road.  These stats are from PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education):

Drop out rates of course go through the roof at AUSL schools and test scores do go up.  Well, in most cases they do thanks to a large influx of funding.  However, let’s look at the Value Added scores that were developed by University of Wisconsin researchers and compare a student’s year-to-year growth on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test with growth made by demographically similar students from across the district.  These scores are the new buzz in education data:

[Click on the graph to enlarge to full size]

The test scores show Johnson going backwards.  Very few schools in the city appear in the red showing a negative growth, yet despite many resources that public schools don’t have access too and despite getting rid of the bad apples, Johnson is still dropping.   Before the turnaround, the scores at Johnson were actually on the way up.  Now that they go backwards, the Department of Education salutes them.

In exchange for poor test scores, you take students with little stability in their lives and make their school setting unstable.  If they had any close relationships with adults in their building, they’re gone too.   How long do the new AUSL teachers last at their schools?  Out of AUSL’s first graduating class from the program in 2003, six are still in education and one remains at the school they were originally assigned to.

I’ll post about the groundbreaking Green Dot schools next.   Green Dot founder Steve Barr left the organization after a small matter of embezzling $50,000.   If you believe that a school should pay its faculty more than its PR department, I think you’ll enjoy their story as well.

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Chicago’s Guggenheim Elementary School

February 4, 2010

Kara Crutcher with Amanda Patterson from Gwendolyn Brooks High School

Chicago’s Guggenheim Elementary School is a failing school.  By failing I mean that Guggenheim is located in a poor black neighborhood where many of the students have trouble making the grade on culturally biased standardized tests.  Guggenheim is located in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.   If you google it you’ll see plenty of talk about gangs, crime, violence and drugs.   It’s really easy to get caught up in all that and not see what’s really going at Guggenheim.

Last week, I came across an email at District299.com from a student named Kara Crutcher who attended Guggenheim and was now at the University of Pennsylvania.  This struck me by surprise.  It’s a long way from 71st and Morgan to the Ivy League.   I began to do some searching and I found Kara’s email.   After a few email exchanges, I interviewed her for Substance.   This girl has it so together–she’s brilliant, community minded, and not afraid to express herself.   When I was her age, I was still a Republican.  I interviewed Kara thinking of her as the rose among the asphalt.  She was proof that students could go to Guggenheim and make something of herself.  I was wrong.  The miracle is not Kara–brilliance and compassion not withstanding.   The miracle is Guggenheim.

I recommend you read this girl’s amazing interview, but while you’re visiting Substance take a look at the comments.   Another former Guggenheim says, “it was by far the most positive education environment we could have been in at the elementary school level. hands on administrators and teachers who cared about what they taught and how they taught. yes it is important that students achieve academically but in a time when youth have so few places to turn for care and support dismantling one place in the community that parents and students feel they have a voice is the wrong way to go about “school reform.”

Josef Canning is an actor in Los Angeles who graduated from Guggenheim 40 years ago.   He flew back to Chicago so he could speak at  a hearing on closing the school last night.   The alumni area speaking loudly and clearly with one voice to testify to exactly how much this school meant to them.   Perhaps, the most impressive has been the current students who have spoken in favor of the school.   According to Substance’s Kristine Mayle, “Each student spoke with passion, eloquence, and vocabularies that proved that the students of Guggenheim are, in fact, receiving a great education.”

Even Jesse Jackson was blown away by the public speaking abilities of one of the Guggenheim students and called him a future star.  This is the real miracle.   This school is a family and an educational community.  Guggenheim is everything that is great about the American education system.   If education reform means doing away with schools like this one then how can it possibly be good for this country?

At the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, they spell out the morale when they tell us, “No man is a failure who has friends”.  As former Guggenheim students come back to pay allegiance to the school that meant so much to them, I’m reminded of that final scene in that classic Christmas movie.  No school is a failure that has students like these.

[Editor’s Note: I am happy to report that Guggenheim has been spared from destruction.  Unfortunately, another 10 schools in Chicago are still slated for closing or turnaround next year.  I will continue to fight to save them and I have been assured by the people at Guggenheim that they will too.   In fact, their alderman Latasha Thomas has arranged for a City Council hearing on the closings tomorrow.  It’s nonbinding so I’m not expecting a miracle, but any show of solidarity would be a big help.]