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Thompson: The Truth is the First Casualty

Courage "No Child Left Behind produced the best history scores ever for all groups and all grades." - Karl Rove

If you believe that revisionism, President Obama has an ESEA plan for you. It will even make all high school graduates college-ready by 2020!

As the war on inner city teachers intensifies, we should set the record straight on its second casualty. Central Falls High School was a different type of victim of Secretary Duncan’s definition of "multiple measures," which means that it can only take a single measure (a test score growth target) to destroy a teacher’s career. But educators may need to get past multiple subjective measures in order to remain in the classroom.

Central Falls was brought down by the Rovian use of its single measure of a 7% proficiency rate in Algebra II because it was an irresistibly powerful sound bite ("just 7% ... 7%" said the President). Multiple measures would have revealed the school to be in the middle of the pack for comparable schools.

This is the time to ask what the President knew and when did he know it (or not know it) about the realities of school turnarounds. Did the President know that Central Falls had increased math performance by an amount that was greater than a school he had showcased? Their latest reading scores increased by 11 percent while writing scores jumped by 9 percent.

In Reading, the scores of students earning Proficient or above increased from 22% with their 7th grade feeder students to 56% in 11th grade. That placed Central Falls in the middle of Rhode Island’s other urban high schools, "behind the lower-poverty ones (Tolman, 64%; Shea, 62%; Woonsocket, 60%), tied with The MET and Providence Academy for International Studies, and ahead of Central (51%), Hope Leadership (49%), Hope IT (47%), and Alvarez (44%) in Providence.

If the President wants a heads up on the problems with his proposed policies for turning around schools that are in the bottom 5% of their state, he should check out NPR's account of the story, or compare Central Falls' record with turnarounds inititated by Duncan in Chicago.

In contrast to the charter schools visited by the administration, that DID NOT keep all of the same students, Central Falls had 0 alternative placements in 2008. Since it serves a 1.3 square mile area, population is transient (with the 2nd highest mobility rate in the state) thus decreasing the graduation rate. Even so, its five year graduation rate is 70% or 2nd highest in the city.

The district superintendent had recently praised Central Falls and its reforms that "are the result of hundreds of hours of planning by teachers and administrators. ... This came from the bottom up. It’s their work. It’s their dream."

And in 2009, Central Falls received a positive report from the Commissioner on its progress which concluded:


"Thank you for the hospitality that was shown to the Commissioner’s Visit Team throughout the two days of our visit. The school was well prepared and students, staff and parents were all very accommodating..... Take the time to celebrate your successes and accomplishments in building a school-wide culture of literacy. Be sure to take the time as well to have the conversations that need to take place and determine the best ways for your school to proceed. Recognize that your work is not finished as you continue to move forward in this charge. I wish you continued success in the future."

Even so, Central Falls could not make it past the last of the multiple hurdles. In discussions that the New York Times described as negotiations (which are supposed to be conducted in "good faith"), the district cut off talks three weeks before the deadline. State Commissioner Gist explained that the district superintendent was correct in rejecting the teachers’ proposals if "there is something that the superintendent feels is a message to her" that the teachers’ plan is not good enough.

I should be pleased, I guess, that Secretary Duncan's ESEA has borrowed a traditional practice from my part of the world. Even when it is just Okies on a long camping trip, we eventually need to change our underwear. Typically, those campers on the left of the tent swap our drawers with those on the right side.

Similarly, as ½ of the teachers in one low performing school are fired, they will change over to another failing school, replacing their teachers. If you think that is an exaggeration, check out the new studies by the Center for American Progress. Even in the charters with some of the best national systems for recruitment, the CAP concluded, "the absence of viable replacement teachers ... is particularly striking given the considerable time and effort that these charter schools spend on recruiting ..."  One of the schools featured in the CAP study reported "I would love to say that because we’re a strong charter school network that we have people banging down the doors" to teach, but they still struggle to find talent. Another charter reported "we did not see one math teacher" who was qualified to replace a marginal educator.

At the same time, administrators will dust off the same old NCLB loopholes that made NCLB such "a great success" in the mind of Karl Rove.

Update:  GothamSchools links to the latest AP account of the Central Falls closing.


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Sorry--but is that Rove quotation real? Stunning.

Yeah, its in his new memoir.

Many educators (especially secondary) have indicated their dismay with proficiency cutoff scores. With Race To The Top there is discussion of grad and attendance rates. There seems to be a little more global look at school accountability.

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