Joe Nocera Has Not Learned the Lesson

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Joe Nocera just wrote a column.

It’s called Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson.

He writes:

It’s great for the 30 percent who are learning from charter school teachers. But as Russakoff puts it in the most poignant line in her book, “What would become of the children left behind in district schools?”

If this is the most poignant line in Russakoff’s book, I feel no real urge to read it.

The answer to Russakoff’s question is very clear: the children left behind in district schools could also attend charter schools if these charter schools were given all they needed to expand.

If the original reform plan had been to make Newark an all charter school district, 100% of Newark students would likely be attending a charter schools within the next year or two. Russakoff’s question would be moot.

So what’s the lesson?

Here is the wrong answer:

If X works and Y doesn’t work, the solution is to keep on trying to fix Y.

Here is the right answer:

If X works and Y doesn’t work, the solution is to expand X and reduce Y until all you have is X.

This may sound callous, but it’s not.

The callous thing is to force kids to keep on attending awful schools because the solution that would get them into good schools doesn’t make you feel good.

6 thoughts on “Joe Nocera Has Not Learned the Lesson

  1. Bruce William Smith

    It appears that the assumption here is that X schools will maintain their advantage over Y schools even once they become universal in a city; but the only place that has been tried is New Orleans, and it is hard to defend the claim that the public schools of New Orleans are the model we have been looking for to solve the problems in American education, given that the average high school “graduate” in New Orleans is not ready to succeed in either college or career.

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    1. nkingsl Post author

      Bruce, thanks for you note. I agree NOLA is only place to try, and that more cities following this path will lead to larger evidence base. However, NOLA is very strong evidence that the model can work (at least under certain conditions). NOLA has seen more achievement growth than just about any urban district in the nation. It’s hard to understand how that doesn’t meet the bar for “worth doing” when just about every other reform effort has failed.

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      1. brucewilliamsmith

        Neerav, ours is a diverse country, and I think it likely other cities will try (Nashville and Newark have had very pro-charter leadership, as has New York); but I continue to believe that there are numerous reform efforts overseas that have shown good results that never get the chance to succeed in the United States because of ideological cavils that limit educators’ freedom here.

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  2. Benjamin Helton

    Systemic issues such as socioeconomic status and legal issues confound the issues in Y. So weakening Y to show the success of X is built on circular causes and effect (money that should go to public schools is put into charter programs, lessening the operating budgets for public schools and weakening their ability to serve their communities). I fail to see the value of pitting X vs. Y when they play by different sets of rules and all the rule changes in recent years favor X.

    Also, all of Doug Harris’ data consist of test scores to gauge student achievement. Furthermore, data suggest that there was a $1,000 increase in per student expenditures in NOLA as opposed to the rest of the state. One could argue that the increase of funds also contributed to the increase in scores in comparison to the state average.

    So the value of X vs. Y is built on a set of comparisons that are inherently flawed due to confounding variables. How would you account for these types of irregularities?

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