NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 14, 2009

Chicago's schools have made little progress since 2003, according to new research from a Chicago civic group that takes direct aim at the city's "abysmal" public high school performance -- and puts a new spin on the academic gains made during the seven years that Arne Duncan led the Chicago schools before he was named U.S. Education secretary, says USA Today.

The findings of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a supporter of Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's push for more control of city schools, stand in stark contrast to assertions President Obama made in December when he nominated Duncan as Education secretary.  For example:

  • Obama said that during a seven-year tenure, Duncan had boosted elementary school test scores "from 38 percent of students meeting the standards to 67 percent" -- a gain of 29 percentage points.
  • But the new report found that, adjusting for changes in tests and procedures, students' pass rates grew only about 8 percentage points.


  • Obama said Chicago's dropout rate has gone down every year Duncan's been in charge.
  • Though technically true, the committee says that Chicago's dropout rate is still unacceptably high: About half of Chicago students drop out of the city's non-selective-enrollment high schools.

Even among those who graduate, skills are poor.  An analysis of students entering the Chicago City Colleges in fall 2006 showed that:

  • Sixty-nine percent were not prepared for college-level reading.
  • Seventy-nine percent were not prepared for writing.
  • Ninety-five percent were not prepared for math.

Other findings:

  • Obama also said Chicago students' ACT test score gains "have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state."
  • Again, technically true -- ACT data show that Chicago students' composite score rose 0.9 points from 2002 to 2006, while Illinois' score rose 0.4 points.
  • But Chicago students' composite score of 17.4 was lower than the statewide average of 20.5.

Timothy Knowles, who directs the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, says the report highlights the fact that "many states have lowered (passing) scores on standardized tests to create the public appearance they are meeting federal standards.  This practice sells children short -- and the states that engage in it are, ironically, leaving themselves behind."

Source: Greg Toppo, "Chicago Schools Report Contradicts Obama and Duncan," USA Today, July 12, 2009; and Report of the Civic Committee, "Still Left Behind: Student Learning in Chicago's Public Schools," The Commercial Club of Chicago, June 2009.

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