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Update: Mother Jones Writer Responds Re Mission High

Gilbert_37.1_wiresLast week I wrote a  blog post titled Everything You Read In That Mother Jones Article Is Wrong. This week, writer Kristina Rizga responded in the comments, which I'm posting here so everyone can see it.  

I'm happy that she took the time, though I have to say that most of her responses are, well, nonresponsive.   As you will see, Rizga basically just dodges the claim I make that it's misleading to suggest that there are lots of examples of diverse, improving urban schools like Mission High in her story.  Her response on the issue of whether SIG requirements are stiff or radical ignores the reports from CEP and others that suggest a lot of "transformation" but not that much outright closing or restaffing of schools, or conversions.  She claims that her protagonist Maria was deeply unseated by the bad standardized test score results but provides no evidence of any dramatic or long term impact on Maria's life.  

As I said before, I think there's lots to admire in Rizga's article in terms of reporting and writing, but the situation she describes at Mission just doesn't fit the policies and descriptions she gives connecting the school to the larger reform world.  


Thank you for reading and commenting. Just wanted to respond to some of your specific comments:

1. “The suggestion is that there are lots of low-performing schools like Mission High, in terms of either diversity, progress, or other measures like college acceptance rates. But there's really no evidence of this.”

Is there an academic study that has looked at most of our country’s 100,000 schools and evaluated them in a more nuanced way--test scores, quality of student work, graduation rates, college enrollment, or parent and student satisfaction surveys--than just test scores? I couldn’t find any. I also found very few reported stories that went beyond the test scores, which I point out is a shame. It gives us overly simple answers to very complicated questions. But some education reporters have found schools where there was a disconnect between what the tests showed and what students and community said about the quality of their schools. For example, see The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/nyregion/brooklyn-school-failing-by-the-data-succeeds-where-it-counts.html Or PBS’ John Merrow: http://learningmatters.tv/blog/on-pbs-newshour/good-school-bad-school/7162/  Question for you: Where is the evidence for your strong conviction that most schools are NOT like Mission High? How do you know?

2. “The article is equally misleading when it comes to descriptions of the laws that govern schools. According to the piece, failure to perform on state tests results in "stiff penalities" for schools like the one being profiled here. But this is just nonsense. The principal at Mission High stays on the job - he's a relatively recent arrival. His school gets a windfall of cash.”

I know that you know that SIG comes with both carrots (funding) and sticks (request to choose four restructuring options). Yes, Mission High uses a loophole but that doesn’t mean that the rest of 843 SIG schools didn’t have to go through radical changes. Are you saying that a requirement to replace the principal or half of the staff are not “stiff penalties?”

3. “The protagonist -- an immigrant student named Maria -- is dismayed that her standardized test scores are so much lower than her classroom performance but otherwise unimpeded in her academic progress.”

Actually, if you read the story closely you see that Maria views test scores--as most immigrant students I met do--as a meaningful grade by the people outside of her school and it did deplete Maria’s confidence when she first saw the score. Did she still get good grades? Yes, but it took a lot of work by her teachers and counselors to convince her that she is still smart despite the fact that she is still learning English and struggling with basic skills that she didn’t get in her previous rural school in El Salvador.


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She’s got a serious point there. I can’t think of a single wide-scale study that measured students in terms of something other than test score; this is probably because no one seems to be able to agree on how exactly students should be measured.

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