A Take Down of Another Test-Based Reform Rock Star


These guys are really going to have to stop misrepresenting the numbers.

Professor Aaron Pallas carves up an op-ed piece from former NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein. Pallas first detects Klein’s misdirect on which numbers he wants to use to tout his and his cronies record. Klein wants to bask in the glory of  KIPP schools and Pallas isn’t having any of it.

To support his claim, Klein points to a recent in-house study produced by KIPP, a chain of charter schools, showing that graduates from KIPP’s first two schools in New York City and Houston, overwhelmingly poor children of color, achieved four-year college graduation rates equivalent to those of white students. KIPP may indeed be doing great things, but any reputable social scientist would caution against concluding that participating in KIPP produced favorable outcomes without taking into account the mechanisms by which children are selected into and out of the program and its schools.

More peculiar is the use of KIPP as an example of the power of the school-reform movement. Joel Klein was Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools for eight years, and the individuals I named above all served as key deputies during his tenure. To the best of my knowledge, they had nothing to do with the performance of students attending these two KIPP schools.

No need to add much to that.  We’ll also not make any accusations here about KIPP’s selective enrollment policies. Professor Pallas makes Klein look at his numbers.

On the other hand, Klein and his deputies presumably had a great deal to do with the performance of the 1.1 million students in the New York City public schools. So perhaps that’s a better place to look for the effect on the achievement gap of this concentration of school-reform talent.  What’s the evidence?

Head-to-head with Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Houston, Los Angeles and San Diego, in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math, New York City gained more on NAEP between 2003 and 2009 11% of the time; gained less on NAEP 28% of the time; and was statistically indistinguishable from the comparison city 61% of the time. This is not strong evidence that the package of reforms promoted by this new cadre of school leaders in New York City resulted in better outcomes for children than the reforms pursued in other districts.

How much longer are the test-based reform rock stars – Klein, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and Jeb Bush going to continue to trot such easy data to refute out to the mound?

Pallas effectively concludes:

Does pointing these facts out mean that I think poor and minority children can’t learn? Does it make me an apologist for the failed status quo? I don’t think so. What it does mean is that I’m skeptical of unproven reforms that are championed by politicians, business leaders and philanthropists who seek to impose their view of what works on public education in the absence of credible evidence. Joel Klein contends that “the status quo is broken and that incremental change won’t work.” He and like-minded school leaders such as Michelle Rhee use these claims as a license to do just about anything that strikes their fancy, without regard to the time it takes to build the structures and cultures that can support reform.  The consequence is an unstable system that threatens to collapse at any moment. Substituting a sense of urgency for a deliberate and well-planned approach to incremental change may feel good, but it’s bad public policy.

Perhaps for reformers their next best argument will be  “pay no attention to that data we are ignoring.”

H/T: The Answer Sheet.

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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