Saturday, April 13, 2013

Corporate Based School Reforms Fail

Many South Dakota schools had some snow days this week, so it seems appropriate to use Saturday as a make-up day to discuss education.

A new study finds that corporate based school reform is failing:
The reforms deliver few benefits and in some cases harm the students they purport to help, while drawing attention and resources away from policies with real promise to address poverty-related barriers to school success…
The study examines reforms in New York City, and Chicago. The Washington Post reports "little has been accomplished and some harm has been done to students, especially the underprivileged." The Post's article also points out "benefits of corporate-based reform have been exaggerated."

In a related story, John Merrow examines Michelle Rhee's tenure as chancellor of Washington D.C.'s schools. He points out that Rhee has been widely considered a success and copied:
At least 25 states have adopted her ‘produce or else’ test-score based system of evaluating teachers.
But politicians (and citizens) in those 25 states might want to take a closer look at what she actually accomplished. Sadly, DC’s schools are worse by almost every conceivable measure.
Further, Merrow points out that those who need education most were hurt the most under Rhee:
The most disturbing effect of Rhee’s reform effort is the widened gap in academic performance between low-income and upper-income students, a meaningful statistic in Washington, DC because race and income are highly correlated. On the most recent NAEP test (2011) only about 10% of low income students in grades 4 and 8 scored ‘proficient’ in reading and math. Since 2007, the performance gap has increased by 29% in 8th grade reading, by 44% in 4th grade reading, by 45% in 8th grade math, and by 72% in 4th grade math. Although these numbers are also influenced by changes in high- and low-income populations, the gaps are so extreme that is seems clear that low-income students, most of them African-American, did not fare well during Rhee’s time in Washington.
These failures accompany  a cheating scandal that Rhee may have helped cover up. Merrow alludes to Watergate:
This story is bound to remind old Washington hands of Watergate and Senator Howard Baker’s famous question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” It has a memo that answers an echo of Baker’s question, “What did Michelle know, and when did she know it?” And the entire sordid story recalls the lesson of Watergate, “It’s not the crime; it’s the coverup.”
Even with the defeat of 2012's HB 1234, South Dakota is moving ahead inexorably with the corporate based agenda that will fail. The results of the three city study predict the following as the corporate agenda moves forward in South Dakota:
  • Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
  • Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
The report beats a dead horse, but because no one seems to listen, the point must continue being made:
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. 

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