Current School Reform Is Bad Math

Current School Reform Is Bad Math

Here is a list of reasons why the advocates and priorities of the current school reform movement don't add up.

Venture philanthropy is a relatively new concept (i.e. buzz word) in education reform, but it’s largely driving the education reform movement. Financed by billionaires, well-funded foundations and conservative PACs, and championed by everyone from Bill Gates to Michelle Rhee to U.S. Education Sectary Arne Duncan, the movement pushes for a free-market approach to public education. There are two fundamental issues with the movement; venture philanthropy advocates for a data-driven approach, but the data doesn’t support this type of school reform. The other issues is that applying a private sector solution to a public sector problem will inevitably change one into the other.

Here’s a run-down of the contradictions and lapses in logic guiding the current education reform agenda.

Michelle Rhee – A education reform darling and the poster child (along with her StudentsFirst organization) for cutting school budgets, increasing accountability, and attaching teacher pay to test scores; Rhee has exactly three years of real in-the-classroom experience from back in the 1990’s. Plus, she’s making a lot of money (personally) by being the poster child for this well-funded reform movement, which often has the effect of sustaining ideology even in the face of bad math.

Arne Duncan – Former superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, worked with the Gates Foundation in the early aughts when Bill and Melinda were just starting to dabble in social engineering via “venture philanthropy.” The first education reform effort, which Duncan agreed to pilot in Chicago with the Gates’ money, failed miserably. Today, the Department of Education, lead by Duncan, is staffed with friend and former employees of the Gates’ Foundation as it works pass Bill and Melinda's "education reform 2.0."

Gates’ Foundation – The Gates Foundation promote using venture capitalism strategies in philanthropic endeavors. In this case, applying free-market ideas to improving the public education system. The Foundation, and their many partners, advocate for higher teacher pay which is tied to student performance, particularly on standardized tests. They also advocate for corporate-style reorganization of failing schools, often by for-profit companies or private companies backed by public funds and a public charter. However, venture capitalism also uses sound data to build strategy, which is not necessarily present in venture philanthropy.

Teacher Pay and Student Test Scores – Evidence clearly shows that a value-added formula for assessing teachers’ performance based on student test scores is inconsistent and inconclusive. There are frequently wild swings from year to year in student achievement, because “value-added” looks at the performance of a teachers’ students year-to-year, which means they’re taking data from different students each time. Even Michelle Rhee, who supports value added formulas for determining teacher pay, that they’re not accurate. But, she says, “they’re the best measure we have.” Who would want their salary based on something with that kind of endorsement?

Charter Schools – Every nonpartisan study on the effectiveness of charter schools fails to provide clear evidence for or against. Some charter schools function remarkably better than the public school they reorganized (like the ones highlighted in the documentary Waiting for Superman). However, many charters also perform much worse than the schools they replaced. Finally, and this is an argument almost as old as the country itself, increased privatization will only create even larger inequities in the education system. The research backs this up, showing that from Florida to Colorado to Connecticut, low-income and minority children are served in far fewer numbers than traditional public schools. If closing the achievement gap between vulnerable populations of children and the rest is a national priority, charter schools clearly will not accomplish that.