Posted in Achievement Gap, Corp Interest, Corporate Charters, Jonathan Kozol, poverty, Testing

Can You Buy Your Way to a Better Education?

It seems to work for wealthy children.

Read on…

Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under-enrolled schools will boost at-risk students’ achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps. [A] new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education examines these assertions by comparing the impacts of these reforms in three large urban school districts – Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago – with student and school outcomes over the same period in other large, high-poverty urban districts. The report finds that the reforms deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from a set of other, less visible policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment. (Emphasis added)

So says a new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. The complete report, Market-Oriented Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality, won’t be available until April 18. However, the Executive Summary is available now and has quite a bit of information.

Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.

“Reform” hasn’t worked in New York, D.C., and Chicago. The “reform” strategy of closing failing schools, opening charters, and shuffling students from one place to another has resulted in stagnating achievement test scores for minority students. Meanwhile, in other urban areas, the achievement gap narrowed and more progress was made.

The goal of the “reformers” is apparently not improved achievement. The real goal, privatization, has increased dramatically. Chicago Mayor Emanuel is poised to close 54 neighborhood schools in his quest to destroy the nation’s third largest school system. The Renaissance 2010 plan, Arne Duncan’s plan (under Mayor Daley) to improve the schools, didn’t work since it consisted of closing “poor performing” schools and opening charters.

Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city’s school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.

Scores from the elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are nearly identical to the city average, and scores at the remade high schools are below the already abysmal city average, the analysis found.

Race to the Top, however, which is Renaissance 2010 for the rest of the nation, continues unabated.

Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.

The huge gains reported for targeted students turned out to be false as a closer examination revealed that the numbers had been manipulated.

“There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics.” – Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people

The “reformers” apparently used lies and statistics. The report said…

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed to halve the white/Asian to black/Latino achievement gap in city schools from 2003 to 2011, but scores on state-administered tests, averaged across fourth and eighth grades in reading and math, show that the achievement gap had stagnated; it was 26.2 percentage points in 2003, versus 25.8 percentage points in 2011 (a 0.01 standard deviation change). Columbia University professor Aaron Pallas, who calculated the 1 percent reduction, noted, “The mayor has thus overstated the cut in the achievement gap by a factor of 50.”

Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.

District of Columbia Public Schools’ IMPACT system, which bases teacher evaluations (and dismissals) heavily on test scores, is associated with higher teacher turnover. The share of DCPS teachers leaving after one year increased from 15.3 percent in 2001–2007 (before IMPACT began in 2009) to 19.3 percent in 2008–2012; the share leaving after two years increased from 27.8 percent to 33.2 percent; the share leaving after three years increased from 37.5 percent to 42.7 percent; and after four years fully half (52.1 percent) of teachers left the system, up from 45.3 percent.10 Few teachers reach “experienced” status, generally considered at least five years and, by some experts, seven years or more.

It appears that the “reformers” evaluation plan had the desired effect of saving the district money. Older, more experienced, more expensive teachers left in large numbers.

School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.

The only students who had improved achievement in Chicago were the 6% who were moved from “underperforming” schools to schools with greater resources. I look forward to the complete report to find out what those “resources” were. Why weren’t all schools receiving those resources? Instead of closing schools, would supplying the missing resources have helped the schools improve? Who was “underperforming,” the school or the district administration?

Meanwhile the majority of the disrupted students moved from one “underperforming” school to another…presumably another with inadequate resources.

Although Arne Duncan closed Chicago public schools deemed “underperforming” in order to move students to better schools, the closings had almost no effect on student achievement because almost all displaced elementary school students transferred from one low-performing school to another, according to a study of 18 schools closed between 2001 and 2006. Only the 6 percent who moved to better schools with greater resources had improved outcomes.

Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.

Closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with charters* doesn’t help. Charters in general don’t have any more success than regular public schools. In NY, the charters were able to skim students and get higher per-pupil spending but then the “reformers” will tell you that money doesn’t matter…

It is clear, however, that New York City charters benefit from more funding per student and better facilities in co-located spaces. While they serve more minority and low-income students, they serve fewer students who are special needs, very poor, or English language learners (ELL), and these high-needs students are costlier to serve. Comparing charters with nearby public schools illustrates stark differences. At Samuel Stern public school, where 86 percent of students qualify for free lunch and 19 percent are ELL, per-pupil spending is $12,476. At nearby Harlem Day charter school, 62 percent of students qualify for free lunch, and there are no ELL students, but per-pupil spending is $19,632.

Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.

It almost seems like the “reformers” want to avoid that which really works.

Michelle Rhee expanded DCPS’s full-day voluntary prekindergarten program to serve 3- and 4-year-olds at all income levels, and the district adopted a holistic curriculum designed to nurture all domains of children’s development. Though third-graders who had participated had higher test scores than their nonparticipating peers, pre-K is not even a component of the agenda on which Rhee’s advocacy group, StudentsFirst, grades every state’s education system.

The full day preschool worked for Michelle Rhee when she ran D.C.’s public schools. Apparently that was a good enough reason to leave it out of her new “reform” agenda.

The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance. Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realistic, patient, and multipronged.

The “reformers” habit of ignoring poverty is getting old.

Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

Because America’s schools are so highly segregated by income, race, and ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving disadvantaged communities. These schools therefore face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the [out-of-school-factors] that negatively affect large numbers of our nations’ students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them.

Should we spend more money to help students in poverty? Jonathan Kozol has an answer to that

“People agree with everything I say,” Kozol continued. “They say, ‘Yes, it is unfair they don’t get as much per pupil as our children.’ Then they say, ‘Tell me one thing. Can you really solve this kind of problem by throwing money at it?’ And I say, ‘You mean, can you really buy your way to a better education? It seems to work for your children.'”

*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Retired after 35 years in public education.