Posts Tagged ‘Completion by Design’

The White House 10/5/10 Summit on Community Colleges, and a comment on urban public education

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The White House sponsored a Summit on Community Colleges on 10/5/10, attended by education and community leaders from around the US. Here is the background sheet for the Summit, which was also attended by Melinda French Gates, who simultaneously unveiled the competitive project designed to strengthen community colleges named Completion by Design.

During the closing session of the Summit (see minute 10:40 and following), the prominent business leader Penny Pritzker shared startling figures that 60% of students entering Philadelphia community colleges did not demonstrate sufficient literacy to be placed in classes, and that 90% of students entering Chicago City Colleges needed some form of remediation.

The urban US over the past two decades has seen a number take-overs of public schools by mayors and governors using the “CEO model” of school leadership by non-educators, now with mixed results. In Chicago in the mid-1990s, the public school system (CPS) directly marketed to Catholic school families (we received these mailings in our own home), and designed advanced schools to accommodate the children of Catholic school families after a dramatic capital campaign to build attractive newer schools. Arguably, these former Catholic and other private school children and their social networks helped raise the average test scores of the public school system, and the politicians declared victory. But also arguably, however, the low achievement of the poorest children by and large remained, and can be seen by the high levels of remediation needed by students trying to enter city and community colleges today to gain access to a profession.

I’m looking for a serious scientific study of public school achievement that separates out the addition of Catholic and private school families statistically to measure whether the poorest of the poor actually approved their academic achievement in urban public schools since the politician-led urban school reforms beginning in the 1990s. Please see the following account of a 2009 Northwestern University study, which apparently did not take into account the full impact of transfer of Catholic students into the public school system over the past two decades, and evidently used the Catholic schools as a control group. Here’s the link for the full Northwestern study, which assumes that the transfers of Catholic students to public schools was small after 2002, when in fact the exodus of Catholic students to public schools in certain urban school districts had begun much earlier.

Back on June 10, 2001, the Chicago Sun-Times published my letter on the departure of Paul Vallas as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, in which I wrote in part:

“Having taken the schools near the limit of improvements that can be based upon better facilities, Vallas showed a wisdom gained from experience in testing educational fads to their limits as well. CPS has ‘hit the wall’ in improvements, not because of Vallas, but because of the sad fact that children who do not read daily in their first three years of life face difficult barriers even state-of-the-art schools can’t easily improve.

Educational bureaucracies are in a league beyond that of park districts and libraries and mayor’s offices. Such leadership is not interchangeable. Once you fix the school buildings, only determined, incremental, decades-long bureaucratic trench warfare based upon knowledge of the trenches will produce improvements. History has shown that great advances in education are accomplished by those who spend the greater part of their careers at the task. Imagine where the universities of Chicago or Notre Dame would be with the presidencies of William Rainey Harper or the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh cut in half. Hesburgh talked a lot about the cemeteries being filled with indispensable people, but that was blarney. He kept the job for decades because his contributions were critical, and he knew it.

The Chicago Public Schools will not be advanced significantly at this point by bright new ideas brought back to Chicago from the last city that the mayor or his aides just visited. Vallas has learned enough to serve as the reality principle against rounds of educational gimmicks, and now this reality principle is about to go.”

For a sober series of scientific discussions on how to improve human capital policies to address inequality in our society, see Inequality in America:What Role for Human Capital Policies? edited by Nobel Prize economist James J. Heckman, Alan B. Krueger, and Benjamin M. Friedman.

Please see my earlier blog post on James J. Heckman, which is also pertinent to this topic.

Here’s an amazing and related statistic from Timothy Shanahan, Professor of Urban Education and Director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, on a study that showed the lag between children from low-income families and middle-class children when they start school, as quoted in the Sept. 29 Irish Times:

“One of the things they found was that the average middle-class first grader [aged five or six] had been read to for more than 1,200 hours. There were children in a lot of low-income families who would have been only read to 25 hours in their entire life. Think about that difference in terms of the amount of language experience.”

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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