One problem in the current ed reform debate is that there is not enough genuine debating. Really, there’s no communication at all between the two sides who I see as the ‘corporate reformers’ (Duncan, Klein, Rhee, and even Kopp) and the ‘realistic reformers’ (Ravitch, Cody, Valerie Strauss, and others including me). Without direct communication all you have is New York Times OpEds and press conferences where each side says what they want, but are never challenged, directly, to defend what they say.
Writing this blog for the past couple of years has often felt like playing tennis against a wall. I feel like I’m making good points and possibly even bringing people around a bit on their thinking, but without feedback it is hard to know.
Most of the comments I’ve gotten over the years have been supportive of my point of view. Occasionally I’ll get a critic who I’ll engage with. They’ve always proved no match for me (who can forget Seth who came upon the scene with such gusto, only to disappear a few days later after leaving about 40 comments?).
So it’s hard to really know how good you are when you play against the wall and demolish the few challengers who have ever tried to match wits with me.
Rather than waiting for the competition to come to me, I decided to be proactive and challenge some of the most vocal advocates of the Duncan corporate reform agenda. Eventually I found the perfect opponent: Whitney Tilson.
Whitney Tilson is a businessman who helped both TFA and KIPP get off the ground in their inceptions with his ability to raise funds. It’s possible that neither TFA nor KIPP would even exist today without his support. Tilson also formed a group called Democrats For Education Reform, which has promoted the corporate ideas of bringing ‘choice’ and ‘accountability’ to our school systems.
I read some of Tilson’s writings, mainly while trying to refute the words of my hero, Diane Ravitch. Though I found him to be completely misinformed about what goes on in actual schools, I did appreciate the energy he put into his blog. I also respected that he was willing to seek out statistics to defend his points of view. He reminded me a bit of, well, me — if I was also misinformed about the basic axioms of how schools and school systems run.
From a distance, we have a lot in common. Most blogs have clever names that leave the author anonymous. Mine is called ‘Gary Rubinstein’s TFA Blog’ and his is called ‘Whitney Tilson’s Ed Reform Blog.’ We are approximately the same age. We are both relentless in defending our position and attacking those who assault it.
I reached out to Tilson and challenged him to a blogger throwdown. It began as a series of emails where we tried get a sense of each other’s core beliefs. As certain topics began to come up over and over, we started to spar on some of the key debates in ed reform.
Like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson needed each other to bring out their best, I feel like these discussions are very interesting. Our differences enable us to collaborate on something that neither of us could have created independently.
What follows is four excerpts from our correspondence.
Discussion #1. When is it appropriate to close down a school?
Your comments about closing schools led to this thought: let’s say a charter school comes up for renewal after five years and it REALLY sucks — dropout rates are very high, test scores are the pits, attrition is high, staff turnover and morale is crap, etc. Would you renew its charter, even conditionally? I sure wouldn’t and assume you wouldn’t either.
So why wouldn’t you feel the EXACT same way about a regular public school that had REALLY sucked for 50 years???
The charter does not get the same break that I’d give to the public school for two reasons: 1) The charter has, in general, easier to educate kids so if scores even stay the same, they have done a worse job. 2) The charter school was exempt from some of the rules that the public school was not.
If the charter has the same population of kids and they have to play by the rules, then I wouldn’t expect their results to be much better so I can also see NOT closing that charter after 5 years since they are failing for the same reasons that the public school was. It would be a good argument for why it wasn’t a wise decision to close the school in first place. But now that the damage was already done, the cost and turmoil of shutting down another school so soon and then replacing it with another school that will probably fail isn’t worthwhile. It’s like when a lamp isn’t working so you replace the bulb and the lamp still doesn’t work. It means that the lamp is the problem. This isn’t to say that it is impossible to raise the standardized test results for those kids. It just means that with limited resources it is nearly impossible.
The new ruling about school closings came with a demand by King that the schools that replace those 22 closing schools have to serve the same populations. To me, this is a small victory which will yield interesting results. I’d like to see a charter handle a population that is truly randomly selected (not by lottery, but the way public schools get them.)
An experiment which I’d love to see, and which would resolve the entire question, would be if a KIPP took over an existing failing school. Same kids, same building — literally, not figuratively the way Duncan does with Urban Prep. Prove that better staffs get significantly better results under the same constraints to prove that swapping staff was a good decision. Why has this experiment never been done? A great idea for a TV show like Wife Swap, but called School Swap. You back it, I’ll be the producer!
What do you mean by “limited resources”? Newark spends $20-25K/kid, depending on how you count it, and NYC is $16k or so. What’s your number where you’d be satisfied that it’s not the money?
As for your experiment, you need to visit Locke HS in LA — Green Dot has worked a miracle there. Also, read Stray Dogs… By Alexander Russo.
By the way, if Ravitch were to look at the school and apply the same methodology she applied to Urban Prep (which she wouldn’t do, because Green Dot is unionized — albeit with a different “thin” contract — which is all she cares about; notice that she has NEVER ONCE said anything bad about a unionized school, no matter how horrific), she would point to the test scores, which are still very low, ignoring the massive improvements in both test scores and other metrics like graduation rates.
You seem to be really focused on how charters cream the best students. I assume then that you oppose the existence of all magnet and other types of selective public schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science? Don’t you find it ironic that while, yes, charters benefit somewhat from the self-selecting nature of who enters a lottery, it is only the regular public school system that explicitly sets up selective schools, throwing a lifeline to a few percent of the students and consigning the rest to mediocre (or often far worse) schools?
You are right, by the way, that’s it’s often not fair to compare a charter school with a nearby public school, even one that shares the same building. But so what? What I’m interested in is what a school does with the students it gets. Let’s say the regular school gets students coming into 5th grade two years below grade level and a year later they’re 2 1/2 years below, meaning the avg student only progressed 1/2 a year in one year. And let’s say the charter school, due to the dynamics of the lottery, got kids “only” one year below grade level, but after one year they were at grade level, meaning the charter students had made two years of progress in 1 year. I would celebrate the charter school and criticize the regular school. Would you? I assume not based on what you’ve written — you’d instead focus on how the schools aren’t comparable, how could the regular public school be expected to do anything with “those” kids, etc. Sorry, I’m not buying that.
The experiment I’d love to run — and I’m sure you would to — is the day before school started, switch the students who were entering KIPP or Harlem Success with the regular schools that share the same building (and stipulating to counseling out, etc.). I’d bet my last dollar that the VAST differences in outcomes would be 80-90% intact. Not 100%, but close to it…
In response to your comment:
if Ravitch were to look at the school and apply the same methodology she applied to Urban Prep (which she wouldn’t do, because Green Dot is unionized — albeit with a different “thin” contract — which is all she cares about; notice that she has NEVER ONCE said anything bad about a unionized school, no matter how horrific)
I know for a fact that she does not discriminate in that way. When Newsweek came out with their list of the 10 miracle schools, I analyzed each of them on my miracleschools.wikispaces.com site and she tweeted the results, even though some of the 10 schools were unionized. So your ‘NEVER ONCE’ is definitely inaccurate.
The point in ‘slamming’ schools is not to show they are bad, but to show they are not so much better than the failing schools that are being shut down for not performing miracles.
Discussion #2: How are kids and schools like lamps and bulbs?
I wrote to Tilson in discussion #1 that replacing the staff of a school is a lot like changing the lightbulb in a lamp that is broken: It’s not going to make a big difference.
Before I put the exchange, let me comment here to my blog readers that as a ‘highly effective’ teacher, myself, it might seem a bit strange implying that better teachers don’t make a big difference. I do think that better teachers make more of an impact than ineffective teachers. I just think that it doesn’t often translate into standardized test scores. As a teacher who truly values learning, for instance, I won’t do intensive test prep, even though I can probably do it better than most. It’s not worth wasting their time and the score increases wouldn’t, I think, be that dramatic anyway.
I’ve been thinking about your lamp analogy. If I flip the switch on a lamp and it doesn’t turn on, I assume that it’s a bad bulb (I.e., ineffective adults in a school) (and will be correct 99% of the time). Put a different, better bulb in and, voila, there’s light! I’m loving this analogy!
But you are claiming that NO bulb will ever work — not even a tiny flicker — because the lamp is broken — in other words, the kids and their parents are so incorrigible and/or beaten down by life that NO school and NO teachers can move the needle for them (at least within any realistic spending levels). Do you seriously believe this???
The real problem with your lamp analogy is that you assume that the light is either on or off — nothing in between. Yet in your very next email, you said that even at schools with the worst test scores, there’s learning going on.
So, if we’re going to use a lamp analogy, let’s talk about a lamp with issues, one in which a bad bulb will flicker very faintly and erratically, a normal bulb will produce a weak somewhat flickering light, but then there are rare and special new bulbs that manage to produce a bright, steady and long-lasting light, even when placed in the lamp with issues. The problem is that these special bulbs, while not costing any more than normal or even bad bulbs, are REALLY hard to manufacture, so they are in terribly short supply.
So, what should our strategy be? Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? 1) Do everything humanly possible to ramp up production of the special bulbs. Shower money on the people who’ve developed the new bulb technology, remove regulatory barriers, etc. And 2) Replace the bad bulbs with the special bulbs as fast as the latter can be produced (and, in the meantime, replace the bad bulbs with at least the normal bulbs).
Ah, but what about the manufacturers of the bad bulbs, dominate the market currently? They know that they produce a high number of defective bulbs, but rather than fix the problem, which would involve painful changes for their employees, they instead tell themselves that it’s not really their fault – the bulbs are fine, it’s just that that are so many defective lamps. To fight change, they use their enormous financial and human resources to cleverly win vast, unrivaled political power, aiming particularly at utterly destroying the small, entrepreneurial folks making the special bulbs — sadly, with a great deal of success. Isn’t it obvious that our policy should be to stop this outrageous and self-serving behavior?
But, you’ll reply, it’s hard to tell what type of bulb it is until it’s placed into the lamp — and given that the lamp has issues, sometimes the new bulb is no better than the bad one it replaced. True enough, so again here the strategy is obvious: only replace the very worst bulbs, only do so when you have a reasonable degree of confidence that a better bulb exists, and lastly, have reasonable expectations. There will be some failures, and even the improved bulbs still might be weak and flicker a bit (but a lot less than before).
Thanks for getting me thinking about this…
Yes, no lamp is so broken that it is impossible to work. Every lamp / bulb combination does produce some degree of light.
So there is a lamp bulb combination that is producing hardly any light. There are two options: fix the lamp or change the bulb. ‘Fixing’ the lamp (tackling all the effects of poverty) is extremely costly, much more than we can afford. Better bulbs produce more light with this lamp, but the potential seems to be limited by some constant in physics that we are running up against. It is, at least, theoretically possible that there could be a bulb that will produce a lot of light without fixing the lamp, but the cost of producing that bulb is also more than we can afford, perhaps even more costly than fixing the lamp itself!
How can it possibly cost more to make a bulb (improve the adults) than to fix the lamp (cure the poverty of the kids)? Well (to exit the analogy for now), I asked one of my good friends who is a principal at a public middle school in the South Bronx. I asked if he had an infinite budget, what would it take to get his students to all pass the standardized tests. He said he’d need mental health services for half the parents. He’d need translators and English teachers for parents who don’t speak English. He might need to quadruple his teaching staff. You asked in an earlier e-mail what do I mean by limited resources. Now, I’m not a businessman at all, so this is just hypothetical, but people are always saying ‘we doubled the amount we spent on education and it didn’t make any difference so more money is not the answer. It’s like (here’s a new analogy) if there’s a fire and you tried to put one cup of water on it and it didn’t extinguish it,
so you doubled it to two cups, when you really needed hundreds of gallons. So I’m suggesting that the better lightbulb while perhaps not as expensive as fixing the lamp, could still break the bank. It may be that we can’t afford to do either.
So this brings us to the question of what can we afford to do. Some districts try to get a little gain by changing lightbulbs. This isn’t shutting down a school, as you make your analogy, but when you fire the principal and the staff and ‘reconstitute’ the school. Miami Central, one of Ravitch’s miracle schools did this. It didn’t work. Though it got them mentioned by Obama and Jeb Bush, that school was recently slated for closing and replacement with charters for lack of improvement. The ed commissioner saved the school for another year. It is an ironic epilogue to that story. Yes, better staffs will get some improvement. But the question is whether it is worth the upheaval to get it, if the gains aren’t that much larger.
This brings us back to KIPP. KIPP is a bulb that works well with a particular lamp. That lamp has some factors in common with those lamps that work so poorly with any known bulb. Both schools have poor minority kids. So it seems like if we can’t find any bulbs that work with the real problem schools, perhaps we can take a model that is producing light with a ‘similar’ lamp and try to pump money and attention onto that. But I don’t think the lamps are as similar as wealthy funders want to believe. Yes they have poor minority children, but there are many different types of poor minority children. There are kids with mild to severe learning disabilities. There are kids with behavioral disabilities including ADD and ADDHD.
One last factor is that bulbs can be ‘improved’ through support and training. So I think that just as many gains — with a lot less disruption to the system could be made if teachers are supported better with things like really usable lesson plans and activities.
I don’t think that any charter system is willing to put their reputation on the line and attempt to take over a failing school by keeping all the same kids. But it won’t be until that happens (Did KIPP try to do that with a school in Denver, but just gave up? I heard something like that, but don’t know if it is true) I don’t agree that we should invest heavily in the KIPP lightbulb that works on a lamp that may look the same to most outsiders.
Discussion #3: Is Locke a miracle school?
Tilson wrote to me in discussion #1, above, that there was one genuine ‘miracle school’ that he knew of which took the ‘same kids in the same building.’ It is called Locke High School in Los Angeles. They turned over the staff and kept the kids and, since I thought I made it clear what a ‘miracle school’ was — that it had to have the 90-90-90 stats that Duncan claims are so frequent, I was interested to learn more about this miracle turnaround. It was my belief that a school can only get incremental gains from such a re-staffing. Tilson put me in touch with Marco Petruzzi, the head of the school.
I wrote: Re. the Green Dot Miracle. I haven’t fully researched it myself, but others have. http://www.markgarrison.net/archives/977
Marco Petruzzi’s reply: The first thing I did was read the link below from the guy who “researched” Green Dot and I had to laugh. The problem with blogger/researchers is that they can claim whatever they want and if they write decently and with authority people think that they are credible. Now, you certainly don’t have to believe me either, but we do have UCLA doing an independent study on Locke and the results are very encouraging.
The most incorrect claim in the blogger’s article and the guy he quotes are that we dumped all the students, and that we spent outrageous sums of money. We kept all the students. We obviously no longer had the old 12th graders, who graduated, and we got a new batch of 9th graders, but we basically had the similar trends in enrollment than years before in terms of incoming population from the attendance area. This was not a choice school, but their school of default, and everyone basically showed up. In terms of spend, please note that Locke is 3,000 students. We did get $15 million for the first 4 years and then we will break even with public funds. Note that that adds up to $1,250 per year per student for the first 4 years. Note that as a charter we get about $7,800/student, which happens to be about $1,500 less per student that LAUSD got before. So we really are just getting close, but below, what the District previously got and then we go back to having a $1,500 gap. And note that we are below the $11,000 average for the US and below the $16-18,000 that NY gets. Our critics apparently can’t do 5th grade math. In any case, after 3 years at Locke here’s where we are (and I can tell you we are not a 90-90-90 school yet):
– Our biggest impact has been on student retention. If you look at the data prior to Green Dot taking over, you would see entering 9th grade classes of around 1,200-1,300 students that would quickly go down to about 250 graduates 4 years later. However, the data is not perfect as LAUSD has the nasty habit of counting in the 9th grade not only incoming 9th graders but also “returning 9th graders”, students who didn’t drop out but basically failed the majority of their freshman courses and therefore had to stay another year in 9th grade. Anecdotally, from teachers from the old Locke that stayed with Green Dot, almost all of the returning 9th graders would eventually drop out. In any case, from records we can tell that the actual graduating rate of “new” 9th graders, who were approx. 1,000, only 250 graduated and of those only 85 did with a college prep diploma (California still allows two types of diplomas, the good one and the useless ones). Since you are a teacher, I’ll let you do the math of the devastation that that school was creating in that community. Our entering 9th grade class the first year was approx. 900 students.
A-ha, you might say, why 100 students less? Are you not accepting all the students? Demographic trends will show you that the population in South Central Los Angeles has been declining steadily for the past 10 years and that the trend will continue. The decline has actually accelerated in the past 3 years with the crisis, due to less immigration in general, less undocumented immigration specifically, and the lack of jobs for people with no high school degree in the area, who have all had to move out.
Anyway, what has happened to the incoming 9th graders? The majority are still with us, and we believe that if the trends hold, by the fourth year we will graduate approx. 600-700 students, all of which will have taken the college prep curriculum. Is it perfect? No. Are there still some drop outs? No doubt. But a marked improvement in retention. We did it by throwing the kitchen sink at credit recovery and intervention courses and doing whatever it takes for every child. This year, after 3 years we had 560 graduates from a class that didn’t start with us with 100 more that are still enrolled for one more year (mostly ELL and Sped) with high likelihood of achieving all their credits
– The second impact has been in access to more rigorous courses. This was easy as we put everyone on a college prep track, no exception, no excuses.
– The third impact was achievement. This has proven as you can imagine the most difficult one, and the main reason we cannot claim “we did it” just yet. While we have doubled or tripled the number of proficient students in most subjects the percentages are still low. We suffer from a “double impact” a numerator impact and a denominator impact. The numerator problem is that Locke started so low – 4% proficiency in math – that even when you triple that, it still sucks. We’re not there yet. The second problem is that with our amazing success in retention, guess who you keep as a student? The lowest performing ones. They rarely contribute to your numerator, at least not right away. So we have a long way to go. Our biggest issue here is that the actual entry level of the students is so darn low, coming from the K-8 system reading at about 4-5th grade that it is difficult to accelerate them so much.
In any case, Gary, if you’re ever around, I’d be happy to show you Locke. I think all of this nonsense will disappear when the country fully embraces value added measures. When we start measuring schools by how much they move their students up, independent from their point of entry, we will actually possess data to do true comparisons. In the meantime, people like Mark Garrison and the other blogger he quotes, will continue to muddle the arguments and get us nowhere.
Marco, from what you’ve described, I’m very pleased that you have what I’d call a ‘great’ school. Note that I call it ‘great’, but not a ‘miracle’ (a 90-90-90 school). This is fine since, as you know from your experience, you can be great without achieving the 90-90-90 metrics.
You were off my ‘debunking’ radar because no politician that I had heard used your results as proof that their reforms were working. This is a shame since your school sounds like a model for what is possible and for what a realistic time-table for success is. So not being a ‘miracle’ school is not an insult or a bad thing. There is no need for me to ‘debunk’ your school since you so candidly ‘debunked’ yourself with an honest explanation of your impressive successes.
I wish a politician would point to your school about what sorts of improvements can happen. If everyone knew what realistic improvement looks like, we would have fewer teachers getting fired and schools getting shut down for having test scores comparable to yours. Please believe that I am being sincere when I say ‘Keep up the good work.’
Here’s my question:
Which of these two statements is more accurate about your school, and why?
1) We have some outstanding teachers at our school. If they were replaced by average teachers, our school would fall apart.
2) We have some outstanding teachers at our school. If they were replaced by average teachers, our school would still be successful because of some of the other things that make us great.
Hmmm…not sure I know how to answer this. While I do think that teacher effectiveness is one of the most, if not the most, important element of building a great school, I think that there are other elements as well that go hand in hand with that. Certainly, of equal importance, is the quality of the principal leadership. Never seen a great school without a great leader. Needless to say these elements are self-reinforcing. Great leaders build a great team and great teachers seldom would follow a weak leader. I can tell you that besides bringing in more effective people on average, we did a lot of other things, like bring in new programs, better professional development, better safety and culture building programs, etc. But certainly all these wouldn’t have taken without a more effective and aligned team on campus. Hope that answers your question.
Discussion #4: More about shutting down / reconstituting schools
Tilson: One major point of disagreement between us is under what circumstances a school should be closed/shut down/reconstituted, defined as either more than half of the adults leaving (what’s required under one option of NCLB, and what was going to happen to Central Falls HS in RI), or truly closing the school and turning the space over to often multiple operators (the most common model in NYC under Klein).
I laid out my general principles in one of my emails/blog posts about Central Falls HS (and in my em about the lamp/bulb analogy). I do NOT believe it should be entirely driven by test scores — I believe test data, measuring student GAINS (not absolute performance), should be maybe 40-50% of the weighting in an evaluation of a school (or individual teacher), with the rest being many other objective (graduation and dropout rates, violent incidents) and subjective factors (in-person assessments, the existence of a realistic plan for improvement, etc.).
What are your criteria? Can you point to a single school anywhere in the country that you think should be (or should have been) shut down/reconstituted? Not Central Falls? Not even ONE of the nearly 40 schools in NYC that the DOE has tried to close in the past two years?
Not Locke, which before Green Dot was perhaps the most notorious HS in America, where there was literally a race riot between black and Latino students? (read Stray Dogs… For the details)
Great question. One thing I can answer without hesitation is the NYC Klein model should never happen, in my opinion. It is the ‘Death Penalty’ of school reform and, like the actual death penalty, I am against it in all cases (even for Bin Laden — this is a topic for another debate, if you’d like.) Just like the actual death penalty, I’m opposed the NYC style closings because they are irreversible, unfairly affect the poor (yes, the poorer of the poor get shuffled elsewhere, so don’t argue that they help the poor), and do not serve as a deterrent for others. Knowing that this is what will happen to the 22 schools in the recent judgment that the people at Tweed drank so merrily to, truly made me sick to my stomach. I lost sleep about it, and I get sad every time I think about it. The problem with the Klein style is when the kids are shuffled, it is really hard to determine if the charters that replaced the big school were serving the ‘same children in the same building’ (to quote Duncan on Urban Prep. How can an all-boys school be the ‘same children’ as the old co-ed school?)
Now, the other model, particularly now that I’ve learned about Locke — thanks for getting that exchange with Marco happening — I’m warmer to that. I think that in the majority of cases, the reconstitution does not do much good. Didn’t do much for Miami Central, despite praise from Obama — it will be charterized by next year. (Do you want to help me get the word ‘charterized’ copyrighted?) But the Locke story, well that sounds like an example where this Green Dot had an actual plan to keep the kids in the same building and offer support and a better leader and a better staff. It seems to have worked, so maybe it can work elsewhere. This was what Ravitch had in mind when she supported charters. And you’re right that she would praise Locke, as a charter that is not creaming or winning by attrition. However, if a politician ever tried to use Locke to prove that 90-90-90 schools are out there, she would certainly point to their low test scores as a way to call the politician out on his lies. It would be a slam on the politician, not on the school. Listen to the opening of the Ravitch/Alter debate on Denver radio — particularly her opening comments. (I felt Alter humiliated himself. Maybe you heard something different than me. It’s human nature to hear and believe what we want to hear and believe.)
I will be interested in how politicians speak about Locke. If they are honest about the slow, but steady progress they are making, I’d like that. If they choose to only focus on one metric that they are doing well with (i.e. Urban Preps 107 out of 107 getting into college), then Locke will, unfortunately become a pseudo-miracle school and could earn a spot on my miracleschools.wikispaces.com site. It’s not a 90-90-90 school, probably never will be one, not (to quote Seinfeld) that there’s anything wrong with that.
I am going to read your Central Falls posts. I suppose that there could be some criteria for getting a new staff, particularly if it is a staff of ‘ringers’. I’m not sure what criteria New York City uses. Whatever they use, they are a bit too eager to shut down schools. I know you are not a fan (to say the least) of Ravitch, but her blog post about why closing schools is a bad idea is one piece that I don’t think you’d have a lot to refute.
If you can’t read that piece and at least nod a few times in silent contemplation, you’ve got to really think about what you’re so defensive about.
Tilson: This email provides real insight into your thinking and how vastly different our approaches and thinking are — these lines in particular: “It is the ‘Death Penalty’ of school reform and, like the actual death penalty, I am against it in all cases…Knowing that this is what will happen to the 22 schools…truly made me sick to my stomach. I lost sleep about it, and I get sad every time I think about it.”
I, too, oppose the death penalty, not on moral grounds, but because of the imperfect nature of our judicial system. If even one innocent person was put to death, but 99 guilty murderers were executed, that would be too high of an error rate for me (and of course that actual error rate is massively higher).
So, then, why don’t I apply the same thinking to closing schools? Because what I care about is the kids — and I don’t blame them (or their parents) when they can’t read properly by age 10 (or 12 or 14 or 16…) — I blame the adults whose job it is to educate them. I KNOW with 100% certainty, because I’ve seen it hundreds of times personally, that great teachers and great schools can teach virtually every child to at least a basic level — maybe far from 90/90/90 (since when did that become the litmus test?), but to a decent level so that the vast majority of children have some chance in life.
I’d estimate that 25% of the schools in NYC — roughly 400 schools — are failing this basic test and should be shut down/reconstituted. So, there you have it: of the approximately 1,600 public schools in NYC, you’d shut down/reconstitute ZERO and my number is 400 — you could drive a truck through that gap! Not all at once, of course — it would take at least a decade, starting with the worst schools, the ones filled with mostly mediocre-to-truly-incompetent adults, where virtually no learning whatsoever is going on. (I still don’t understand your viewpoint, by the way: do you deny that such schools exist, or just that one can’t identify them, or that even if you can, that the replacement is probably just as bad, so why cause any disruption — just leave them alone?)
I’m sure you’ll reply that closing such a large number of schools — in fact, even a tiny fraction of this number — will result in some schools being closed — and some teachers and other adults losing their jobs — unfairly. In fact, this number — the error rate — might be quite high. I agree — in fact, it’s probably one of the few things we’ll ever agree on! It’s just that our reactions are different. You feel “sick to your stomach, lose sleep and get sad thinking about” the injustice of a school being wrongfully closed down. I don’t. I’m not happy about it, but my distress level is maybe a 5 out of 10, whereas yours appears to be a 9.5.
Why am I less upset? Because I don’t think it’s the end of the world if the adults have to find new jobs. Since when are teachers the only working people in America who never have the risk that they work for a company or factory that has layoffs or gets shut down? I’m sure there are lots of money-losing companies or factories that have wonderful, productive, effective people in them, and it’s truly sad when those people lose their jobs due to the incompetence of management or their fellow employees, but that’s the unfortunate breaks that some people get. Not to minimize the trauma/disruption of anyone losing their job, especially due to no fault of their own, but almost all truly effective people are able to find another good job. I know for sure that great teachers are in VERY high demand — in fact, finding them is KIPP’s single biggest constraint on its growth. In summary, I’m not too worried about the adults whose lives are disrupted when a school is closed/reconstituted.
But what about the kids? I’m more concerned about them, but they’re the ones being victimized by the terrible schools — it’s like when you’re on the bottom rung of a ladder, it’s hard to get hurt if you fall off (or the ladder is pulled out from under you). If the methodology to determine the schools to be closed has even the tiniest bit of common sense — unlike you, I don’t think it’s the slightest bit difficult to identify the truly horrific bottom 5-10% of schools, as a starting point — then it’s almost certain that the vast majority of kids have nowhere to go but up.
This is another great debate that I hope you’ll allow me to share your part of it with my email list…