At Cameron Elementary School west of downtown, most kids don’t know the alphabet when they start kindergarten, nearly all are poor, and one was jumped by a gang recently, just off campus. But the school this year posted its highest reading and math scores ever — a feat that earned cash bonuses for teachers, administrators, even janitors.
City schools chief executive Arne Duncan, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for education secretary, pushed that performance-pay plan and a host of other innovations to transform a school system once regarded as one of the country’s worst. As Duncan heads to Washington, the lessons of Chicago could provide a model for fixing America’s schools.
“Obama chose Arne Duncan for a reason, and part of that reason is the experimentation that Duncan has done in Chicago and his real attention to data and outcomes,” said Elliot Weinbaum, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. “Duncan’s willing to try new things and see if they work, hopefully keep the ones that do and drop the ones that don’t. I expect that experimentation to continue on a national scale.”