Point of View - No Excuse for No Excuses

Article excerpt

For more than 20 years, the Heritage Foundation has been promoting myths such as the Marva Collins story. Now, in No Excuses, Heritage rehashes discredited nonsense, Mr. Schmidt charges.

IT AMAZES me that the Heritage Foundation can even attempt to continue the double talk regarding the three Chicago schools offered in No Excuses - let alone dispatch a publicist to reply to Gerald Bracey's Kappan critique (see the exchange in Backtalk, January 2001). If Chicago's versions of No Excuses are an indication of what is going on elsewhere, the books have been cooked by the Heritage researchers. The disturbing facts regarding both George Washington and Amelia Earhart elementary schools are available for anyone who wants to consult the website of the Chicago Public Schools and do a little analysis.

In both cases, the "gains" in test scores took place during a unique time when the number of students tested was reduced significantly, as Bracey pointed out. Both schools had high-powered principals who were well aware of the consequences of getting the numbers right.

Between 1990 and 1998, according to the Chicago Board of Education's school data (available through the Office of Accountability section of the Chicago Public Schools website), the number of students at Earhart increased from 150 to 248. The number whose Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores were reported, however, increased only from 91 to 103. The gains praised by No Excuses were probably made in this all-too- typical fashion: students expected to score low were excluded from the test.

Moreover, both Earhart and Washington elementary schools are typical of the middle-class schools that Chicago has among its nearly 600 public schools. Neither has anything to teach America about the hard-core schools of the poorest ghettos and barrios. Anyone who knows Chicago knows that the communities in which Earhart and Washington are located are not in the heart of Chicago's inner city.

Anyone who wishes to join me on a tour of the community north of Earhart can see the very expensive homes and equally expensive landscapes and cars that go with them. Black Chicago is not one uniform, impoverished ghetto. It is offensive that No Excuses presents Earhart - a middle-class school in a middle-class community - as if it were in the heart of the ghetto with all the attendant problems of poverty simply because it is an all-black school. This white blind spot is typical of the way the data are rendered.

In addition, Earhart's "success" is measured by the "percentage at or above national norms" on the ITBS reading test. It is now widely known that, during the period of Earhart's gains, Chicago refused to use the newest norms for the ITBS and continued using the same old tests over and over. …