Five years ago, when I started blogging about education reform, much of what I did was debunking schools that had supposedly beaten the odds by doing things like firing the teachers or by converting a school into a charter school. At first, this was a lot of work since every few days there would be yet another ‘proof point’ that the Waiting For Superman narrative was true.
After using public data to reveal that these schools were over-hyped, politicians and reformers alike have learned that they probably shouldn’t do this so much because after their claims are fact-checked, they are going to look silly for trying to lie about the results of their experiments.
Still, now and then, a see an article, like the one recently in the New York Daily News by charter school and Michelle Rhee cheerleader Richard Whitmire. In this case it is an article about a partnership between a charter school and a public school in Brooklyn that has yielded miraculous results. The article is titled ‘Dogs and cats, working together’, and can be found here.
The premise of the article is that there is this failing elementary school that has been turned around after an unlikely collaboration with Uncommon Schools. After one year of this partnership, the district school, Leadership Elementary School, now has the top math scores in their district and is doing very well in ELA too.
From the article:
The new working relationship has paid off: Last year’s state test scores for District 23 puts Landmark at the top — by 20 percentage points in math, and well ahead in literacy. And that’s just in one year.
So the first odd thing about this story is that Leadership Elementary School is a very new school. It opened in 2013 with Pre-K, 1st, and 2nd grade. Then this partnership started one year later in 2014. So this is not one of those schools that has been ‘failing kids for decades’ as reformers like to talk about school turnarounds. No, this school had just opened. Since there were no 3rd graders in their first year, there is no state test data to serve as any kind of benchmark to compare their data before and after their partnership with Uncommon Schools.
Last spring their 3rd graders took the state test. There were only 32 students in the school who took the ELA test and 33 who took the math. So 13 out of 32 passed ELA and 22 out of 33 passed math. While these are better percentages than the neighboring schools, this is a very small sample size, one that Whitmire conveniently does not mention. Since the only data is from after the partnership, it is impossible to conclude that this partnership had anything to with with those 13 students passing ELA or 22 passing math. Without baseline data, this simply cannot be done. What would these 33 students have gotten in the parallel universe where the Uncommon partnership did not happen last year is anybody’s guess. This group of 3rd graders were 33 students who had attended other schools for kindergarten and first grade and entered second grade in Leadership Elementary when it opened so perhaps the schools those students attended for Kindergarten and first grade deserve some of the credit.
A story like this shows that reformers are really grasping at straws when it comes to proving that charter schools are so amazing that they can, in one year, turnaround a ‘failing’ school. There is just no data to show that Landmark was a ‘failing’ school before the partnership. Really there is no way to measure the impact of the one year Uncommon partnership. Whitmire surely is aware of this, but chooses instead to mislead.