Americans – decidedly below average on school-ish skills?

October 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm 102 comments

So now that we’ve discussed the idea of CPS teachers being average or even below-average, it reminds me of this article that I’ve been mulling over for a few days.  Another one saying how Americans as a whole aren’t really cutting on basic skills compared to other countries.  It leave me with questions:

How is it that we seem smart as a country but we’re really not?

How would *I* fare on these tests?   Would the Japanese and Finnish really trounce most of us?

Does all Americans need to have these skills or are we big enough that we can allow people to master those skills who really need them and the rest of us can slack a bit?

Are these the skills really needed to help the US excel in the world?

Is it the fault of our education system?  Parents?

Are we just living down to our human potential, as alluded to in this Onion article?,34172/

“In contrast to most Americans, the chipmunk was said to routinely work toward meaningful goals in an orderly and decisive manner without procrastinating for days on end, melodramatically sighing and complaining, or becoming immediately sidetracked by emails or online videos.In contrast to most Americans, the chipmunk was said to routinely work toward meaningful goals in an orderly and decisive manner without procrastinating for days on end, melodramatically sighing and complaining, or becoming immediately sidetracked by emails or online videos.”

(Really, I have to say that reading these 2 articles in the same week has depressed me about American life a little bit.)

Curious what you guys thing.  How did we get here?


U.S. Adults Fare Poorly in a Study of Skills


Published: October 8, 2013

American adults lag well behind their counterparts in most other developed countries in the mathematical and technical skills needed for a modern workplace, according to a study released Tuesday.


The study, perhaps the most detailed of its kind, shows that the well-documented pattern of several other countries surging past the United States in students’ test scores and young people’s college graduation rates corresponds to a skills gap, extending far beyond school. In the United States, young adults in particular fare poorly compared with their international competitors of the same ages — not just in math and technology, but also in literacy.

More surprisingly, even middle-aged Americans — who, on paper, are among the best-educated people of their generation anywhere in the world — are barely better than middle of the pack in skills.

Arne Duncan, the education secretary, released a statement saying that the findings “show our education system hasn’t done enough to help Americans compete — or position our country to lead — in a global economy that demands increasingly higher skills.”

The study is the first based on new tests developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a coalition of mostly developed nations, and administered in 2011 and 2012 to thousands of people, ages 16 to 65, by 23 countries. Previous international skills studies have generally looked only at literacy, and in fewer countries.

The organizers assessed skills in literacy and facility with basic math, or numeracy, in all 23 countries. In 19 countries, there was a third assessment, called “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” on using digital devices to find and evaluate information, communicate, and perform common tasks.

In all three fields, Japan ranked first and Finland second in average scores, with the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway near the top. Spain, Italy and France were at or near the bottom in literacy and numeracy, and were not included in the technology assessment.

The United States ranked near the middle in literacy and near the bottom in skill with numbers and technology. In number skills, just 9 percent of Americans scored in the top two of five proficiency levels, compared with a 23-country average of 12 percent, and 19 percent in Finland, Japan and Sweden.

“The first question these kinds of studies raise is, ‘If we’re so dumb, why are we so rich?’ ” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Our economic advantage has been having high skill levels at the top, being big, being more flexible than the other economies, and being able to attract other countries’ most skilled labor. But that advantage is slipping.”

In several ways, the American results were among the most polarized between high achievement and low. Compared with other countries with similar average scores, the United States, in all three assessments, usually had more people in the highest proficiency levels, and more in the lowest. The country also had an unusually wide gap in skills between the employed and the unemployed.

In the most highly educated population, people with graduate and professional degrees, Americans lagged slightly behind the international averages in skills. But the gap was widest at the bottom; among those who did not finish high school, Americans had significantly worse skills than their counterparts abroad.

“These kinds of differences in skill sets matter a lot more than they used to, at every level of the economy,” Dr. Carnevale said. “Americans were always willing to accept a much higher level of inequality than other developed countries because there was upward mobility, but we’ve lost a lot of ground to other countries on mobility because people don’t have these skills.”

Among 55- to 65-year-olds, the United States fared better, on the whole, than its counterparts. But in the 45-to-54 age group, American performance was average, and among younger people, it was behind.

American educators often note that the nation’s polyglot nature can inhibit performance, though there is sharp debate over whether that is a short-run or long-run effect.

The new study shows that foreign-born adults in the United States have much poorer-than-average skills, but even the native-born scored a bit below the international norms. White Americans fared better than the multicountry average in literacy, but were about average in the math and technology tests.


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102 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Note this graf:

    Compared with other countries with similar average scores, the United States, in all three assessments, usually had more people in the highest proficiency levels, and more in the lowest. The country also had an unusually wide gap in skills between the employed and the unemployed.

    This has been done in the US in other ways:

  • 2. Ivana  |  October 11, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    America is rich country bc can afford specilists from other countries. And I am assuming that new study about foregin- born adults in the us was done in english language 😉

  • 5. Counterpoint for Discussion  |  October 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Arne Duncan is a political hack. If that’s to hot to handle, realize that he’s at the helm and the ship is taking on serious water because he hit a coral reef while playing basketball w/POTUS.

  • 6. cpsobsessed  |  October 11, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    @counterpoint – that’s an awesome soundbyte, although I ave absolutely no idea what it means.

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • 7. Mark J  |  October 11, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    “Progressive” education techniques + Teachers unions + Central government planning = Failure. Dumbing down education and focusing on the “community” instead of the individual brings the all the students down to the lowest common denominator. There are winners and losers in the world, trying to make everyone feel like a winner is setting them up for failure. It will only get worse. This includes both public and private schools. Don’t only rely on the schools to “teach” your kids, you must supplement it at home. It won’t always be fun, but work is hard.

  • 8. Somebody else  |  October 11, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Without knowing the specifics, what I’m curious about is that 55-64 group. What were we doing differently then?

    Also, I’d love to see example questions from these studies. Curious about the tech questions asked.

  • 9. Somebody else  |  October 11, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Found it!

    They actually give examples of proficiency levels. Awesome. Page 11 for literacy. Page 23 for numeracy.

  • 10. Somebody else  |  October 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    Proficiency in tech-rich environments examples on page 35. These are not difficult things to do at all. Now that I’ve seen the actual examples, the results of this report are even sadder than I first thought.

  • 11. cpsobsessed  |  October 12, 2013 at 1:40 am

    @somebody else – great find! See, you have outstanding tech skills…

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • 12. Oldtowncpsdad  |  October 12, 2013 at 6:34 am

    @Mark J.
    ” There are winners and losers in the world, trying to make everyone feel like a winner is setting them up for failure. It will only get worse. ”

    Political correctness has no place in education. Let’s face it, some people are just dumb, nothing you can do about it. “No child left behind”? How can it even be possible? Allowing special education kids sharing the same classroom? The stupidity is mind boggling. Irresponsible politicians running education system, that’s the root problem with the U.S. education system. They’ve already mortgaged away the kids future anyway.

    Finland, Japan, China, Korea, etc. are mostly single race and single culture. The U.S. is a multi-culture society. Some cultures place no value in education, but we still have to accommodate every one. I think that’s why “Americans are decidedly below average on school-ish skills”.

    The gap is huge, even at the top level, because of the weak foundation.

  • 13. Joe  |  October 12, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Finland, Japan, China, Korea, etc. are mostly single race and single culture. The U.S. is a multi-culture society. Some cultures place no value in education, but we still have to accommodate every one. I think that’s why “Americans are decidedly below average on school-ish skills”.

    I absolutely 100% agree.

  • 14. Mich  |  October 12, 2013 at 8:19 am

    I can agree with the mono-culture issue, but even Finland manages classroom inclusion for special ed – there’s a difference though. Yes, people have differing abilities, but they also learn at different rates. When you track a child like Germany does at the start of school you miss a lot of those kids who make a developmental leap at age 7. I didn’t “get” phonics, because I’d learned whole word reading then we changed school systems. But being, new, shy, and bullied, I would have languished in the special ed reading group but for a very observant teacher.
    And I do wish we had a way to look at the change of our teachers’ educational abilities. I have had some fantastic teachers and some less than marginal ones and so has my child. In Finland it is one of the most competitive fields and takes only the best and brightest. I wonder if we saw teaching in that way rather than something we can let college kids do for a few years before they move on to their real career if we might have some closing of that achievement gap.

  • 15. Curious  |  October 12, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Our education has declined. Schools just focus on the low performance group, so that they can raise their test scores. Academic rigor is done and gone, now that we have Raise to the Top and NCLB. It is particularly painful to witness, but I think the system will get worse!

  • 16. Angie  |  October 12, 2013 at 9:23 am

    I’m not surprised Americans are behind. As far as I’m concerned, Everyday Math was invented by people who have no clue how to teach math properly, and it should be subtitled “101 ways to avoid teaching children to count.”

    I’m looking at my kid’s second grade math book and worksheets, and I’m horrified. 7 weeks into the school year, and they have yet to learn anything new. They are still regurgitating the stuff from kindergarten and first grade. In fact, about 2/3 of that math book is repeating the old, while forgetting the things they already learned last year, such as 3 digits addition and subtraction with carryover, and word problems. The kids probably forgot how to do it now, because they are wasting time using the number lines and memorizing the doubles and fact triangles yet again, instead of learning something once, building on that and moving forward.

  • 17. CPSMom  |  October 12, 2013 at 9:26 am

    What Arne Duncan’s quote failed to mention is that the education system is failing because we’re testing children into oblivion…there is no problem solving or independent thought going on — just prepping for and teaching to the tests. He (and the president…and the mayor) wouldn’t have that insight, of course….

  • 18. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Angie and I almost never agree, and I agree with her on this one. The amount of time spend repeating the previous material is astounding, and often repeating it with less sophistication than before. The other night my daughter’s 3rd grade Common Core workbook defined even as numbers with “0,2,4,6,8” in the one’s place. In kindergarten they had discussed even numbers as a number made of two identical numbers added together. From there, she reasoned that 0 was even because 0+0=0.

  • 19. HSObsessed  |  October 12, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    One book that addresses the very broad question of “How did America lose its mojo?” in general, not just in the field of education, is Tom Friedman’s “That Used to Be Us”, which I highly recommend to anyone who likes reading big-idea books. His basic theme is (spoiler alert!) that Americans were united against a common enemy during WW2 and then during the Cold War decades after that, but after 1991, when the Soviet Union began falling apart, and we had emerged supposedly the world victor, Americans just went on a big drunken blowout of easy consumer credit and mortgages, turning away from science and research investment, overdosing on reality TV crap, religious extremism and political polarization, etc. Through it all, he weaves examples of how other countries have overtaken us in fields ranging from technology innovations, infrastructure investment, education, governmental structure, and more. In the end, it’s a hugely depressing read, but I found it fascinating. I think I gave my copy away, but I recall he devotes an entire chapter on the state of America’s education system.

  • 20. Chi Barb  |  October 12, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    I believe CPS average ACT scores are up about 10% since 2000. I wonder the improvement is due to better schools or changing demographics. It would be interesting to see CPS ACT scores by demographic breakdown over the years.

  • 21. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    The data show that are young people (16-24) do much better than are old people (55-64), and parent’s lack of secondary or tertiary education has a greater impact in the US than in many other countries.
    See this part:

    @13 By that logic, Austria, Poland, and Ireland don’t value education but somehow the visible minorities in Canada, which make up roughly the same portion of the population as visible minorities in the US, do.

    You could splice the data other ways — mostly believing Catholic majority countries are at the bottom and mostly non-deist countries are at the top.

  • 22. Counterpoint for discussion  |  October 13, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Burn my house to the ground, cut my tongue and nose out, seize all of my assets… and my children will still become educated and will be getting top grades……

    Section 8, LINK, WIC, SNAP homes have many more children that drop out and commit serious crimes over non-entitlement homes… Yes that’s the reality, stats are a bummer to Progressive-Socialist-Democrats.

    The problem is our country can no longer carry the overwhelming dead weight in America, but the politically correct mandate that we say…”encouragement and pathways are the keys that unlock the mind, or some other feel good mantra.”

    Like “Forward” ….Forward into a brick wall or “Hope”….Shure hope no one figures out that America is being remade into something pathetic.

    I wrote it before and I’ll write it again…Tie family benefits to children’s school performance and you’ll see more children become great students.

  • 23. Rufus  |  October 13, 2013 at 7:46 am

    “You could splice the data other ways — mostly believing Catholic majority countries are at the bottom and mostly non-deist countries are at the top.”

    I’ll slice it and you can splice it. Do you have stats by church attended or are you making stuff up? I have seen stats by race. Quit trying to cover up the problem. That is what got us where we are and it’s getting worse. It’s not helping the people that need it the most.

  • 24. Former Exchange Student  |  October 13, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I attended high school in both the United States and Finland, having spent one year in Finland as an exchange student.

    I was a top student at my American high school, but found myself struggling alongside my Finnish friends. They were far ahead of me in math, knew much more world history than I did and they each spoke at least 4 languages (Finnish, Swedish, English, and one “elective” language).

    I come from a middle class family. However, the school I attended in the U.S. served a high proportion of poor children. We only had 2 AP classes, and no honors program.

    I don’t know what the income level was of students at my Finnish high school, but no one was obviously poor or homeless. Everyone ate the school lunch every day, which was either rice porridge or oatmeal and berries (on special occasions they served sausages, which was VERY exciting for the students). The school offered an I.B. program for advanced students. College is free there if you can get in, so my friends studied very hard.

    I don’t know what the answer is as far as catching up to Finnish schools, but I do think that offering free tuition at state colleges would make students more competitive in high school. I’m sure that tackling poverty and inequality would help as well.

  • 25. HS Mom  |  October 13, 2013 at 9:38 am

    “Finland, Japan, China, Korea, etc. are mostly single race and single culture. The U.S. is a multi-culture society”

    Most cultures do have a class system. Only those determined to be the top qualifiers are allowed to go on to college everyone else is shifted to trades, military etc. In many countries, poor kids do not attend school at all. A high level of intelligence amongst a smaller proportion of people does not necessarily make for a better educated country.

  • 26. HS Mom  |  October 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

    @29 – Finland has a cold and dark climate. Did kids tend to stay inside and work on their studies as opposed to meeting up with friends, sports and extra curricular activities, etc. Could the difference be explained by lifestyle and/or possibly fewer social type options.

  • 27. HS Mom  |  October 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

    sorry, that was to 24

  • 28. Former Exchange Student  |  October 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I don’t know that the climate made that much of a difference, although we did tend to stay in during the winter. One of my friends taught me to knit during the dark days of December and I made a really, really long scarf. 🙂 Being home-bound in the winter was balanced by the summer, when we got to stay out late having fun.

    I should add that not every kid I met there was an academic superstar – there were kids who struggled and just plain average kids just like everywhere. I knew a girl who dropped out of the traditional high school and finished up in a night school instead. Another of my friends was less into academics, just trying to finish so she could go to beauty school. A friend that was really into academics studied hard to get into one of the state universities and became an elementary school teacher.

    Also, there weren’t all the sports and extracurriculars there that you have at an American high school. Kids played sports but it wasn’t at all like it is here with competitive school teams and cheerleaders and pep rallies. I don’t know if that contributes to spending more time on academics, but it could be argued that the school can devote more resources to the classroom when they aren’t spending a ton of money on sports.

  • 29. CPS Parent  |  October 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I’m familiar with schools in the Netherlands which ranks third in the study cited above. About 70% of all schools in the Netherlands are charter schools although, unlike here, 100% of all teachers are in a union. Especially in urban areas, problems with racial/social integration and poverty are in play but social services (beyond the school building and within) are much better. Schools do not have any sports teams although in the lower grades phys. ed. is part of the curriculum. Clubs and other extracurriculars are very limited. Kids are active in team sports and clubs outside of the school system although this has no bearing on college admission which is entirely based on the scores achieved on the senior year, national, high school diploma exam.

  • 30. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    @23 Eurobarometer polls regularly ask about religiosity in Europe. See p. 204.

    Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands (top scoring countries in the OECD study) have 1/3rd or less who “believe there is a God”; Japan is similarly non-deist. The countries at the bottom of the OECD scores (Spain, Italy, Ireland — all with Catholic majorities) also have majorities affirming that they “believe there is a God.” I didn’t not say this explained the difference (apparently, reading skills are indeed not that great in the US). I suggested that this division matched the data better than the racial/cultural one. I don’t know how the mono-racial, mono-cultural argument holds up if Poland, Austria, Italy and Ireland score low.

    I’m not covering anything up. People need to read the OECD data carefully and the article carefully. These do not show that our schools are failing. The OCED data show that the younger US respondents do better than the older US ones, so if anything, US schools are doing better than they did in the past. And they weren’t doing badly in the past, because US 55-65 y.o. respondents did better than their peers in other countries. Most of the US respondents with BA or higher-educated parents score at high end.

    Our average is down because we have many respondents at the low end and relatively few scoring in the mid-range. Economic inequality and inequality in education drive the divergence. You can divide the high-scoring and low-scoring countries on economic inequality levels as well. The US problem on int’l comparisons is that we have higher poverty levels compared to the other developed countries; the impact socio-economic factors have on educational performance is about average to other OECD countries, but we have proportionately more poor people, so the scoring outcome is more pronounced.

  • 31. cpsobsessed  |  October 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    @CBall, I haven’t read it yet, but what you lay out is exactly what I’d expect. (About poverty, not the deist part which could just be a random relation.) So the US average gets mooshed out to look low because of our poverty level.

    I really wish that would be part of the sound bytes on this stuff since it’s an important factor in how we compare and also point to where the need for improvement lies.

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • 32. cpsobsessed  |  October 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Regarding Finland being almost all charters, I don’t quite get that. Does it mean that each school kind of determines their own direction and curriculum rather than having a district-set one?

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • 33. CPS Parent  |  October 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    32. cpsobsessed The Netherlands is 70% charters (not Finland).

    Yes, similar to the US, charter schools are under their own direction but frequently are part of a group of schools. Dutch law allows charter schools to have a religious affiliation as well so many are Protestant, Catholic, Muslim etc. although only about 50% of citizens self-identify with any religion. Many, many, flavors of educational systems can be found and schools “compete” for students. The origin of charter school stems from the very inception of public schooling which divided the religious and secular community. The so called School Struggle lasted for 120 years with the outcome, in 1920, of equal funding for all schools – charter or public. The solution essentially separated the schools and the State and all oversight is local.

    As is so often the case in the Netherlands it is a unique mishmash of collective-think and hyper-individualism.

  • 34. karet  |  October 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    @28, Here is an article in the Atlantic that supports your point about high school sports:

  • 35. CPS Parent  |  October 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I also know a bit about Japanese high schools (Japan is ranked number one in the article above) since I lived there for a bit and my kids studied the language here and were part of exchange visits.

    Japanese high schools (grades 10, 11, 12) are not compulsory although over 90% of students enter high school. ALL high schools select their students based on entrance exams and students compete for the desirable schools. About half of junior high students attend after-schoo,l private, cram schools to prepare for the high school entrance exams. Many of the best schools are government schools – the tuition used to be about $2,500 but since 2010 the public high schools schools are free. About one third of the high schools are private, tuition based schools, cost is about $5,000 per year. All high schools are ranked by their record of placing students into the prestigious universities which is the driving force for selection by students/famillies. There are typically two tracks in the curricula – math & science and language, social sciences. The overwhelming majority of boys are in the math & science track and girls in the other.

    My kids attended classes in the schools and one remarkable observation was that in the classrooms there was general mayhem in the back of the room with constant whispering, texting, and goofing off – big surprise.

  • 36. local  |  October 13, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    I wonder how obsessive we will be about the caretakers of our elderly parents when the time comes. Talk about low-wage workers with high turnover and little training.

  • 37. local  |  October 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    “I really wish that would be part of the sound bytes on this stuff since it’s an important factor in how we compare and also point to where the need for improvement lies.”

    Maybe the journalists don’t get it, so they take the quotes/soundbytes.

  • 38. Family Friend  |  October 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    @8 Somebody Else: I am in the 55-64 age group, and I am confident my basic skills are better than those of most people I meet. In the 1950s and 1960s, we memorized times tables and diagrammed sentences. We knew the location and capital of every state in the U.S. and every country in the world. We knew dozens of key dates in Western civilization, beginning with 1066. We used these skeletal facts as support for our growing body of knowledge.

    Things have changed. When my daughter was a senior at Payton (that’s getting to be a long time ago), I asked the head of the English department when he was going to start teaching grammar. He said, “Their eyes glaze over when I start talking about grammar.” Too bad! You are not there to entertain your students; you are there to ensure that they have the skills to succeed in life!

    Fortunately, between my editing and an excellent college writing lab, my daughter learned essential writing skills, including grammar. But too many students don’t learn the basics, and too many of those who don’t learn go on to become teachers. Even when my kids attended private school (in the 90s), I was often tempted to take a red pencil to notes they brought home from school and send them back.

    Education has changed since I was in school, and the empirical underpinnings of the changes are slim. Today, the better colleges of education are doing controlled experiments to learn “what works,” but the teaching profession has been slow to adopt their findings.

  • 39. Veteran  |  October 14, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    #38 Agree….writing skills are often very poor even with administrators……I believe it is impossible to teach writing if one does not posses excellent communication skills including writing …

  • 40. local  |  October 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    I’m not sure what kind of strategic planning at CPS is leading to this type of thing:

  • […] Americans – decidedly below average on school-ish skills? CPS Obsessed: So now that we’ve discussed the idea of CPS teachers being average or even below-average, it reminds me of this article that I’ve been mulling over for a few days.  Another one saying how Americans as a whole aren’t really cutting on basic skills compared to other countries.  It leave me with questions: […]

  • 42. Patricia  |  October 16, 2013 at 10:42 am

    @35 I am not sure I remember this accurately, but years ago in grad school I saw a documentary about Japan. In short, the pressure cooker for education in Japan is getting into the right High School. It is crazy with cram schools, parent pressure and peer pressure to compete for the best spots. The right HS will then lead to the best college and determine your future life. What I found interesting is that College in Japan is focused on building relationships based on your career path, rather than academics. Of course, there was still a focus on academics, but it was not as crazy insane as the pressure for HS. In college, Japanese students learn their future occupation and spend most of their effort on building relationships with others in the same profession. The philosophy was very different than the US.

    @ Family Friend. Amen! Some things kids just need to learn. It drives me crazy when a history assignment has no dates. How are kids supposed to develop an overall frame of reference? Parent push-back to a teacher having kids memorize all the countries. American’s are weak in understanding the world beyond our borders. Thus the phrase “ugly Americans” when traveling abroad. Common sense got lost along the way.

  • 43. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 16, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    @38 “In the 1950s and 1960s, we memorized times tables…”

    A lot of good it did. The OECD study found that there was no difference, statistically, between the numeracy proficiency of the 16-24 y.o. group and the 55-65 y.o. group (2.3 pt difference in mean scores, p-value .318).

  • 44. anonymouse teacher  |  October 16, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I think the thing that drives me crazy regarding the debate of whether “old” teaching versus “new” teaching (skills versus problem solving, memorizing dates of historical events or understanding those events) is better or worse is this: In education we are so polarized and swing from one end of the spectrum to another. Good teaching and learning is NOT either/or. It is both/and. Good teaching will use writing to teach grammar. Good teaching will use the dates in history woven into the results of those events.
    Its like the old phonics versus whole language debate. That was so polarized it was nuts. Reality is, we need both. Both.
    There is no such thing as the good old days of teaching. (And teachers all around the country are already looking very closely at research and implementing the techniques backed by the best data. At least this is the case among the colleagues I know.) Way back when, we spent an awful lot of time memorizing math facts but kids didn’t know how to explain how they got to an answer nor could they transfer that knowledge to new situations. Then we swung over to Math Their Way and Every Day Math, where theoretically kids should know the why behind math up the wazoo, but god help them if you ask them what 8×7 is and expect them to know that quickly. The best teachers and schools are using the best of both worlds. There is no awesome curriculum out there coming to save our schools. Teachers have to use what works in a curriculum and supplement for what doesn’t.

  • 45. CPS Parent  |  October 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Agreed, anonymouse teacher. My kids used Every Day Math in their private elementary school but the teachers supplemented with memorization of math facts. Youngest is now a freshman studying math in college. He volunteers as a teacher/coach in a New Haven 8th grade math, after school program (100% low income minority, all girls – not “cool” for boys too do) and several of the students bring multiplication tables to look up answers. Not good.

  • 46. SoxSideIrish4  |  October 17, 2013 at 9:17 am

    44. anonymouse teacher | October 16, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Very well stated! Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher. I feel so fortunate that my kids have had teachers who taught the curriculum but supplement also. It’s just for abt the past 5 yrs of reading this blog, that I actually realized other schools/teachers don’t necessarily do both and that schools are so different in their subjects and approach. I just found out w/in the last few months that some schools don’t teach geography. I’m so thankful that ours does.

  • 47. Patricia  |  October 17, 2013 at 9:36 am

    @ anonymouse

    Well said!

  • 48. Chris  |  October 17, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    “There is no such thing as the good old days of teaching. ”

    Not that it affects CPS (much, as of yet), but there is the time before the wingnuts starting trying to force *their* religion into *science* textbooks.

    I consider *that* the good old days.

  • 49. Mayfair Dad  |  October 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I wonder what the suicide, drug addiction and divorce rates are in these top ranked countries? U of Chicago still produces the most Nobel prize winners, so we must be doing something right. Still, it feels like we spend an inordinate amount of our resources lifting from the bottom, instead of challenging our best and brightest to new heights. It is not heading in the right direction.

  • 50. IBobsessed  |  October 17, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Regarding teaching writing-It is difficult to do serious development of writing skills with large class sizes. Frequent writing assignments with numerous drafts are necessary to grow as a writer. Detailed, individualized feedback on word choice, grammar, syntax, and logical coherence are needed for each assignment. How many sections/classes does the typical CPS middle school reading teacher have? 4 or 5 or 6 classes of 32 students? This is one content area where private/parochial school students really seem to develop an advantage.

  • 51. IBobsessed  |  October 17, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I am curious if other CPS parents ever see writing assignments come home marked up with comments by the teacher, and if multiple drafts critiqued by the teacher are assigned. Currently, my middle schooler’s writing drafts are read and critiqued only by peers before the final draft is handed in. Ridiculous.

  • 52. CPS Parent  |  October 17, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    About 30% of US Nobel prize winners are foreign born – educated elsewhere. About 40% of Ph.D. scientists working in the U.S. are foreign born.

    Suicide rates, divorce rates per 100,000:
    Greenland 107, 5
    Japan 21, 2
    Finland 16, 3
    Norway 12, 5
    USA 12, 5
    Netherlands 8, 4
    Singapore 3.5, 2

  • 53. anonymouse teacher  |  October 17, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    @IBobsessed, I am just curious, can you tell me about your training as a writing instructor?

  • 54. JLM  |  October 17, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    @52 – am I interpreting this correctly? In all of the countries listed, suicide is more common than divorce? Or is the suicide rate a “per lifetime” rate and the divorce rate is a “per year” rate?

  • 55. HS Mom  |  October 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    IB obsessed – very true and interesting observation. We know of an 8th grade teacher that literally counted the pages because it was impossible to read everything. Even a peer review would be better than that. There has to be a better way perhaps organizationally to implement the writing program. Lacking the necessary feedback directly from the teacher kills enthusiasm. It does get better in high school where writing teachers are more specialist in their field. I also believe that writing teachers do need to put in more time and should be paid more – but that is another very debatable subject that I’m not going to touch.

    Yes, agreed, private schools do have an edge in writing. But take heart, you can always pay for the crash course for college essays when the time comes 😉

  • 56. IB obsessed  |  October 17, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    @53 Anonymouse teacher. I’m choosing to interpret your comment as a sincere question and not as a veiled statement that only those with specific training as writing instructor should have the temerity to express an opinion on how good writing is developed. 🙂

    I have no specific training as writing instructor. Once upon a time, anyone who had a liberal arts education was forced to develop as a writer. Anyone with a graduate degree in one of the humanities, who has also taught undergraduate courses, becomes a writing instructor when grading and commenting on student research papers and essays.

  • 57. CPS Parent  |  October 18, 2013 at 7:31 am

    The American malaise; we all think we can be the President and we all think we can be teachers.

  • 58. IBobsessed  |  October 18, 2013 at 11:13 am

    @57 I am perplexed about why an opinion about how good writing skills are developed provokes your observation, but similar comments about solid math skills did not merit a disclaimer that the comment comes from a non-teacher. Are the two disciplines different in some relevant way?

    I would really like to hear from anyone about their experience of how writing is taught in CPS upper grades. I’m trying to figure out what is typical.

  • 59. OutsideLookingIn  |  October 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    I’m with you, IBobsessed. Not sure I understand the snarky comments. Peer review is great but one should expect feedback from the teacher as well. Counting pages? Ugh. My grandma was a high school teacher and she would edit thank you notes that I’d written to her and send them back to me so I could see my errors and learn from them. I was eight years old. I learned.

  • 60. HSObsessed  |  October 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    @51 IBO – My child did get drafts marked up by teachers while in middle school years at Lincoln (regular program) before the final draft was submitted. They also frequently read full-length books (vs excerpts of books contained in text books), requiring them to analyze passages, pull out quotes, write out answers to writing prompts based on themes in the book they were reading, etc. These quizzes/tests also always seemed to have a pretty good level of specific feedback written on them by the teacher (things like, “This is a good observation!” or “Hm, you seem to be going in a different direction here. Does this really support your opinion?”).

  • 61. HS Mom  |  October 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    @60 Wow. Your comments about LP do not surprise me. When we interviewed for HS IB Ms Tookey personally analyzed the writing sample and commented “that’s OK, I know you weren’t taught how to write analytically at X school”. I thought that was an interesting observation. As an aside, my son loves to write and would have probably enjoyed LP. He has since been mentored by a HS teacher who is coaching him on a book he’s writing and will be an English major….who’da thought.

    I guess I’m saying that a kid who loves lit and creative writing will be able to tough it out. Have to say that a little, no a lot, more attention in middle school would make a real difference with a skill that permeates through to every subject.

  • 62. anonymouse teacher  |  October 18, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    IBobsessed, you can consider my comment a sincere query and not a thinly veiled snark if I can consider your comment of “ridiculous” a sincere desire to understand and learn about the teacher’s methodology and not a thinly veiled complaint. 🙂
    I was also responding to someone else’s comments about the need for multiple drafts and grammar and syntax corrections (and made my eyes roll), which, in my hurry, I mistakenly lumped together with your own comments. Apologies.
    I spent a good chunk of my summer learning all kinds of techniques and methods and not one of them, based on the best research that exists in teaching and none of it revolved around a great amount of concentration on grammar, syntax, spelling, mechanics, etc. Those things are like salt. A tiny bit goes a long way. Researchers like Graves and Calkins are good authorities to refer to.
    Yes, ideally, more teacher feedback would be terrific. But 30 kids times 5 means 150 papers per week. Given that each one page paper really needs 15 minutes, that’s something like 30+ hours per week of merely grading. Its more likely that a teacher could realistically get to each child’s writing maybe 2-3 times per quarter in depth. Not to mention that many teachers follow the writer’s workshop model which does not entail written comments on papers. It entails meeting with a few students each period, discussing the piece and making suggestions–just as valuable as writing those same comments. But not all parents know or know enough about this method. Have you asked your teacher if this is her model or what her model is or are you just venting about something you don’t understand?
    Some of us learned to write a certain way. It doesn’t mean that was the best way to learn. And no, grading and commenting on papers does not qualify one as having been a writing instructor. That’s assessing, not teaching. And no, math and writing are not all that different-I just felt one comment was spot on, the other not so much. Maybe I was overly sensitive this morning, maybe its because I get tired of parents complaining before they even discuss the situation with the teacher.

  • 63. anonymouse teacher  |  October 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    And you know, maybe I was just being argumentative. I have 30 students, 2 major behavior issues, no help, no supplies. My own children are crying on and off during the week because they either never see me or I have work to do. My little daughter misses me to the point where I wake up in the middle of the night to find her literally sleeping on top of me (she’s 9, so not a baby anymore) I leave the house at 6:30 a.m, get home at 5:30 or 6 p.m, and then work another hour or two and another 5-10 hours on weekends. I’m so stressed out I don’t sleep well. I have to fight my own district constantly because their intentions and how it plays out in reality on the ground are two opposite things and they don’t listen. I have kids who don’t want to come to school anymore because they don’t want to have to go “take that test” again (MPG). Yesterday morning in a span on 20 minutes I had one kid puke, two wipe dog poop from their shoes on the class rug, a major breakfast spill, a crier, and the office calling me to ask me why I hadn’t finished my attendance. Oh, and my worst behavior issue destroyed an entire set of my personal reading books in one shot on purpose. (that the school won’t replace and the parents can’t afford to replace, so they are just gone) The school copier is broken and the damn laminator doesn’t seal all the way so I have to take all my laminating home and iron it with a shirt over it to get it to seal which takes forever. My only parent volunteer left to take her kids to private school (smmmmaaaart woman).
    So, yeah, maybe I’m being way too sensitive re: one comment on writing. Sorry. Its been a really crappy start to the year. Every single teacher I talk to is miserable. My best teaching colleague who left private business to be a teacher says she’s going to quit every afternoon.
    I feel like I have just written the sequel to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Sorry I took it out on you, IBobsessed.

  • 64. IB obsessed  |  October 18, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    My goodness, Anonymouse I see now my writing did not effectively express that I understand that it is unrealistic to expect detailed comments on the drafts of each student from a teacher who has 60?90? drafts to read. It is “ridiculous” to have classrooms so crowded that feedback can only come from peers, lest the teacher be up until wee hours every night commenting on drafts. And yes,feedback limited solely to peers IS ridiculous when those peers are 7th graders. My 7th grader is a very skilled writer, and peers have few comments to make, but I do! And I’m sure the teacher would if she only had time to read the drafts. And sorry, but I maintain that in addition to “making suggestions” about a piece, clear directive statements like “I don’t follow your point here, what are you trying to say?… Well then you need to spell out your argument.” AND “Look up the definition of word x you use here, does it really express what you mean? ” are needed to develop higher order, persuasive writing skills. I totally this is not appropriate with 3rd graders, but 7th graders need to develop solid analytical, persuasive, and expository writing in prep for HS.

    But overall, I totally get how overstretched and stressed you teachers are. My comment was a criticism of the system, not the teacher.

  • 65. IB obsessed  |  October 19, 2013 at 12:04 am

    And you are surely having a significant, lasting impact on your students, despite the aggravation of it all for you. Some of us appreciate it. Really.

  • 66. HS Mom  |  October 19, 2013 at 9:45 am

    IB and HS obsessed – so, how does overcrowded Lincoln do it?

  • 67. LP  |  October 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    “how does overcrowded Lincoln do it?”

    It’s not that overcrowded, it’s actually rather average for CPS. And it’s not the classrooms that are overcrowded, it’s that non-classroom space needs to be utilized as classrooms.

    Lincoln Park is home to some very involved parents. On the positive side that results in a surplus of parent volunteers and almost $1 mil in extra parental funding. On the negative side that means organized groups on both sides of any argument and regular complaints to various levels of government and media.

    But at the end of the day it’s a neighborhood CPS school that outperforms even the wealthiest north schore suburban schools – so you take the good with the bad.

  • 68. Veteran  |  October 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    #63 You sound like a wonderful, caring teacher.There are many stupendous teachers in CPS who really prevail in spite of CPS. Hopefully, you will take a family vacation in the spring.

    I also “had to fight my own system” especially during the last ten years of my career to get what my students deserve and it does take its toll on you. It is stress you should not have-it does help if you have a principal who supports you.

    The parents on this blog seem like involved parents who advocate for their children which in turn makes the teacher’s job easier. There are many parents, who for whatever reason, cannot advocate for their children and then the teacher becomes the advocate. It is very stressful to fight CPS. I’ve had to “fight dirty” in order to get services for my children with disabilities-sometimes it was like playing a chess game with CPS- I usually won but had many sleepless nights. I have seen many excellent sped teachers leave CPS due to the constant fighting with CPS over services, supplies and non-existent para-professional support.

  • 69. Sped Mom  |  October 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    @ 64. IB obsessed | October 18, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    I hate this, but we’re dealing with self-contained HS classroom teachers with only 8 students/class who are are incapable to doing this direct instruction. Another year WASTED and it’s not even November.

  • 70. IB obsessed  |  October 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    What do you mean by the teachers are “incapable of doing this direct instruction”?

  • 71. IB obsessed  |  October 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    @66 Could it be L is able to do it because the parents are types who will not tolerate anything less? They would complain so long and hard that it’s just easier for the principal to make sure the teachers are willing and able to do it? That is how it would work at a private school. I have no idea. Maybe it was just one teacher with no great demands on her time outside of school? What is the class size at L?

  • 72. Family Friend  |  October 19, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    @62 anonymouse — no intent to criticize you; I know you are a good teacher, and that you are stressed. My teachers were nuns, so they had none of the pressures of family obligations that you do. But it was the 50s and 60s, and the baby boom had made our schools super-crowded. Some of the class size numbers I remember are 38 and 43. My husband had 55 in his class every year. I don’t know what the latest research says about teaching language mechanics, but the students I tutor, in high school, can’t find the subject and the verb in a sentence. The kid I am working with now is amazing — so bright, so thoughtful. His writing is appalling. He is eager to work with “simple sentences,” looking for subject, verb, and modifiers, and telling me whether the verb is past, present, or future (we haven’t gotten into the more complex tenses yet). I believe he will get it, because he is so bright. Teaching mechanics is the only way I know to help him write. Well, I also give him well-written things to read.

  • 73. anonymouse teacher  |  October 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    FF, you might enjoy reading some of Donald Graves’s work. Or Lucy Calkins. They offer lots of ideas for really deep learning around writing. I actually happen to believe that loving relationship with an older person who cares about a child/student very deeply TRUMPS all else, including virtually all instructional methodology.(particularly when students have few other trusted adults in their lives, trauma, fear, hopelessness, etc.) So, even if I think teaching mechanics is not the best way to teaching writing, it is the relationship you are building with the student that matters far, far more than that. Thank you for working with the students you work with.
    And no, I have no idea how the nuns did it. I have heard many horror stories of abusive nuns, kids being told they were stupid, etc, but surely there were tons of really amazing ones too. I know if I ever had a K class much above 31-32, I’d just walk out. They were better women than I will ever be.

  • 74. HS Mom  |  October 19, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    @72 FF – I hear you! One thing different today is that many schools change class in the upper grades so the writing teacher would need to read papers for 30/60/90/120 kids. That’s a big load and big commitment. Counting pages, peer review and even discussing a students work in class (is this really done?) is not enough and certainly does not benefit a kid who is having difficulty. A misconception might be that writing in bulk is necessary practice. A well defined writing project limited in length containing the necessary elements could benefit both teacher/student.

  • 75. HS Mom  |  October 19, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    @71 – then we need to all be like LP parents!

  • 76. Sped Mom  |  October 19, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    IB: Like this: “…clear directive statements like ‘I don’t follow your point here, what are you trying to say?… Well then you need to spell out your argument.’ AND ‘Look up the definition of word x you use here, does it really express what you mean?’ are needed to develop higher order, persuasive writing skills.”

  • 77. HSObsessed  |  October 20, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    @66- I’m not saying every paper had multiple drafts or detailed comments. There was some peer review, too. But there definitely was feedback from teachers. The class sizes were in the range of 28-30. @67 – Do you know for sure that $1 mil is raised by parents? Last number I saw a few years ago was more in the range of $250K.

  • 78. parent  |  October 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    @IB, I teach writing (at the college level). The kind of careful grading you are describing is extremely time consuming. If I’m very efficient it takes me about 15 minutes to grade a 4-5 page paper (I can do roughly 4 an hour). So, you do the math (a stack of 30-32 papers takes about 8 hours). I’m not at all surprised that middle school teachers do not have the time to grade multiple drafts.

  • 79. IB obsessed  |  October 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    @78, I know it is extremely time consuming, I used to do it (different discipline).
    How many students do you typically have each term?

  • 80. parent  |  October 20, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    @79, I teach 3 classes. I currently have about 80 students. Of course, I am only in the classroom for 3 hours a week per class (9 hours total), so I have a lot of time during the day to prepare for class and grade.

  • 81. HS Mom  |  October 21, 2013 at 8:50 am

    @78 – I think everyone agrees that doing a critical review of students papers is time consuming. So an efficient example might be that the teacher reviews 1 draft and 1 final and the paper is 2 to 3 pages long.

  • 82. Chris  |  October 21, 2013 at 11:19 am

    “@67 – Do you know for sure that $1 mil is raised by parents? Last number I saw a few years ago was more in the range of $250K.”

    I had the same question. Guidestar not working for me right now, so can’t check my recollection.

  • 83. cpsobsessed  |  October 21, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Wow, linoln has over 800 kids. (I was trying to figure out how much each family have to donate to get $1 million -around $1600 so not impossible.)

    Are there any other elementaries that big?

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • 84. HSObsessed  |  October 21, 2013 at 11:37 am

    @83 – Bell and Blaine both have more than 900 kids. Disney has 1,600ish.

  • 85. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 21, 2013 at 11:44 am

    @67 @82 Friends of LE does not raise anything close to $1m annually. Unless by close a $1 million you mean $450,000, which is not close to a million. It’s a lot in sum, but not on a per pupil basis.

  • 86. HSObsessed  |  October 21, 2013 at 11:46 am

    @82 – Thanks for the tip about Guidestar; I had no idea. According to that site, Lincoln’s Friends of group reported $420K in revenue for the 2011-2012 year (latest data). I poked around some: Bell reported $362K in 2011, Nettelhorst $351K.

  • 87. LPDad  |  October 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm


    I’ll also give my 2 cents about why Lincoln is such a great school, with some back history (some people may not care, but some will want to know about how Lincoln created its secret sauce).

    Lincoln was probably the 1st CPS to “turn” into a “good” school, starting in the 1970s, with a great principal, community support, parent involvement, etc. In the early 1970s, virtually every CPS school was a no-way-in-hell option for educated middle and upper-middle-class parent that hadn’t already moved to the suburbs (there were no RGCs, magnets, …etc.) Lincoln was just OK, which by lowly CPS standards of the time meant “Wow! Maybe half as good as the North Shore.” At the time, anybody with money in the neighborhood sent their kids to Parker or Latin (they pretty much could just apply and get in, since demand before the explosion of people with some money staying in the city once they had kids didn’t start until the 1980’s). By design, Lincoln was turned into a viable option for people other than Parker or Latin –a pretty high standard. There was a gifted program, but it was discontinued because the idea was “Latin and Parker don’t have one –they give everybody a rigorous education, so will we.” Parents and neighbors rallied, worked and created a great school with purposely high standards to satisfy even parents whose idea of a good education was “anywhere but a Chicago public school.”

    Some kids went to Parker, Latin, even boarding schools out East and did just fine, etc.

    Its reputation grew and a home or family apartment “In the Lincoln School District” meant a premium (10-20%, depending where, when, etc.) to owners,

    The school and faculty fine-tune, seek out best pedagogy methods, etc., so things are not taken for granted. The principal hires only the best candidates that are willing to go along with the program, even if it means leaving a position open for a while until the ‘right’ person is found. Its science education truly is better than most any other school’s (even some expensive private ones). One of my best friends is a private tutor (mostly kids from families with money [she’s not cheap]) so she sees what kids at Latin, Parker, City Day, etc. are doing. She’s had 2 kids graduate from Lincoln and one still there, so she’s a good judge of comparative rigor. According to her (although she may be biased), Lincoln holds its own and actually seems more rigorous in some areas.

    It’s true that it has higher ISAT scores than schools in Wilmette, Glencoe or Lake Forest, which is what convinced us to buy and stay in the city.

    Now, it’s by no means a perfect school. It IS crowded, kids that need special attention can get left behind if the parents aren’t willing to help at home (but most Lincoln parents are the kind that are involved), some kids have a hard time keeping up, there’s an achievement gap between the black kids and everybody else, etc.

    Oh yeah, and the building does kinda’ suck.

    That said, Lincoln is living proof that a CPS neighborhood school can do just as good a job (or actually a better job, according to objective achievement measures) than public schools in suburbs that are considered “top notch.”

    Schools’ effectiveness is just a matter of small class sizes, iPads for everybody, shiny toys, etc. I’d much rather have my kids in a basic classroom with 30 kids and a rock star teacher than in a big, sparking, full-of-gadgets room with 15 kids and a teacher that’s not so good at getting kids to learn.

    Anybody (per the previous posts, related books, etc.) that ever reads about schools in Finland, Singapore, etc. know that their schools are spartan places without much physical beauty, class sizes are large, etc. What they do right is have teachers that know what to do to get kids learning, create and maintain a rigorous curriculum, etc. That’s a lot like what Lincoln does.

  • 88. LPDad  |  October 21, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I meant to mention that some kids went to Latin, Parker boarding schools out East, etc., AFTER going to Lincoln.

  • 89. WorkingMommyof2  |  October 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    CPSO, per the CPS website, Coonley was at 738 last school year which means they are surely over 800 this year. And of course, still growing…

  • 90. cpsobsessed  |  October 21, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Just a quick note that this Thursday from 4-6, Arne and Tim Knowles will be part of a panel about Common Core. Admission is free if you sign up:

  • 91. Just another mom  |  October 21, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Bell has over 1000 students this year. It’s the 1st year with 4 neighborhood K classes. (Although two years ago there were three very full K classrooms).

  • 92. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 22, 2013 at 10:29 am

    The school’s physical capacity matters too. You can be overcrowded with 400 in school with insufficient square footage.

  • 93. SR  |  October 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    LPDad @ 87

    Thanks for the interesting history of Lincoln and CPS in the early 70’s. Now I’m curious how CPS evolved after Lincoln’s “turnaround.” I work with a woman who was in one of the first classes at Disney in the 70’s, but I don’t know much about CPS from 1970-2000. Anyone know if an overview exists somewhere? Were other neighborhood schools able to replicate Lincoln’s success one-by-one? Or were the magnet schools the primary options until recently? (I read “How to Walk to School” and have a better sense of post-2000 changes.) Thanks, and sorry to veer somewhat off-topic.

  • 94. cpsobsessed  |  October 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    @LPDad, if I didn’t say it yet, I also thank you for that interesting background.

    My understanding of CPS during the timeframe after that was that since there were limited parents in the city who chose to utilize CPS schools, that it was relatively easy to get into a magnet, or gifted program – that you could usually manage to get in somewhere, so the neighborhood schools were basically ignored by “education-oriented parents” (or whatever you want to call them.) I think many parents utilized parochial schools back then.

    I too am curious as to when there was a shift of more parents wanting to stay in the city that lead to other schools (ie Blaine, Burley, Nettelhorst) following suit and deciding to embrace the local school.

  • 95. southie  |  October 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm


  • 96. anonymouse teacher  |  October 23, 2013 at 6:00 am

    I don’t know a ton about CPS in the 70’s and 80’s other than we were written about in papers and magazines across the nation and described as the nation’s worst school system. (as I remember it, much of that was due to gross financial mismanagement by central office and parts of city government, but someone correct me if I am mistaken on this) I personally was discouraged by my professors from returning to Chicago to teach. I remember one prof who looked at me and literally begged me NOT to teach in CPS. I don’t know which schools were considered “better” than others, but I’d bet money on ones that had students with relatively higher income levels as is nearly always the case, if there were any.

  • 97. Chris  |  October 23, 2013 at 11:26 am

    “described as the nation’s worst school system. (as I remember it, much of that was due to gross financial mismanagement by central office and parts of city government, but someone correct me if I am mistaken on this)”

    Also, the repeated strikes played heavily into the national perception.

  • 98. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins)  |  October 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Check out the linking study results for the IL NAEP scores w/ the Int’l TIMSS scores:

    You can also check out science as well. IL, as an education system, outperforms most other countries. IL’s population and economy is greater than many of the countries that take part in the surveys (e.g., Norway, Finland, Singapore).

    Chicago will be lower on average than IL as a state, of course.

  • 99. Mayfair Dad  |  October 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Pretty sure the key ingredient of the Lincoln Elementary $ecret $auce is E$$ence of Rich White People. Easy to whip up a secret sauce when you have access to the freshest ingredients.

    I prefer a darker, zestier sauce. I’d love to hear what’s cooking at Courtenay, Providence St. Mel’s and Kenwood Academy.

  • 100. klm  |  October 28, 2013 at 10:40 am


    Well, …..yeah.

    But that’s not all.

    Not every kid that goes to Lincoln is white and upper-middle-class. Lots of people cram into rentals, have 2-3 kids to a bedroom, etc. to live in a place in the Lincoln enrollment zone.

    Plus, there’s the low- income black kids from the projects on North and Larabee that go to Lincoln, too. If they went to Manierre (on the other side of the street is its enrollment zone), God know those kids would be getting a horrible education (per ISAT results).

    Isn’t CPS supposed to be for everybody, not just low-income non-white kids? Why is a school with lots of non-poor white kids a “given” in terms of achievement? There are plenty of mostly white, few low-income schools that don’t do nearly as well as LIncoln.

    The point I’m trying to make is that there is a large segment of people that resent and whine when people with money don’t use public schools and leave only poor and minority kids in them, making their task more difficult in terms of overall achievement. However, when middle/upper-middle-class people do use public schools, some people want to dismiss their achievement as a non-issue (I guess non-poor white kids are just naturally inclined to achieve?) and want to concentrate on REAL Chicago kids (i.e., non-white and from the a neighborhood that’s more ‘ghetto’).

    Is the only only CPS achievement that really counts in terms of celebrating the one that comes from underrepresented minorities?

    It there’s a neighborhood CPS school that rocks academically, we should all be happy and look at how it got that way, not dismiss its success as a natural/no-brain consequence of socioeconomics –it’s not.

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