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Thompson: Professional Development and Gentrification Take a Bow

Achievement-gap The reasons given for the District of Columbia’s continued improvement in NAEP Math scores are persuasive, "an increased focus on the use of games, calculators and written responses -- to help students demonstrate their reasoning in solving a problem ... The emphasis dates to Janey's tenure but has been redoubled under Rhee." Before the increased investments that accompanied NCLB, how many elementary teachers had a background in math and/or math instruction? As recently as 2007, 45% of 8th grade Black math students had a teacher without a major or minor in math, while 52% had an 8th grade math teacher who left before the school year was over. So, the Win Win strategy of increased professional development makes sense.

Even with the urban district that has received accolades after the latest NAEP report, the details point to a second factor - gentrification. D.C. 8th grade scores rose only for students in the 90th percentile, as the scores for Blacks declined slightly and low income scores remained flat.

(Before Rhee, scores increased for 8th graders at the 50th, 75th, and 90th percentile.)

As Secretary Duncan recently explained, 3rd (or 4th) grade test scores do not a career make. Math scores have been rising steadily since 1990, while the most important measures, 8th grade Reading and high school indicators have remained flat since NCLB. Math, at least in the early and middle years, is the discipline that is most amenable to the curriculum alignment encouraged by the standards and accountability movements.

The other East Coast urban district, New York City, that exemplified data-driven accountability, produced gains of eight and nine points from 2003 for Black and Low-income 8th graders, as the district's budget increased from $12.7 to over $20 billion during an economic boom. Two districts adopting kinder and gentler reforms, Boston and Atlanta, did not receive the same glowing press after the latest report but they have made much more progress in leaving no child behind. Boston has produced 17 point increases in both Black and Low Income 8th grade scores, while Atlanta posted 14 point gains for both groups.

Researching the latest report sent me back to Debbie Viadero who directed readers to the ETS's "Parsing the Achievment Gap II."  Both provided reminders that we want to help poor kids we must return to the principle the "You are not the problem.  I am not the problem.  The Problem is the Problem."  


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