Education Reform Is Slow

Kevin Drum notes a growing backlash against education reform, citing Diane Ravitch, Emily Yoffe and this Newsweek (which is really this private foundation report in disguise) as examples. The last of these, about the failed attempts of several billionaires to improve education through foundation grants, is really kind of maddening. It makes the billionaires in question (Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Eli Broad, and the Wal-Mart Waltons) sound like feckless idiots, but I can’t tell if that’s just bad writing.

The core of the piece is the finding that the districts these guys put money into haven’t made the dramatic improvements they hoped for:

In a first-of-its-kind computer analysis, iWatch News analyzed the graduation rates and test scores in 10 major urban districts — from New York City to Oakland — which collectively took in almost one-fourth of the total money poured in by these top four education philanthropists.

The results, though mixed, provide dispiriting proof that the billionaires have not found a one-size-fits-all solution to education reform and that money alone can’t repair the desperate state of urban education.

For all the millions spent on reforms, nine of the 10 school districts studied substantially trailed their state’s proficiency and graduation rates — often by 10 points or more, the analysis found. And while the urban districts made some gains, they managed only 60 percent of the time to improve at a rate faster than their states. Those spikes weren’t enough to materially reduce persistent gulfs between poor, inner-city schools, where the big givers focused, and their suburban and rural counterparts.

That sounds damning, but not necessarily of the billionaires’ efforts. The way a lot of this is phrased makes it sound like they did really superficial and inadequate comparisons, and the “methodology” notes in the sidebar they give don’t have enough detail to tell whether they really did the comparison stupidly, or just wrote about it badly. Of course, they also make a point of noting that the metrics they used are the same used by some of the wealthy foundations involved, which may make the exact nature of the failure kind of a moot point.

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