In a look at Chicago's dramatic school improvements, Paul Hill argues that school autonomy distinguishes high-performing schools from the run of the mill.
The Big Message from NAEP TUDA
It is tempting to squeeze the urban NAEP scores for evidence about what city is doing better or worse than other cities. But the big messages are that everyone's scores are very bad, and that cities with the highest concentrations of low-income and minority kids do the worst.
Some cities have gotten unstuck from the bottom and are regressing a little bit to the mean. That's better than staying stuck, but unless those cities increase a lot faster, and keep improving for a long time, most of their disadvantaged students will not be ready for higher education or good-paying jobs.
The deep message here is that nobody knows how to educate large numbers of disadvantaged kids successfully. A new curriculum or teacher training initiative can move the needle for a while, but results then level out. A great school can do wonders for a few kids, but efforts to replicate are seldom as successful.
As a country, we still haven't accepted the core fact that this problem remains unsolved. Nor have we decided to pursue the proven way to solve such problems—experimenting with many approaches, replicating the best, and constantly searching for options better than those currently available. For urban K-12 education, that experimentation would include new ways of using technology, organizing students' time, using teacher talents in new ways, integrating social services, allocating public money, and regulating public schools.
Today, we are stuck with competing certainties: Technology will be the answer… No! Standardization of teachers and teaching is what's needed… No! Social services and income transfer programs will do the trick… and so on. In the current environment of advocacy and counter-advocacy, we cherry-pick evidence and ignore ideas from other camps.
Experimentation will probably reveal that no one approach is best in all cases, but that kids with certain characteristics need different combinations of formal instruction, experiential learning, adult support, and ancillary services. It will also lead to continuous improvement, so that more and better options are constantly emerging. That is the point of the portfolio strategy, which CRPE is helping many cities adopt. It doesn't assume that one kind of school or provider is best, but opens up public education to ideas from many sources and allows students, teachers, and public funds to move from less- to more-effective schools.
As Robin shows in her post yesterday, the NAEP TUDA scores could become more useful in tracking progress and understanding what’s behind score changes. But for now all they can really tell us is that the problem of educating low-income and minority children in big cities is still waiting out there to be solved.
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