A torrent of "market-oriented" policies meant to improve schools, including tying teacher evaluation to tests and promoting charter schools, have not lived up to the promises and hype surrounding them, a new report contends.
Those policies and others favored by prominent policymakers today have instead been counterproductive and are "no match for the complex, poverty-related problems they seek to solve," the authors say.
The report, "Market-Oriented Education Reforms' Rhetoric Trumps Reality," was released by the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, an organization that sees poverty as a major factor in low student achievement, and one that is too often being discounted today.
The report uses the term "market-oriented" to refer to education policies based on the conviction that the key to improving schools is promoting various forms of competition, explained Elaine Weiss, national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder group, who co-authored the report along with colleague Don Long. The organization is housed within the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on the needs of low- and middle-income workers, though the Bolder, Broader group's policy agenda is independent from EPI, Weiss said.
The authors focus primarily on examining the impact of school policies in three major urban areas: Chicago, New York, and Washington.
They say the evidence shows that school closures did not result in students shifting to better schools, or in cost savings. And they see test-based teacher evaluations as having drained the pool of experienced educators without producing gains in performance.
And overall, they quarrel with what they describe as the "no-excuses" language used by the former leaders of the District of Columbia and New York City school systems, Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, who the authors say have too often brushed past research showing the overriding connection between poverty level and student performance. The authors write:
Achievement gaps have their root in opportunity gaps. Only by closing the latter can we begin to shrink the former....Effective reform must recognize the huge impact of community factors, leverage the community's resources, and establish supports to compensate for gaps. Without such supports, gaps in kindergarten readiness, physical and mental health, nutrition, and extracurricular enrichment opportunities will continue to thwart even the most effective reforms that stop at the classroom and school walls.
Still, they do mention that effective education programs have been put in place in the three cities. They cite a number of current or former initiatives, including a New York City small-school effort that brought community partners to schools to provide coaching and other services. In Chicago several years ago, then school district CEO Arne Duncan aggressively recruited from top teacher-training programs, and stepped up college-preparation efforts. And the District of Columbia schools at one point expanded full-day voluntary prekindergarten programs and adopted a holistic curriculum, the report says.
But those efforts, Weiss and Long argue, "failed to receive the attention or funding needed to have a real impact."