Why Conventional School “Reforms” Have Failed
Reformers Allowed Their Rhetoric to Be Hijacked
by Bill Honig
One of the unfortunate side effects of the reform movement is that it has allowed anti–public school advocates to hijack the rhetoric that demonizes teachers and trumpets market-based solutions for schools. Policymakers have used negative reform rhetoric
to justify severe, highly damaging cuts in public education as they pursue an aggressive agenda of privatizing public schools through unrestricted charter school expansion or voucher plans, emasculating teacher unions, and significantly reducing workplace protections for teachers.
Damaging Cuts in Public Education
Many of these destructive schemes were recently enacted in several states that were once staunch supporters of public education. In Indiana, for example, from 2009 to 2013 public school funding was cut by more than $3 billion. During the same period, charter funding was increased by $539 million, vouchers by $248 million, and virtual schools by $143 million. Students who attend public schools account for 94% of Indiana students and took a huge hit. The remaining seven percent gained more than $900 million.
Similarly, in North Carolina, which had been a lighthouse state in the nation, scoring among the top-performing districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Diane Ravitch reports:
Tea Party Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010, and a Republican governor was elected in 2012, the first time in a century that Republicans controlled the state. Since taking power, the Republicans have slashed the budget for public education at all levels. They have enacted a law to authorize charter schools, including for-profit charters. They enacted a voucher law. They welcomed for-profit virtual schools. They have set out to shrink government and diminish the public sector. Per-student spending is now near the lowest in the nation, as are teacher salaries. The legislature has gone after teachers’ tenure and benefits. It shut down a five-year career teaching preparation program at the University of North Carolina, called the North Carolina Teaching Fellows, yet allocated almost the same amount of money to pay for Teach for America recruits, who will come and go.
See also a series of articles published in the North Carolina Observer decrying the severe cuts and negative legislation affecting public schools. Michael Leachman and his colleagues drafted a report for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that documents the severe cuts in education nationally since the 2009 recession:
At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (that is, the school year ending in 2014) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold. In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.
Antigovernment and Antiunion Forces at Work
The extreme-right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has convinced many Republican-led legislatures and Republican governors to enact a privatization agenda driven by antagonism to government services in general and public schools specifically. This is a continuation of the nineteenth-century fight waged by antitax forces that opposed funding public education and resisted government-sponsored schools, objecting to the cost of educating other people’s children. For an excellent summary of these battles, see Dana Goldstein’s book, The Teacher Wars.
Luckily for this nation, the counterargument won the day and proved to be accurate—public schools for all has a beneficial influence on the economic and democratic health of our country. Public education is universally recognized as the cornerstone of the spectacular growth the country experienced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Regrettably, ALEC and some of its billionaire supporters such as the Kochs are trying to re-litigate the issue. An alarming account of how the libertarian Koch brothers and their billionaire fellow travelers foisted an extreme right-wing agenda on the Republican Party nationally and in many states and thus in much of the country is chronicled chapter and verse in Jane Mayer’s 2016 book, Dark Money.
As an example, Rick Hess, who has solid reform credentials, has taken his fellow reformers to task for the motives underlying the way they structured the passing levels on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), the new assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Hess claims reformers advocated setting the passing levels arbitrarily high; then they used the discontent engendered by mass failures to drive their agenda of harsh accountability and privatization of public schools. He argues that their strategy was particularly effective in suburban districts.
Moreover, many wealthy “reform” advocates have spent huge amounts of money promoting wholesale expansion of charter schools and vouchers. One example is the Walton Foundation, which announced in 2016 that it will spend $1 billion on new charter schools. Similarly, Netflix’s Reed Hastings’s new foundation will spend $100 million on charter expansion. His expressed goal is to convert all public schools to charters. The Bradley Foundation in Wisconsin has spent more than $100 million to encourage the privatization of public schools, including voucher programs. A final example is the advocacy group headed by Campbell Brown and heavily funded by the same cast of characters. The former anchor is helping the billionaire-backed charter lobby spread the gospel of educational reform.
Alas, much of the negative reform rhetoric is also driven by a desire to break or curtail teacher unions for political reasons or because reformers believe unions prevent the dismissal of low-performing teachers. Ironically, the most unionized states have the best educational records. Massachusetts is a case in point. Recent research supports this view—the extent of unionization doesn’t lower performance but rather enhances it. As further evidence, many states with weak or no teacher unions lag considerably in student achievement.
Almost all of our highest-performing districts have figured out how to work closely with their unions to focus on improving instruction. Often, the push for enhancing instruction and continuous improvement originates with union advocacy. It is also true that local union recalcitrance sometimes frustrates genuine improvement efforts such as making it difficult to create learning teams at schools. For an example of a cooperative approach, see “Teacher-Community Unionism: A Lesson from St. Paul” and “Turning Around a High-Poverty School,” which discusses how Sanger Unified in California, a high-scoring district, developed working partnerships with its unions. Finally, Humphrey, Koppich, and Tiffany-Morales in their 2016 report Replacing Teacher Evaluation Systems with Systems of Professional Growth: Lessons from Three California School Districts and Their Teachers’ Unions demonstrated how San Jose, Poway, and San Juan school districts created effective working relationships between their district administrations and teachers’ unions.
A Toxic Narrative
One disturbing aspect of the current reform storyline is particularly galling to educators. It is bad enough that reformers and the media ignore the fact that Test-and-Punish measures do not work and fail to consider the compelling body of research that shows the efficacy of Build-and-Support. But there also exists a tendency among reformers and their advocates to ascribe all examples of educational excellence to charter or private schools and to ignore exemplary practices in public schools despite their widespread existence. This is a flagrant case of bias.
In our political, cultural, and social spheres a superficial narrative has taken hold—“Public schools and their teachers are bad; charter schools are good.” We’ve gone from Goodbye, Mr. Chips; To Sir, with Love; and Dead Poets Society to Bad Teacher and the hanger-on teacher in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. One of the most egregious examples of the media’s anti–public school bias and attacks on teachers’ unions is the 2010 documentary Waiting for “Superman.” Sponsored by reformers and praised by the press, the film gives a hallowed view of every charter school. Every vignette from the public school is horrendous. The film could just as easily have profiled a superstar public school and an appallingly ineffective or fraudulent charter school, which would have been similarly one sided and dishonest.
Positive stories about public schools are seldom seen. Two good examples are an article about an inner-city school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and a story about a low-income public school in Watts whose success was powered by veteran teachers and effective teamwork. Although the story is highly positive overall, its headline begins with a gratuitous slap: “In a desert of school failure …” Another account of home-grown school improvement appears in Dale Russakoff’s book, The Prize. It describes the valiant success of Brick Avon School, a public school in Newark, New Jersey, that faced detrimental district policies.
Even some supporters of the Build-and-Support approach fall into the trap of biased reporting. The book Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works makes the case for the importance of craft and pedagogical knowledge. In the otherwise impressive book, author Elizabeth Green writes only about charter schools when providing examples of excellence. She contends that many started out with a narrow educational philosophy based on a strict, behavioristic “no excuses” approach focusing on reading, math, and test prep. After realizing that this did not produce results, a few responsive leaders shifted to a broader curriculum and an evidence-based educational philosophy that recognizes the importance of engagement. This evolution should be commended. But countless excellent public schools with a rich educational program never succumbed to a prison-like, test-prep atmosphere. They have been producing extraordinary results for years. Green never mentioned them.
Impossible Goals and Severe Consequences
The toxic narrative was exacerbated by federal and state policies that set impossible goals with severe consequences. For example, a decade ago reformers at the national level established an absurd standard: Every school had to reach 100% “proficiency” by 2014. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation may have sounded reasonable on its face, but the standard was based on the NAEP proficiency levels that equate to A or B work and designed to predict readiness for a four-year college curriculum. Only about a third of US students intend to attend four-year institutions. Increasing the number of students prepared for four-year colleges was a laudable goal and should be part of any accountability system given the rising demand for college graduates. But to enshrine that goal as the only measure of success was inappropriate and unfair for a large number of our students who could profit from rigorous alternative pathways. It was also patently unfair for the educators who were working with them.
Tellingly, no country, district, and almost no schools performed at that unrealistic 100% proficiency level. Our highest-performing state, Massachusetts, which scores among the world’s best, had just over 50% of its students reaching proficiency. Widespread failure was built in at the start because politicians were afraid to set reasonable goals for fear of looking weak or reducing pressure on schools. Most of our political and opinion leaders were completely indifferent to the devastating effect that setting this unreachable goal would have on public education. Others were more purposeful—intentionally attempting to discredit public education as more and more schools would be labeled failures. Sadly, the media has joined in this unfair characterization. Although the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) eliminates this impossible requirement, most accountability schemes including the SBAC and PARCC tests as well as media reports of test scores continue to use this level as a standard. Any student not meeting the four-year college preparation level is labeled a “failure.”
During his tenure as US secretary of education, Arne Duncan gave waivers to large numbers of states when it became apparent that under NCLB almost every school in the country was going to be deemed a “failing school.” Unfortunately, he required states to adopt certain policies in exchange for the waiver—one of them being a discredited teacher evaluation system based on student test scores. A few states, including Washington, balked at the requirements and had their waivers terminated. That state was in the ludicrous position of having to brand nearly every school in the state a failure, which would have devastated teacher, parent, and student morale and further eroded public support. Again, the new ESSA legislation not only eliminates unrealistic national goals but abolishes the secretary of education’s ability to unilaterally enforce reform policy.
Lessons from New Orleans
In some extreme instances, states have privatized entire districts, converting all public schools to charter schools. A decade ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana forced New Orleans to follow this path. What ensued was the wholesale elimination of the public schools that were the center of many communities, the firing of most teachers, and the creation of nonaccountable institutions under the umbrella of the state-run New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD). Unquestionably, prior to Katrina the district was severely dysfunctional and one of lowest scoring in the country. But the drastic measures taken in the name of reform created new problems. This is tragic given that better, less disruptive alternatives could have been pursued.
The New Orleans experience has been hyped by reform advocates as an extraordinary success story and, until recently, uncritically covered by the media. Adam Johnson wrote an excellent critique of the fawning media coverage. More objective analyses of the RSD have questioned the purported gains and detailed significant collateral damage: hours-long bus rides and other hardships foisted on children, substantial resegregation, and unaccountable schools as well as community erosion and alienation.
According to blogger and education activist Mercedes Schneider, one decade later most New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) charter schools received Ds or Fs by a charter-friendly state education department. Out of 57 schools, 15 received Fs or were so low as to be in turnaround status; 17 received Ds; only 7 received Bs; and none earned an A. The RSD schools still rank among the lowest-scoring schools in the country. Schneider also cites a recent report that showed only an embarrassing 12% of the high school students in the district who took the ACT college preparation test scored high enough under the state’s regent requirement to qualify for a Louisiana four-year college. Schneider has also debunked claims of better-than-average graduation rates.
Other people have documented the continued extremely low performance of the RSD despite a decades’ worth of effort. Among them are Julian Vasquez Heilig and Andrea Gabor, who raised potent questions about the viability of the New Orleans model for reform when she wrote a response to the defenders of the district in The New York Times. See also “The Uncounted,” Owen Davis’s blog post that raises the possibility that the New Orleans reform effort harmed the city’s most vulnerable children:
A decade after Hurricane Katrina spurred New Orleans to undertake a historic school reform experiment—a shift to a virtually all-charter district with unfettered parent choice—evidence of broader progress is shot through with signs that the district’s most vulnerable students were rebuffed, expelled, pushed out or lost altogether.
For another negative report on the supposed success of the RSD, see Ten Years after Katrina, New Orleans’ All-Charter School System Has Proven a Failure. Finally, an editorial in The New Orleans Tribune, a major African-American newspaper, decried the reform efforts in New Orleans and its meager results.
In 2015, Frank Adamson, Channa Cook-Harvey, and Linda Darling-Hammond produced the most comprehensive and exhaustive examination of the New Orleans experiment in districtwide charters. Whose Choice? Student Experiences and Outcomes in the New Orleans School Marketplace is their 72-page report developed for the Stanford Center on Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). The authors came to conclusions similar to those I have previously discussed. The New Orleans experiment led to the creation of a stratified system, which more often than not produced low-quality education and was highly detrimental to large numbers of vulnerable students and their communities. They demonstrated that claims of increased performance for the RSD were not warranted and that schools in the RSD still scored extremely low on measures using accurate data.
Limited Gains and Unnecessary Damage
Even reports that found some progress demonstrate that in light of the extremely low starting point, the gains in New Orleans have been minimal. After 10 years, the effect size ranges from only 0.2 to 0.4 SD—still leaving the district as one of the lowest scoring in the nation, with one of the country’s highest levels of economic and educational disparities according to race.
The alleged gains could just as easily be attributed to the substantial increases in funding that occurred over the last decade or to changes in demographics since large numbers of low-achieving students left New Orleans after Katrina. Clearly, these small increases were hardly worth the major disruptions caused by closing just about every local school and firing 7,000 teachers, most of whom formed the backbone of the African-American middle class in the city. For a heart-wrenching account of the callous treatment of New Orleans teachers, see “Death of My Career: What Happened to New Orleans’ Veteran Black Teachers?” in Education Week and the extensive quotations in the SCOPE report cited above. For a forum with differing points of view on the New Orleans experience, see the Albert Shanker Institute’s series of conversations “Ten Years After the Deluge: The State of Public Education in New Orleans.” Finally, Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance, by Kristen Buras (2014), provides a devastating look at the harm caused in New Orleans by the abandonment of public schools.
Unquestionably, some excellent charter schools have been created in New Orleans, and many dedicated teachers and principals are making heroic efforts to improve instruction. Yet better schools and outcomes could have been produced without such drastic measures. Even researchers who supported the reforms have declared that New Orleans should not be held up as a model for the nation.
Other Failed Examples: State Takeovers
Problems similar to those in New Orleans have been found with the Achievement School District (ASD) in Tennessee, which is now being touted as a model for the rest of the country. The ASD forces low-scoring schools into a state-run district. Its mission was to increase schools scoring at the fifth percentile or below to the 25th percentile in five years. Three years into the project, of the six original schools, the percentile scores of two had decreased; two stayed the same; and two increased to only the sixth percentile. Hardly a success story. Chris Barbic, the district’s superintendent, had been promising significant growth. He resigned at the end of the third year. In 2015, Memphis requested a halt to expansion of the Achievement District due to low performance. Other reports show that recovery districts in Philadelphia and Michigan have been similarly ineffective. According to a balanced review of state achievement districts, state-run districts have not been able to turn around most low-performing schools. The Center for Popular Democracy published a report titled State Takeovers of Low-Performing Schools: A Record of Academic Failure, Financial Mismanagement & Student Harm. The report includes a summary of its findings:
The rapid proliferation of the takeover district as an educational panacea is alarming. In this report, we examine the record of the three existing takeover districts, and find that there is no clear evidence that takeover districts actually achieve their stated goals of radically improving performance at failing schools. We find that:
- Children have seen negligible improvement—or even dramatic setbacks—in their educational performance.
- State takeover districts have created a breeding ground for fraud and mismanagement at the public’s expense.
- Staff face high turnover and instability, creating a disrupted learning environment for children.
- Students of color and those with special needs face harsh disciplinary measures and discriminatory practices that further entrench a two-tiered educational system.
Similarly, the National Educational Policy Center issued a well-researched report, The “Portfolio” Approach to School District Governance, documenting the harm done to communities by portfolio or recovery districts closing neighborhood schools. The report instead advocates solutions aimed at improving existing neighborhoods and their schools.
Incredibly, some other states and districts are now pursuing the creation of “district-wide recovery districts.” As a potential model for his state, the governor of Georgia recently visited New Orleans—despite the district’s poor performance. A local editorial took the governor to task for looking at New Orleans, instead of taking his delegation to Massachusetts, which has world-class schools. A conservative Republican legislator objected to the proposal, citing its crony capitalism and support from ALEC. On a more hopeful note, parents, educators, and other citizens in Arkansas recently defeated a statewide privatization attempt by the Walton Family Foundation that would have replaced public schools with charters.
Washington, DC, in the past decade and Milwaukee 20 years ago instituted extensive voucher and choice plans, and both continue to score at the bottom of urban districts on the NAEP test, state assessments such as PARCC, and college attendance and graduation rates. Arizona’s 20-year-old voucher program, disguised as a tax credit, has been the object of similar criticism. Denver instituted the full Test-and-Punish and privatization agenda several years ago and remains near the bottom of urban districts.
An evaluation of the Louisiana voucher program found that students using vouchers to enroll in private schools did substantially worse—a 0.4 SD drop in mathematics and a large drop in other subjects. The report states: “Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50%. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children.” David Lubienski has summarized recent research showing that vouchers do indeed harm students.
Those responsible should have examined the harm caused when countries such as Sweden, Chile, and Colombia pursued aggressive privatization agendas. Sweden, which adopted wholesale voucher and choice approaches, suffered a drastic drop in educational performance on international assessments and is reconsidering its privatization policies.
Chile provides another perfect case study on what not to do. Twenty years ago, acolytes of Milton Friedman engineered a privatization voucher scheme. Results were a dramatic decrease in educational funding and a substantial rise in inequality caused by the steady decline into a two-tiered educational system. Chile scores near the bottom on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, and the country is now revising its entire educational plan, including eliminating for-profit voucher schools.
Finally, the argument made by voucher advocates that they assist low-income students turns out to be false. According to a 2016 report by the Southern Education, Race and Ethnicity in a New Era of Public Funding for Private School, recent voucher plans have exacerbated the problems of segregation by diverting over $1 billion to less diverse private schools.
There is evidence from both home and abroad that the privatization of public schools is not the answer. Yet many states—those with newly elected Republican majorities as well as New York—have intensified their interest in reform measures that are actually thinly disguised voucher plans. These initiatives offer substantial business tax credits for “scholarship” plans or donations. The initiatives have not produced worthwhile results but have drained large sums from public schools. Public school budgets must initially absorb the costs of paying tuition for up to 10% of students presently in private schools. Then they suffer further financial burdens when students opt to leave a public school for a private school. The cost to the public schools has been substantial. As an example, in Wisconsin, “according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the voucher program will cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $1.1 billion from 2011 through the end of the 2015–17 budget cycle. Meanwhile, a new report found that Wisconsin schools have suffered the 4th biggest cuts in the nation through 2014.” In light of these realities, in 2016 a Nevada court found that the recently enacted voucher program in that state violated the state constitution and halted the program, saying vouchers diverted funds from public education to the private sector.
Even the most ardent defenders of free-market competition would never countenance requiring their industry to pay for potential competitors, yet that is exactly what states are demanding of public schools.
In many states, governors and legislators are responding to pressure from well-heeled owners of charter school franchises who make sizable political contributions. With minimal financial or educational accountability and transparency, they are pushing through lucrative property deals and public bond funding to replace large numbers of public schools. This type of giveaway is reminiscent of Russia’s gifting billion-dollar state enterprises to a favored few. In a recent interview, Preston Green contends that unregulated charter school expansion will result in a catastrophe comparable to the subprime mortgage crisis.
Finally, while the costs of a few charters do not put a district in jeopardy, if charter expansion becomes widespread, at some point a tipping point is reached. At that point, schools serving the non-charter student must substantially cut back and the district becomes extremely vulnerable. Further widespread privatization plans severely impact communities.
It is disappointing how many politicians from both parties have joined forces with or played into this agenda. One example is New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who has vowed to “break” public education. At the urging of a small number of billionaire hedge funders, he has been a forceful advocate for the Test-and-Punish approach. Unlike other states, New York rashly began high-stakes testing before teachers had a chance to implement the Common Core State Standards. It took part in setting the proficiency levels way too high, which forced large-scale failure rates. State leaders then berated the schools and teachers for their low performance. Cuomo has publically denounced teachers and their unions and, most disturbingly, has persuaded Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature to enact an extremely punitive teacher evaluation plan that incorporates all the damaging components of Test-and-Punish. Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, labeled Cuomo’s proposal “insane.” Cuomo is also pursuing voucher plans for private schools. Faced with mounting opposition, the governor backed off some of these proposals in late 2015.
Seeking Common Ground
Thankfully, some original supporters of Test-and-Punish strategies are now revising their views in light of stalled performance gains and evidence of massive disruption and backlash. Chester Finn, president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is a strong advocate of choice and charters, but he now admits that he undervalued the importance of instruction and capacity building. Mike Petrilli, the institute’s current president, has been promoting a more balanced, less punitive approach to reform. Petrilli has also changed his view on what he now perceives as federal overreach. We do disagree on two issues: the relative importance of charters and the supposed harm caused by unions.
Katy Haycock from EdTrust initially argued that it was necessity to put pressure on the schools because without coercion schools would not attend to the needs of minority children. She now supports a more nuanced position, also emphasizing the need for positive engagement and capacity building. Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is another thought leader who recommends a balanced view of teacher evaluation and accountability. Here is an excerpt from his blog post:
Test data also fueled the teacher accountability movement, perhaps the greatest overreach in the reform playbook and surely the source of much of the anger driving the opt-out movement. Hess observed that the reform agenda “was crafted with the troubles of the inner-city in mind . . . many suburban and middle-class parents have issues when those reforms are extended to the schools that educate their children.” He’s right. When well-loved teachers at popular suburban schools tell parents, fairly or not, that testing undermines their work and keeps them awake at night worrying about their jobs, reformers cannot expect those parents to sit idly by.
If reformers want the data that testing provides, they may simply have to abandon attempts to tie test scores to individual teachers. Personally, I think that’s a fair exchange. Test scores in a single classroom can have at least as much to do with class composition, curriculum, and district-mandated pedagogies as teacher effectiveness. Uncoupling tests from high-stakes teacher accountability to preserve the case for higher standards, charters, and choice might be the reasonable way forward. Ultimately, there may be no other choice.
Many Democrats and some Republicans are backing away from severe anti-school and anti-teacher rhetoric. The new ESSA legislation coauthored by Senators Lamar Alexander (Republican) and Patty Murray (Democrat) responded to perceived federal overreach and rejects test-driven high-stakes teacher and school evaluations. President Obama, himself, has warned of the dangers of over-testing and in his 2016 budget proposed $1 billion to engage and support teachers. John King, who replaced Arne Duncan as secretary of education, has also embarked on an effort to reconcile with teachers. In addition, many states and districts are retreating from questionable teacher evaluation programs and devoting more resources to teacher support and development. The school system in Washington, DC, is one example.
Recently, advocates from the two camps—conventional reform and Build-and-Support—have been engaged in finding common ground. Steve Barr, who ran the Green Dot public charter schools in Los Angeles, is now the head of the California branch of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), whose parent organization and state affiliates have been strong advocates of an aggressive reform agenda. In several meetings, it became apparent that both camps could reach agreement on 80–90% of the Build-and-Support ideas championed on this website.
Barr is somewhat of an outlier among reform advocates, having said: “Don’t lead with test-driven teacher evaluation. That would not even make my top ten list of important measures to pursue.” But he seems to represent a growing number of reformers who want to get beyond the conflict and who increasingly agree with many of the planks in the Build-and-Support approach:
- school- and district-level capacity building
- continuous improvement
- implementation of the Common Core State Standards
- focus on attracting, training, and supporting the next generation of high-caliber teachers
Importantly, almost all of the conventional “reform” and Build-and-Support groups have banded together in TeachStrong, a new coalition of organizations that advocates measures that will strengthen the teaching profession. Another group looking for common areas of agreement is Third Way. I would agree with many (but not all) of their proposed compromises.
Nationally, there is also some movement toward the more engaging Build-and-Support model. In his blog post “One Size Fits Most,” Mike Petrilli offers a window into a potential compromise. He argues that education reform doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition between two of the most powerful strategies for how to improve our schools. He describes the two views as the Coherence Camp, which aims to build the teaching profession around teaching and learning (Build-and-Support), and the Dynamic Camp, which wants to enlist American ingenuity to create new methods of schooling. He does not define the reform group by test-driven high-stakes accountability. He believes that the coherence idea should be the default position with opportunities for the dynamic bunch to create alternatives.
Here is the way Mike Petrilli describes the Coherence Camp:
The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the opportunity to work as professionals in environments of trust, clarity, and common purpose. (Japan envy yesterday, Finland envy today?) The members of this camp praise national standards, a national (or at least statewide) curriculum that gathers the best thinking about how to reach these standards and shares this thinking with the teaching corps, authentic assessments that provide diagnostic information, and professional development (pre-service and in-service) that is seamlessly woven into all of the rest. These countries can (and do) pore over their latest PISA results, identify areas for improvement, and get their educators to row in unison toward stronger performance. And their scores go up and up and up.
I would only add that many schools and districts in this country are also raising their scores by following these ideas. The next series of companion articles How Top Performers Build-and-Support address these measures in detail.
9/14/2016 14 out of 15 schools in Michigan’s state takeover district are still “failing” https://dianeravitch.net/2016/09/07/michigan-14-of-15-eaa-schools-are-failing/
7/30/2016 A recent publication by Eunice Han, who has a PhD in Economics from Harvard, shows that unionized districts experience increased retention of the best teachers, more layoffs of incompetent teachers, and as a result produce higher quality learning. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/07/21/think-teachers-cant-be-fired-because-of-unions-surprising-results-from-new-study/
7/30/2016 Another report demonstrating that massive cuts to education funding are harming kids. https://ourfuture.org/20160610/mindless-underfunding-of-schools-continues-doing-harm-to-kids
BBS Companion Articles
How Top Performers Build-and-Support
Ground Efforts in Unassailable Research
Provide Engaging Broad-Based Liberal Arts Curriculum
Provide High-Quality Instruction
Build Teams and Focus on Continuous Improvement
Provide Adequate School Funding
Lessons Learned from Successful Districts
Exemplary Models of Build-and-Support
Bryant, J. (2015, Jul 9). State Governments Continue an Assault on Public Schools. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/state-governments-continue-an-assault-on-public-schools/ See also Hursh, D. (2015). The End of Public Schools: The Corporate Reform Agenda to Privatize Education. New York and London: Routledge.
Damaging Cuts in Public Education
Ravitch, D. (2015, Oct 10). Indiana: Less Money, More Chaos. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/10/20/indiana-less-money-more-chaos/
Ravitch, D. (2015, Dec 13). North Carolina: Important Discussion of Wrecking Ball Crew Trying to Demolish Public Education. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/13/north-carolina-important-discussion-of-wrecking-ball-crew-trying-to-demolish-public-education/
Seward, C. (2015, Dec 19). “Altered State” Report Measures the Toll of NC’s Shift to Right. The News Observer. http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article50687995.html
Leachman, M., Albares, N., Masterson, K., & Wallace, M. (2016, Jan 25). Most States Have Cut School Funding, and Some Continue Cutting. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/most-states-have-cut-school-funding-and-some-continue-cutting
Antigovernment and Antiunion Forces at Work
Resseger, J. (2016, Mar 14). ALEC Relentlessly Cashes in on Kids and their Public Schools. https://janresseger.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/alec-relentlessly-cashes-in-on-kids-and-their-public-schools/ See also The Center for Media and Democracy. (2015, Jul 14). Alec Exposed. http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed
Goldstein, D. (2014). The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. New York: Doubleday.
Ehrenhalt, A. (2016, Jan 19). “Dark Money,” by Jane Mayer. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/books/review/dark-money-by-jane-mayer.html
Hess, R. (2012, Nov 30). The Common Core Kool-Aid. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2012/11/the_common_core_kool-aid.html.
Ravitch, D. (2016, Jan 10). Walton Family Foundation Will Spend $1 Billion to Start New Charters Across the Nation. http://dianeravitch.net/2016/01/10/walton-family-foundation-will-spend-1-billion-to-start-new-charters-across-the-nation/
Brown, E. (2016, Jan 13). Netflix Chief Announces $100 Million Fund for Education. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/01/13/netflix-chief-announces-100-million-fund-for-education/
One Wisconsin Institute. (2015, Dec 17). Bradley Foundation’s Radical Education Privatization Campaign Rolls On. http://onewisconsinnow.org/institute/press/bradley-foundations-radical-education-privatization-campaign-rolls-on/
Holloway, K. (2016, Mar 28). Campbell Brown: The New Leader of the Propaganda Arm of School Privatization. http://www.alternet.org/education/campbell-brown-new-leader-propaganda-arm-school-privatization
Bryant, J. (2015, Dec 8). Study Finds Unions Improve Teacher Quality, Lead to Lower Dropout Rates. https://ourfuture.org/20151208/study-finds-unions-improve-teacher-quality-high-school-dropout-rates
DuFour, R. (2015). In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Ricker, M. C. (2015, Jul 20). Teacher-Community Unionism: A Lesson from St. Paul. http://www.learningfirst.org/teacher-community-unionism-lesson-st-paul
David, J. L., & Talbert, J. E. (2012, Oct). Turning Around a High-Poverty School District: Learning from Sanger Unified’s Success. Final Report. S. H. Cowell Foundation. http://web.stanford.edu/group/suse-crc/cgi-bin/drupal/sites/default/files/Sanger%20Turnaround%2010-14-12.pdf
Humphrey, D., Koppich, J., & Tiffany-Morales, J. (2016, Mar). Replacing Teacher Evaluation Systems with Systems of Professional Growth: Lessons from Three California School Districts and Their Teachers’ Unions. SRI International. https://www.sri.com/work/publications/replacing-teacher-evaluation-systems-systems-professional-growth-lessons-three
A Toxic Narrative
Miles, K. H., & Baroody, K. (2015, Jul 2). Schools Succeeding Because of the System, Not in Spite of It. http://www.realcleareducation.com/articles/2015/07/02/schools_succeeding_because_of_the_system_not_in_spite_of_it_1206.html
Stewart, J. (2015, Aug 3). In a Desert of School Failure, 96th Street Elementary in Watts Soars by Rewriting the Rules. LA Weekly. http://www.laweekly.com/news/in-a-desert-of-school-failure-96th-street-elementary-in-watts-soars-by-rewriting-the-rules-5865357
Russakoff, D. (2015). The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Green, E. (2014). Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (And How to Teach it to Everyone). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Lessons from New Orleans
Johnson, A. (2015, Aug 28). Katrina’s “Golden Opportunity”: 10 Years of Corporate Media Celebrating Disaster. http://fair.org/home/katrinas-golden-opportunity-10-years-of-corporate-media-celebrating-disaster/
Thompson, J. (2015, Jun 15). The New Orleans Charter Mentality of “My Way or the Highway” Is Not the Path Toward Building Learning Communities, and Breaking the Cycles of Poverty. http://www.livingindialogue.com/questions-persist-about-new-orleans-test-score-gains/
Schneider, M. (2015, Jun 16). A Bad Day for the RSD “Improvement” Narrative: The History of La. Graduation Rates. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/a-bad-day-for-the-rsd-improvement-narrative-the-history-of-la-graduation-rates/
Schneider, M. (2013, Mar 5). New Orleans’ Recovery School District: The Lie Unveiled. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/new-orleans-recovery-school-district-the-lie-unveiled/
Sims, P., & Rossmeier, V. (2015, Jun). The State of Public Education in New Orleans: 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University. http://www.speno2015.com/
Heilig, J. V. (2015, Aug 28). Should Louisiana and the Recovery School District Receive Accolades for Being Last and Nearly Last? http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/2015/08/policy_brief_louisiana/
Gabor, A. (2015, Sep 9). Why Jon Alter Needs to Do More Homework on Charters. http://andreagabor.com/2015/09/09/why-jon-alter-needs-to-do-more-homework-on-charters/
Davis, O. (2015, Aug 28). The Uncounted. http://www.ibtimes.com/uncounted-2062614
Kimmett, C. (2015, Aug 28). Ten Years after Katrina, New Orleans’ All-Charter School System Has Proven a Failure. In These Times. http://inthesetimes.com/article/18352/10-years-after-katrina-new-orleans-all-charter-district-has-proven-a-failur
Miller, L. (2015, Aug 9). New Orleans Recovery District Called a Dismal Failure by the City’s Leading African American Newspaper. https://millermps.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/new-orleans-recovery-district-called-a-dismal-failure-by-the-citys-leading-african-american-newspaper/
Adamson, F., Cook-Harvey, C., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2015, Sep 30). Whose Choice? Student Experiences and Outcomes in the New Orleans School Marketplace. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/publications/pubs/1374
Limited Gains and Unnecessary Damage
DeArmond, M., Denice, P., Gross, B., Hernandez, J., Jochim, A., & Lake, R. (2015, Oct). Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities. http://www.crpe.org/publications/measuring-educational-improvement-and-opportunity-50-cities See also Prothero, A. (2015, Aug 4). New Orleans Test Scores Have ‘Shot Up’ 10 Years after Katrina, Report Says. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2015/08/new_orleans_test_scores_improved_with_charter_schools_after_huricane_katrina.html
Berkshire, J. C. (2015, Aug 3). “Reform” Makes Broken New Orleans Schools Worse: Race, Charters, Testing and the Real Story of Education After Katrina. http://www.salon.com/2015/08/03/reform_makes_broken_new_orleans_schools_worse_race_charters_testing_and_the_real_story_of_education_after_katrina/
Mitchell, C. (2015, Aug 19). “Death of My Career”: What Happened to New Orleans’ Veteran Black Teachers? Education Week. http://neworleans.edweek.org/veteran-black-female-teachers-fired/?cmp=eml-sr-nola10
Albert Shanker Institute. (2015, Sep 9). Ten Years After the Deluge: The State of Public Education in New Orleans. http://www.shankerinstitute.org/event/public-education-new-orleans
Buras, K. L. (2014). Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance. New York and London: Routledge.
Harris, D. N. (2015, Aug 31). How Everyone Is Getting It Wrong on New Orleans School Reform. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/31/how-everyone-is-getting-it-wrong-on-new-orleans-school-reform/
Other Failed Examples: State Takeovers
Rubenstein, G. (2014, Jul 31). Underachievement School District 2014 Edition. https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/underachievement-school-district-2014-edition/ For a 2015 Vanderbilt report showing little or negative effect for the Achievement District, see also Zimmer, R., Kho, A., Henry, G., & Viano, S. (2015, Dec). Evaluation of the Effect of Tennessee’s Achievement School District on Student Test Scores. http://www.tnconsortium.org/projects-publications/turn-around-schools/index.aspx
Rubenstein, G. (2015, Jul 31). The Underachievement School District 2015 Edition, Part 1. https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/the-underachievement-school-district-2015-edition-part-i/
Ravitch D. (2015, Dec 19). Tennessee: Memphis School Board Calls for Moratorium for Achievement School District. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/19/tennessee-memphis-school-board-calls-for-moratorium-for-achievement-school-district/
Felton, E. (2015, Oct 19). Are Turnaround Districts the Answer for America’s Worst Schools? http://hechingerreport.org/are-turnaround-districts-the-answer-for-americas-worst-schools/
Electablog. (2015, Dec 6). The Sad, Predictable, Outrageous, and Infuriating History of the Education Achievement Authority in 127 Headlines. http://www.eclectablog.com/2015/12/the-sad-predictable-outrageous-and-infuriating-history-of-the-education-achievement-authority-in-127-headlines.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+eclectablog%2FkInS+%28Eclectablog%29
Sen, A. (2016, Feb 5). State Takeovers of Low-Performing Schools: A Record of Academic Failure, Financial Mismanagement & Student Harm. The Center for Popular Democracy. http://populardemocracy.org/news/publications/state-takeovers-low-performing-schools-record-academic-failure-financial See also Downey, M. (2015, Aug 19). Opinion: Who Sees Greatest Opportunities from Deal’s Opportunity School District? http://getschooled.blog.ajc.com/2015/08/19/opinion-gov-deals-opportunity-school-district-offers-opportunity-but-not-for-students/
Mathis, W. J., & Welner, K. G. (2016, Mar). The “Portfolio” Approach to School District Governance. National Education Policy Center. http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/research-based-options
The Center for Media and Democracy. (2015, Jul 14). Alec Exposed. http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed
Holloway, K. (2015, Sep 1). How the Billionaire Kingpins of School Privatization Got Stopped in Their Own Back Yard. http://www.alternet.org/education/how-billionaire-kingpins-school-privatization-got-stopped-their-own-back-yard
Ravitch, D. (2015, Dec 1). D.C. Test Scores Are Disastrous. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/01/d-c-test-scores-are-disastrous/ See also the massive evaluation report on Washington, DC, schools, which found mixed results: Merrow, J (2015, Dec 8). A Premature Celebration in DC. http://themerrowreport.com/2015/12/08/a-premature-celebration-in-dc/ and Heitin, L. (2016, Mar 2). 3rd Grade Reading Scores in D.C. Show No Improvement. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2016/03/3rd_grade_reading_scores_in_dc_show_no_improvement.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=curriculummatters
Luzer, D. (2015, Aug 5). Arizona’s Magic Private School Tax Credits Don’t Work. Washington Monthly.
Kaplan, J. (2016, Feb 29). Parents, Teachers, Students, Communities Unite and Fight: A Speech to Boston’s Teachers and Communities. https://kaplanforkids.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/parents-teachers-students-communities-unite-and-fight-a-speech-to-bostons-teachers-and-communities/ See also Kaplan, J. (2016, May 17). What’s Next? https://kaplanforkids.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/whatsnext/
Abdulkadiroglu, A., Pathak, P. A., & Walters, C. R. (2016, Mar 25). School Vouchers and Student Achievement: Evidence from the Louisiana Scholarship Program. National Bureau of Economic Research.http://www.nber.org/papers/w21839 See also Bryant, J. (2015, Jun 26). Lessons to Be Learned from New Orleans Style Education Reform. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/lessons-to-be-learned-from-new-orleans-style-education-reform/ and National Education Policy Center. (2015, Jul 13). New Orleans Recovery School District Not Quite as Recovered as Advertised. http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2015/07/new-orleans-recovery and Bigard, A. (2015, Aug 13). From New Orleans: Washing Machine-Style Education Reform. The Progressive. http://www.progressive.org/news/2015/08/188260/new-orleans-washing-machine-style-education-reform?mc_cid=53865994c1&mc_eid=efac155d28
Lubienski C. (2016, Mar 7). New Studies of Vouchers Show Harm to Students. http://dianeravitch.net/2016/03/07/christopher-lubienski-new-studies-on-vouchers-show-harm-to-students/
Ravitch, D. (2014, Apr 20). Swedish Experiment in Privatizing Schools Floundering. http://dianeravitch.net/2014/04/20/swedish-experiment-in-privatizing-schools-floundering/ See also Pollard, N. (2013, Dec 10). Insight: Sweden Rethinks Pioneering School Reforms, Private Equity Under Fire. Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/10/us-sweden-schools-insight-idUSBRE9B905620131210#0GQKi5YX6VylbD1j.97 and Hargreaves, A. (2016, Mar 2). Teachers and Professional Collaboration: How Sweden Has Become the ABBA of Educational Change. http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/teachers-and-professional-collaboration-how-sweden-has-become-abba-educational-change
Hatch, T. (2014, Oct 29). Proposals for Change in Chile. http://internationalednews.com/2014/10/29/proposals-for-change-in-chile/ See also Ravitch, D. (2014, Apr 20). Chile: Dismantling the Most Pro-Market Education System in the World. http://dianeravitch.net/2014/04/20/chile-dismantling-the-most-pro-market-education-system-in-the-world/ and Carnoy, M., & McEwan, P. (2014, Jul 25). Does Privatization Improve Education? The Case of Chile’s National Voucher Plan. Research Gate. http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Martin_Carnoy/publication/237545374_DOES_PRIVATIZATION_IMPROVE_EDUCATION_THE_CASE_OF_CHILE’S_NATIONAL_VOUCHER_PLAN/links/53d28d770cf228d363e94866.pdf
Southern Education Foundation. (2016). Race and Ethnicity in a New Era of Public Funding for Private Schools. http://www.southerneducation.org/PubliclyFundedPrivateSchoolSegregation
One Wisconsin Institute. (2015, Dec 17). Bradley Foundation’s Radical Education Privatization Campaign Rolls On. http://onewisconsinnow.org/institute/press/bradley-foundations-radical-education-privatization-campaign-rolls-on/
Education Law Center. (2016, Jan 11). Court Declares Nevada Voucher Law Violates State Constitution. http://www.edlawcenter.org/news/archives/national/court-declares-nevada-voucher-law-violates-state-constitution.html See also Heilig, J. V., & Portales, J. (2012, Nov 10). Are Vouchers a Panacea or Problematic? http://cloakinginequity.com/?s=are+vouchers+a+panacea+or+problematic&submit.x=0&submit.y=0&submit=Go
Berkshire, J. (2016, Jan 4). Are Charter Schools the New Subprime Mortgages? http://edushyster.com/are-charter-schools-the-new-subprime-mortgages/ See also Grant, P. (2015, Oct 13). Charter-School Movement Grows—for Real-Estate Developers. The Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/charter-school-movement-growsfor-real-estate-investors-1444750383
Heilig, J. V. (2016, Jan 25). Updated: Hostile Charter Takeovers Sideline Communities. http://cloakinginequity.com/2016/01/25/hostile-charter-takeovers-sideline-communities/
Clukey, K. (2015, Dec 9). Common Core Panel to Call for Teacher Evaluation Moratorium, Test Overhaul. http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2015/12/common-core-panel-to-call-for-teacher-evaluation-moratorium-test-overhaul-028942
Taylor, K. (2015, Nov 25). Cuomo, in Shift, Is Said to Back Reducing Test Scores’ Role in Teacher Reviews. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/26/nyregion/cuomo-in-shift-is-said-to-back-reducing-test-scores-role-in-teacher-reviews.html?ref=topics&_r=0
Joseph, G. (2015, Mar 19). 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools—Here’s Their Story. The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/9-billionaires-are-about-remake-new-yorks-public-schools-heres-their-story/ See also Di Carlo, M. (2015, Mar 9). How Not to Improve New Teacher Evaluation Systems. http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/how-not-improve-new-teacher-evaluation-systems
Seeking Common Ground
Finn, C. E., Jr. (2014, Jul 30). Education Reform in 2014. http://edexcellence.net/articles/education-reform-in-2014
Petrilli, M. J. (2015, Mar 9). How to End the Education Reform Wars. http://edexcellence.net/articles/how-to-end-the-education-reform-wars
Petrilli, M. J. (2015, Aug 12). The New ESEA Will Be “Loose-Loose” Because Arne Duncan Went Overboard with “Tight-Tight.” http://edexcellence.net/articles/the-new-esea-will-be-%E2%80%9Cloose-loose%E2%80%9D-because-arne-duncan-went-overboard-with-%E2%80%9Ctight-tight%E2%80%9D
Pondiscio, R. (2015, May 8). Four Lessons from the Opt-Out Debate. http://edexcellence.net/articles/four-lessons-from-the-opt-out-debate?utm_source=Fordham+Updates&utm_campaign=31e674bf67-051315_EducationGadflyWeekly5_13_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d9e8246adf-31e674bf67-71491225
Sawchuk, S. (2016, Feb 12). Could $1 Billion Make Teaching the Best Job in the World? http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2016/02/could_1b_make_teaching_the_best_job.html
Brown, E. (2016, Feb 20). John King Is Trying to Repair the Obama Administration’s Frayed Relationship with Teachers. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/john-king-is-trying-to-repair-the-obama-administrations-frayed-relationship-with-teachers/2016/02/19/a28b88de-d666-11e5-9823-02b905009f99_story.html
Brown, E. (2016, Feb 10). D.C. Public Schools, Closely Watched for its Reform Efforts, Is Overhauling Teacher Evaluation and Training. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-public-schools-to-overhaul-teacher-evaluation-and-training/2016/02/10/bdb9ed2a-cf41-11e5-b2bc-988409ee911b_story.html?wprss=rss_education
Hiler, T., & Hatalsky, L. E. (2016, Feb 22). The New Normal in K–12 Education. http://www.thirdway.org/report/the-new-normal-in-k-12-education
Petrilli, M. J. (2011, Aug 26). One Size Fits Most. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-j-petrilli/one-size-fits-most_b_937850.html