What if everything you believe about education is wrong?

When I first started think about increasing educational opportunity, I had a lot of beliefs, and, given the opportunity, I was willing to act on any of them.

Now I have fewer beliefs and am only willing to act on them under very specific circumstances.

I. Acting on Limited Beliefs in New Orleans  

As an undergrad and law student, I had a lot of beliefs on education policy. If you named an education policy topic, I had a strong opinion.

By the time I was working deeply in New Orleans, I was, for the most part, only acting on two of these beliefs:

(1) Starting and scaling high-quality charter schools (generally based on the high expectations / high support model); and

(2) Recruiting as much high-quality talent as possible (generally measured by leadership potential, undergraduate selectivity, and GPA).

Those seemed like the two most important near-term problems to solve in New Orleans.

Eventually, I also started working on systemwide regulatory issues, as we had to figure out how to govern an all charter school system.

II. So Much Conventional Wisdom (on All Sides) Was Wrong 

10 years later, we’ve a learned that New Orleans achieved dramatic student achievement results while, at the same time, upending much of the conventional wisdom of education policy.

The Education Research Alliance has done a bunch of great research that should humble pundits and educators alike; some highlights below:

Popular Belief #1: Experienced Teachers are Better

New Orleans increased student achievement while the % of teachers with less than 5 years of experience skyrocketed, and the % of teachers with over 20 years of experience plummeted.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-35-39-am

Popular Belief #2: Teacher Credentialing Matters

New Orleans increased student achievement while the % of teachers with no, temporary or, the lowest level of certification (C/1) skyrocketed, and the % of teachers with advanced credentials (A/3 and B/2) plummeted.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-39-22-am

Popular Belief #3: Teacher Turnover is Bad

New Orleans increased student achievement while teacher turnover significantly increased.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-53-14-am

Popular Belief #4: Education Choice Markets Will Fail Due to Information Problems

A continuing criticism of choice based reforms is that parents will make poor decisions due to being incapable of understanding school quality. In New Orleans, student achievement (SPS score) was one of only a few factors that strongly increased the likelihood a family would choose a school in the open enrollment system.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-56-29-am

Popular Belief #5: School Choice Only Benefits a Select Group of Choosers

A continuing criticism of choice based reforms is that only the active choosers will get into the schools they want. In New Orleans, 75% of families were matched with one of their top three choices.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-11-07-16-am

Popular Belief #6: School Choice Increases Student Mobility

Numerous commentators have argued that school choice will cause significant increases in student mobility. New Orleans moved to an all choice system and student mobility decreased.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-11-12-31-am

Popular Belief #7: School Closure Harms the Children Attending the Closed School

In New Orleans, students attending schools that were closed (intervention schools) saw their student achievement increase significantly in the subsequent years.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-11-16-27-am

Popular Belief #8: Money is Best Spent “in the Classroom”

In comparison to other districts, New Orleans increased student achievement while spending more on administrative costs and less on instructional costs.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-11-20-29-amscreen-shot-2017-01-17-at-11-20-36-am

III. We Might be Wrong About More

To be clear, I’m not saying that any of the above caused the student achievement gains in New Orleans.

Rather, I’m only pointing out that New Orleans saw some of the most dramatic student achievement gains in our country’s recent history while doing a bunch of things that you’re not supposed to do.

I’m sure we’ll learn more over the coming decade.

Lastly, New Orleans is one city with a very unique set of circumstances, we don’t yet know how similar types of reforms will work in other cities.

IV. Keep Your Policy Identity Small and Your Problem Solving Identity Large 

The more strongly held beliefs you have on education policy, the more likely you are to (1) be wrong (2) find it hard to admit you’re wrong and (3) mandate broad solutions that don’t work in many circumstances.

The more strongly oriented you are toward solving problems, the more likely you are to (1) be right in your specific circumstance (2) change your mind if you’re wrong and (3) be willing to admit that your solution might not work in other contexts.

V. Help Build Systems that Increase Problem Solving Capacity

Given how much we don’t know, as well how many problems are context specific, one of our primary policy goals should be to experiment with system level structures that increase the power and ability for educators and families to solve problems.

I view New Orleans as one example of how a system can be structured to empower families and educators to solve problems.

Hopefully we’ll build more examples over the coming years.

5 thoughts on “What if everything you believe about education is wrong?

  1. Ken Hirsh

    Great stuff. I’d point out, though, that all of these “popular beliefs” (except the last one) were most prominently held by the traditional education establishment. The writers who believed in school choice (at least the ones that I read) never believed in those “popular beliefs”. On the contrary, they argued against them. To me, one lesson is to be skeptical of special interest groups that have incentives to mislead you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Pingback: ICYMI: Update on Threat to Charter Funding | Educate Now!

  3. spencerbliven

    “In New Orleans, 75% of families were matched with one of their top three choices.”

    Is there any data on the relative strength of preference for families’ top choices? I would expect that many families would have a strong #1 preference (e.g. due to geography), followed by a long tail of less compelling schools. In that case, it might be more honest to say “Only 54% of families were matched with their top choice.”

    Like

    Reply
  4. kk

    All your pretty graphs are only valid inasmuch as what is being used to measure “achievement” is actually a good scale. Is it just performance on high-stakes tests? If so, color me skeptical. Also, what about the reports that many more NOLA students are disconnected from school, period, under the all-charter system? Finally, on the point of teacher turnover: Please think about what it means to the child in the classroom–not just to the tally sheet of scores. In interviewing parents at NYC charter schools, many of whose children experienced high teacher churn, I heard over and over again how disconcerting it was for the child emotionally to have to adjust to new teachers and admin over and over and over again.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s