Committee on Education and the Workforce

Statement of Arne Duncan
Before the
Subcommittee on Education Reform

Hearing on:
“No Child Left Behind: Successes and Challenges of Implementation in Urban and Suburban Schools”

August 28, 2006

My name is Arne Duncan and I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools.  I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the No Child Left Behind Act.  Before I start, I would like to thank each of you for your support and leadership.  I also want to thank you for recognizing the importance of reexamining NCLB to learn what works and what could work better.  

Breakthrough Results "Breakthrough Results"  

Since Mayor Daley took responsibility for the Chicago Public School system in 1995, the district has been holding schools accountable for improving student performance.  CPS has closed under-performing schools, dismissed under-performing principals and has sent a clear message that schools must make continuous progress. 

After more than a decade of strong leadership and accountability, we are on a winning streak.  The percentage of students meeting state standards has steadily increased.  Graduation rates and attendance rates are up; dropout rates are down. 

But we will not be content until we reach every child at every school.  In 2005, our district set ambitious five-year improvement goals inspired by the rising expectations of No Child Left Behind.  We asked ourselves what it would take to get there.  The answer is The Power of 2.  To meet these goals, each teacher needs increase the number of his or her students meeting state standards by two. 

I am proud to announce that our elementary schools achieved The Power of 4!  This year, four more students per classroom met state standards compared to last year.  In reading, 60% of students are meeting standards, compared to 39% in 2001.  In math, 65% of students are meeting standards, compared to 35% in 2001.

I am also thrilled to announce that our high schools will not be left behind.  Our high school students reached an all-time high on ACT scores.  CPS’ average ACT scores have increased every year for the last four years.  The gains of both our elementary and high school students have outpaced the rest of students in Illinois.  Our success is truly remarkable for a school system where over 85% of the students come from low-income families. We are closing the achievement gap. 

Staying on a Winning Streak

We are excited about our progress, but we are not satisfied.  We know we cannot rest until we reach every child at every school.  That is why we have ambitious plans to match our ambitious goals.

First, we are continuing to set high expectations.  Within the last year, CPS created School Scorecards.  The scorecards define what matters to the district.  The scorecards then compare performance to district, state and national benchmarks.  They are distributed publicly, to schools, parents and community members.  The scorecards represent an unprecedented level of openness about our expectations and our progress.  Within CPS, we continue to monitor the Power of 2 targets.  At every level—teachers, principals, administrators—we know what we have to achieve.

Second, CPS is making a huge effort to provide the data needed to the people that need it, when they need it.  We are implementing benchmark assessments in reading and math.  These are mid-year tests that identify students in need of extra support well in advance of statewide tests.  We are surveying our students about their school’s learning environment and giving this information to principals.  We are building student and employee information systems that will provide laser-like support to teachers.

Third, CPS is providing targeted support and accountability at all levels.  Our high-performing schools receive autonomy from district oversight.  Our middle-tier schools receive intensive support from curriculum coaches and instructional leaders.  Those schools that continue to struggle are subject to staff removal or closure. 

A Successful Partnership

CPS and NCLB clearly share the same goals.  Over the past five years, we have worked to integrate our efforts with the requirements of the law.  We want CPS policy and NCLB to re-enforce each other.  This has been hard work for us.  But the effort has been largely successful.  And the success is, in no small part, due to the partnership CPS has had with the U.S. Department of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education. 

Here are a few examples of this partnership.  With Choice, CPS faces a huge gap between supply and demand.  Tens of thousands of students are eligible.  Only a few hundred slots are available because our high performing schools are already full.  CPS worked with ISBE to give priority to students in schools CPS closes due to low performance.   Thus, the displaced students have the opportunity to attend some of the best performing schools in the city.

On Supplemental Education Services, DoE extended CPS a “flexibility agreement” regarding the district’s tutoring program. We provided DoE research that demonstrated that the CPS program was just as effective as the private SES providers and for about one-third of the cost. DoE then approved a pilot allowing CPS to continue to provide district-sponsored tutoring even though the district is identified as “in need of improvement” under NCLB.  As a result, thousands more students received tutoring than otherwise would have been possible.

On Restructuring, ISBE has sent out guidance that significant curriculum change can qualify as Restructuring.  As part of our High School Transformation Initiative, we are rolling out a unified curriculum to 15 new high schools each year for the next five years.  We cannot do this overnight.  ISBE’s decision gives us the time we need to do it right.

Making NCLB Better

CPS has been innovative in adapting NCLB’s school improvement framework to re-enforce our efforts.  These innovations were possible because DoE and ISBE demonstrated real flexibility.  Congress should maintain NCLB’s framework of high expectations and accountability.  But it should also amend the law to give schools, districts and states the maximum amount flexibility possible—particularly districts like ours with a strong track record of academic achievement and tough accountability.

Chicago Public Schools has made progress despite significant financial challenges.  We compete with much wealthier suburbs for the best and brightest teachers.  Because we have a large number of poor and special needs children, our per-pupil educational costs are high.  We inherited schools that were falling apart after decades of neglect. 

The citizens of the City of Chicago have made huge sacrifices to help move CPS towards its goal of being the best urban school district in the nation.  Their property taxes have increased to the Illinois legal limit nearly every year to keep our schools competitive.  Chicago taxpayers are supporting a $4 billion capital program to rebuild our schools. 

The Chicago taxpayers understand that they will continue to shoulder much of the burden needed to maintain our winning streak.  Among states, Illinois ranks 49th in the proportion of total educational costs it covers.  The No Child Left Behind Act provided an infusion of funds initially, but restricted the uses of the funds.

This year, the House Appropriations Committee approved flat funding for many educational programs.  We estimate this will result in an $8 million decrease in funds for Chicago Public Schools.  We are on a winning streak.  We don’t want a lack of financial support from Congress to slow us down.

A few years ago, a small number of health advocates started pushing for the budget of the National Institutes of Health to double within five years.  At first it was a dream.  A few in Congress began to recognize the extraordinary opportunities that were within reach due to medical advances.  Curing cancer.  Preventing blindness.  Eradicating AIDS. Then it was a long-shot.  The effort picked up steam as more and more people realized how previous investments had paid off.  Then it was a fight.  One-by-one, people joined the cause.  Until it happened.  Congress doubled the funding for medical research in five years.

Funding education is simply the best long-term investment Congress can make.  Money invested now will pay us back for decades.  So today I am going to challenge Congress to show the same confidence it showed for medical research.  My challenge is this:  double the funding for NCLB within five years.  Here is what you will get in return: presidents and pilots, doctors and diplomats, electricians and engineers.  You will get the next generation of citizens ready to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.  I am happy to answer any questions you may have.