Gary Rubinstein watched a panel discussion on the reform movement’s three allegedly successful turnaround districts. He reports on the discussion here. The discussion was sponsored by the Fordham Institute, which is in the forefront of the privatization movement. This is an impressive debunking of “reformer” boasts. It is especially important because so many in the media take those false claims at face value, and several states say they intend to copy one of these failed models.

 

Rubinstein points out that none of these highly touted examples of “reform” success are successful. New Orleans is a swamp of conflicting data, but the bottom line is that it continues to be one of the lowest performing districts in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. The Tennessee “Achievement School District” is based on a bold and wholly unrealistic pledge by Chris Barbic that he could take the lowest performing schools in the state and lift them into the state’s highest 25% in only five years. That has not happened, and it may never happen. The third speaker is from Michigan’s woeful Education Achievement Authority, which has produced numerous scandals but not much academic progress for the students.

 

Rubinstein uses his keen mathematical intelligence to dissect each of the reformers’ claims. In the case of the Achievement School District, he points to the slippery use of data (a common trait among all the “reform” projects):

 

In a very revealing moment, Barbic explains that he’s the one who came up with the bottom 5% to top 25% in five years. He could have just said bottom 5% to bottom 10% and he wouldn’t be taking such heat now, but having such an ambitious goal had a positive side effect since “It created a momentum and an urgency that we needed to create to get this off the ground” and allowed them to recruit ‘partners’ and leaders and teachers. In other words, it was a lie, but it was a worthwhile one since it tricked people into giving us their money.

 

Barbic makes some bizarre claims about the success so far of the ASD like that the bottom 5% ‘priority schools’ are growing ‘four times faster than the rest of the state.’ To put this in context, the rest of the state of Tennessee has had flat math scores and declining reading scores. So if the state went up, on average, of .25%, then ‘four times’ that is just 1%.

 

Rubinstein notes:

 

Watching these three turnaround gurus quote misleading statistics, give vague abstract answers, and really offer nothing in terms of concrete ideas from what they’ve learned in trying (unsuccessfully) to turnaround their respective districts, made me think that rather than call these ASDs, it would be more accurate to call them BSDs.