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December 12, 2011


Dana, I like the work you're doing here very much, but I have to disagree with something: I don't believe it is realistic to hold ALL children to a "proficient" standard on the NAEP. "Proficient" has a specific contextual meaning on the NAEP:

From Diane Ravitch's Death and Life of the Great American School System:

The term "proficiency" - which is the goal of the law - is not the same as "minimal literacy." The term "proficiency" has been used since the early 1990s by the federal testing program, the National Assessment of Education Progress, where it connotes a very high level of academic achievement. (p. 102)


That said, I think your analysis is still solid. And if we shouldn't blame Rhee for this, she sure as hell shouldn't take credit for it either:


Thanks for this additional analysis, Dana. I’m appealing to others in the media, including Alexander Russo, to do the same. I find it startling that after the media hoopla crediting Rhee’s bold reforms with every score increase while she was in DC (despite greater gains before she came and evidence of widespread cheating during her tenure), there are reservations about crediting her and her former deputy and successor Kaya Henderson with the obvious dearth of positive results almost five years into their huge reform efforts.

Also, rather than just commenting on the many factors that could have improved achievement in Charlotte, it seems that education analysts and reformers who truly care about students would be obliged to want to take a closer look at factors such as teacher characteristics – which Rhee and Henderson emphasized so much in DC. For instance, compare teacher experience and educational levels, type and perceived quality of teacher evaluation (tied to student scores?) teacher turnover, percentage fired vs. quitting or retiring, teacher satisfaction, the number and quality of PD opportunities. Beyond studying teachers, analysts could study central office operations – staff experience level and salaries, use of consultants, programs implemented, etc.

The current caution about criticizing and analyzing school reform is in stark contrast to the license with which many of these bold but untested reforms were promoted just a few years ago. If school reform is really about improving student achievement, the focus should shift from praising or protecting the reformers to figuring out how to help the children.

This and previous post by efavorite -- don't know what "D" is about.

Thank you JJ and DD for the smart comments. For more detailed information on teacher characteristics in DC, check out this post. There has been high turnover, and only about half the people who leave have poor evaluation scores. In other words, a large number of effective teachers are leaving the district.


I think we have to be more than simply skeptical of tying teacher evaluations and compensation to test scores. It is ruining elementary education in the United States.

Dana -- DD or D is actually efavorite - don't know why my yahoo ID is not showing up properly.

I've seen your churn and burn post -- very nice. Now if you can get similar teacher info on Charlotte and compare, it could provide really useful insights. If Charlotte's teacher data is similar to DC's, it will not be helpful or suggest that teachers don't matter much - that something else matters more. If Charlotte has much higher teacher retention, experience, etc, then it suggests (but doesn't prove) that DCs pattern is not conducive to higher student achievement.

But you can bet that if DC's scores had significantly improved, Rhee's slash-and-burn approach would have gotten credit for it. It seems like the press, along with the reform establishment, is more ready to praise a hero than it is to assess the facts.

Hopefully, that is finally changing. The fact that Duncan is not out trying to make lemonade out of lemons and the press is largely quiet about the NAEP results are good signs. The next steps are reality-based assessment and criticism.


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