Monday, July 11, 2011

Education Reform’s Two-Month Warning

On the topic of realistic expectations about progress that can be made, and over what time period, Tough makes some good points in a separate blog post about an article by Fordham's Mike Petrilli.  I think this is a very important discussion:

What I like about Petrilli's approach is that it gets very specific and very immediate about the landscape in front of us: 1 million poor kids entering kindergarten in less than two months. And it challenges us with the fact that as policy makers – or voters or taxpayers – we are responsible for making dozens of different policy decisions, both inside and outside schools, that will directly affect how well those kids will do in school and how many of them will graduate from high school and from college.

I like Petrilli's question. I just don't like his answer. I think he sets the bar way too low:

Assuming that these 1 million kids remain poor over the next 12 years, what outcomes would indicate "success" for education reform? Right now the high school graduation rate in poor districts is generally about 50 percent. What if we moved that to 60 percent? Right now the reading proficiency rate for 12th graders with parents who dropped out of high school is 17 percent. What if we moved that to 25 percent? The same rate for math is 8 percent. What if we moved that to 15 percent?

To my eye, these are stretch goals – challenging but attainable. Yet to adopt them would mean to expect about 400,000 kindergarteners not to graduate from high school 12 years from now. And of the 600,000 that do graduate, we would expect only 150,000 to reach proficiency in reading (25 percent) and just 90,000 of them to be proficient in math (15 percent).

Petrilli is right that these results would be a significant improvement on where we are today. But I certainly hope that he's wrong that they are the most we can hope to achieve. Do we really want to accept that the best that the United States can do for those 1 million 5-year-olds, with 13 years and vast resources at our disposal, is to get 90,000 of them to proficiency in math, while we let the other 910,000 fail?

To me, a goal that is more closely aligned with the ideals of the nation, while still entirely realistic, would be the one that the Gates Foundation has adopted, to have 80 percent of American teenagers graduating from high school "with the knowledge and skills they need to complete college." Or the goal of the KIPP charter schools: for 75 percent of their (mostly low-income) incoming fifth-grade students to go on to earn a four-year college degree.

Once we decide on the targets we want to reach, the rest is relatively straightforward (though still incredibly difficult): finding the cheapest, fastest and most effective interventions to get us there.


July 8, 2011, 3:26 pm

Education Reform's Two-Month Warning


 Subscribe in a reader