How the Promise of Market Reforms is Falling Short

The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education is a national campaign that acknowledges the impact of social and economic disadvantage on schools and students and provides evidence-based policies to improve schools and remedy conditions that limit many children’s readiness to learn. BBA was launched in 2008 by the Economic Policy Institute, but is guided by outside co-chairs and an independent Advisory Council that shape policies distinct from those of EPI.

BBA recently published a report written by Elaine Weiss and Don Long entitled, “Market-Oriented Education Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality,” offering commentary on the impacts of test-based teacher evaluations, school closures, and increased charter-school access on student outcomes in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC. The Executive Summary of the report may be found here. The full report may be found here.

The key findings of the report offer that the reforms that have become so popular with those pushing vouchers, charter schools, and school choice along with high stakes testing and teacher evaluations tied to those tests “deliver few benefits and in some cases harm the students they purport to help, while drawing attention and resources away from policies with real promise to address poverty-related barriers to school success…”

More specifically, the report offers the following insights:

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
  • Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
  • Test -based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
  • Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for those highest-needs students.
  • Emphasis on widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with great promise.
  • The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps:  the influence of poverty on academic performance. Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realisitic, patient, and multipronged.

I urge you to read the Executive Summary if you don’t have time to read the full report. If you are a veteran teacher, you won’t find any surprises here, but you will find information that validates what you already know about what is not working in public education today, and it will give you a tool for speaking cogently with those who would have you believe that the education reformers are on the right track. We know that they aren’t. We know, in fact, that while poverty is not an excuse for poor academic performance, it is sure as heck a reason for why children coming from low income homes start school at a disadvantage that is rarely caught up because our budgets have been shrunk and our ridiculous focus on testing as opposed to learning has put the focus on the wrong target.

I urge you to read the report or at least the Executive Summary and go to your next school board meeting armed with this information. Share the report. Your Superintendent needs to see it as does your Principal and all of the members of you school board, your city council or your county board of supervisors. Decision makers need to know the harm they are doing and they need to stop telling themselves that they are on the right track when they clearly are not.

Stand up. Speak out. Truth to Power. That is what we need today. I appreciate BBA for making this report available.