Rod Estvan: When Data Sets Are Not Enough

Here's another commentary from Rod Estvan that I think many of you will find informative and thought-provoking:

In the March 11 edition of Education Week there was what I would call a major article on the Chicago Public Schools Graduation Pathways program as it is being implemented at Kelvyn Park High School. (You can read part of this article for free here)

The article was written by Catherine Gerwertz and funding for the research involved in relation to the article was provided to Education Week by the Carnegie Corporation. To say that it is an extensive article would be an understatement.

Not a great deal of the history and evolution of the CPS Graduation Pathways program is provided in the article. Where credit is given it is given to the Consortium on Chicago School Research’s “on track analysis” of CPS high school freshmen. (To learn more about this see Elaine Allensworth and John Easton’s 2007 report “What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public Schools”)

What is not discussed in the article is that the intervention process to keep freshmen on track at Kelvyn Park is also a remnant of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (CHSRI), a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and local foundations. Effective August 2008, the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative ended."

When Data Sets are not enough

By Rod Estvan

In the March 11 edition of Education Week there was what I would call a major article on the Chicago Public Schools Graduation Pathways program as it is being implemented at Kelvyn Park High School. (You can read part of this article for free at http://www.kelvynparkhs.org/ourpages/auto/2009/3/13/37798795/EdWeek-9th%20Grade_%20By%20the%20Numbers.pdf?rn=8329138)

The article was written by Catherine Gerwertz and funding for the research involved in relation to the article was provided to Education Week by the Carnegie Corporation. To say that it is an extensive article would be an understatement.

Not a great deal of the history and evolution of the CPS Graduation Pathways program is provided in the article. Where credit is given it is given to the Consortium on Chicago School Research’s “on track analysis” of CPS high school freshmen. (To learn more about this see Elaine Allensworth and John Easton’s 2007 report “What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public Schools” http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/content/publications.php?pub_id=116)

What is not discussed in the article is that the intervention process to keep freshmen on track at Kelvyn Park is also a remnant of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (CHSRI), a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and local foundations. Effective August 2008, the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative ended.

The politics of the CPS and the Gates Foundation in closing down CHSRI has been much discussed on this blog over the last several years in relation to small schools.

Kelvyn Park still has small learning communities. One is called the social justice academy and was created in the fall of 2004 by two very bright progressive teachers named Jesse Senechal and Maura Nugent. Senechal left the CPS in 2007, but the learning community still continues. The social justice academy is one of three existing small learning communities at Kelvyn Park, the other two being the Technology and Fine Arts Academy, and the Math and Science Academy.

Sadly the on going work of the teachers in the social justice academy is never even mentioned in passing in the Education Week article. Apparently the Carnegie Corporation has little interest in teachers who are opposed to reforms like Renaissance 2010 and have raised questions about gentrification in their school’s community.

Ironically, CPS because of CHSRI received a federal grant in FY 08 (PR/ Award #:S215L080581) for Kelvyn Park’s freshman academy along with Foreman, Manley Career Academy, and Schurz. The Education Week article is about how the school is attempting to use academic data tracking to save 9th grade students from failing. According to the article Kelvyn Park received data reports on the freshman entering this year and the intent was for it to act like an early warning system to prevent new students from failing their first year.

The article focuses on one student Alamin Smith who was academically weak in 8th grade and for whom, in theory at least, the school was supposed to provide extensive supports to prevent failure. Apparently the process did not work as planned because according to the article: By the fifth week of school, an updated spreadsheet had come out, showing that [Alamin] was failing two classes. His teachers met with him, and together they drew up a plan that included tutoring and more-tailored attention in class.”

Much of the discussion of the intervention program in the article is based on information from Ms. McAuley, who is the freshman counselor, but the article does not tell its readers that this is Ms. McAuley’s first year at Kelvyn Park. According to Kelvyn Park High School’s excellent school newspaper’s December 2008 edition there were also five new teachers teaching freshman at the school, none of these teachers had more than one year’s experience. This was also not mentioned in the article.

Now with the interventions for Alamin in place I expected the article would indicate that things were going better for Alamin, I was wrong. The article states that by the end of the first semester Alamin had failed both biology and world history, but he did get an A in English. Simply put this program did not work for Alamin. The principal of Kelvyn Park provided Education Week some comparative data indicating that the program may be working in its early stages for other students.

The principal is cited in the article as having stated that at the end of this year’s first semester 78.4% of freshman at Kelvyn Park were on track to graduate in four years whereas two years ago only 75.8% were on track in the first semester. However, the freshman on track rate for Kelvyn Park in 2008 listed by the CPS Department of Research for both the fall and spring semesters was only 59.8% and that was down from 2003 when the on track rate was 62.5% (go to http://research.cps.k12.il.us/cps/accountweb/Reports/allschools.html).

Even Kelvyn Park’s minor statistical victory for the first semester of this school year needs to be tempered by yet another reality. According to the February 2009 edition of the Kelvyn Park High School newspaper one-third of seniors failed at least one class this fall semester. The paper quotes the school’s senior counselor Ms. Velez as saying she was “surprised and saddened by the amount of failures.”

Filed under: Foundation Follies

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