Schools vs. Standards

An important research study just came out on Newark charter schools.

And over at Education Next, there are three commentaries assessing the impact of the common core standards.

Taken together, these pieces offer a useful jumping off point for reflecting on what’s working in education reform.

Newark Charter Schools

Marcus Winters used Newark’s unified enrollment system to try and figure out the effect of enrolling in the charter sector. This is an innovative methodological approach that was pioneered at MIT (through Arnold Ventures funding).

Winters found large effects: a +.25 standard deviations increase in a student’s score in math and ELA. The effects were even larger for two prominent non-profit charter operators, KIPP and Uncommon.

To put this effect into context, Winters notes the results are larger than “80% of other educational interventions that have been recently studied using an experimental design.”

Of course, test scores aren’t everything. It’s also important to note that these non-profit schools can only exist if parents choose to enroll their children in them.

Uncommon and KIPP are two of the most in demand school operators in the city.

These schools are passing both the parent test and the academic results test. Hopefully, over time, they will also pass the life outcomes test by helping their students succeed in building a meaningful and financially secure life.

State Standards

Common core state standards are now in their 10th year. All three commentators in Education Next agree that research has found no positive achievement effects at scale.

Mike Petrilli, however, argues that states should stay the course, and that we should see positive results over the coming five years.

On one hand, I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about Common Core. Ultimately, I think school operator quality is much more important than standards and assessments.

However, many educators I’m close with, including many of the nation’s best charter leaders, have said that the new standards are more rigorous and have pushed them to be better.

Certain states and cities, such as Tennessee, Louisiana, and Washington D.C., have used higher standards as key part of their successful reform efforts.

To the extent we’re going to have state standards and assessment, better they be good rather than mediocre. Highly effective leaders can use them as part of their improvement strategy.

But I think the sobering results of the first ten years of Common Core should put their cost / benefit in perspective, especially since so few states have been able to use the new standards to jumpstart improvement efforts.

At the very least, no one should fool themselves into thinking that better standards and assessments are going to be a major cure for our nation’s most struggling schools.

Progress One School as a Time 

Zuckerberg, Oprah, Booker…. the Newark story has had no shortage of drama.

But through it all the steady growth of great non-profit schools has radically increased educational opportunity for families in Newark, particularly for African-American and Hispanic students.

Newark is also an all boats rising story: the traditional school system has gotten better as well.

Yes, it would be wonderful if we could pass laws that made all public schools great in a short period of time. But we can’t. You can’t legislate institutional effectiveness.

Newark shows the best path forward for most cities: grow great schools.

Better to take a decade to get something right rather than layer on sweeping reform after sweeping reform after sweeping reform.

1 thought on “Schools vs. Standards

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.