Monday Reading List: Inconvenient Truths

Erika Sanzi is in Education Week, and she wants to know where she can find the outrage over the graduation-rate fiasco in Washington, DC:

One would think that the loudest accountability hawks in the education reform movement would be beside themselves, writing op-eds, and taking the battle to Twitter in the name of justice for students. But as the details of the graduation-rate investigation by NPR and Washington’s local public radio station (WAMU) have emerged, these avatars of accountability have been uncharacteristically silent. The very same folks who are quick to jump on the slightest whisper of wrongdoing in virtual charters and voucher programs, for example, have suddenly lost their aversion to dishonesty and fraud.

You should read the whole thing, because Sanzi is making some challenging points, no matter where your ideologies and loyalties reside. Given the level of scrutiny and investigatory resources currently focused on this problem, there are bound to be additional stories. 

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Speaking of inconvenient narratives, Theresa Peña is in The Denver Post, with a sobering take on the progress in that city:

Almost 11 years ago, when I served on the Denver Board of Education, the board and then-Superintendent Michael Bennet published a lengthy manifesto detailing how we planned to transform and radically improve public education in Denver ... In 2007 our board believed we were starting a revolution. We were going to dramatically change outcomes for Denver students. We were going to construct a new educational system that served students first. We believed that the goals in our strategic plan, known as the Denver Plan, would close the achievement gap and set a new path forward for all graduates of Denver Public Schools. I am writing today to tell you that we failed. And, as a city and a school district we are still collectively failing our neediest students.

Peña acknowledges that there has been significant progress, but she points out that enormous inequities still exist in the city schools. Perhaps most compellingly, she argues that the district has focused too much on governance change, and too little on both monitoring achievement, and supporting the academic improvements that drive instruction in the classroom.

I want to co-sign this last critique, not for Denver in particular, but for the education sector more generally. In the last generation of reforms, folks - myself included - became spectacularly enamored of governance changes as the inevitable predecessors of radical positive change. That included state takeover, mayoral control, the "portfolio model," charter schools, appointed school boards, and even community schools. The most rigorous thinking around these ideas suggested that the governance model of traditional public schools lacked serious accountability, and that more rigorous improvements would follow from governance change.

I still don't think that traditional school boards are good at holding themselves accountable for improvement, but there doesn't seem to be much empirical evidence for the inevitable superiority of the alternatives either. 

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Finally today, James McWilliams is in Pacific Standard, interviewing Bryan Stevenson about what white folks need to understand about race:

You can't understand many of the most destructive issues or policies in our country without understanding our history of racial inequality. And I actually think it begins with our interaction with native people, because we took land, we killed people, we disrupted a culture. We were brutal. And we justified and rationalized that land grab, that genocide, by characterizing native people as different. It was the first way in which this narrative of racial difference was employed to justify behaviors that would otherwise be unjustifiable. When you are allowed to demonize another community and call them savages, and treat them brutally and cruelly, it changes your psyche. We abused and mistreated the communities and cultures that existed on this land before Europeans arrived, and then that narrative of racial difference was used to develop slavery.

The whole interview is filled with powerful insights like this one. Read it!

Have a great week!