College & Workforce Readiness

New Studies Find Mixed Results in Chicago High School Reform

By Catherine Gewertz — August 20, 2009 1 min read
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A suite of five studies issued yesterday takes a look at key pieces of Chicago’s high school reform effort, and finds “a few hopeful signs” but “no dramatic improvements.”

(I know the reports are dated June 2009, by the way, but they really were issued yesterday. Honest. The researchers just didn’t get around to changing the cover pages after weeks of in-house edits, I’m told.)

Researchers at SRI International and the Consortium on Chicago School Research teamed up to see how the district’s controversial Renaissance 2010 initiative, which closed underperforming schools and opened new ones, affected high schools. They also examined new district approaches to secondary-level curriculum and instruction, and an initiative that extended more autonomy to school leaders.

Researchers noted that lack of dramatically better (to use EdSec Duncan’s favorite term) results wasn’t exactly a surprise, since Chicago schools have boatloads of challenges, and many of the initiatives have been under way only a short time.

A few highlights on the darker side: no differences in test score growth between the schools implementing the new curriculum and other schools, or between Ren10 schools and other schools. Strikingly weak classroom-management skills among teachers. Initiatives that were too rapidly implemented and expanded. Principals who didn’t sufficiently understand or get support for the initiatives they were participating in.

On the brighter side, though, researchers said they were “impressed by examples of innovation and distinguished teaching, of strong leadership, and creative use of scarce resources.” They saw good examples, worth sharing, of many practices, including schools that got more students to show up at school, provided better support for students, enabled teachers to collaborate on their work, used data more effectively, and more.

In short? Plenty of good and bad stuff to learn from, the researchers said.

Who we’ll learn it from, and how, is an open question, however. Though the SRI/CCSR evaluation was designed to follow the initiatives for four years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded it (and also underwrites some of EdWeek’s work), “decided to redirect its resources and end the evaluation after the first round of data collection,” the researchers said in the overview.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.