We talk a lot about test scores in education reform. But the goal of the work is not to increase test scores. The goal is to prepare kids to lead good lives.
Good work is part of the good life.
Getting a skilled credential, two year, or four year degree is a decent (though imperfect) proxy for whether a student will end up with good work.
The results coming out of the best charter organizations, and cities as a whole, are sobering.
Right now, the better charter networks achieve a 30%-50% postsecondary success rate with students living in poverty. There are some outliers who are achieving +70% success rates. But this has not been replicated at any scale.
In New Orleans, the very early results show an estimated citywide jump from 10% to 15% postsecondary success rate. Most of these students did not experience much of the reforms, so my guess is that this rate will drift up, perhaps to ~20-30% in the coming years.
The national postsecondary success rate for students living in poverty is 10-15%.
The best charter schools, and New Orleans as a whole, will likely double this rate. Perhaps they will triple it.
Doubling or tripling the postsecondary success rate for low income students is no small feat. This could help change the lives of millions of students.
But this is far below the results I hoped for when I got into this work. I imagine many of my peers feel the same. And I am sure families want more for their children.
Our current results fall far below what I hoped we would accomplish.
My expectations were naive. I did not have a full understanding of how our country’s history of racism – coupled with current dysfunctions in criminal justice, housing, and healthcare – put up so many barriers to success.
I, like many others, also over emphasized a four year degree as the primary pathway for success.
But the one thing I think we did get right is the strategy: I’ve grown deeper in my belief that non-profit schools are the best chance we have to making things better. They are already doing better than the existing system, even if the results aren’t as high as we’d hoped for.
And so much of the innovation happening in job preparation is coming out of the non-profit sector. The postsecondary work happening in New Orleans has the chance to be as groundbreaking as the K12 work.
The best non-profit organizations learn quickly. When they see that their students are not succeeding, they change their approach. And because they are not subject to the turnover of elected boards, they can keep making improvements year after year.
Our little corner of the world has been doubly stupid and one part wise.
Stupid because we underestimated how stacked the world is against kids growing up in poverty; stupid because we thought increases in test scores would quickly translate into postsecondary success… wise because we understood how much good can happen when amazing educators are allowed to start their own non-profit schools.
My hope is that we don’t run away from the sobering data; that we don’t try to spin doubling the low income postsecondary rate as mission accomplished.
We should admit that we failed to live up to our expectations; that we’re not good enough yet; and that we need to get smarter as quickly as possible so kids lead secure, meaningful lives.