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The bureaucratic mindset

Monday, Apr 7, 2014 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The Sun-Times and the Medill Data Project compared charter schools in Chicago to Chicago neighborhood schools

◆ On the math portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, 7.3 percent of CPS neighborhood school students exceeded standards, while 5.3 percent of kids at the privately run schools did so.

◆ Among charter or contract elementary students, 7.9 percent exceeded standards on the ISAT for reading, compared with 9.8 percent of students at neighborhood schools. The ISAT in math and reading is given to third- through eighth-graders.

◆ Neighborhood and privately run high schools both saw just 1.6 percent of their students exceeding standards for reading on the Prairie State Achievement Examination, which is given to high school juniors.

◆ Charters and contract schools edged out neighborhood high schools — 1.3 percent to 0.7 percent — when it came to exceeding standards on the math portion of the PSAE last year.

Obviously, there’s very little difference here, which will cause some to scream “Then why do we need charter schools at all?”

I make no apologies for disliking the industrial education model. I prefer choice. I think people ought to have choices.

And, like with neighborhood schools, not all charter schools are meh. Some are quite good. Sometimes, experiments fail. We shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. What’s needed is an overall improvement in all schools.

* But not like this

“Our top priority is ensuring our students graduate 100 percent college-ready and 100 percent college-bound,” [Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Emanuel’s schools chief executive] said.

First of all, that’s just not true or else lots, lots more would be done to improve the schools. Secondly, this over-emphasis on taking tests (with the resultant uproar over what are likely quite meaningless results) and driving kids to attend college is philosophically wrong-headed, whether in Chicago or the suburbs or Downstate.

* Don’t get me wrong here. I do not think kids should be discouraged from attending college, but why saddle a student with tens of thousands of dollars of debt just for the sake of having a so-so degree from a so-so university?

Why not foster the development of more high schools, charter or otherwise, that focus on tech/trade careers? Do you know how much operating engineers make?

* When a system’s entire focus is “100 percent college-bound” you’re not giving students nearly enough choices. Period.

Chicago has dropped its “zero tolerance” rules for those who cause a bit of trouble at schools. They realized that treating everybody and every incident the same was doing more harm than good. Schools do this all or nothing stuff way too much, and it always, always backfires.

Teach them to be good citizens. Teach them how to comprehend language and to do math. But give them choices in how to get there.



  1. - 47th Ward - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 11:58 am:

    Well said Rich. You should rant more often.

  2. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:02 pm:

    I’d add, these standardized tests are a racket. They have nothing to do with learning. And they’re incredibly expensive.

  3. - Amen - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:07 pm:

    Agree with every thing Rich said. But I’ve just about had it with charters. It’s not like they are a brand new concept — they’ve been in Chicago for going on 20 years. The numbers in the SunTimes are hard to ignore.

  4. - Just Observing - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:07 pm:

    I agree, on this subject, with RM all around; I reserve the right to disagree on other issues ;)

  5. - prisoner of cook - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:13 pm:

    Sorry the Sun-times comparison is bs. How about comparing the median scores. This would indicate how public, charter and private schools are doing with the other 90% of the pupils. That said Rich your right the object of education is a fulfilling life, with a useful vocation even if it does not include college.

  6. - Now What? - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:14 pm:

    A rant is a rant is a rant…whatever. “How” becomes the tricky part when advocating choice in education. Dollars, transportation, hiring staff, overcrowdedness, establishing benchmarks of fair choice, etc. The list goes on. In the early 90’s, when the dismantling of tech/trade began, it was because we weren’t competing in the brain industry against Asia and Europe. Now that we’ve cheapened our labor to compete again(!), the pendulum swings back, and suddenly we are against tests and “everybody goes to college.” Teachers have been saying that this standardized testing philosophy is garbage for the last 30 years, yet the profession was branded as being job-protecting union thugs who didn’t care about kids. Thus, the well funded “experts” roll in, sideline and marginalize professionals, and run education into the ground simply to justify a political agenda, and maybe make a few bucks.

    Tough choices ahead for education. I look forward to shop class returning at my local high school so twenty years from now we can get rid of it again. Seriously . . .

  7. - PublicServant - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:20 pm:

    Yeah, I thought the same thing about the 100% college-bound comment, Rich. I went to Lane Tech back when graduating with a high school diploma could still get you a good-paying job with which you could actually make a career, and Lane had a ton of different shop classes. Those types of jobs are few and far between nowadays. High school student education ought to prepare them to go to college to allow college to be a viable option. To not have the curriculum college preparatory is reducing student options. For those students whose desires/aptitudes preclude their continuance in a college prep curriculum, they ought to be allowed to attend a “trade-prep” program…somewhere. I’m no expert, but I don’t see that as a current option, and both my daughters went(are going) to Lane, and I’m very happy with the results of the program there for the most part.

  8. - Observation - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:25 pm:

    “When a system’s entire focus is “100 percent college-bound” you’re not giving students nearly enough choices. Period.”

    Thank you, Rich. This mindset is also present in Sangamon County public schools. It is especially disheartening for a student who struggles to be faced with this kind of attitude from school administrators and teachers. In all likelihood she is not college bound when she graduates or even 5 or 6 years later. She simply will not be able to handle it. When she starts to show some interest in a career that does not require college, she is made to feel inadequate but other students and teachers alike.

  9. - Union Man - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:28 pm:

    ===Our top priority is ensuring our students graduate 100 percent college-ready and 100 percent college-bound===
    Our society can not sustain a population where 100 of graduates go to college. The jobs are just not there. With 25% percent of the population having college degrees jobs aren’t there. What a ridicules statement. We need more training in the skills and vocational areas! Many schools are eliminating these offerings in favor of college prep. It isn’t working!

  10. - lake county democrat - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:33 pm:

    1) I found the article’s comparisons confusing: it sounded like when you compared charter schools to *nearby* neighborhood schools they fared better than when comparing charter schools and neighborhood schools overall. Not positive about that but that strikes me as a better comparison.

    2) Public school choice does have some data backing it (noticeable improvement, but not earth-shattering).

  11. - Amen - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:33 pm:

    - Prisoner of Cook - Fair enough. What are the median scores?

  12. - Robert the Bruce - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:38 pm:

    Even if standardized tests were fair, there’s no fair test results comparison to be made between charters and neighborhoods. The charters have the inherent advantage of not having to take anyone whose parent didn’t bother to apply. And we know that parental involvement is important to academic success.

    Anyway, I’m surprised to see this article’s comparison suggest that neighborhood schools are doing better anyway. My guess is that a group of “B” student 8th graders at any neighborhood or charter school could find the flaws in this “study” quite quickly.

  13. - Obamas Puppy - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:44 pm:

    The business community wants to turn our schools into little profits centers and churn out corporate clones. Since when did good education equate to how you run a business? These narratives that are pushed on both sides are clearly wrongheaded and need to be exposed as such.

  14. - A guy... - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:46 pm:

    Could not agree with you more. Choices are vital when it comes to education. Kids will respond to different stimuli. I’ve been saying and continue to feel that Education needs to start with the kids and work it’s way up. Choice, Neighborhood schools, magnets, charters, vouchers are all part of it. Once you empower the families, there’s nowhere else to find blame if things don’t go right. Because my folks had an “economic” choice, some siblings went private, others public. All successful outcomes with different skillsets addressed. I call plumbers more than I can doctors. There’s a need for all kinds of skills that college does not provide.

  15. - Boone's is Back - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:46 pm:

    ===Why not foster the development of more high schools, charter or otherwise, that focus on tech/trade careers? Do you know how much operating engineers make?==

    Agreed. And Germany has an excellent model for this that collaborates with their businesses. In Tennessee VW is starting an advanced tech training partnership:

  16. - Agricola - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:48 pm:

    ==Teach them to be good citizens. Teach them how to comprehend language and to do math. But give them choices in how to get there.==

    Thanks for replacing sloganeering with sane policy, too bad the sloganeers aren’t listening (sigh).

  17. - olddog - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:50 pm:

    === I make no apologies for disliking the industrial education model. ===

    Amen. Preach, brother! Glory hallelujah! You’ve identified where the entire corporate school reform movement goes off the track.

    Schools are not assembly-line factories. You can’t run them with the same management techniques, and you can’t measure their performance with the same metrics as industrial production. If you look at the rationale for school reform, it’s all about quality control, continuous improvement and metrics, metrics, metrics. Remember TQM? It’s still with us, in the form of standards, benchmarks, Race to the Top, Common Core, standardized testing and corporate charter school curricula. Some of this stuff is very good, some of it stinks and overall it just isn’t an appropriate model for most schools.

    More and more parents and teachers are fighting back against inappropriate testing, charter schools and neighborhood school closures, but you still won’t see too much about it in the corporate media. Former Bush administration education undersecretary Diane Ravitch’s blog at is the best place to keep up with this growing movement.

    BTW, Ravitch has a reference to Chicago charters up today at

    So, thanks so much for your rant, Rich — we need the public awareness — and I hope you’ll forgive me for mine.

  18. - CD - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:54 pm:

    Rich, you and former American Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker agree about charter schools being a place for experimentation that would then help every school. The problem is, this has never been the intent of charter school advocates. They simply want more charters, whether they’re successful or not, whether a community wants one or not.

    You are right that we should be more focused on developing these children into adults who can think and find careers that fit them as individuals.

  19. - OneMan - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:55 pm:

    Ummmm guess I need to be the guy to ask this since it seems there might be some confusion…

    I make no apologies for disliking the industrial education model.

    You are talking about the basic public school system here, right where you go to the school they more or less tell you to, without a choice, right?

    As for the 100% thing, right on man. No educational option is the right one for everyone.

  20. - Carl Nyberg - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:57 pm:

    Is the implementation of charter schools driven by demand for alternatives?

    What alternatives do parents, students and alumni want to traditional CPSs?

    What? No one has even bothered to get data on what parents what different from the status quo?

    That’s a pretty big tell that “school choice” isn’t about meeting the needs and expectations of the students and families.

  21. - Distant Viewer - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:59 pm:

    I just don’t see why people think Charter Schools offer more choice. CPS isn’t really a neighborhood school system. So, the choice is there with or without charters.

  22. - Carl Nyberg - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:59 pm:

    The problem with schools is not the schools so much as the economy the schools exist in.

    Create demand for labor of public school graduates and you will find schools do a better job of preparing students for the workforce.

  23. - Irish - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:00 pm:

    So many variables in this issue.

    First, I want to address the tests. They are a measurement of how well a class of students did on that particular day. They are but a snapshot of the school year. Many things can affect that day. When I was on the school board at our local elementary district I used to give critics this analogy. How would they feel if their entire job performance rating was based on one arbitrary day chosen by their boss. Most people would not care for that type of an evaluation.

    Also you have to remember that the company that provided the test was the LOW bidder. I have seen tests that were very questionable in their content.

    And lastly, the same test is given to every student. Some very progressive districts that offer extensive special-ed programs and other alternative-ed classes will have their performance brought down even though they are offering a better education to more students. In many cases schools with large low income groups will also lose in the performance area because these students don’t always get the support outside of school that the more affluent students get. However, we had one school in our district that had a very high percentage of low income kids and they outperformed the schools that had a very small low income group. A lot of that is the staff and district programs that engage those parents and offer them support.

    This is one of my criticisms of charter or private schools. They do not have to accept any groups that would bring their test score average down. So when you see comparisons done on public vs. private schools it isn’t an apples to apples comparison.

    Another reason I am not a fan of charter schools is that they do not meet every mandate that the state makes public schools meet. I am not sure whether they are supposed to, and just aren’t checked, or if they are exempt. I personally know of one school where several students have severe allergies and they have Epi pens in case they have a reaction. This particular school has no nurse and those pens are kept in a locked cabinet in a locked room with only two staff having keys to access them. This school also has no intercom system and the warning system for any emergency is for the principal to blow a whistle. That warning is supposed to be heard through the hallways and through closed classroom doors.
    These are just two of many safety issues I have observed at this particular school.

    I have no problem with charter or private schools and agree with Rich that choices are good. However if a public school has to follow certain rules and guidelines put in place for the safety of children then EVERY school needs to follow them.

  24. - Carl Nyberg - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    What “reform” has the “education reform” movement generated that has been shown to work in a traditional public school system?

    Or do all the “reforms” of this movement involve either a) eliminating teachers unions, or b) inserting rich people and hedge funds as skimmers in the business of education?

  25. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:02 pm:

    ===You are talking about the basic public school system here, right===


  26. - HGW XX/7 - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:05 pm:

    While college prep is important for students who want to go that route vocational opportunities should also have equal emphasis. Recently the school board at Ottawa Township High School has apparently decided to ax their building trades program. (see link for more info) One does have to question their sense of priorities. It seems in this modern era all the bureaucrats and administrators care about are standardized test results that in my view are worthless for any real world assessment of one’s actual abilities.

  27. - prisoner of cook - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:07 pm:

    Amen - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 12:33 pm:

    - Prisoner of Cook - Fair enough. What are the median scores?

    The median is 50% above and 50% below that score. It is unrelated to the “standard” target. You could compare the median to suburban or downstate schools too.

  28. - Ahoy! - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:11 pm:


  29. - drew - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:12 pm:

    I think the link at the top of the post points to the wrong article.

  30. - OneMan - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:16 pm:

    This is one of my criticisms of charter or private schools. They do not have to accept any groups that would bring their test score average down. So when you see comparisons done on public vs. private schools it isn’t an apples to apples comparison.

    Ummmm, not really when it comes to charters…

    What are the requirements for admission to the Noble campuses?
    Students must successfully pass 8th grade and be a resident in the city of Chicago to be eligible for admission to any Noble high school campus.
    Will my child’s test scores be considered during the admission process?
    No. Student test scores, grades, or special needs are not used in any way as part of the admissions process or lottery.

    You can say those families that decided to go that route self select, so that has an impact… But saying or implying that charter schools can reject kids seems to be incorrect.

  31. - Amen - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:24 pm:

    -Prisoner of Cook - I know what the definition of median is. I’m wondering if there are any studies that compare the median scores of charters to those of similarly situated traditional neighborhood schools or magnets.

  32. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:28 pm:

    OneMan -

    Charter schools have higher expulsion rates. It is documented.

    So, while they might not be able to say who comes in, there are legit concerns that their performance measures are skewed by forcing kids out.

  33. - steve schnorf - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:30 pm:

    Again, in having this discussion, aren’t we being distracted from the elephant in the room, the abysmal under-performance of all the noted schools’ students?

  34. - Irish - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:34 pm:

    - OneMan @ 1:16 pm: - I have not personally sat on a committee that selects kids for a charter school. However, from what I have heard they do not have to take any child that lives in their area or any child that applies. This would also seem to be borne out in the story by Diane Ravitch where she notes;

    (Bruce Rauner) “He is also one of the most important financial backers of charter schools in Chicago. He even has a charter school named for him, part of the Noble network of charters.

    As might be expected, he celebrated their high test scores, and I responded that they get those scores by excluding students with serious disabilities and English language learners, as well as pushing out those whose scores are not good enough. Surprisingly, he didn’t disagree. His reaction: so what? “They are not my problem. Charters exist to save those few who can be saved, not to serve all kinds of kids.” My response: What should our society do about the kids your charters don’t want? His response: I don’t know and I don’t care. They are not my problem.”

    One can extrapolate this scenario out to show why State government cannot be run like a business. You can be profitable and save money when you begin to exclude those that cost you the most time and money. But is that what we want our state services to become? You might run a charter school or nursing home that way but you can’t run a state that way. Those who you would exclude are the ones that depend on the state the most.

  35. - Chavez-respecting Obamist - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:39 pm:

    I think the goal should be every kid gets to walk to a good neighborhood public school that serves the needs of the children. Period.

  36. - sideline - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:39 pm:

    One of the topics on the morning news here in Springfield on the local ABC affiliate was whether success comes through only a college education. A local businessman was interviewed as a part of the story. He owns Subway franchises. He was talking about seeing such a difference between college educated folks who apply for jobs at his stores over non college educated people. He ended by saying he always looks for the college degree to hire. I looked at the television like, “What?” Now you have to have a college degree to make sandwhiches in a subway shop? Really?

  37. - Keyser Soze - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:45 pm:

    College is the new high school. Charters versus public……what’s wrong with a little competition?

  38. - OneMan - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:51 pm:


    I have not personally sat on a committee that selects kids for a charter school. However, from what I have heard they do not have to take any child that lives in their area or any child that applies. This would also seem to be borne out in the story by Diane Ravitch where she notes;

    Well, ummm if CPS is right, no one sits on a committee…

    From that page (for elementary schools)

    Acceptance criteria
    Random lottery, if there are more applications than available spaces. Charter schools have their own applications.

    Also the High Schools…

    Same thing…

    Enrollment requirements

    Acceptance criteria
    Random lottery, if there are more applications than available spaces. Charter schools have their own applications.

    It’s a lottery….

  39. - OneMan - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 1:52 pm:

    Charter schools have higher expulsion rates. It is documented.

    YDD — That’s true, but lets not act like there is some sort of selective enrollment process, when that is not the case.

  40. - whetstone - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 2:23 pm:

    “Why not foster the development of more high schools, charter or otherwise, that focus on tech/trade careers? Do you know how much operating engineers make?”

    I actually did an interview with James Heckman recently and we talked about this. He made a good point–we used to have trade schools, but America let them decay. His example was visiting one where the students were working on a 20-year-old Volkswagen to learn car repair, which is sort of like programming on a 20-year-old computer. You’ll learn some solid basic principles, but nothing that’d prepare you for an actual job doing it.

    I think he had a good point. If you just look at what European countries do, it looks great, but in the U.S. trade schools have the stigma of being a dumping ground.

  41. - whetstone - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 2:29 pm:

    Also: FWIW, Rich, Heckman agrees with you. You’d like his new book, The Myth of the Achievement Test. Chicago seems to be making some progress towards integrating work with school and the better programs have good early returns.

    Heckman’s broader point is that integrating work and school isn’t just good for prepping students for a specific industry; it’s that it introduces students to life skills, which are ultimately more important. And he’s got some interesting data to back it up.

  42. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 3:27 pm:

    ==College is the new high school. Charters versus public……what’s wrong with a little competition?==

    It ain’t competition when charters get to kick out kids with low test scores, kids with mental disabilities, kids with physical disabilities, etc. while the “public” school has to accept them. I put public in scare quotes because aren’t charter schools supposed to be public schools? (The answer is yes.)

  43. - AnonymousOne - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 3:58 pm:

    What do we want? If we want excellence and top notch test scores, then I guess schools would be preparing high school students for further education. If that’s not what we want average students are allowed to get average grades and not go to college, then critics say the schools are failing. Mediocre production (as if a product was the result) Not producing top notch scholars apparently means failure. What do we want?

  44. - AnonymousOne - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 5:49 pm:

    Focusing on trade/tech careers is perfect for some students and they should be able to choose that within the high school experience. However, the tests that supposedly tell ALL about how a school is performing would test subjects those students would not have to take. Geez, then how would we know if the school is slacking? See how murky it all gets? Showing my age, back in the day when there were tracks—college bound, non-college bound, there sure were a lot more choices with no stigma attached. But no one was demanding to know scores, results, accountability comparison. And this business of competition between schools is harmful. Using our kids as pawns for status is so destructive to them. Tracking didn’t seem to be a bad thing……Europe does this. Maybe as college becomes more unaffordable and more kids choose trades, there will be more options in schools.

  45. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Apr 7, 14 @ 11:14 pm:


    Selective Enrollment, selective unenrollment, same result.

    Charter schools are supposed to be an experiment. You can’t have a valid experiment if you go tossing out participants whose results you don’t like.

    As for selective enrollment…I can write a book on that one. Call it recruitment, or marketing.

    But I can’t wait for the explanation as to why Noble schools are only 4% English as a Second Language when the citywide average is 17%.

    Maybe there is a rational explanation? But clearly, they are not drawing from the same pool of students.

  46. - Concerned Voter - Tuesday, Apr 8, 14 @ 9:05 am:

    Rich, you are onto something there, not everyone is cut out for college. An interesting read on the subject is here It’s Mike Rowe’s website, the host of the Dirty Jobs tv show. A quote from the website, “The goal of Profoundly Disconnected is to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success. The Skills Gap is here, and if we don’t close it, it’ll swallow us all.”

  47. - Jimbo - Tuesday, Apr 8, 14 @ 1:44 pm:

    Wait, using the tax increase percentage logic, neighborhood schools did 40% better than charter schools.

    Even using normal logic, they did a fair bit better. Considering charters get to select the best and brightest students and then dump any poor performing ones even being even with public schools shows that charters do not do what they claim.

  48. - Jimbo - Tuesday, Apr 8, 14 @ 1:50 pm:

    Oops. Seems they don’t use academic performance for admission. I would think that the kids who go are likely from families who place a high value on education, so there may be some self selection, but I was wrong on admission.

    They do however get to boot the poor performers, so their scores should still be higher.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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