While it's too early to call Howe's transformation a success, the progress at other AUSL turnaround schools in Chicago is encouraging. Dodge Renaissance Academy, where President Barack Obama announced Duncan as his choice for U.S. education secretary, has made a leap of 50 percentage points in scores on state tests since being overhauled in 2003. At the Harvard School of Excellence, where middle school students are separated into classes of girls or boys, test scores rose 8 percentage points in one year. In 2008, 93 percent of the first graduating class at Chicago Academy High School went to college. By contrast, only 50 percent of high school students citywide go to college. But the work is grinding on teachers. Besides raising achievement, they must constantly work to keep students alert and to maintain order in the classroom.Jackson, for example, says her work has put a strain on her family life. Besides teaching and caring for a young daughter, she is working toward a doctoral degree in education. "It's kind of wearing on my husband a little," she says. But, so far, 90 percent of the 300 graduates of the AUSL residency program are still in education.
This success hasn't come cheap. Urban teacher academies cost more upfront than most other pathways to teacher certification. The turnaround schools receive federal and state funds, but AUSL must raise private funds to support the teacher-training academies. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is contributing $10 million over four years to AUSL. There is also no definitive research linking urban teacher academies with improved student performance. But supporters, including Obama, who has proposed creating 200 such teacher residency programs nationwide, say the investment is worthwhile. "If you want to make a fundamental change in the lowest-performing schools, you need to have dedicated and capable teachers who have high expectations and are willing to go the extra mile," Feinstein says.
At Howe, students say the new teachers are making a difference. The school was recently abuzz with excitement over the wrestling team's win at the city championships. A new teacher introduced the program at the beginning of the year to help students cope with anger and keep them motivated in school. "Last year we had no core values," says Devonte, an eighth grader. "Now, we got rules and teachers who want you to learn." Kimyatta, the student who returned to Howe after leaving last year, interrupts, summing up perhaps the biggest change at the school, "There are other students who care."