Duncan’s Convenient Edit

A few days ago, Campbell Brown’s website, the74, published their first book called ‘The Founders.’  It is a book about the top charter schools in the country and the stories behind them and their founders.  The foreward to the book was written by former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

In The Atlantic they ran an excerpt from this foreward with the title “The Myth of the ‘Miracle School'”.  The term ‘miracle school’ was popularized by Diane Ravitch in her May 31st 2011 New York Times Op-Ed ‘Waiting For A School Miracle.’  A ‘miracle school’ is one that is outperforming the nearby neighboring school with the ‘same kids’ and the same resources.  The main difference between the two schools as far as ‘inputs’ is that the teachers at the miracle school care more, have higher expectations, and work harder.  The evidence of the student outcomes are usually higher test scores than the neighborhood school or 100% of the senior class getting admitted to college.

My first encounter with a miracle school was when I heard Arne Duncan make the keynote speech at the Teach For America 20 year alumni summit.  He spoke about how when he was CEO of Chicago schools he shut down a big ‘failing’ high school and replaced it with three smaller schools on the same campus.  One of those schools, Urban Prep, had just graduated their first class.  In the speech he implied that the school got 100% of their students to graduate and get into college.  When I researched it I learned that only about 65% of the students who had started there in 9th grade had graduated and that their standardized test scores were some of the lowest in the state.

I read the article in The Atlantic and Duncan said this about ‘miracle schools.’:

I have yet to visit a great school where the school leaders and teachers were content to rest on their laurels. I have never heard a charter-school leader describe his or her school as a “miracle school” or claim to have found the silver bullet for ending educational inequity. The truth is that great charter schools are restless institutions, committed to continuous improvement. They are demanding yet caring institutions. And they are filled with a sense of urgency about the challenges that remain in boosting achievement and preparing students to succeed in life.

When I compared the excerpt from The Atlantic with the full foreward in ‘The Founders’, I found a very revealing and convenient edit.

Near the end of the excerpt in The Atlantic, there are these two paragraphs:

Sadly, much of the current debate in Washington, in education schools, and in the blogosphere about high-performing charter schools is driven by ideology, not by facts on the ground. Far too often, the chief beneficiaries of high-performing charter schools—low-income families and children—are forgotten amid controversies over funding and the hiring of nonunion teachers in charter schools. Too often, the parents and children who are desperately seeking better schools are an afterthought.

Despite the bloodless, abstract quality of much of today’s debates on charters, the ideologically driven controversies won’t end anytime soon. Advocates and activists will continue to care about whether a high-performing school is identified as a charter school or a traditional neighborhood school. But it is worth remembering that children do not care about this distinction. Neither do I.

But in the full foreward there are two additional paragraphs in-between these two paragraphs:

Sadly, much of the current debate in Washington, D.C., in education schools, and in the blogosphere about high-performing charter schools is driven by ideology, not by facts on the ground. Far too often, the chief beneficiaries of high-performing charter schools — low-income families and children — are forgotten amid controversies over funding and the hiring of nonunion teachers in charter schools. Too often, the parents and children who are desperately seeking better schools are an afterthought.

When I was at CPS, we replaced one failing school in the violent, high-poverty Englewood neighborhood with three schools, one of which was Urban Prep Charter Academy, an all-male, all-black school. At Urban Prep’s predecessor, Englewood High, a senior was shot to death at a bus stop in front of the school a few years before we closed the school. Just 4 percent of seniors read at grade level — i.e., in every class of 25 students, one student on average could read at grade level. And this educational malpractice had been going on for a long time. Don Stewart, the former president of Spelman College and head of the Chicago Community Trust, told me that his mother wouldn’t let him attend Englewood High 50 years earlier because it was known as a terrible school even then.

In 2010, four years after Urban Prep Charter Academy opened, it graduated its first class — with all 107 seniors headed off to four-year colleges and universities. Urban Prep Academies recently announced that 100 percent of the 252 seniors in the class of 2016 were admitted to a four-year university or college, too — the seventh year in a row in which 100 percent of Urban Prep seniors were admitted to a four-year college or university.

Despite the bloodless, abstract quality of much of today’s debates on charters, the ideologically driven controversies won’t end anytime soon. Advocates and activists will continue to care about whether a high-performing school is identified as a charter school or a traditional neighborhood school. But it is worth remembering that children do not care about this distinction. Neither do I.

I find it interesting that those two paragraphs about Urban Prep were omitted in the excerpt.  As the title of the excerpt is “The Myth of the ‘Miracle School'” it would not be wise for Duncan to include a perfect example of why the whole idea of exposing schools as over-hyped has become a big part of the fight to save public schools, public school students, and public school teachers.

If Duncan had put Urban Prep into The Atlantic which will be much more widely read than his foreward in ‘The Founders’ people would be more likely to look into the story about Urban Prep and their awful test scores and attrition despite their record of 100% of their graduating seniors being admitted to college.  (Urban Prep promised to eventually reveal how those original 107 students in the class of 2010 fared in college, but we are still waiting for this information.)

I’m also amazed that Duncan, in the foreward, is still using the same one example of a ‘miracle school’ from so many years back.  It is important to him not just to have an example of a miracle school but to have one that he had some hand in creating.

Before writing ‘The Founders,’ Whitmire wrote biography about Michelle Rhee and a book about the Rocketship charters so we can expect the book to have a predictable point of view.  I’ve just read Duncan’s foreward so far and did some searching through the text.  The book is about the highest performing charters in the country so it’s a bit strange that only about three pages of the book are dedicated to Success Academy.  If I were a ‘reformer’ I would have no interest in the KIPPs, YESs, Nobles, Green Dots,  and all the others with their test scores, at best, marginally better than the state averages.  Aside from Success Academy, all the other charters mainly support the thesis that reforms based mainly on making it easier to fire teachers won’t cause test scores to increase by very much.

On page 94 of the book he takes a small dig at Success Academy:  “And comparing academic results from her schools with those from neighborhood schools, when her schools enjoy important differences such as not “backfilling” classes after fourth grade, is unfair.”  Of course the academic results from her schools are not just compared to the neighborhood schools, but with the other charter schools that the book is mainly about so it is important for him to mention about the ‘important differences’ that Success works with while likely not mentioning so much the differences that the charters he features work with.  I haven’t read much of the book yet, but I plan to and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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5 Responses to Duncan’s Convenient Edit

  1. Lisa says:

    I believe it is a policy of Urban Prep to refuse to “graduate” any student until he gets an acceptance letter from a four-year college. Therefore, it would be impossible to have a graduation rate (with college acceptance) of less than 100%.

  2. Cy says:

    Great observation on the edit. I haven’t read the book, but I did read the Atlantic piece. It was so full of the usual nonsensical straw man arguments the reformers love so much that I felt like I had to annotate it. If you click on the highlighted passages, my notes will pop up.

    http://genius.it/www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/08/the-myth-of-the-miracle-school/497942

  3. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: Does Arne Duncan Ever Learn? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. annat says:

    That’s great, Cy! Thanks.

  5. philaken says:

    According to its 2009/2010 Annual Report of The Broad Foundation, Arne Duncan was on the Board of the Broad Foundation until he became Secretary of Education. The report says,

    “The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.

    With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.”

    The 2009/2010 report later says, ““Prior to becoming U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan was CEO of Chicago Public Schools, where he hosted 23 Broad Residents. Duncan now has five Broad Residents and alumni working with him in the U.S. Department of Education.”
    The 2009/2020 Broad Annual Report is at http://broadfoundation.org/reports/2009-10foundationrreportseport.pdf

    The 2009/2020 Broad Annual Report is at http://broadfoundation.org/reports/2009-10foundationrreportseport.pdf

    The first quote is on Page 5. The second quote is on Page 10.

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