After the New York Times debunked the success of the T. M. Landry school in Louisiana, some very prominent reform cheerleaders have been writing about how the media needs to be more skeptical of stories in education that seem too good to be true. Alexander Russo, for example, wrote about it in Phi Delta Kappan.
However, the ground rules for reporting on miracle schools should be clear by now: No passing along a school’s claims of test scores or graduation or college acceptance claims without independent verification. At this point, claims of 100 percent graduation rates should raise immediate red flags.
Considering the constant trolling I’ve endured over the years by reform body guards anytime I’ve uncovered a 100% college success that was worthy of further scrutiny, this is quite an admission.
Urban Prep Charter School in Chicago is the original ‘miracle school.’ Seven years ago at the Teach For America 20th anniversary alumni summit, I heard Arne Duncan talk about how they had 100% of their senior class graduate and how 100% of them went on to college after they shut down the public school in that building and replaced it with a charter school.
In my very first school policy blog post in March of 2011, I wrote about how that school had a very high attrition rate since 166 freshmen three years before had shrunk to 107 seniors. I also showed how they had some of the lowest standardized test scores in the state. Diane Ravitch used this school, along with two others, in her ‘Waiting For A School Miracle’ Op-Ed in the New York Times on June 1, 2011.
Urban Prep first opened in 2006. And over the years they have grown from their original Englewood campus to two other campuses — Urban Prep West Campus opened in 2009 and Urban Prep Bronzeville Campus opened in 2010. The 100% college acceptance rate applies to all three schools in their network.
One aspect of the reform mantra is that charter schools get increased flexibility but along with that they have increased accountability. In other words, if you don’t perform your charter can be revoked. I think when they made that rule, they assumed that they would rarely need to use it since of course the charter schools, with the additional pressure of getting closed and the absence of unionized teachers, would perform better than the public school that they replaced.
About a month ago, there was an article in Chalkbeat called ‘Chicago tags two charter schools for possible closure, warns five others‘ . I had to do a double take when I saw that one of the two charter school’s threatened with closure was one of the Urban Prep campuses, Urban Prep West Campus. CPS has not made a final decision yet, but it is clear that an Urban Prep is considered one of the lowest performing schools in Chicago.
So Urban Prep has three high school campuses, all with 100% college acceptances, and one of them is one of the lowest performing schools in all of Chicago yet, somehow, one of the others is still held up as a success story of Arne Duncan’s education reform strategy of closing schools and replacing them with charters.
But how different can these two schools be, the Englewood Campus and the West Campus? They have the same central leadership the same teaching philosophy and leadership and the same 100% college acceptance rates.
So I went to the Illinois State Report Cards (feel free to fact-check my results) to compare the three Urban Prep schools.
|Measure||West Campus||Bronzeville Campus||Englewood Campus|
|2018 SAT verbal||6%||0%||5%|
|2018 SAT math||2%||2%||14%|
|2016 PARCC verbal||2%||5%||0%|
|2016 PARCC math||0%||2%||0%|
|2018 Chronic Absence Rate||31%||34%||43%|
So it is pretty clear that there’s not a big difference between these three schools and by at least one measure, the last administration of the PARCC tests for them in 2016, the West Campus is better than the famed Englewood campus. Any reformer should take note that Englewood Campus had no student passing either section of the PARCC which was supposed to the be state of the art in the next generation of standardized testing and where the district average was around 25% on both math and ELA.
When I first wrote about the lie of the 100% college acceptance rate, I was ridiculed by the TFA trolls at 50CAN and Education Post. When Diane Ravitch wrote the ‘Waiting For A School Miracle’ on the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times she was also challenged on various radio shows by various reformer writers, like Jonathan Alter. Now that the New York Times has exposed T. M. Landry on their news pages, reformers like Alexander Russo are suddenly saying that 100% college acceptance stories should be immediate red flags.
Maybe it’s time for The New York Times to finally give Urban Prep the investigative scrutiny that it deserves.