CPS slammed for School Improvement Grant failures

Politico criticizes Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for failing to make progress in Here’s why $7 billion didn’t help America’s worst schools, which examines the outcomes of the stimulus-funded School Improvement Grants program.

In a comparison of outcomes in Miami and Chicago, Miami schools showed improvements under the program while Chicago schools stayed the same or even declined on some measures.

The article cites the instability and turnover of CPS leadership, lack of upfront planning as well as buy-in from teachers and other stakeholders, and funding problems. Miami, on the other hand, is praised for strong and continued leadership, even through transitions. The district also partnered with the teachers’ union, and engaged and empowered the participating teachers.

On leadership:

If leadership was key to Miami’s readiness, the revolving door at Chicago Public Schools has been that district’s undoing. Six different interim and permanent leaders have occupied the top office since Arne Duncan left in 2009 when Obama asked him to come to Washington. One of them, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty in October to wire fraud for steering multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts to a former employer.

“Before I was here, there was CEO Paul Vallas for about seven years. I did about 7½, so you had two CEOs over 15 years. You had some stability,” Duncan said in April. “And that kind of lack of continuity, that lack of stability … this is what makes me sad.”

On planning:

“Sometimes these interventions only reach in, break everything up and leave it again,” said Mary Ann Pitcher co-director of the Network for College Success, which has partnered with SIG schools in Chicago. “All of that trauma and transition hinders and prevents progress.”

On engagement:

Principals and administrators were “secretive” about the grant process, Meegan said. Unlike teachers in Miami, teachers in Chicago didn’t feel involved and felt that they were losing control over their classrooms as the emphasis shifted to testing.

Liz Dozier, the former principal at Fenger High School, which participated in the program, noted the lack of stable, long-term funding and the challenges of poverty and violence.

In addition, violence, unemployment, the economic well-being of the community “all ripple into how and whether kids are able to learn,” Dozier added. “The school faces some really unique issues,” she said. “The challenge hasn’t changed because unfortunately, the kids who enter our school still have needs, social-emotional needs.”

The article is worth reading: Here’s why $7 billion didn’t help America’s worst schools

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