Delayed Ren 2010 report offers lessons for school startups

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After keeping it under wraps for months, Renaissance Schools Fund has quietly released new research that paints a picture—one that is flattering in some respects, unflattering in others—of the first two batches of schools underwritten by the group as part of the Mayor’s new schools initiative.

The report shows that test scores in the Renaissance schools slightly lagged those of students with similar backgrounds who attended neighborhood schools—though not to a statistically significant degree. But results were far from homogeneous, with some Renaissance schools posting decidedly stronger test scores compared to others.

The findings, in general, seem to echo existing research on new schools. Principals and teachers face a very bumpy road in the beginning years of operations—with extra demands ranging from recruiting students and hiring teachers from scratch to the difficulties in ironing out kinks in professional development and instructional practices.

After keeping it under wraps for months, Renaissance Schools Fund has quietly released new research that paints a picture—one that is flattering in some respects, unflattering in others—of the first two batches of schools underwritten by the group as part of the Mayor’s new schools initiative.

The report shows that test scores in the Renaissance schools slightly lagged those of students with similar backgrounds who attended neighborhood schools—though not to a statistically significant degree. But results were far from homogeneous, with some Renaissance schools posting decidedly stronger test scores compared to others.

Schools were not identified by name in the report.

The findings, in general, seem to echo existing research on new schools. Principals and teachers face a very bumpy road in the beginning years of operations—with extra demands ranging from recruiting students and hiring teachers from scratch to the difficulties in ironing out kinks in professional development and instructional practices.

But the report also highlights a number of best practices that—as co-author and University of Chicago researcher Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach puts it—seem to suggest the city’s Renaissance 2010 program “is on the right track.”

For example, two schools visited by researchers showed an intense focus in their teacher hiring practices to find candidates who clearly meshed with their schools’ missions. Another elementary school hammered home professional development by scheduling four after-school staff meetings each week to go over instructional strategies.

Renaissance Schools Fund paid for the report and had final say over its release. According to communications director Katheryn Hayes, there were concerns that two years of test score data was not enough to tell the whole story and that site visits could have more deeply explored emerging school practices.

Hayes notes that the report underscores the need for ample planning time during a school’s genesis.

The report encompassed 23 schools that received start-up grants from the Renaissance Schools Fund to open in 2005 and 2006. Only 15 of them had enough test score data available for analysis.

Lead author Daniel Humphrey with SRI International, a major research institute, headed up the qualitative portion of the study, which featured focus groups and interviews with educators, students and families.

Schanzenbach is affiliated with the Consortium on Chicago School Research. To read the full report, download it here at the Consortium’s website.

The following schools were part of the study:

Schools opened in 2005

ASPIRA Haugan

Sizemore of Shabazz

CICS Avalon/South Shore

CICS Wrightwood

DuSable Leadership

Erie

Galapagos

Legacy

Pershing West

UChicago Donoghue

UNO Tamayo

Schools opened in 2006

Austin Business

Bronzeville Lighthouse

Catalyst

CICS Ellison

Perspectives Calumet

Noble Street Pritzker

Noble Street Rauner

Providence Englewood

UChicago Woodlawn

UNO las Casas

UNO Fuentes

Urban Prep