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Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

Do more rigorous courses raise student achievement? Not necessarily,
according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. A new policy brief from the Consortium, in effect, sounds a warning
about the national push for tougher learning standards for all students.
Do more rigorous courses raise student achievement? Not necessarily, according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

A new policy brief from the Consortium, in effect, sounds a warning about the national push for tougher learning standards for all students.

In the study “College Prep for All?” the Consortium found that Chicago’s mandatory college-prep curriculum failed to raise the achievement of high school students and in some cases, surprisingly, hindered students with stronger skills.

Another study, on the district’s policy instituting double periods of Algebra 1 for 9th-graders with low skills, came to more promising findings: Students across the skill spectrum boosted their math scores.

The college-prep report examines what happened with students as a result of the Chicago Public Schools’ decision in 1997 to scrap remedial courses and institute a college-prep curriculum for all high school students, a move that put Chicago on the leading edge of a national movement. To graduate, CPS students would have to take four years of specific, literature-based English courses; three years of math; three years of lab science, including biology, earth or environmental science, and chemistry or physics; and three years of social science, including U.S. and world history,  plus an elective.

For the first report, Consortium researchers analyzed the impact on achievement of English 1 and Algebra 1, both taken in 9th grade.

The results were not good. Comparing achievement before and after 1997, the Consortium found flat test scores, more absenteeism, lower grades, and more course failures.

Absences rose most sharply, in fact, for students with stronger skills—perhaps because these students became disengaged with classes as teachers began to “teach to the middle.”

Students were also no more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, take higher-level math beyond Algebra II, or take a rigorous 4-year sequence of science courses that included both chemistry and physics.

There was a bright spot, though. Racial disparities in course enrollment—with minority students stuck in remedial courses while white students took challenging classes—virtually disappeared, since all students had to take the same curricula.

It might seem obvious that just changing the curriculum will not spark improvement. But that seems to be the mindset in the current push for more rigor, notes Christopher Mazzeo, a researcher at the Consortium who worked on both reports.

For efforts like the Common Core State Standards Initiative to have any lasting impact, teachers will need more training, and struggling students will need lots of support.

“Clearly you can pass a policy and get kids to take more classes. But teachers need help to teach kids across the spectrum,” Mazzeo says. “So far, though, it’s not clear that there is sufficient attention to increasing this capacity to improve teaching and learning.”

The report is not the first to point out the difficulty of raising high school achievement in Chicago. A 2009 report by SRI International threw cold water on the High School Transformation Project, launched by then-CEO Arne Duncan, which failed to make inroads because of poor teaching and student absenteeism.

In 2003, CPS began requiring all incoming freshmen with low math test scores to take a double period of Algebra I, one of the required math courses under the college-prep curriculum.

The results were promising for this initiative.

The Consortium found that test scores went up, both for below-average students in the double-period classes and for higher-level students in regular classes.

“Something about homogeneous grouping helped teachers target their work to students,” Mazzeo says. After all, it’s easier to teach a class when all the students are at a similar level of skill, whether the level is high or low.

Still, he emphasizes that the findings are not an argument for a return to the practice of “tracking” lower-level students into easier courses. Instead, they bolster the argument that all students can learn rigorous content, if teachers have the right training and students get enough support.

Coincidentally, a national Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll released this week found that the public already gets that. A majority of those surveyed said improving teacher quality—including providing training on best practices—should be the nation’s top education priority.


Cora Pina wrote 4 years 20 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

All the studies I did related to students performance state that the number one factor for progress in student achievement is related to the quality of the teacher. If you have a teacher who is smart in his/her area of teaching, knows how to implement lessons to all students, knows how to connect with their students, and teaches from the heart, knows the child development to deal with social, emotional, and academic factors in positive ways the probability of success is very high. However, many school officials today are highing cheaper teachers who are less qualified to teach sometimes they don't even have standard teaching certificates. School officials believe extending the school day may be the answer to this problem of low student performance with non qualified teachers. But, all the studies have proven the number one factor in student success is having quality teachers. I would take quality over quantity when it comes to the education of my own children any day. I hope We have real leaders one day who actually value education and put the money in the right areas in order for all our children to succeed academically, socially, and economically.

Rod Estvan wrote 4 years 20 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

The Consortium On Chicago School Research's new report "College Preparatory Curriculum for All: Academic Consequences of Requiring Algebra and English I for Ninth Graders in Chicago" has significant implications for students with disabilities. The issue of CPS requiring all students to take and complete Algebra and English I has been a point of controversy in particular for students with more significant disabilities. The requirement that these students also take a full four years of math and English have been equally problematic.

For students with significant disabilities who take these classes in self contained (called by CPS instructional) settings the presentation of Algebra and English is in some cases so highly modified that the courses are close to being not recognizable to regular education classes at the very same high school.

These policies have also been controversial for those students with disabilities that do not have significant disabilities, but are students who are placed largely in regular education classrooms with varying degrees of special education support (some in so called co-taught classrooms, some in regular classrooms with only consultative support, some with no support listed in their IEPs at all).

The report states: ". . . test scores in math and English were unaffected by the increase in college-preparatory coursework in the ninth grade.11 Furthermore, grades declined in both subjects for lower-skill students, and these students were significantly more likely to fail their ninth grade English or math course. Absenteeism also significantly increased among students with stronger skills in both subjects." The Consortium report discusses students with disabilities only in terms of the percentage increase of these students taking pre-college courses, it does not break out any achievement data for these students. But it reasonable to assume that "lower-skill students" encompasses students with disabilities and my own antidotal experience is that many freshman with disabilities educated in regular classrooms with limited support fail their ninth grade English or math courses.

Probably the most disturbing aspect of this report is the following: "Another key argument for mandatory curricula is that these coursework reforms will help students get to college and complete their degrees. Yet the researchers found evidence to the contrary in Chicago Public Schools. Requiring a full four years of college-preparatory courses actually made it more difficult for students to obtain the credits needed to graduate, and graduation rates declined with the new policy. And the re¬searchers found no improvement in college enrollment and retention rates among those students who did graduate. In fact, students with strong grades (B average or better) were slightly less likely to go to college after the standard college-preparatory curriculum was required for all students." As far as I can tell the Consortium was only looking at CPS high schools and not CPS charter high schools.

We should contemplate the implications of this finding in relation to the big emphasis of many charter high schools on a supposedly rigorous college prep curriculum. ASPIRA Ramirez and the Noble Street programs are examples of many similar charter high school programs. Both of these programs present themselves as being fully able to take an average urban student and make them college ready. In 2009 only 57.6% of the ASPIRA Ramirez students even enrolled in any college four year or 2 year. In 2008, 60% of ASPIRA students enrolled in college. Noble Street generally considered to be the highest performing of charter high schools that present themselves as a pre-college program in 2009 enrolled 70.6% of its graduates in college which was down from 2008 when 77.6% enrolled in college. (all data from "college enrollment report")

The statistical likeliness of many graduates enrolling in college from these two charter high schools to graduate with a four year degree is seriously in question. At Noble Street in 2009 no more than 46% were reaching the college ready ACT score of 20. In 2008 only 32% were at that level. At ASPIRA Ramirez in 2009 only 11.31% of students were scoring at 20 or better on the ACT and in 2008 about 18.6% were at that level. (all data from "ACT Percent Scoring 20 or Higher" not including ELL

I think every student should have a reasonable shot at going to and completing college. But is it going to happen for every student, in particular for many students with disabilities and even for average performing lower income students? I think the answer is no. Moreover, if every student did graduate from college our nation would have an even greater glut of college graduates than it currently has and the medium salary would likely decline based on economic principals even if the economy could absorb that many college graduates. CPS and other urban school districts are selling a myth that college equals success to parents and the Consortium report helps in a small, and no doubt unintentional, way exposes that myth.

What we need to do is to provide rational vocational options for high school students that are not forced tracking and do not in effect deny low income students and those students with disabilities with higher skills the possibility of having that shot at college.

Rod Estvan

Betty Hammond wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

I am a retired math coach for CPS. Everyone knows that more support need to be given to teachers for support in teaching and learning. However, most of the attention is placed on test prep when good educators know that good teaching on a daily basic is "test prep"

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid wrote 4 years 20 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement


Please don't advance the new lie that the #1 factor for student progress is the good teacher. This is the hype of Duncan, Gates and those who want to destroy what you think is important - highly qualified, tenured teachers. These people plan to link teachers evaluations to student test scores. That means all the teachers who work in magnet schools will get good evaluations and the rest of us will get bad ones.

Rod is right, too, but anyone who spent some time listening to teachers could have told them that college prep for all was going to be a disaster. Now after Vallas, whose bright idea this was, Duncan and now Huberman, our system is worse than it ever was, but these guys nor the mayor who appointed them never get the blame. Just teachers. Don't forget it and don't repeat the lies of the people who want to destroy teaching as we know it.

teacherparent wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

Actually, teacher quality IS the number one deciding factor in student success, according to many, many studies. Although what those studies do show is that it is the most important factor outside of parental income. Income trumps even teacher quality. But next to income, quality it is.

My thoughts are that if this is the case, we as parents and as educators need to be doing everything possible to support our teachers (and eachother), that we need to truly help eachother to become better and better. And shutting schools down doesn't really help teachers become better. We need more reading specialists who will work one on one, before and after school with kids who are behind. We need extra support staff, so that teachers can have time to differentiate. We need parents and communities to purchase the things that schools cannot afford (I mean paper and books, not high tech things) so that teachers can worry about the quality of their lessons instead of how to teach with no supplies. We need supportive and inclusive coaching. And we need good security to remove children and young adults from classrooms when they pose a danger to others. We need more pyschologists to help our kids who have such deep needs, so that the classroom teacher doesn't have to be a social worker so much of the time. I could go on. But improving teacher quality has so much more to do with supporting teacher rather than removing them.

Sorry Teacherparent wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

Why should parents and communities buy paper????? What many, many studies have you read? One - that came from the Consortium. Stop conspiring with the people who want your job. Public schools take everyone. Including the kids who are "dangerous" to the learning of others. We can't kick them out or make them pay for detentions like the charters do. We can't make parents help (or pay for others to help), so how do we do this? With real supports and money going to real schools instead of charters that are the real failed experiments.

Please - can we agree that the neediest children need resources and stop pretending that we can educate without them?????????

teacherparent wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

Here is just one of the many articles that popped up when doing a search for the relationship between student achievement and teacher quality.

And I for one, don't want to teach dangerous children (ie, the ones who bring weapons to school, assault other students or teachers) and should not have to. School, imo, is not a "right" at all costs. And I certainly won't allow my children to attend a school where dangerous behavior is accepted, tolerated, as it is in many schools.

If the state of Illinois is not providing enough money to schools for basic supplies, either one, parents and communities need to step in and help through paying more taxes or they need to do so on a volunteer basis. And, parents who can afford to have a car or a home or a cell phone need to step up and sell those things so that they can pay for their own children's school supplies. Sorry, people, but your children's education trumps having a car.

Why are we paying for things like driver's ed in schools? Parents either need to pay out of pocket or just assume their kid is going to be taking the bus everywhere! And parents need to pay for sports. No more free ride. Stop expecting teachers to do things after school for free. I'd never dare to assume my kids' teachers would do that! Either they get paid or they don't do it.

To Don't Drink the Kool-Aid wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

It's unfortunate that you as a teacher have never made a difference in a child's life. Adults do make a differences - teachers make a world of difference - that is why we are a profession. There are many of us excelling; we are being held back in part by many factors including our fellow co-workers who collect paychecks, come late to class, talk disrespectfully to our students, and who don't participate in the school strategies.

Teacher quality IS important and if you want support, you have to believe that and advertise it, so people know not to walk all over us and to come out and help like TeacherParent says.

It begins in the womb wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

that said, CPS sends 8th graders to hs with reading-math scores of 23 (from 7th grade. The 8th grade score can be even lower!) and a D in both subjects. And as long as 20 plus days 'excused' attendance notes can be 'written' by the 'parent', the 8th grader is promoted to high school. Excellent points above, (Arne;'s bad plan and all...) but did CCSR take this into consideration as well?

To: To & TeacherParent wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

I have made the difference in the lives of many children and will continue to do so. How dare you make a statement like that? I come to work early, stay late, pay for supplies from my own pocket and have given lunch money and bus fare to my students. I also know that the worst teachers in my building never get called out, because they are friends of the principal or give all their students A's, so parents don't complain.

Nobody asked you to teach "dangerous" children, but guess what? Public education is a right, whether you think it is or not. It is not a privilege.

You are right that adults make a difference, but the most important adults are the ones who control their lives outside of school. Sorry - Socioeconomic status trumps teachers. And great teachers like Teacher/Parent don't want to teach in the toughest places. So both of you need to keep away from the Kool-Aid packets and stop insulting people you don't know anything about. When you've walked in my shoes and have students come back and tell you how well they've done, then you can insult me.

Cora Pina wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

Don't drink the Kool-Aid,

As a college student and educator, I will continue to voice my opinion. I did endure your moot points, however I still believe my opinion is more favorable with most Americans. I feel it is hard to even respond to someone who can't even write his/her real name. Maybe because your comments are obsolete. I will consider some of your opinions because I was taught manners and to have an open mind. I do believe teachers should be accountable for their students' progress, however I believe teachers' quality is connected to how much they know, their education, and experiences. I am in the majority of the population that believe we most stop all the charters and Race to the Top. "Yes We Can" "Si Se Puede."

to cora wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

I agree it's hard to respond to to a pen name...but many of us are teachers and we are scared someone or at CPS might "black list " us! Just be patient with us...we are just scared...I am one of them. I need my day job!! However, i like most of your opinions!!!

Cora Pina wrote 4 years 19 weeks ago

College-prep for all no guarantee of higher achievement

For all you haters that read my comments wrong. I would llike to say I am not against the traditional schools. In fact, I am against opening more charter schools and private schools because I believe these schools are a waste on money and time. The only people that benefit are rich businessmen and government officials. I believe there are problems in traditional schools, but money and help should go into these schools for improvement and not to open private or charters. I do believe teachers should make progress with their students, be evaluated objectively, tenure, qualifications, and experience should be all major factors when providing quality teachers in our schools. When I state my opinions, I truly believe them. I am not following no one, but just my own opinions.

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