For a few years, Gary Rubinstein was our nation’s leading debunker of “miracle school” claims. He found that the so-called miracle schools usually had high attrition rates but somehow forgot to mention them or some other manipulation of data.

Probably because of the power of Gary’s pen, corporate reformers stopped making claims about dramatic turnarounds, in which schools zoomed from the bottom 1% to the top 10%, or some such. The Tennessee Achievement District, which Gary covered closely, was an epic example of this kind of failure, on a large scale. Its leader, Chris Barbic, boldly predicted that he would take over the state’s lowest performing schools–those in the bottom 5%–turn them over to charter operators, and within five years, they would be in the top 20% of schools in the state. It didn’t happen. Not even close. After five years, the first cohort of ASD charters were still in the bottom 5%, although one made it to the bottom 6%. The ASD has since announced that it was returning the schools to their districts, but it has not said whether they would return as public schools or charter schools.

Now Gary turns his attention to an announcement by TFA about five schools in Baltimore that were “turned around” by the miracle of having inexperienced and enthusiastic TFA teachers.

He begins:

As an ashamed TFA alum, I receive their quarterly alumni magazine, ‘One Day.’ In the most recent issue, which I also saw on their Twitter feed, was an article called ‘Undefeated: Inside Five Baltimore Turnaround Schools that Refuse to Fail.’

The article is about five Baltimore schools that are run by TFA alumni and were recipients of some of the Obama/Duncan $3 billion school turnaround grant. The most aggressive turnaround strategy is to replace the majority of the staff, which is what these five schools did. The school turnaround grants have generally been considered a failure across the country, even by staunch reformers.

(Actually it was a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education that declared that the $3 billion turnaround program was a failure; it was released quietly in the closing days of the Obama administration.)

Gary reported the boasting about miraculous turnarounds and then he reviewed the state data:

Maryland has the star system where schools can get from one to five stars, kind of like the A to F letter grades. The stars are based on test scores and also on ‘growth’ and other factors. There are 1,300 schools in Maryland and about 10% of them get either one or two stars. So 3 stars is like a ‘C’ and over 60% of the schools in the state are either 4 stars or 5 stars. Of the five schools that have been ‘turned around,’ three are still 2 stars, which is like a ‘D.’ But looking more closely at the data from these five schools, I found some pretty awful numbers.

The Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School that has the test score increases got two different percentile ranks, one for the elementary and one for the middle school. While the middle school is the one bright spot of all the schools , or subschools, in the 100% project, having risen to the bottom 28% of schools the elementary school is ranked in the bottom 8%.

One school, The Academy For College And Career Exploration (ACCE) has a middle and a high school. The middle school is ranked in the bottom 2% while the high school is in the bottom 9%. In the high school they had 9.3% score proficient in math and 3.6% score proficient in ELA. In the middle school they had 2.7% score proficient in ELA and, no this isn’t a typo, 0% score proficient in math.

The lowest rated school of the five is James McHenry Elementary/Middle. While the middle school was ranked in the bottom 15%, the elementary school was only ranked in the bottom 1%. If not for the middle school, the elementary school would be one of the 35 schools out of 1,300 that would have gotten just one star and be slated for possible closure.

I’m not sure why TFA is clinging to a narrative that went out of style about five years ago, when Arne Duncan stepped down as Secretary of Education. These five schools, on average, do not prove that firing most of the teachers in a school is likely to cause an incredible turnaround at a school.