The Scariest Lesson of….

Vox’s Libby Nelson just posted a piece entitled The scariest lesson of No Child Left Behind.

I find Libby’s national policy writing to be well done. I thought her piece on the allegiance between Republicans and unions was spot on.

However, I thought this NCLB piece fell short in that it correctly identified a problem (most NCLB turnaround efforts didn’t really work), while not fully covering the research behind potential solutions.

When it comes to highlighting whole school reform efforts that work, Libby calls out the following:

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As Libby notes, not one of these models has actually been proven to work at scale across grade levels. Looking at these models alone paints a grim picture. Hence the “scariest lesson” title of her original piece.

Libby ends her piece with this:

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I don’t think this is true.

We have rigorous evidence on what type of whole school reforms works for poor and minority students: charter schools, particularly those that adopt the No Excuses model.

CREDO studied charter school performance across 41 cities in 22 states. This is an extremely large sample size that exceeds the research on the aforementioned four reform models.

Here’s what the study found:

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Urban charters are delivering strong results: a .08 effect size in math and a .06 in reading. Moreover, these effects take place over a three year period, so the cumulative effect on students is likely larger over the course of their full education.

Of course, these results are the aggregate effects of 41 markets, some of which are seeing incredible result (.2-.3 effect size), while others are seeing poor results (negative effects on student learning).

And, of course, these market results are the aggregate effects of individual schools, some of which are seeing incredible results (very often No Excuses or some version of the model), while others are seeing poor results.

Which leads to the final point: the entire project of looking to whole school reform as an overall reform strategy is missing the forest for the trees.

The forest is governance: letting great educators open new schools and holding them accountable.

Understanding why any individual school is great is a worthy endeavor, but it is a limited endeavor.

To put it another way: evaluating the research of what is effective within a poorly constructed system will not tell you that it is the system itself that needs to be changed.

It would be akin to trying to understand the American economy by looking at the practices of great corporations. Useful, for sure, but it won’t tell you why the system itself delivers constantly strong performance.

Research being done by CREDO and others is demonstrating that it is the system itself that is broken, and that by fixing governance we can empower educators to achieve great results.

What’s the scariest lesson of No Child Left Behind?

The scariest lesson is that the data from No Child Left Behind is increasingly providing us with  answers on how to turnaround failing school systems and yet we continue to ignore this data.

The lesson that we have very little idea what works is a scary thought, it’s just not true.

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