Chicago’s Ninth-Grade Focus Triggers Climb in High School Graduation Rates

From The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research
April 24, 2014unnamed
Efforts to improve the academic performance of ninth-graders drove large improvements in graduation rates three years later in a diverse set of 20 Chicago public high schools, according to a report released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (UChicago CCSR). This suggests that the recent dramatic improvement in the percentage of Chicago ninth-graders who are “on track” to graduate should continue to propel system-wide graduation rates in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
A second report released today by UChicago CCSR helps explain why ninth grade is such a key leverage point for reducing dropouts.
In 2007, CPS launched a major effort, centered on keeping more ninth-graders on track to graduation. Freshmen are considered on track if they have enough credits to be promoted to tenth grade and have earned no more than one semester F in a core course. The effort was a response to research from UChicago CCSR showing that students who end their ninth-grade year on track are almost four times more likely to graduate from high school than those who are off track.
The district initiative promoted the use of data to monitor students’ level of dropout risk throughout the ninth-grade year, allowing teachers to intervene before students fell too far behind. The diversity of strategies was notable—from calls home when students missed a class to algebra tutoring to homework help. The goal was to match the intervention to the specific needs of the student and prevent the dramatic decline in grades and attendance that most CPS students experience when they transition to high school.  Since that time, the CPS on-track rate has risen 25 percentage points, from 57 to 82 percent.
The first report, Preventable Failure: Improvements in Long-Term Outcomes when High Schools Focused on the Ninth Grade Year, shows that improvements in ninth grade on-track rates were sustained in tenth and eleventh grade and followed by a large increase in graduation rates. This analysis was done on 20 “early mover schools” that showed large gains in on-track rates as early as the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, allowing for enough time to have elapsed to analyze how the increase in on-track rates affected graduation rates.
“On its face this did not seem like an initiative that would produce a system shift in performance, redefine approaches to school dropout, and call into question the conventional wisdom that urban neighborhood high schools could not make radical improvements.  And yet, CPS’s focus on on-track achieved all of this,” said report author Melissa Roderick, Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and a senior director at UChicago CCSR.
Other Key findings from Preventable Failure
Between 2007-08 and 2012-13, system-wide improvements in ninth-grade on-track rates were dramatic, sustained, and observed across a wide range of high schools and among critical subgroups—by race, by gender, and across achievement levels.  Although all students appeared to gain, the benefits of getting on track were greatest for students with the lowest incoming skills. Students with eighth-grade Explore scores less than 12—the bottom quartile of CPS students—had a 24.5 percentage point increase in their on-track rates.  On-track rates improved more among African American males than among any other racial/ethnic gender subgroup, rising from 43 percent in 2005 to 71 percent in 2013.
Improvements in on-track were accompanied by across-the-board improvements in grades. Grades improved at all ends of the achievement spectrum, with large increases both in the percentage of students getting Bs and the percentage of students receiving no Fs. Thus, evidence suggests that on-track improvement was driven by real improvement in achievement, not just a result of teachers giving students grades of “D” instead of “F.”
Increasing ninth-grade on-track rates did not negatively affect high schools’ average ACT scores—despite the fact that many more students with weaker incoming skills made it to junior year to take the test. ACT scores remained very close to what they were before on-track rates improved, which means that the average growth from Explore to ACT remained the same or increased, even though more students—including many students with weaker incoming skills—were taking the ACT.
Key Findings on how to support students during the ninth-grade year from Free to Fail or On-Track to College
Free to Fail or On-Track to College, the second report released by UChicago CCSR, details the dramatic drop in grades, attendance, and academic behavior that occurs between eighth and ninth grade and demonstrates how intense monitoring and support can help schools keep more ninth-graders on track to graduation.
Both high- and low-achieving students struggle when they enter high school.
Between eighth and ninth grade, average grades drop by more than half a letter grade (0.6 points on a 4-point scale). This decline happens across all performance levels. Even among students with very high GPAs in eighth grade, only about one-third maintain a high GPA in ninth grade.
Grades decline because students’ attendance and study habits plummet across the transition to high school—not because the work is harder.
Students miss almost three times as many days of school in ninth grade as in eighth grade, and this increase is primarily driven by a significant increase in unexcused absences. Freshmen also report putting in less effort than they had in seventh and eighth grade. Furthermore, students do not perceive ninth-grade classes as more difficult than their eighth-grade classes.
Adult monitoring and support can prevent the declines that typically happen across the transition from high school.
Interviews with students revealed a significant shift in adult supervision between eighth and ninth grade, which makes it easier for students to skip class and stop doing work. But school and teacher practices can make a difference in the course grades ninth-graders receive, even among students with similar prior performance.
“Taken together, these two studies show that ninth grade is a pivotal year that provides a unique intervention point for reducing high school dropout,” said Elaine Allensworth, Lewis-Sebring Director of UChicago CCSR. “Schools truly can prevent course failure and high school dropout, particularly if they provide students with the rights supports at the right time.”
Both the Preventable Failure and the Free to Fail reports can be found on the UChicago CCSR website.

Keeping ninth-graders ‘on track’ raises graduation rate: University of Chicago study

April 23, 2014 10:02PM

Less than half of students at Benito Juarez Community Academy High School graduated in 2008 when Juan Carlos Ocon took over as principal, but by 2013, he said, the rate rose to about 69 percent.

The secret of Juarez’s success — and the success of 19 other neighborhood high schools in Chicago in getting more students to graduation day — started with the school’s ninth-graders and keeping them “on track,” according to new research to be released Thursday by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School research.

Shepherding ninth-graders through their first year of high school — focusing on helping them to show up to class and complete their work so they pass their courses — leads to jumps in graduation rates, even at high schools once thought of as “dropout factories,” according to the study.

“Attention to those very small things has a big payoff,” said Elaine Allensworth, who directs the Consortium, adding that schools need to intervene as soon as freshmen show a dip in attendance or decline in effort.

The interventions that have worked so far are less expensive and dramatic than a schoolwide turnaround or conversion to a charter school, she said. The gains spanned gender and race but were highest for African-American males.

And outside factors beyond a school’s control — gangs, family, academic weakness of incoming freshmen — affect graduation in a common way by preventing students from showing up and doing their work, she said.

“Schools don’t have to change everything in kids lives — what they have to do is make sure all those other factors don’t interfere with kids coming to class and getting their work done,” Allensworth said.

The authors tracked efforts across 20 Chicago Public Schools that boosted “on-track” rates for ninth-graders over three years by poring over real-time data on a regular basis and then looked at who graduated. According to their findings, those “on track” increases — to 82 percent in 2013 from 57 percent in 2007 — translated into big jumps in graduation rates, up to 20 percentage points.

“On track” means a student has enough credits at the end of the year to go on to the next grade and has earned no more than one semester F in a core class.

The 20 schools adopted a variety of practices, including block scheduling to minimize the effects of tardiness; hiring an “on-track coordinator” to reach out with solutions when students started to fall off; and running a summer program for incoming freshmen.

How the schools specifically chose to keep tabs on their ninth-graders mattered less than how well they kept them on track, said Thomas Kelley-Kemple, a Consortium author.

Juarez, with 96 percent low-income students, leaned on its lead teachers and changed its curriculum to one that focuses on standards instead of specific content.

“It automatically made what was being taught in the classroom more relevant to the students,” Ocon said. That pushed attendance up, too, he said.

“What’s in the classroom now is much more relevant and that’s bringing them back every day,” he said. “Because the curriculum has shifted, it’s not what teachers are interested in, it’s what students need.”

Juarez also opened a “benchmark achievement center” in the library, where students can bolster skills after school, Ocon said.

Juarez still has work to do, with ACT scores barely above a 16 average — below the CPS average of 17.6 and far below 21, considered to be “college ready.” The school also is in its last year of a $6 million state improvement grant that Ocon said bolstered its efforts.

The Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence


Exposure to violence is a national crisis that affects approximately two out of every
three of our children. Of the 76 million children currently residing in the United States,
an estimated 46 million can expect to have their lives touched by violence, crime,
abuse, and psychological trauma this year. In 1979, U.S. Surgeon General Julius
B. Richmond declared violence a public health crisis of the highest priority, and yet
33 years later that crisis remains. Whether the violence occurs in children’s homes,
neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds or playing fields, locker rooms, places of
worship, shelters, streets, or in juvenile detention centers, the exposure of children
to violence is a uniquely traumatic experience that has the potential to profoundly
derail the child’s security, health, happiness, and ability to grow and learn — with
effects lasting well into adulthood.

Exposure to violence in any form harms children, and different forms of
violence have different negative impacts.

Sexual abuse places children at high risk for serious and chronic health problems,
including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicidality, eating disorders, sleep disorders, substance abuse, and deviant sexual behavior. Sexually
abused children often become hypervigilant about the possibility of future sexual
violation, experience feelings of betrayal by the adults who failed to care for and
protect them.

Physical abuse puts children at high risk for lifelong problems with medical illness,
PTSD, suicidality, eating disorders, substance abuse, and deviant sexual behavior.
Physically abused children are at heightened risk for cognitive and developmental
impairments, which can lead to violent behavior as a form of self-protection and control.
These children often feel powerless when faced with physical intimidation, threats, or
conflict and may compensate by becoming isolated (through truancy or hiding) or
aggressive (by bullying or joining gangs for protection). Physically abused children are
at risk for significant impairment in memory processing and problem solving and for
developing defensive behaviors that lead to consistent avoidance of intimacy.

Intimate partner violence within families puts children at high risk for severe and
potentially lifelong problems with physical health, mental health, and school and peer
relationships as well as for disruptive behavior. Witnessing or living with domestic or
intimate partner violence often burdens children with a sense of loss or profound guilt
and shame because of their mistaken assumption that they should have intervened
or prevented the violence or, tragically, that they caused the violence. They frequently
castigate themselves for having failed in what they assume to be their duty to protect
a parent or sibling(s) from being harmed, for not having taken the place of their
horribly injured or killed family member, or for having caused the offender to be
violent. Children exposed to intimate partner violence often experience a sense of
terror and dread that they will lose an essential caregiver through permanent injury
or death. They also fear losing their relationship with the offending parent, who may
be removed from the home, incarcerated, or even executed. Children will mistakenly
blame themselves for having caused the batterer to be violent. If no one identifies
these children and helps them heal and recover, they may bring this uncertainty, fear,
grief, anger, shame, and sense of betrayal into all of their important relationships for
the rest of their lives.

Community violence in neighborhoods can result in children witnessing assaults
and even killings of family members, peers, trusted adults, innocent bystanders, and
perpetrators of violence. Violence in the community can prevent children from feeling
safe in their own schools and neighborhoods. Violence and ensuing psychological
trauma can lead children to adopt an attitude of hypervigilance, to become experts at
detecting threat or perceived threat — never able to let down their guard in order to
be ready for the next outbreak of violence. They may come to believe that violence is
“normal,” that violence is “here to stay,” and that relationships are too fragile to trust
because one never knows when violence will take the life of a friend or loved one.
They may turn to gangs or criminal activities to prevent others from viewing them
as weak and to counteract feelings of despair and powerlessness, perpetuating the
cycle of violence and increasing their risk of incarceration. They are also at risk for
becoming victims of intimate partner violence in adolescence and in adulthood.

The picture becomes even more complex when children are “polyvictims” (exposed
to multiple types of violence). As many as 1 in 10 children in this country are
polyvictims, according to the Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention’s groundbreaking National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence
(NatSCEV). The toxic combination of exposure to intimate partner violence, physical
abuse, sexual abuse, and/or exposure to community violence increases the risk and
severity of posttraumatic injuries and mental health disorders by at least twofold and
up to as much as tenfold. Polyvictimized children are at very high risk for losing the
fundamental capacities necessary for normal development, successful learning, and
a productive adulthood.

The financial costs of children’s exposure to violence are astronomical. The
financial burden on other public systems, including child welfare, social services,
law enforcement, juvenile justice, and, in particular, education, is staggering when
combined with the loss of productivity over children’s lifetimes.
It is time to ensure that our nation’s past inadequate response to children’s exposure
to violence does not negatively affect children’s lives any further. We must not allow
violence to deny any children their right to physical and mental health services or
to the pathways necessary for maturation into successful students, productive
workers, responsible family members, and parents and citizens.

We can stem this epidemic if we commit to a strong national response. The longterm negative outcomes of exposure to violence can be prevented, and children
exposed to violence can be helped to recover. Children exposed to violence can
heal if we identify them early and give them specialized services, evidence-based
treatment, and proper care and support. We have the power to end the damage to
children from violence and abuse in our country; it does not need to be inevitable.
We, as a country, have the creativity, knowledge, leadership, economic resources,
and talent to effectively intervene on behalf of children exposed to violence. We can
provide these children with the opportunity to recover and, with hard work, to claim
their birthright … life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We invest in the future of
our nation when we commit ourselves as citizens, service providers, and community
members to helping our children recover from exposure to violence and ending all
forms of violence in their lives.

To prepare this report, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder commissioned a task
force of diverse leaders dedicated to protecting children from exposure to violence
and to healing those who were exposed. The report calls for action by the federal
government, states, tribes, communities, and the private sector across the country
to marshal the best available knowledge and all of the resources needed to defend
all of our children against exposure to violence. The Attorney General’s task force
asks all readers of this report to imagine a safe country for our children’s creative,
healthy development and to join together in developing a national plan to foster that

The findings and recommendations of the task force are organized into six chapters.
The first chapter provides an overview of the problem and sets forth 10 foundational
recommendations. The next two chapters offer a series of recommendations to
ensure that we reliably identify, screen, and assess all children exposed to violence
and thereafter give them support, treatment, and other services designed to address
their needs. In the fourth and fifth chapters, the task force focuses on prevention and
emphasizes the importance of effectively integrating prevention, intervention, and
resilience across systems by nurturing children through warm, supportive, loving,
and nonviolent relationships in our homes and communities. In the sixth and final
chapter of this report, the task force calls for a new approach to juvenile justice, one
that acknowledges that the vast majority of the children involved in that system have
been exposed to violence, necessitating the prioritization of services that promote
their healing.

The challenge of children’s exposure to violence and ensuing psychological trauma
is not one that government alone can solve. The problem requires a truly national
response that draws on the strengths of all Americans. Our children’s futures are
at stake. Every child we are able to help recover from the impact of violence is
an investment in our nation’s future. Therefore, this report calls for a collective
investment nationwide in defending our children from exposure to violence and
psychological trauma, in healing families and communities, and in enabling all of
our children to imagine and claim their safe and creative development and their
productive futures. The time for action is now. Together, we must take this next step
and build a nation whose communities are dedicated to ending children’s exposure
to violence and psychological trauma. To that end, the task force offers the following recommendations.

For full text, use this link:

Are These Schools or Pre-Prison Detainment Camps

How many Chicago juvenile arrests happen at school?    African American students were arrested at a rate nearly four times that of whites or Latinos

By Linda Paul
From The Black Star Project, February 4, 2013

Arrests on CPS property by age:


Source: Chicago Police Department. Final column indicates total juvenile arrests on CPS property.

Tens of thousands of young people get arrested each year in Chicago, and a lot of those arrests happen on the grounds of Chicago Public Schools. Of course, arrests at school happen all across the country.

The connection even has a name: some people say schools are a worrisome ‘pipeline’ to the criminal justice system for many young people. In fact, last December, Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin held the first ever congressional hearings on the topic. One big worry for people who work with kids is the lingering records kids can get from those arrests.

I’m visiting the home of Chicago Public School teacher Valerie Collins, and her son, daughter and I are crowded around a laptop on their dining room table. Valerie’s kids are both public school graduates. I’d heard about a YouTube video that showed a really nasty fight at Sullivan High School in Chicago, and asked them to watch it with me.

“It’s got a million hits!,” Collins is exclaiming. “A million five hits. A million six!” They’re listening to a television announcers account: “We have video of this and first of all the video is graphic. Okay, it’s literally two girls, 17 and 18 beating up a 14 year old. The 14 year old suffered a concussion.”

I’m here to talk to Collins about arrests at school. She’s a math teacher at Simeon Career Academy, and before that she taught at both Lakeview and Phillips. I wanted to know if fights like the one we’re watching are once-in-a-blue moon events.

Collins says serious fights like this happen at some, but not all, public schools maybe a couple times a year. Her daughter says it “sucks,” but while she was in school she became sort of desensitized to such fights, “I wanna say it starts out as a joke because usually the way these, like fights, start off is off of something so ridiculous, so that it gets around the school and then everyone’s just like, ‘Oh, you know, there’s gonna be a fight this period, you know. Let’s all go out and see.”

“It’s worse with cell phones now,” Collins adds, “because with cell phones they text people that there’s going to be a fight. That’s what they do. They text that there’s going to be a fight and then unless we find out about it, everybody knows except for the administration. That’s what happens.”

There were about 4,600 arrests on public school grounds in 2011. That’s about a fifth of the 25,000 arrests of kids 17 and under that year in Chicago.

But of those 4,600 arrests, only 14 percent were for the really serious stuff, the felonies, like robbery, burglary and fights with serious injuries — like that one on the YouTube video.

Most arrests at school are for the still troubling, but less serious stuff — the misdemeanors.

“So you’ve got some smart-mouthed 15-year-old girl, who the teacher says to her, you know, Miss Thang, sit down.”

Here’s Herschella Conyers, clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago.

“And she says to the teacher, ‘You ain’t talkin’ to me.’ And off they go! And the teacher says, ‘I’ll put you outta my room.’ And the student says, you know, ‘I’ll whip your ass.’ Uh –here come the police ! It’s an ag assault. Now. Is the student absolutely wrong? Absolutely. Is there a better way to handle it? Yes.”

Conyers says there was a time when conduct wasn’t governed by the threat that the police would arrest. “It was, you know, here comes the principal, or God forbid – they’re about to call my mother. In those days it would be, could you just call the police and not my mother, you know?”

There were over 3,500 misdemeanor arrests at Chicago public schools in 2011. The biggest category was for simple battery. That could be a punch, a shove, or a fight –seemingly minor confrontations that these days are taken seriously because they can lead to retaliations.

Next was disorderly conduct. Basically? Kids creating a ruckus. No serious injuries.

And the third biggest category? Drug abuse violations. These are usually arrests for small quantities of marijuana, because if it was a large quantity, or drugs like cocaine or heroin-that would be a felony.

That last category, in particular, bothers Conyers’ colleague down the hall, Craig Futterman – also a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago. National studies, he says, show that white kids use and sell drugs at a rate higher than black kids do. And, says Futterman, that’s true in Chicago too.

“Where the vast majority of kids who use and sell drugs in high school are white. The vast majority of kids who are arrested for drugs, and or, worse, go to juvenile jail or go to juvenile prison for drugs, are African-American,” says Futterman.

Here’s what the numbers say about arrests at Chicago Public Schools in 2011. Almost 75 percent — three quarters — of all arrests were of African-American students. At the same time, in that same year, African-American students comprised about 42 percent of the student body. In fact in 2011, African American students were arrested at a rate nearly four times that of whites or Latinos.

This kind of imbalance is causing a lot of consternation and was a big topic of conversation at Senator Durbin’s national hearings last month.

Craig Futterman and Herschella Conyers think that lower level offenses, the misdemeanors basically, are better handled within the school. By counselors, social workers and restorative justice practices like peer juries and peace circles.

Kristina Menzel is an attorney who represents kids in juvenile court. She says that when principals request arrest, unfortunately it’s sometimes a way for the school to pass a problem kid on to another system.

“Now part of the problem is schools don’t have money for these services, ” Menzel says. “There’s not money out there for education like there should be. So the schools use the courts to get services for these kids that are problematic.”

There has to be a better way to deal with this, she says, “Since once they’re brought in here, they’re more likely to re-offend. And if they go to the Department of Juvenile Justice, their probability of re-offending goes up even higher.”

As serious as getting arrested in school can be, what happens later can be even more serious. Follow our story of how a juvenile arrest record can mess up a young person’s prospects for finding a job.

How Illinois’ Flawed Funding System Shortchanges Chicago’s Students

By Pat Garofalo, posted on Sep 12, 2012

Chicago’s public school teachers remained on strike for a third day today. But as ThinkProgress reported yesterday, even when Chicago schools are in session, students have to deal with a host of should-be-embarrassing problems, including crumbling buildings, lack of art and physical education classes, and an abysmally short school day. (Chicago’s elementary school day is so short that some students are given just 10 minutes for lunch in order to cram in all the necessary instruction.)

These problems stem in large part from Illinois’ education funding system, which is one of, if not the most, inequitable in the nation. Illinois schools rely even more heavily on property taxes than the standard U.S. school district, which, as the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability noted, “ties the quality of the public education a school can give a child to the wealth of the community in which that child lives.”

Huge proportions of Chicago students come from low-income households, so the property tax base from which the schools are funded is not high. The Chicago Reporter outlined some of the practical consequences of this system:

– Due to the primary reliance on local property tax revenue for school funding, there are massive cumulative gaps in per-pupil spending, particularly in poor or minority communities. The 6,413 students who started elementary school in Evanston [a suburb north of Chicago] in 1994 and graduated from high school in 2007 had about $290 million more spent on their education than the same number of Chicago Public Schools students.

– Many of the school districts that spent the most per-student received at least 90 percent of their money from local property taxes. Yet, these districts tended to tax themselves at far lower rates than their poorer counterparts.

– The percentage of state contribution to school funding has decreased four of the last five years and is one of the lowest in the nation.

Illinois is also generally terrible at funding education, ranking 40th in per-capital education spending, despite being 15th in per-capita income. And the disproportionate lack of funding for low-income areas, particularly within cities, manifests itself in several ways. Besides the obvious lack of resources for students, wealthier districts can attract better teachers and pay for better safety measures.

As one Chicago school teacher wrote, “How can the discrepancy be so wide in school funding? The answer is simple; Gage Park [where she taught] is a violent, gang-­‐ridden neighborhood where the houses are very cheap. The worth of the properties will never rise due to the extreme violence in the neighborhood. Also, most of the living spaces are rented – there just aren’t that many people that own homes. Therefore, property taxes are low, virtually non-­‐existent.” By some estimates, it would take about $1.9 billion to bring Chicago’s students up to level at which they were meeting state standards.

Secretary Duncan: Keep Charters Out of the Muck, Please

July 09, 2009

by Gordon MacInnes

Secretary Arne Duncan used his speech before the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to spotlight the “bottom 5%” of America’s public schools. Numbering about 5,000, Duncan urged the charter school community to consider taking on some of these schools and turn them around. He was clear that not every charter school operator is up to this challenge, naming a few multiple-site groups like KIPP and Green Dot as possible candidates.

Wrong audience. Bad idea.

If my analysis of New Jersey’s worst-performing schools is any guide, then Secretary Duncan’s plea should be ignored. Expecting charter schools to suddenly operate as turn-around specialists in the nation’s toughest schools is akin to asking the school nurse to perform a liver transplant.

To define the “bottom 5%,” I used the mean scale scores from the 2008 state assessment of 3rd grade language arts. The mean scale score provides a precise number for each of 781 NJ schools in which the 3rd grade test was given. I selected the 39 schools with lowest scale scores for review. Not surprisingly, most of them were near the bottom on the same test in 2004. The 3rd grade literacy test is the threshold test, since kids who do not read at grade level by then have only a 14% chance of ever reading at level. An elementary school that does not teach its students to read and write well is not meeting its primary responsibility.

Here are the findings that prompt my conclusion that little in the experience of charter school innovators prepares them for operating a public school, even if in the same neighborhood.

1.  The 5% schools are expected to educate kids who are different from those enrolled in charter schools. By definition, charter students have parents that sought a better education for their children. There is no way to quantify this trait, but it is a powerful advantage for charters.

2.  The 5% schools must accept every child, even if they speak no English or have been classified “disabled.” Charter schools in NJ’s five big cities (Elizabeth, the fourth largest, has no charter schools) have a 8.1% special education rate compared to a state average of 16% and a city average of 17.0%. Just as importantly, charter schools are likely to have only mildly disabled students as evidenced by the fact that only five of 34 urban charter schools provide separate special education classes. Just about every 5% school does. The charter schools like KIPP, North Star, and Robert Treat Academy that have the financial, organizational, leadership, and educational talent to be considered for turn-around roles, have classification rates of 8.9%, 7.0%, and 3.2% respectively.

3.  NJ charter schools have been largely immune from the wave of Latinization that has swept over their district colleagues. Latinos are now the largest minority, but not in charter schools where 71% of their students are African-American. Only eight of thirty four urban charters report any English Learners (and none more than 7.8%), while the 5% schools show English Learners making up as much as 37% of school enrollment. The average for the district schools is 6.6% versus a charter average of .5 of 1%.

4.  The high-performing charter schools—the ones that Secretary Duncan would favor to take over struggling district schools—enjoy a stable student population. The 5% schools do not. When student mobility rates are averaged over three years, the charter schools with the highest test results and the longest waiting lists, have practically no student turnover. The mobility rates for Robert Treat (2.5%), North Star (9.3%), TEAM (3.6%), Gray (9.3%), and the Learning Community (3.3%) are noticeably below the state average of 11.5. However, the mobility rate in Newark’s eight 5% schools averages 25.8%, in Paterson’s four 26.5%, and 20.8% in Trenton’s five.

5.  There is no clean slate. Secretary Duncan acknowledged that charter schools are start-ups, not turn-arounds. The difference is profound. There are no tenured teachers and, usually, no union in a charter school. There is no downtown headquarters to issue endless memos and demand reports. Even with these advantages, most charter schools do not perform better than district schools serving like populations.
The one shared characteristic of district and charter school students is their poverty. In fact, charter school students in the five largest NJ cities are slightly more likely to be eligible for free or reduced lunch (73.8% to 66.8%) than district students.

Secretary Duncan’s appeal ignores the central role that is frequently played by the district central office in the performance of individual schools. Of the 39 5% NJ schools, 31 are in Camden (10), Newark (8), Trenton (5), Paterson and Jersey City (4 each). Four are charter schools. Equally poverty-stricken districts like Elizabeth and Union City, not only have no charter schools, but their students regularly perform close to the state average on literacy assessments. These successful districts rely, not on searching out the hero principals Secretary Duncan invokes, but by working closely with teachers and principals to improve classroom pedagogy. And, they emphasize the connection between high-quality preschool and the primary grades with an intensive focus on early literacy.

The persistence and spirit of enterprise required to open and operate a high-performing charter school are to be admired and replicated as often as possible. Secretary Duncan is right to hail the achievements of effective charter schools. However, the experience of attracting students from families seeking better educational opportunities, whose children are free of serious impairments, and who command the English language is entirely different from turning around a failing school in the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. Secretary Duncan did not under-estimate the difficulty of the objective, only the experience and capacity of charter schools to meet the test.

Gordon MacInnes served as Assistant Commissioner in the NJ Department of Education from 2002 to 2007, directing efforts to improve performance in hign needs urban districts utilizing the remedies ordered in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case. He now lectures at Princeton University and does research and writing for the Century Foundation in New York.

What Does It Mean to Educate the Whole Child?

by Nel Noddings
from Educational Leadership
September 2005 | Volume 63 | Number 1
The Whole Child Pages 8-13

In a democratic society, schools must go beyond teaching fundamental skills.

Public schools in the United States today are under enormous pressure to show—through improved test scores—that they are providing every student with a thorough and efficient education. The stated intention of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is to accomplish this goal and reverse years of failure to educate many of our inner-city and minority children. But even if we accept that the motives behind NCLB are benign, the law seems fatally flawed.

Some critics have declared NCLB an unfunded mandate because it makes costly demands without providing the resources to meet them. Others point to its bureaucratic complexity; its unattainable main goal (100 percent of students proficient in reading and math by 2014); its motivationally undesirable methods (threats, punishments, and pernicious comparisons); its overdependence on standardized tests; its demoralizing effects; and its corrupting influences on administrators, teachers, and students.

All these criticisms are important, but NCLB has a more fundamental problem: its failure to address, or even ask, the basic questions raised in this issue of Educational Leadership: What are the proper aims of education? How do public schools serve a democratic society? What does it mean to educate the whole child?

The Aims of Education
Every flourishing society has debated the aims of education. This debate cannot produce final answers, good for all times and all places, because the aims of education are tied to the nature and ideals of a particular society. But the aims promoted by NCLB are clearly far too narrow. Surely, we should demand more from our schools than to educate people to be proficient in reading and mathematics. Too many highly proficient people commit fraud, pursue paths to success marked by greed, and care little about how their actions affect the lives of others.

Some people argue that schools are best organized to accomplish academic goals and that we should charge other institutions with the task of pursuing the physical, moral, social, emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic aims that we associate with the whole child. The schools would do a better job, these people maintain, if they were freed to focus on the job for which they were established.

Those who make this argument have not considered the history of education. Public schools in the United States—as well as schools across different societies and historical eras—were established as much for moral and social reasons as for academic instruction. In his 1818 Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, for example, Thomas Jefferson included in the “objects of primary education” such qualities as morals, understanding of duties to neighbors and country, knowledge of rights, and intelligence and faithfulness in social relations.

Periodically since then, education thinkers have described and analyzed the multiple aims of education. For example, the National Education Association listed seven aims in its 1918 report, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education: (1) health; (2) command of the fundamental processes; (3) worthy home membership; (4) vocation; (5) citizenship; (6) worthy use of leisure; and (7) ethical character (Kliebard, 1995, p. 98). Later in the century, educators trying to revive the progressive tradition advocated open education, which aimed to encourage creativity, invention, cooperation, and democratic participation in the classroom and in lifelong learning (Silberman, 1973).

Recently, I have suggested another aim: happiness (Noddings, 2003). Great thinkers have associated happiness with such qualities as a rich intellectual life, rewarding human relationships, love of home and place, sound character, good parenting, spirituality, and a job that one loves. We incorporate this aim into education not only by helping our students understand the components of happiness but also by making classrooms genuinely happy places.

Few of these aims can be pursued directly, the way we attack behavioral objectives. Indeed, I dread the day when I will enter a classroom and find Happiness posted as an instructional objective. Although I may be able to state exactly what students should be able to do when it comes to adding fractions, I cannot make such specific statements about happiness, worthy home membership, use of leisure, or ethical character. These great aims are meant to guide our instructional decisions. They are meant to broaden our thinking—to remind us to ask why we have chosen certain curriculums, pedagogical methods, classroom arrangements, and learning objectives. They remind us, too, that students are whole persons—not mere collections of attributes, some to be addressed in one place and others to be addressed elsewhere.

In insisting that schools and other social institutions share responsibility for nurturing the whole child, I recognize that different institutions will have different emphases. Obviously, schools will take greater responsibility for teaching reading and arithmetic; medical clinics for health checkups and vaccinations; families for housing and clothing; and places of worship for spiritual instruction.

But needs cannot be rigidly compartmentalized. The massive human problems of society demand holistic treatment. For example, leading medical clinics are now working with lawyers and social workers to improve housing conditions for children and to enhance early childhood learning (Shipler, 2004). We know that healthy families do much more than feed and clothe their children. Similarly, schools must be concerned with the total development of children.

Democracy and Schools
A productive discussion of education’s aims must acknowledge that schools are established to serve both individuals and the larger society. What does the society expect of its schools?

From the current policy debates about public education, one would think that U.S. society simply needs competent workers who will keep the nation competitive in the world market. But both history and common sense tell us that a democratic society expects much more: It wants graduates who exhibit sound character, have a social conscience, think critically, are willing to make commitments, and are aware of global problems (Soder, Goodlad, & McMannon, 2001).

In addition, a democratic society needs an education system that helps to sustain its democracy by developing thoughtful citizens who can make wise civic choices. By its very nature, as Dewey (1916) pointed out, a democratic society is continually changing—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse—and it requires citizens who are willing to participate and competent enough to distinguish between the better and the worse.

If we base policy debate about education on a serious consideration of society’s needs, we will ask thoughtful questions: What modes of discipline will best contribute to the development of sound character? What kinds of peer interactions might help students develop a social conscience? What topics and issues will foster critical thinking? What projects and extracurricular activities might call forth social and personal commitment? Should we assign the task of developing global awareness to social studies courses, or should we spread the responsibility throughout the entire curriculum (Noddings, 2005b)?

In planning education programs for a democratic society, we must use our understanding of the aims of education to explore these questions and many more. Unfortunately, public policy in the United States today concentrates on just one of the Cardinal Principles proposed by NEA in 1918: “command of the fundamental processes.” Although reading and math are important, we need to promote competence in these subjects while also promoting our other aims. Students can develop reading, writing, speaking, and mathematical skills as they plan and stage dramatic performances, design classroom murals, compose a school paper, and participate in establishing classroom rules.

If present reports about the effects of NCLB on the education of inner-city and minority children are supported by further evidence, we should be especially concerned about our democratic future. Wealthier students are enjoying a rich and varied curriculum and many opportunities to engage in the arts, whereas many of our less wealthy students spend their school days bent over worksheets in an effort to boost standardized test scores (Meier & Wood, 2004). Such reports call into question the notion that NCLB will improve schooling for our poorest students. Surely all students deserve rich educational experiences—experiences that will enable them to become active citizens in a democratic society.

Life in a healthy democracy requires participation, and students must begin to practice participation in our schools. Working together in small groups can furnish such practice, provided that the emphasis is consistently on working together—not on formal group processes or the final grade for a product. Similarly, students can participate in establishing the rules that will govern classroom conduct. It is not sufficient, and it may actually undermine our democracy, to concentrate on producing people who do well on standardized tests and who define success as getting a well-paid job. Democracy means more than voting and maintaining economic productivity, and life means more than making money and beating others to material goods.

The Whole Child
Most of us want to be treated as persons, not as the “sinus case in treatment room 3” or the “refund request on line 4.” But we live under the legacy of bureaucratic thought—the idea that every physical and social function should be assigned to its own institution. In the pursuit of efficiency, we have remade ourselves into a collection of discrete attributes and needs. This legacy is strong in medicine, law, social work, business, and education.

Even when educators recognize that students are whole persons, the temptation arises to describe the whole in terms of collective parts and to make sure that every aspect, part, or attribute is somehow “covered” in the curriculum. Children are moral beings; therefore, we must provide character education programs. Children are artistically inclined; therefore, we must provide art classes. Children’s physical fitness is declining; therefore, we must provide physical education and nutrition classes. And then we complain that the curriculum is overloaded!

We should not retreat to a curriculum advisory committee and ask, “Now where should we fit this topic into the already overloaded curriculum?” Although we cannot discard all the fragmented subjects in our present school system and start from scratch, we can and should ask all teachers to stretch their subjects to meet the needs and interests of the whole child. Working within the present subject-centered curriculum, we can ask math and science teachers as well as English and social studies teachers to address moral, social, emotional, and aesthetic questions with respect and sensitivity when they arise (Simon, 2001). In high school math classes, we can discuss Descartes’ proof of God’s existence (is it flawed?); the social injustices and spiritual longing in Flatland, Edwin Abbott’s 1884 novel about geometry; the logic and illogic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and the wonders of numbers such as φ and π.

For the most part, discussions of moral and social issues should respond to students’ expressed needs, but some prior planning can be useful, too. When a math teacher recites a poem or reads a biographical piece or a science fiction story, when she points to the beauty or elegance of a particular result, when she pauses to discuss the social nature of scientific work, students may begin to see connections—to see a whole person at work (Noddings, 2005a). Teachers can also look carefully at the subjects that students are required to learn and ask, “How can I include history, literature, science, mathematics, and the arts in my own lessons?” This inclusion would in itself relieve the awful sense of fragmentation that students experience.

The benefits of a more holistic perspective can also extend beyond the academic curriculum and apply to the school climate and the issue of safety and security. Schools often tackle this problem the way they tackle most problems, piece by piece: more surveillance cameras, more security guards, better metal detectors, more locks, shorter lunch periods, more rules. It seems like a dream to remember that most schools 40 years ago had no security guards, cameras, or metal detectors. And yet schools are not safer now than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. We need to ask why there has been a decline in security and how we should address the problem. Do we need more prisonlike measures, or is something fundamentally wrong with the entire school arrangement?

Almost certainly, the sense of community and trust in our schools has declined. Perhaps the most effective way to make our schools safer would be to restore this sense of trust. I am not suggesting that we get rid of all our security paraphernalia overnight, but rather that we ask what social arrangements might reduce the need for such measures. Smaller schools? Multiyear assignment of teachers and students? Class and school meetings to establish rules and discuss problems? Dedication to teaching the whole child in every class? Serious attention to the integration of subject matter? Gentle but persistent invitations to all students to participate? More opportunities to engage in the arts and in social projects? More encouragement to speak out with the assurance of being heard? More opportunities to work together? Less competition? Warmer hospitality for parents? More public forums on school issues? Reduction of test-induced stress? More opportunities for informal conversation? Expanding, not reducing, course offerings? Promoting the idea of fun and humor in learning? Educating teachers more broadly? All of the above?

We will not find the solution to problems of violence, alienation, ignorance, and unhappiness in increasing our security apparatus, imposing more tests, punishing schools for their failure to produce 100 percent proficiency, or demanding that teachers be knowledgeable in “the subjects they teach.” Instead, we must allow teachers and students to interact as whole persons, and we must develop policies that treat the school as a whole community. The future of both our children and our democracy depend on our moving in this direction.

The habits we form from childhood make no small difference, but rather they make all the difference.    —Aristotle


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.
Jefferson, T. (1818). Report of the commissioners for the University of Virginia. Available:
Kliebard, H. (1995). The struggle for the American curriculum. New York: Routledge.
Meier, D., & Wood, G. (Eds.). (2004). Many children left behind. Boston: Beacon Press.
Noddings, N. (2003). Happiness and education. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Noddings, N. (2005a). The challenge to care in schools (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
Noddings, N. (Ed.). (2005b). Educating citizens for global awareness. New York: Teachers College Press.
Shipler, D. K. (2004). The working poor: Invisible in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Silberman, C. E. (1973). The open classroom reader. New York: Vintage Books.
Simon, K. G. (2001). Moral questions in the classroom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Soder, R., Goodlad, J. I., & McMannon, T. J. (Eds.). (2001). Developing democratic character in the young. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nel Noddings resides in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and is Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emerita, at Stanford University, Stanford, California;

Copyright © 2005 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development