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Gary Rubinstein has written a series of letters to leaders of the “reform” movement. Some have replied. Up to this point, he wrote to people he knew during his years at TFA. Now he has started what (hopefully) will be a series written to “reformers I don’t know,” and he writes his first letter to Joel Klein, whose book he is reading. He patiently and civilly explains to Klein why the reform movement is floundering and foundering. He explains why TFA doesn’t make much difference; why merit pay doesn’t work; why ed tech is limited as a classroom tool; and why value-added measurement of teachers by test scores doesn’t work.
Since Gary has made a specialty of calling out inflated claims, he ends on this note:
The one that I really got you on was P-Tech. I wrote about how they only had a school average of about 30% on those tests. You thought this number was skewed by the fact that they require so many of their students to take the test so it is unfair to compare to a school where not so many kids take it. But when I dug deeper into the public data I learned that only 1.8% of the P-Tech students passed Geometry and 1.6% passed Algebra II. Even if every student in the school took those tests, that would be only about 5 kids passing for each test. That is really bad. P-Tech is a test score disaster. I know that you used it in the introduction to your book about how the choice to shut down a school and open another can lead to great improvement. In this case, this particular school hasn’t accomplished much. Yet, you defend this school so vigorously. Why? I think you would have more credibility if you were to admit that P-Tech is a disaster, at least when it comes to math Regents. When you give free passes to people you have relationships with — whether it is P-Tech or AP scores in Louisiana or KIPP schools in New Orleans that have low test scores — aren’t reformers supposed to be all about ‘increased autonomy for increased accountability’? When you selectively hold people and schools that you don’t have a connection to more strict accountability than the ones you do, I don’t respect that.
One of your friends and now a co-worker at Amplify is education reform celebrity Geoffrey Canada. I actually am very much in favor of wrap-around services as a way of helping kids overcome some of the out-of-school factors that serve as obstacles to their learning. Unfortunately when you look at the test scores at Harlem Children’s Zone, they are horrible. I know this may make it seem like wrap-around services are underrated, but in this case the poor test results are an example of a very badly run school, despite the wrap-arounds. I know this because a former student of mine who is now a very happy teacher at Success Academy spent her first miserable year of teaching at Harlem Children’s Zone. She said it was a very toxic environment where nobody in charge knew what they were doing. You surely know that Canada ‘fired’ two different cohorts of students since their bad test scores were, I suspect, dragging down his reputation. To throw away two groups of struggling kids is completely at odds with the sorts of things you write in your book about how all kids can thrive if permitted to learn in the right environment.
Finally, I’ve noticed many inconsistencies in many of your arguments. When critics say that graduation rate is up to back up their point that schools are not in crisis, you point to the flat long term NAEP scores to refute them. Then when critics say that New York City has not made great improvements during your tenure and use the lack of NAEP gains (that first test that was administered before you got there doesn’t count, you know!) you point to the increased graduation rate. I think you need to pick what metrics you think are valid and stick to them.
I hope Klein writes Gary Rubinstein a reply.