Learning First Alliance

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A McKinsey for Every Taste

vonzastrowc's picture

Today, esteemed education historian Diane Ravitch condemned the political misappropriation of the recent McKinsey Report on the economic costs of low educational achievement. Apparently, some have made the extraordinary claim that the report questions the link between achievement gaps and poverty:

At the press conference, according to the story in The New York Times, Chancellor Klein “said the study vindicated the idea that the root cause of test-score disparities was not poverty or family circumstances, but subpar teachers and principals.” This study offered Chancellor Klein the opportunity to argue yet again, as the Education Equality Project does, that schools alone can close the achievement gap, and that such things as poverty and social disadvantage are merely excuses for those unwilling to accept the challenge.

Actually, the report doesn’t say this.... The document says little about causes and cures, just lays out what it costs our society to have so many people who are poorly educated. It does say that low-income students are likely to get less experienced, less qualified teachers, and that schools in poor neighborhoods have less money for education than those in affluent districts. Anyone of any ideology or political persuasion should be unsettled by the wide disparities between students from different economic backgrounds.

Those who see the report as just another weapon to wield against supporters of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education do us a real disservice. They make constructive discussion of the causes and effects of inequality all but impossible. They fuel a perverse debate that pits advocates for reforms within schools against advocates for reforms outside of schools.

Without a doubt, we need to address educational, social and economic inequities. They are closely intertwined.  For the present, Ravitch concludes, "the political use of the McKinsey study just serves to divert attention from the need to improve the lives of poor children and their families."

Claus, Not to split hairs,


Not to split hairs, but do you really mean to say that those who "see" the McKinsey report as just a weapon are doing a disservice. Or do you mean that those who see it as a weapon and say that out loud are doing a disservice?

Fair question, John. I

Fair question, John. I believe that those who USE it as a weapon are doing us the disservice. We need to have a frank and open discussion about the full costs and causes of inequality in this country.

Keeping with the need for a

Keeping with the need for a FULL discussion, there are two stories today that show spin, that I see verging into dishonesty. The Washington Post reporting AGAIN returned to Shaw middle school in D.C. D.C. always promotes Shaw as a victory for its data-driven accountability, but that school provides services beyond anything we in the Bolder Broader school could imagine. I'd call that typical PR spin.

But gothamschools reports on Pedro Nogeuera taking Klein on a tour of a Brooklyn school that illustrated the Broader Bolder approach. I don't blame the principal for drafting a letter that described the school's successes as victories for data-driven accountability. That, if the gotham story is correct, is just typical white lies that principals have to tell in order to keep their jobs to keep helping kids. But if the gothamschools account is correct, it shows that Klein has completely lost his moral compass.

How did we ever get to the point where we ignore scholarship (with all its human faults) and depend upon consultants for the evidence we use in discussing inequality?

Thank you for pointing me to

Thank you for pointing me to the Gotham Schools story, John. Very interesting stuff.

Is the data-driven improvement stuff in the principal's letter necessarily inconsistent with the school's strong community focus? The principal did not hide her (his?) enthusiasm for the community school model, which didn't seem to clash with his/her use of data on multiple fronts--not just for accountability purposes, but also for general improvement and professional development purposes. I should note that a number of successful public schools and school districts we profile on this website feature data-driven improvement models.

It seems that Joel Klein responded to what was most interesting to him but didn't take note of the rest. in that regard, he resembles many in the policy community who see Broader, Bolder as somehow incompatible with school reform efforts. That is clearly unfortunate. In an interview we conducted last year, Noguera clearly indicated that they were not incompatible.

He has also argued over the years that inequities within public education--such as the unequal distribution of experienced staff--exacerbate inequities outside of schools.

Thanks again for the very thoughtful comment

So, the principal and Klein

So, the principal and Klein both responded in ways that are very human?

Why is it so hard for the data-driven crowd to understand that education is a people business? Its so frustrating because we educators, though imperfect, predicted so many of the human dynamics and the unintended consequences of NCLB-type accountability.

Which brings up another virtue of the education communities. Did you see Caroline Granham's citation of Malcolm Gladwell's 2002 article on Enron and McKinsey? I haven't reread it yet. But Gladwell is consistently brilliant in his behavioral economics.

John, do you think the use of

John, do you think the use of data necessarily drives the human element out of education? I agree that lousy assessments are a huge problem and corrupt both the data and instruction in many instances. But much of the data the principal cites seems to move beyond mere assessment data, and his/her efforts to acquaint the community with even the assessment data may constitute a pretty shrewd public engagement strategy. I have to admit that I'm a bit out of my depth on this one, as I'm not very familiar with the assessments and the data systems he/she refers to--I can't judge their quality.

I actually haven't see Granham's citation of Gladwell's article and would be interested in seeing it: vonzastrowc@learningfirst.org.

Thanks again!