The TFA Top-10 Listers, Where Are They Now?

A frequent criticism of TFA is that their teachers usually don’t stay beyond the two-year commitment.

Over the years, TFA has had different responses to this.  For a long time the statistic they touted was that 60% of corps members who complete the two years also teach a third year.  Though this statistic doesn’t include those who don’t make it though the two years (which is around 12%) it still is more than most people would figure.  Though they don’t publish these statistics so much anymore, it used to be generally accepted that only about 25% stay for a fourth year.

Nowadays, TFA has found a sneaky way to inflate their retention numbers by using their annual survey.  According to TFA, 80% of people who answered the survey say that they are either still ‘in education’ or somehow ‘serves low-income communities.’  This number is inflated for two reasons:  1) The self-selection of the survey takers, and 2) The way they collect this information by having alumni answer these ambiguous questions:

Without having access to the data of all 50,000 alumni, it is hard to know, anymore, what percent of TFAers become career teachers.

Four years ago, TFA got some national attention as ten of their new 2013 CMs got the opportunity to read a David Letterman Top 10 List ‘The Top 10 Reasons I Decided To Become A Teacher.’  This offended many people who really decided to become teachers since most of the TFAers were likely not going to become teachers for more than two years.

Now I know that ten people is a very small sample, but I thought it would be interesting to follow up on these ten people, four years later.  Even though it is just ten people, we can presume that these ten people were not just randomly chosen by TFA to be on David Letterman.  Surely these were some of the more dynamic corps members.  Also I would think that after going on national TV and saying that you decided to become a teacher, maybe deep in their subconscious, that would make them think twice before quitting after two years.

So using my search engine skills, I did my best to learn the whereabouts of the TFA Letterman 10.  Here’s what I found out.

Of the 10, I was only able to get information about 9 of them.

Two of the 9 people, to the best of my knowledge, did not complete their initial two year commitment.  one, it seems, never made it to the classroom at all while another seems to have taught for part of a year in a KIPP and then part of a year in another school.  Now she has a company that helps students with college essays so I guess she would count in the 80% who is still ‘in education.’

Three of the 9 people,  taught for 2 years.  One now seems to be in graduate school, one is a filmmaker, and one now works for TFA.

Two of the 9 people taught for 3 years, and are now in graduate school.

Two of the 9 people are still teaching after four years.

These numbers are actually pretty representative of the retention numbers for corps members over the years, about 15% quitting, about 15% teaching beyond 3 years, and 70% teaching either 2 or 3 years.  If you were thinking back, four years ago when this was on TV, “I wonder how many of them will actually become teachers?” now you have at least an approximate idea.

 

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My review of ‘letters to a young education reformer’

I was eager to receive Rick Hess’s latest book ‘letters to a young education reformer.’  Hess is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank.  Hess is one of the few defenders of the reform movement whom I respect.  His writings, like his column in Education Week, always have the nuance that most reform writers at places like The 74 and Education Post lack.

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With states opting out of the Common Core, parents opting out of state tests, and prominent reformers even opting out of ed reform, the reform movement is currently experiencing a slump.  This book explains what is behind some of the failures of the reform movement.

Though the book is written in an informal tone with plenty of very interesting anecdotes, it is a very scathing critique of the reform movement, the style of reform that really became big with people like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and, of course, President Obama.

Hess knows what missteps reformers committed along the way to lead to this.  By writing about these mistakes in a series of letters to an unnamed ‘young education reformer,’ Hess hopes that the next generation of ed reformers will avoid those mistakes.

Many of these mistakes are things that Hess warned reformers about as they were making them.  They didn’t heed many of his warnings back then, but maybe now that they seem to be losing momentum, this book could be used not just by young education reformers, but by old education reformers who could maybe use his advice to get the movement back on track.

Hess still believes in the basic pillars of the reform movement, which he summarizes nicely in one of his letters:

“I think that those making decisions should be responsible for making them work; that schools and educators should be accountable for whether kids are learning; that people who are good at their jobs should get more money and recognition than those who aren’t; and that bureaucratic routine is a lousy way to cultivate great schools.”

But he laments that reformers have been too sloppy in their implementation:  they have misused data and research, they have misused the court system, they have ignored concerns from teachers and from parents, and they have chased one education fad after another.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

From the first letter:

“Washington-centric, dogmatic big R Reform has too often neglected this reality, with reformers exhausting themselves to win policy fights and then winding up too bloodied and battered to make those wins matter.  It’s left me to wonder whether all the fuss and furor of recent years has done more harm than good.”

In the fourth letter he writes:

“Calling something an implementation problem is how we reformers let ourselves off the hook.  It’s a fancy way to avoid saying that we didn’t realize how a new policy would affect real people … and that it turned out worse than promised.”

In the eighth letter:

“They’ve given students more reading and math instruction, and less science and history.  All of this means that test results can improve even if students aren’t actually learning more.”

“If ignoring data and metrics was ‘the old stupid,’ the slapdash embrace of half-baked data is ‘the new stupid.’”

“While helpful, these data [Value Added Metrics] are primitive, limited, and often misleading.”

“Using these scores as a proxy for overall quality is especially awkward because there’s remarkably little evidence that they tell us much about other things we care about, like college-going, employment, citizenship, or creativity.”

“Used carelessly, research can impair good judgement, lead reformers to imagine that ‘research based’ reforms guarantee much more than they do, and cause reformers to focus on whether reforms are adopted while shortchanging how they are adopted.  And that’s not good for anyone.”

One letter that resonated with me was called “The Value in Talking with Those Who Disagree.”  Even though it is uncomfortable getting challenged on your ideas, these challenges are vital.  Otherwise if you stay in an echo chamber, there is no chance that the problems with your plans will get uncovered until a lot of time and resources have been expended.  I can speak from experience that I’ve been ignored, criticized, mocked, been called names, and even been the target of a blog-post called ‘The Misanthropy of Gary Rubinstein’ just because I’ve fact-checked reform claims with data that was publicly available.  I was also barred from participating in panel discussions at the TFA 25th anniversary alumni summit despite being way more qualified than the majority of the participants.  So the idea of reformers being more open to discussion, even public debate, is something that I would like to see more of.

Hess makes a distinction in his first letter between what he calls ‘Big R’ Reformers and, what he considers himself to be, a ‘little r’ reformer.  Though he doesn’t name names, a ‘Big R’ Reformer would be someone like a Campbell Brown who knows all the talking points — tenure gives teachers jobs for life, the union protects sexual predators, the system values ‘adult interests’ rather than putting ‘students first’, students are trapped in failing schools by virtue of their zip code, and things like that.  Hess is a ‘little r’ reformer, he believes in the premises of ed reform, but he has a more nuanced view of it and isn’t going to follow blindly every new idea.  Maybe one of his hopes is to get some of these ‘Big R’ Reformers to reduce the size of their ‘R’ a bit, be a little more humble about what they think will work, and be more inclusive of differing opinions from players including ‘adults’ like teachers and parents.

In this 1 minute video, Hess summarizes the idea of ‘Big R’ Reform and what the problem with it is.

 

 

For sure, the percent of ‘Big R’ Reformers in 2009 was quite high.  With the rise of Michelle Rhee, ‘Big R’ reformers were unapologetic about their zeal.  But now, eight years later, I wonder how many of the prominent players would read this book and think that they are now ‘little r’ reformers?  Most of those them, I see, have taken on a kinder and gentler persona already, but are they actually ‘little r’ reformers, or are they just pretending to be?  I’d say that about 90% of reformers present themselves as the ‘little r’ variety.  And the other ones, the ones that seem like throwbacks to 2009, someone like a Campbell Brown or a Steve Perry or even some of those bit players who work for 50CAN and harass me from time to time on Twitter, those people are not going to tone down their personas.  Every movement has to have their share of fanatics.  The fanatics make the more moderate ones seem that much more reasonable.  It’s like ‘Good Reformer / Bad Reformer.’  If I were advising the reform movement, I’d say that they would want to maintain some percent of ‘Big R’ Reformers, maybe 10 to 15 percent, which seems to be what they are at right now anyway.

If you take a random moment from these panel discussions, the first from 2011 and the second from a few days ago, and compare the tones of these Reformers you will see what I mean.

2011 Teach For America 20th Anniversary Panel

2017 AEI Panel about Rick’s Book

 

In one of the letters ‘The False Promise of Court-Driven Reform,’ Hess writes that he does not support the recent trend that started with the Vergara case in California with copycat cases in New York, Minnesota, and New Jersey.  Reformers are trying to argue that things like LIFO violate students’ constitutional rights to an education.  He says that he does not trust judges to make such decisions.  I wasn’t so thrilled when I heard that reform groups were going to fund lawsuits like this, but now that in case after case these lawsuits are getting thrown out, I’m beginning to think that a better reason for reformers to not try to get their way through court cases is that the more that they have to reveal their evidence under testimony, the more it goes into the public record that they have almost no evidence.  There have been some lawsuits recently in New York and in Texas challenging the value-added calculations.  In both cases, judges ruled that the value-added measures, basically the keystone of the reform strategy, was garbage.  Whether or not legislating through the court is the right thing to do, it turns out to be an awful strategy for reformers.

There are two main theses of Hess’s letters that I disagree with:

One is that I think that Hess has overestimated the potential of the Reformers.  I see his central argument as:  it’s time for us to start playing more fair, to stop misusing data and to stop ignoring, and otherwise showing contempt, for Reform critics.  He seems to think that the Reform movement has made some progress, but to get to the next level, to win, they will need to be more open to discussion with critics and be more open about potential problems when things like the Common Core are implemented.

I think the opposite is true.  I think the Reformers have actually overachieved to get the victories they have.  Getting more humble and honest and letting critics participate in the discussion will not get them to the next level at all.  In a fair matchup, Reformers will get clobbered.  I think they are going to lose the education reform war either way, but really the only chance they have is to ramp up the slick messaging and the lying.  With the dishonest route, I think they have about a ten percent chance of ultimately winning.  With the honest route, I think they have a zero percent chance of winning.

I also think Hess is overly optimistic if he thinks the Reformers will take his advice to heart.  Some of them will surely read this book and think, “I get it.  We need to start pretending that we really care what teachers think.”  Though Hess warned against just trying to improve messaging in one of his letters “Beware the Media Glare,” what he should realize is that the same thing that prevented Reformers from listening to criticism, even from him, the first time around, will prevent them from listening to him now too.  The best that most Reformers can do is pretend to care because most Reformers are — how should I put this tactfully?  Most ‘Big R’ Reformers I’ve encountered are also ‘Big J’ Jerks.  And they can try all they want to act like they aren’t, but they won’t be able to do it convincingly.  I really think that this is the Achilles’ Heel of the Reformers.  Maybe the young education reformers Hess is recruiting will be better than the old reformers in that way.  It would help their cause a lot.

Peter Cunningham, the head of Education Post, wrote a reflection about this book and about the panel discussion I posted above.  As evidence that he was not moved to drop some of the hostile rhetoric that so characterizes ‘Big R’ Reformers, his final line was “when the politics gets confusing, and it always does, remember that our job is not to please adults but to fight for kids.”

Michael Petrilli from the Fordham Institute wrote that he agreed with 98% of this book, but had problems with the other 2%.  He made this odd suggestion at the end of his reflection “If you work in an education advocacy organization and have a legislative agenda to push, set this book aside until the session is over. Pick it up again this summer, give it a “close read,” and think hard about what a smarter, more teacher-friendly, more humble legislative agenda would look like next year. In the meantime, go team win!”

Maybe you can’t teach an old reformer new tricks.

Even with these kind of strange defensive reflections, the reception of the book, despite its clear message of “You guys messed up and I tried to warn you about it, but you wouldn’t listen.” has, ironically, been generally well received by the reform community.  My sense is that they want to act like they are in on it, have been aware of these issues all along, even though Hess’s same arguments when made by critics over the years have been ignored, dismissed, and even ridiculed by these same people.  I also think that Reformers like to have a Hess on their side since he is a thoughtful guy who thinks things through and Reformers like to imply that they all do that but just that Hess is better at communicating it.

Hess’ book is well worth the read, regardless of which side of the education wars you consider yourself, whether you are a Big R Reformer, a little r reformer, an anti-Big R Reformer, an anti-little r reformer, or somewhere else on the spectrum.  Whatever side you are on, it probably won’t convert you either way, but it will make you think, which I think is the goal.

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4th Best High School In New York Is A KIPP School That Doesn’t Exist

Yesterday I wrote about the U.S. News and World Report 2017 high school rankings.  I found some suspicious numbers when I noticed that the 29th best high school, and the 4th best in New York, was a KIPP school called KIPP Academy Charter School.  Their rating was based on the fact that out of the 58 12th graders at that school, 58 took an AP test and 57 of those 58 passed an AP test for a ‘College Ready Index’ of 98 out of 100.

I noticed that the other three KIPP High Schools in New York had ‘College Ready Indexes’ of 0 and I found that very odd, maybe some kind of manipulation by KIPP to put all their best students into one of their high schools so they could get one school a good rating by the U.S. News metric.

Someone left a comment on that post which resulted in some deeper digging on my part.  Based on what I’ve found, and it is pretty confusing actually, I believe I’ve uncovered a pretty big scandal.

The reader informed me that there are not four KIPP high schools in New York City, but just one, KIPP NYC College Prep High School.  This was puzzling to me since the school that was ranked 29th in the country and 4th in New York was not called KIPP NYC College Prep High School, but called KIPP Academy Charter School.

When I went to look at the data at the public data site for school report cards, there was no report card for a KIPP NYC College Prep High School, however.  But there were report cards for the four MIDDLE schools, KIPP Academy, KIPP AMP, KIPP Infinity, and KIPP STAR.  On these report cards, it shows that 5-8 middle schools also have students in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, in small numbers.

One of those four middle schools is the KIPP Academy with its 58 12th graders, and this is the ‘school’ that was rated so highly on the U.S. News ranking.

But the reality is that there is just one high school and it does not have just 58 students, but around 150 students, basically the four 12th grade classes from the four middle schools are actually not attending that middle school but all attending the KIPP high school.

Why the students are still ‘officially’ in their middle schools is a mystery to me and why there is not report card for the KIPP high school is also pretty baffling.

The non-existent KIPP Academy Charter High School that was ranked 29th in the country and 4th in New York claimed to have 58 students with a 100% AP participation rate and a 98% passing rate.  We now know that these 58 students are only a subset, around a fourth, of an existing school KIPP NYC College Prep.  Though there is no state report card for KIPP NYC College Prep, the school has one on their website for the 2014-2015 school year on which the U.S. News ratings were based.

Conveniently, at the bottom of that report card are the true numbers for their AP participation and AP passing rate.

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So as opposed to the fictional 29th best high school in the country KIPP Academy Charter school with it’s 98 ‘College Ready Index’ based on their AP participation and passing, the one and only, and real, KIPP NYC High School has a ‘College Ready Index’ of around 40.

Now someone could say that maybe KIPP had nothing to do with this, that the New York City Department of Education supplies the data to The College Board and since that data makes it seem like the four middle schools also house high schools, the AP would treat them as four different high schools rather than one school, so there may not be any attempt to mislead by KIPP.

But, there remains one giant mystery then.  If this wasn’t an attempt by KIPP to somehow get all their passing AP students into one fictitious school, how is it possible that every AP taker and passer somehow came from the KIPP Academy school and none of them from the other three KIPP middle schools?  If the KIPP Academy 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP Academy for 8th grade and the KIPP AMP 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP AMP for 8th grade and the KIPP Infinity 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP Infinity for 8th grade and the KIPP STAR 12th graders just happened to be the ones that went to KIPP STAR for 8th grade, and now they are all mixed together into one high school, though still ‘officially’ part of small high schools within their old middle schools, then what are the chances that the 58 students who took the AP and, of them, the 57 who passed an AP, just randomly happened to be the same ones that went to that one middle school and that no students from the other middle schools took or passed an AP?  It’s not possible.

No, it is more likely that KIPP, knowing that they have the ability to separate their high school students into four groups, and knowing how important AP participation and passing rates are for the U.S. News rankings which they will surely use in their fund raising, deliberately sorted their AP takers and passers into the one fictional KIPP Academy school.  I can’t prove this, and even if I could I’m not sure it is illegal to do this, but if it’s true it is certainly dishonest.  At a minimum, someone should contact U.S. News and have them correct this error.

This has actually been going on for at least two years.  Last year the imaginary KIPP Academy high school was rated 2nd best in New York.  And KIPP staffers, not just the higher ups, but all the teachers at the KIPP high school, were aware of this mistake and didn’t do anything to correct it last year or to stop it from happening again this year.  No, they just hoped that nobody would ever look into it.

 

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Did KIPP game the U.S. News And World Report rankings?

Each year, U.S. News And World Report generates a report of the ‘best’ high schools in the country.  This year, the charter world has been celebrating because out of the top 100 schools, by the U.S. News rating system, 34 of them are charter schools.

There are a lot of ways to measure the quality of a high school.  The way that U.S. News does it is as follows:  75% of the score is the percent of 12th graders who get at least a 3 on at least one AP test.  25% of the score is the percent of 12th graders who took at least one AP test.  They call this weighted average the ‘College Ready Index.’  By including the participation rate, a school can’t inflate their scores by only allowing students to take the AP who are most likely to pass.

The school at which I teach, Stuyvesant High School, ranked 71th in the country by this rating, and 13th in New York state.  We had 805 seniors for that year and though nearly all the students who took APs passed them, most getting 4s and 5s on them, we have a grade cutoff for getting into the AP tests so our percent of seniors passing at least one AP was only 88% which is still a lot of students approximately 708 of them.  I’m not trying to make excuses, but just for reference, in another rating system last year, Stuyvesant was rated 4th in the country and 1st in the state.  Depending on what metrics are used, a school can get a completely different rating which means that some of the ratings (if not all) are invalid.

In looking at the list of New York high schools, a school that caught my eye was the KIPP Academy Charter school which was rated 29th in the country and 4th in New York state.  So I did a ‘deep dive’ into their numbers to see if I could find anything interesting in them.

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So KIPP Academy Charter school, it said, had only 58 seniors in 2014-2015 when this data was collected.  All 58 took at least one AP so that is 100% of them while 57 out of 58 got a 3 on at least one test, which was 98.3% of them which led to the ‘College Ready Index’ of 98.7, the 29th best score in the country and the 4th best in New York.

My first thought is that 58 students is not very much.  KIPP has something like 15 schools in New York.  Some are middle schools, some are elementary.  With all these schools feeding into their four high schools, I’d expect the graduating class at them to be more than 58.

The size of the senior classes for the four KIPP high schools in New York in 2014-2015 are as follows:

KIPP Academy: 58

KIPP Infinity: 49

KIPP AMP: 21

KIPP STAR: 35

So the other schools had even smaller senior classes, most notably the 21 at KIPP AMP.  In total, the KIPP network had 163 seniors in 2014-2015.  Looking at their enrollment from the New York State public data, I found that in the 2007-2008 school year these four schools had many more 5th graders than they had 12th graders seven years later

KIPP Academy: 74

KIPP Infinity: 78

KIPP AMP: 67

KIPP STAR: 72

So they had 291 5th graders back then but just 163 12th graders who completed KIPP schools for a rate of just 56%.

Checking the U.S. News and World Report data for the other three schools, I found the most intriguing piece of data yet.  What I learned is that the other three schools did not get a ranking because they don’t have a ‘College Ready Index’ since the 12th graders in those other three schools, evidently, didn’t take any AP tests.

So what we have is four KIPP high schools where one of them has nearly 100% of their seniors taking and passing an AP test and the other three where none of their seniors even take an AP.

So out of 291 5th graders in KIPP schools in 2007-2008, only the 57 students at KIPP Academy passed one AP test by senior year.  57 out of 291 is about 20%.  And 58 test takers out of 291 is also about 20% so their true ‘College Ready Index’ for the entire KIPP district is about 20, a far cry from the 98.7 that KIPP Academy got in the recent U.S. News and World Report ratings.

Is KIPP using KIPP Infinity, KIPP AMP, and KIPP STAR schools as dumping grounds for the students who are least likely to pass an AP and stacking the deck on the KIPP Academy school so it will have all the students most likely to pass an AP?  I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them.

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Update On Colorado District That Gates Praised in 2013

In October of 2012, Bill and Melinda Gates visited a school in the Eagle County, Colorado, school district called Eagle Valley High School.  This school implemented many Gates funded experiments, including merit pay, and Gates praised the school in his 2013 annual letter.   I analyzed their test scores a few years ago and wrote about them.

Colorado is a state that rates schools based on ‘growth’ measures.  These are the metrics that supposedly enable us to compare schools where students have different proficiency rates by focusing instead (as Al Franken famously grilled DeVos about) on ‘growth.’  And while I agree that a school that is getting actual growth in student learning is a good thing, I don’t think that the measures right now, whether they are for teachers or for schools, are very accurate.  Still, since that never stops reformers like Bill Gates from arguing that schools or teachers that don’t perform well on these measures need to be closed or fired, I do like to point out when some of the schools they praise do poorly on these metrics.

I checked the most recent ‘growth’ numbers from Colorado.  A ‘growth’ score of 50% means that a school is getting average ‘growth’ compared to the other schools in Colorado.  Something in the 40s is not so good while something in the 30s is really bad.  So it is ironic that the school that Gates visited and wrote about, Eagle Valley High School has the lowest ‘growth’ score in their district with a 36.5% in ELA and a 34% in Math.  The whole district has below average ‘growth’ with the exception of the middle schools which have average ‘growth.’

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I know that Gates hasn’t addressed education in his most recent annual letter.  Reformers love to tout their invented metrics when they support the policies they just know must work, but I would really love to see, one day, a reformer look at numbers like we see here in Eagle County and say either that the district is underperforming or that the metrics are flawed.

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College Or Die

Chalkbeat Tennessee recently reported that the new director of charter schools in Memphis is the former principal of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated charter school in Indiana.  I went to the school’s website and found that the school’s motto, which they have painted in large letters on the walls of one of their hallways is, “College Or Die.”

Students are reminded of this motto each time they go to the ‘Student Life’ section of the website, as it is the first item on it.

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They have actually produced a video explaining this.  In the description for the video they say:

Located in one of Indianapolis’s roughest neighborhoods, the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School is promising students not only that they’ll graduate from high school, but that they’ll be accepted into prestigious colleges and universities. The amazing thing is, they’re succeeding with a combination of tough love and academic inspiration.

 

Over the years I’ve heard so many variations, mostly with charter schools implying that 100% of their cohort were admitted to college when, in fact, it was just 100% of the senior class, ignoring the large percent of students who had started as ninth graders three years earlier.  Arne Duncan used Urban Prep’s 100% college rate in a speech at TFA’s 20 year alumni summit.  Michael Johnston used it in claiming that the school he was principal of had a 100% college rate.  YES prep got a million dollars from Oprah based on the 100% college rate.  Now Rahm Emanuel is saying that in Chicago, students should not be permitted to graduate without an acceptance to college or some other kind of post high school education.

Indiana has a pretty good public data site, so I went to check the numbers for this school.  I was not so surprised to see that this school had 93 9th graders in 2013-2014.  Three years later, their graduating class was 40 12th graders.

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This is an attrition rate of 57%.  What happened to these other 53 students?  Well, they likely did not die, but they certainly suffered what I consider to be emotional abuse having been told in giant letters that their lives are worthless.

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Who Needs Reformers When You Have David Kirp?

Miracle school debunking has been my most important contribution to the ed reform debate.  The first miracle school I ever debunked was Urban Prep in Chicago after Arne Duncan touted it at the 2011 Teach For America 20 year alumni summit.  I’ve probably debunked over 100 such schools and districts over the past 6 years.

A miracle school is one that has managed, with no additional resources but just harder working teachers with higher expectations, to beat the odds and get students in a high poverty school to get exceptional standardized test scores, thus proving that lazy teachers who have jobs for life and the unions who represent them, are the cause of the achievement gap.  Debunking a miracle school claim is important since the existence of a miracle school will be used as Exhibit A by reformers as evidence that the other 99.99% of schools must be failing.

Most alleged miracle schools are charter schools.  Since charter schools must have PR to attract students and wealthy donors, it would make sense that they would find ways to make it look like they have some secret to raising test scores.  Usually it turns out that the test scores are not very good, after all, and when the test scores are good it is because of massive attrition of the weaker students.

About four years ago I wrote my most widely criticized blog post ever called ‘The Status Quo Miracle District.’  The post was an analysis I did of a miracle district touted in the New York Times by David Kirp.  He had written about a traditional miracle district in New Jersey called, most ironically, Union City.  Even though many of my public school supporting friends had been enthusiastic about this article because it showed that a traditional district can be a miracle district too without resorting to reforms like charters and TFA, I did my fact-checking to find that the test scores at that district were not impressive.  My post was not well received.  People called me a traitor and an ally of the reformers.

I had to write another post defending my first post, explaining that a district can have low test scores and even low ‘growth’ scores by some cryptic measure and still be a great district making differences in children’s lives.  Likewise there can be a district with good test scores that is a test-prep factory and making, I think, a negative difference in children’s lives.

In the New York Times, the other day, April Fools Day, actually, there was another article by David Kirp called “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?” touting another traditional miracle district, this one in Oklahoma, and again, ironically, called Union.  Here are some excerpts:

Betsy DeVos, book your plane ticket now.

Ms. DeVos, the new secretary of education, dismisses public schools as too slow-moving and difficult to reform. She’s calling for the expansion of supposedly nimbler charters and vouchers that enable parents to send their children to private or parochial schools. But Union shows what can be achieved when a public school system takes the time to invest in a culture of high expectations, recruit top-flight professionals and develop ties between schools and the community.

Two fifth graders guided me around one of these community schools, Christa McAuliffe Elementary, a sprawling brick building surrounded by acres of athletic fields. It was more than an hour after the school day ended, but the building buzzed, with choir practice, art classes, a soccer club, a student newspaper (the editors interviewed me) and a garden where students were growing corn and radishes. Tony, one of my young guides, performed in a folk dance troupe. The walls were festooned with family photos under a banner that said, “We Are All Family.”

A fourth grader at Rosa Parks Elementary who had trouble reading and writing, for example, felt like a failure and sometimes vented his frustration with his fists. But he’s thriving in the STEM class. When the class designed vehicles to safely transport an egg, he went further than anybody else by giving his car doors that opened upward, turning it into a little Lamborghini. Such small victories have changed the way he behaves in class, his teacher said — he works harder and acts out much less.

Now these two schools sound like they are great schools doing innovative things and I applaud that.  But it didn’t take me more than five minutes to type ‘Oklahoma school report cards’ and get to this public data site.  Another few clicks and I got the A to F report cards for these two schools.  McAuliffe got a D- with an F in student achievement, a D in growth, and an F in growth for growth for students in the bottom quartile.  Parks got an F with Fs in all three categories.

 

Let me say again, I do not think that these grades reflect the quality of these schools.  For me these low ratings merely show how inaccurate these A to F rating scales are that reformers are so enamored with.  And no need to have Betsy DeVos come and see these schools.  She thinks that schools in this country can’t get any worse so she would be very eager to declare these schools failures based on their A to F ratings.

When I do this kind of a debunking for a charter school, I don’t feel bad at all since the charter school was usually the source of the miracle claims.  In this case I seriously doubt that the leadership at these two schools somehow brought this scrutiny on themselves with boasting about their test scores.  But for two public schools like these that did not ask to be touted in the New York Times, I do feel a little bad for calling attention to their flawed ratings.

What I would have liked to have in this article is Kirp writing about all the great things going on at these schools and how anyone visiting these schools would be impressed by them, and then express outrage that the schools have a D- and an F rating thus demonstrating how inaccurate the A to F rating calculations are and how they are likely to be just as inaccurate in all the states throughout the country.  Now that would be a powerful article.

Get mad at me all you want, but I think that when public education advocates start taking plays from the reformer playbook we cheapen ourselves.

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