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Study disputes turnaround stats for failing Chicago schools

Crane High School.File Pho| Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Crane High School.File Photo | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 23, 2012 8:24AM

One day before Chicago School Board members vote on whether to “turn around” a record number of flagging schools, a new study emerged Tuesday that dumped on the results of the city’s major turnaround vendor.

About 33 neighborhood schools with at least 95 percent low-income students not only outscored equally poor schools cleared out of all staff and “turned around’’ by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, but even beat the city test score average, the study by Designs for Change indicated.

And the neighborhood schools did so without the average $7 million per school in funds and facility improvements over five years given the typical AUSL school — and with far less teacher turnover, the study said.

Don Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, said CPS should try to duplicate the formula of success at its own high-scoring, high-poverty neighborhood schools before it pays AUSL to turn around more schools.

“If you look down this list of [33 high-poverty neighborhood schools], most people have never heard of them but the turnaround people get all the publicity and they have not done as well,’’ Moore said.

The analysis ranked 210 city neighborhood schools with at least 95 percent low-income students, based on the percent of students passing their 2011 state reading tests. It found that AUSL placed only three schools among the top 100 — Howe (53rd), Morton (84th) and Johnson (88th). AUSL’s lowest scorer was Bethune, at 199th. Two CPS-run turnaround schools — Langford and Fulton — came in 150 and 206th, respectively.

Often, the study found, neighborhood schools outperformed equally-poor AUSL turnaround schools located only a few miles away. For example, in the South Shore neighborhood, Powell came in No. 14, while AUSL’s Bradwell was No. 194.

CPS officials Tuesday defended AUSL, a non-profit where School Board President David Vitale once headed the board and CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley once worked. CPS officials said AUSL schools have more than doubled the district’s average growth rate and “provide an opportunity for academic achievement that would otherwise be unimaginable for students.”

School Board members Wednesday are scheduled to vote on turning around 10 schools — including six that would be run by AUSL. Seven other schools are up for phase-outs or closures. Three others would be relocated.

CPS officials Tuesday stuck by their plan to phase out historic Crane High School and turn over half the building to the Talent Development Charter High School. However, they announced that the Crane portion of the building will be replaced in 2013 with a new neighborhood Crane high school focusing on health sciences.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel later praised Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and State Sen. Anazette Collins (D-Chicago) for coming to “an agreement’’ about Crane’s future. Yet Collins immediately distanced herself from the plan. She said supported the new health focus, but was against phasing out Crane, kicking out staff, and giving half the building to a charter school.

“That’s not the plan I submitted so I don’t take any credit for this plan at all,’’ Collins said.

Also Tuesday, a group of ministers presented CPS officials with 15,000 signatures on petitions charging that CPS shakeup plans were “not aggressive enough,’’ considering that nearly 300 schools are “failing’’ or on academic probation. The petitions demanded “immediate and aggressive action,’’ without specifying what that should be.

Shortly afterwards, the City Council’s Education Committee also demanded a “comprehensive plan’’ to help all schools on probation. . In addition, Committee Chair Latasha Thomas repeatedly questioned Board officials on how they whittled down the 80 schools eligible for school shakeups to the 17 up for votes on Wednesday — a question anti-closing protestors also have repeatedly asked.

“The public deserves to know why those were chosen from the 80,’’ Thomas said.

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