New Report Claims School Reforms in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Have Been Exaggerated!

Dear Commons Community,

The Broader Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) is a national campaign that acknowledges the impact of social and economic disadvantage on schools and students and proposes evidence-based policies to improve schools and remedy conditions that limit many children’s readiness to learn.  As provided on the BBA website:

“The Economic Policy Institute convened the original BBA signatories and Task Force and continues to provide in-kind technical and logistical assistance. It is funded in part by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Atlantic Philanthropies. ”

BBA recently issued a major report claiming that many of the accomplishments in school reform in three major cities (New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) have been exaggerated.  Specifically the Executive Summary of the report summarizes its findings as follows:

“Federal policies such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, bolstered by organized advocacy efforts, is making a popular set of market-oriented education “reforms” look more like the new status quo than real reform.

Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased school “choice” through expanded access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under-enrolled schools will boost falling student achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps.

This report examines these assertions by assessing the impacts of these reforms in three large urban school districts: Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago. These districts were studied because all enjoy the benefit of mayoral control, produce reliable district-level test score data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and were led by vocal reformers who implemented versions of this agenda.


The reforms deliver few benefits and in some cases harm the students they purport to help, while drawing attention and resources away from policies with real promise to address poverty-related barriers to school success:

.Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.

.Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.

.Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.

.School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.

.Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.

. Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.

.The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance. Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realistic, patient, and multipronged.”

This report was written by Elaine Weiss and Don Long.  Dr. Weiss is the national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. She has a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. in public policy from The Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at The George Washington University.

Don Long has been a consultant for BBA since November 2011.  Mr. Long was director of the State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS) and program manager at Pearson Educational Measurement in Austin, Texas. Long has a Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas, Austin.

This report provides important commentary on school reform and is a “must-read” for anyone interested in urban education.



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