When I first read the Education Research Alliance (ERA) report on the effectiveness of the competition-driven New Orleans model of reform, it was clear that true believers in "relinquishment" and market-driven reform would be disappointed by its findings. However, they have still spun the mixed results from the NOLA corporate reform model as a great success.
I have left the fact checking of the ERA's methodology and data to the experts. I've mostly limited myself to fact checking the reformers' spin - the soundbites they use to put the NOLA record in the best possible light, and to use its model to break unions and extend test-driven reform across the nation.
I admit to being surprised that analyses such as those of the NEPC, Andrea Gabor, The International Business Times, In These Times, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Mercedes Schneider, Gary Rubenstein, and others have found so many problems with the ERA research. I still remain most shocked by the soundbite of the respected researcher Douglas Harris who has contributed to headlines asserting that the reforms "worked."
At first, I assumed Harris was just being diplomatic when he said that the "typical elementary- or middle-school student's scores rose by 8 to 15 percentage points," and that "We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time."
In fact, I'm not aware of many districts that haven't made dramatic increases in bubble-in test scores over a short time, and then saw those illusory gains disappear.
It is hard to believe that any scholar would be so quick to trust bubble-in data after reading Is the No Child Left Behind Act Working? by Bruce Fuller, Kathryn Gesicki, Erin Kang, Joseph Wright. Fuller et. al assemble a much greater batch of test score growth claims by entire states, not just a district with an unflinching focus on bubble-in accountability.
How could scholars forget the New Jersey Miracle, where 4th grade reading scores increased 7.9 points per year for nearly as long as NOLA produced gains? NOLA can't hold a candle to Arkansas's miracle where 4th grade reading scores increased by 19 points between 2001 and 2002, and where there was nearly a 75% increase in those scores in four years. In fact, Fuller et. al calculate an average of the average of gains in fourteen states and find 2.6 and 2.7 points per year for the decade preceding NCLB!