Counting our chickens
Eli Broad is counting his chickens before they're hatched. In a Detroit Free Press op-ed, he counts Washington, DC among urban school districts that "have successfully turned around after producing abysmal student outcomes."
Seems a bit premature to declare victory in DC schools, doesn't it? Apparently, Broad is confusing the implementation of his favored reforms with their success:
In every one of these cities, real changes for students happened only after mayors or governors took over and put in place strong leaders who had a serious desire to rebuild.
It's true that DC's test scores rose significantly a scant ten months after Mayor Fenty took over the schools and Michelle Rhee became superintendent. But those gains could just as well have resulted from her predecessor's efforts to upgrade and align standards, curriculum and assessments. Before those gains became news, Rhee herself argued quite reasonably that it would take a few years for her reforms to show results.
Broad's op-ed illustrates a common, though worrying, tendency. We celebrate a short-term improvement as proof positive of our favorite reform's success--And then we campaign to multiply that reform in every city across the land.
The benefits of mayoral control are of course hardly beyond dispute. But to those who believe they have found the magic beans in mayoral control or any other sweeping governance change, the means of reform can eclipse the ends. Sure, a mayoral takeover can "turn around" an urban school district, but will it always turn things in the right direction?
Unfortunately, the national media leave the impression that dramatic governance changes are the only hope for urban schools. In the meantime, the durable and impressive successes of districts like Atlanta, Georgia earn precious little attention in the press. For a decade, Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall has presided over the only urban school system that boasts significant and sustained increases in both state test scores and NAEP scores. The Atlanta school district managed this feat without the high drama of a mayoral takeover. Instead, Hall focused on hum-drum topics like instruction, leadership and curriculum.
Of course, high drama--and a simple story line--sells papers.
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The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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