The NYC HIgh School Improvement Experience

Whenever Eduflack writes about the “successes” of New York City’s school improvement efforts under Chancellor Joel Klein, I get publicly flogged by some audience or another.  Most take significant issue with my conclusions that NYC Department of Education has improved the quality of the public schools.  Others take issue with giving Klein (and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) credit for such school improvement.  And even if I can get the opposition to acknowledge an uptick in student achievement in NYC, they will immediately retort that the gains are minimal, and not nearly enough to declare turnaround efforts in New York a success.

My responses to such criticism have been relatively simple.  The test scores, at least on New York’s state exams, do show gains in both reading and math in NYC.  If you don’t believe the final tallies coming from Albany, you should at least acknowledge that NYC has won the Broad Prize, and that Broad similarly crunched the numbers and found academic gains across the city.  And if the gains aren’t big enough for you yet, first, give it time.  Then remember how large the NYCDOE truly is.  Upticks in a system that size are worthy of praise.
Always a glutton for punishment, Eduflack is going to raise the NYC achievement flag again.  Today, we’re going to reflect on a forum hosted yesterday by the Alliance for Excellent Education.  Offering a multi-hour symposium yesterday under the banner of “Informing Federal Education Policy Through Lessons from New York City,” the Alliance also put a spotlight on a new report it has released, “New York City’s Strategy for Improving High Schools.”

So let’s take a look at the most recent set of numbers, namely four-year high school graduation rates.  The Alliance took a look at four different calculations of NYC graduation data from 2002 to the present.  By NYC’s own calculations, grad rates rose more than 29 percent from 2002 to 2008, from 51 percent to 66 percent.  According to the state calculation, rates increased nearly 52 percent, from 40 percent to 61 percent.  EdWeek has the number increasing 35 percent from 2002 to 2006 (37 percent to 50 percent).  And Jennifer Jennings and Leonie Haimson have the grad rates lifted nearly 18 percent from 2002 to 2007 (40 percent to 47 percent).

Let’s set aside, for a second, the fact that no one started with the same 2002 baseline.  (yes, we still have problems with data collection and such)  Even if we throw out the top score and the bottom score (in the Olympic tradition), we are still looking at a gain in NYC’s high school graduation rates of nearly 33 percent from where we started in 2002.  In an era of drop-out factories and rising dropout rates, such numbers in NYC are worth paying attention to.

Whether you like the rhetoric coming out of NYCDOE or not, you can’t deny that the Klein plan has had a real impact, and an impact for the good.  As other urban centers struggle to deal with graduation rate challenges, NYC has found real solutions.  And it has done so applying a four-year graduation rate formula (a calculation many fear because it offers a lower grad rate than many want to admit.) 

Moreover, NYC has been able to apply its high school reforms to help close the achievement gap.  According the Alliance, “since 2005, the black-white and Hispanic-white [graduation rate] gaps have narrowed by 16 percent and 14 percent respectively.”

New York City may still be a work in progress, but aren’t these the sorts of numbers we are working toward?  Klein and company offer a clear plan for how they are going to fix the problems (a plan so clear that it draws a with us/against us line).  They take the necessary steps to implement that plan, regardless of the “friends” it may create.  And then they have the data to demonstrate effectiveness, with both test scores and graduation rates rising.  Isn’t that our ultimate end game?  And if it isn’t shouldn’t it be?

Teacher Pay in Gotham City

Over the weekend, Eduflack was fortunate enough to break from the mugginess of our nation’s capital to enjoy the mugginess of the capital of the world — New York City.  After a busy and tough summer, I was fortunate enough to take in my fourth Mets game at Citi Field, this time preceded by the opportunity to be down on that perfect brown dirt and beautiful green grass, with my Fred Flintstone feet touching the same hallowed ground as my beloved New York Mets (before they all took to the DL this year).  I even got to meet David Wright, a great treat (though odd since he is a few years younger than my youngest sister).

These trips to NYC also give me a chance to get a better sense for what is happening in NYC’s public schools.  From time to time, I will wade into discussions on the great Joel Klein experiment, and will usually have my head handed to me by a group of irate New Yorkers.  Why?  I believe that Chancellor Klein has made some real gains in the City That Never Sleeps.  Student achievement on the state standardized tests is up.  The achievement gap appears to be narrowing.  Graduation rates are up.  Progress is being made.  We may quibble on whether progress has gone far enough and deep enough, but when you are steering a ship of that size and shape, any positive progress should be acknowledged.  He’s got that Broad Prize on his mantel for a reason.
For most of the summer, attention in NYC has been centered on the issue of mayoral control.  Thanks to the NY State Senate, we actually had a period of a few weeks when Mayor Mike Bloomberg was not actually in control of the schools.  Some used that opportunity to call for Klein’s head, trying to use the absence of the King as an excuse for a palace coup in DOE headquarters in Brooklyn.  Saner heads prevailed, the Klein team stayed intact, and the good Mayor is back captaining an educational renaissance in New York.
Along the way, we lost sight of the fact that the contract between the NYC Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers is set to expire.  The brouhaha over mayoral control forced us to forget that NYC’s public school teachers may soon be working without a contract.  And in an urban district like NYC, that is HUGE news.  Yet somehow it isn’t getting the HUGE media attention we would expect from similar issues in similar cities.
What was even more surprising, though, was the state of negotiations with the UFT.  For the record, Eduflack is not a New York Times reader.  When I am in NYC, my newspaper of choice is the New York Post.  First and foremost, better Mets coverage.  But it also provides a more “diverse” view of what is happening in the cities and the myriad of issues the boroughs are truly grappling with.  So I was quite taken by a splashy story on Mayor Bloomberg’s negotiating position with UFT.  These are numbers that I honestly can say rarely surface when we talk about the love/hate relationship between management and teachers in NYC.
According to the NY Post, Bloomberg is starting by placing an 8 percent pay increase on the table for all teachers.  At a time when police and firefighters are at risk for furloughs and the city is looking to tax the purchase of junk food and the mere appearance of folks from New Jersey to keep the lights on, he is starting by offering a fair raise to teachers in a tough economy.  Just by looking at the cards he has been dealt, well before we reveal the flop, Bloomberg is seeking to boost starting salaries in NYC schools to almost $50K a year, with veteran teachers gaining the possibility to max out at $108K by 2011.  The full story can be found here
And then we look a little deeper at the Bloomberg/UFT relationship over the years.  Since Bloomberg started hopping the subway down to Gracie Mansion, he will have boosted NYC teacher pay by almost 50 percent if this base 8 percent raise takes place.  There are few careers — particularly those in the public sector — that can boost those sorts of increases over the same period.
Of course, the cynics claim that Bloomberg’s starting offer is just the “pro quo” for UFT agreeing to the extension of mayoral control.  But even Eduflack isn’t quite that pessimistic.  Was the other 40 percent just a downpayment leading to this summer’s showdown in Albany?  Or maybe, just maybe, Mayor Bloomberg and his team recognize the important role NYC’s public school teachers play in academic achievement.  Better to dance with the ones who brought you national attention and the Broad Prize than to try and start over believing that the “system” and not the “teachers” are the drivers for that classroom performance.
At the end of the day, UFT may end up with more than the 8 percent that Bloomberg is anteing with.  A new union president may be looking to make a statement.  UFT could end up with a 10 or 11 percent boost when all is said and done.  They may even be able to extract some protections from Klein’s continued push to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom, at least protecting the checks and benefits for those educators that don’t fit with the chancellor’s long-term plan.  And they may even manage to leave their lasting mark on any Race to the Top or Innovation Fund application that would include NYCDOE.
Nearly two decades ago, then WV Gov. Gaston Caperton became known as the “education governor” because he withstood a two-week, statewide strike of his public school teachers, ultimately giving them raises that took them from the bottom of the rankings to the low middles of state teacher pay.  So what does that make Bloomberg?  If he is serious about essentially boosting NYC teacher pay 50 percent in a 10-year period, “education mayor” does seem to quite do him justice, particularly if the Klein team keeps student achievement on the rise while retaining overall student numbers and getting more of them to earn that high school diploma.  The term czar is now vastly overused.  Maybe it is time to resurrect that terrific moniker “Little Magician” in NY again.  I’m sure Martin Van Buren won’t mind.

Hittin’ the Road with Rev. Al and Newt

Politics, and education reform, do indeed make strange bedfellows.  When the Education Equality Project launched last year, many were left scratching their heads with regard to the Rev. Al Sharpton and NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein teaming up to improve the quality and results of our nation’s public schools.  Since then, their list of signatories reads like a who’s who in both Democratic politics and education reform circles, including many leading urban mayors and superintendents.

Earlier this year, they made a little extra room in the EEP bed for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has joined with them.  Gingrich has become a leading voice for EEP these days, focusing on the need to improve and the perils of the current mediocrity of American education and the dangers of an achievement gap that just doesn’t seem to want to budge.  It is quite ironic when one remembers that back in the mid-1990s GIngrich was the architect that called for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, demanding that K-12 decisions should be made by localities.  Now he is rallying reform through a national microphone with a federalist approach.
When EEP was first established last year, the then CEO of Chicago Public Schools was also a signatory.  Showing he was open to all good approaches to school improvement, Arne Duncan also signed onto the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Initiative.  While EEP and BBA couldn’t be more different (in desired outcomes, measurements to track those outcomes, and general philosophical approaches to education and education reform), Duncan joined a deep list of practitioners and policymakers that decided to hedge their bets and sign onto both, simply saying we need to improve, and they will support whatever gets us there.
With today’s announcement out of the U.S. Department of Education, it looks like we can see where EdSec Duncan’s true heart lies.  This afternoon, Duncan will be a guest on the Al Sharpton Show radio show.  He will be joined by the brains behind the 1994 Republican Revolution, Gingrich.  The three will be speaking to their plans to take a joint road trip, visiting schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans to talk school reform.  ED is also planning at least one similar stop in a rural community for the same purpose. 
The tour should come as a shock to no one.  EEP has been an active voice promoting the Administration’s education policies, with their most recent white paper on teacher accountability reading like a cover tribute to the Race to the Top provisions.  EEP also has the added benefit of being the current Gates Foundation advocacy banner holder, having assumed Ed in 08/Stronger American Schools’ infrastructure and support.
Eduflack finds the stops along the Strange Bedfellows tour to be curious choices.  Baltimore shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, with the EdSec having just been up in Charm City praising school district leadership for turning around the district and helping it shed the state takeover label.  But that’s just it.  ED just made a big deal of Baltimore, so much so that the superintendent is now stating that they are the national model for urban school transformation.  We have to go back to the oldies but goodies already?  There are no other good urban “success stories” to promote?  
Then we move onto the City of Brotherly Love.  We have not heard Philly mentioned as a “reform” city since Paul Vallas left there years ago.  Current superintendent Arlene Ackerman is an EEP signatory, but her activities in DC and San Francisco speak far more to a BBAer.  Setting aside the city’s relatively stagnant test scores, Philadelphia is also a strong union city, with union members likely not to thrilled with the idea of merit pay and linking their assessment with the academic achievement of their students.  Things could get interesting in a city that once pelted snowballs at Santa.
And speaking of Vallas, we move to the Big Easy.  New Orleans makes the most sense, as it is an incubator for any and all reform that comes around (much as Chicago was during Duncan’s tenure).  They love them some charters down in New Orleans, and have embraced alternative certification, TFA, and New Leaders for New Schools.  And now that Vallas is setting aside his Illinois political dreams, Louisiana has a strong superintendent with a track record of innovations and student improvement.  But its test scores are far from catching up to its promise.
It helps that both Pennsylvania and Louisiana are on the short list of RttT states, standing as two of the 15 receiving technical assistance and $250,000 checks from the Gates Foundation to help with their RttT application preparation.   If anything, Gates understands the value of working across platforms, and linking their grantmaking with EEP rhetoric and RttT only strengthens their hand in the long term.
But the choices do leave me scratching my head a little.  No room to share a little love for Michelle’s work down in DC or for the progress made in Boston over the past decade?  No hat tip to the great work Beverly Hall and the work she has done down in Atlanta?  No show of confidence for the bold reforms that Robert Bobb is trying to put into place up in Detroit?  No continued love for Broad Prize winners Long Beach Unified in California or Brownsville (TX) Public Schools?  What about Houston, the birthplace of KIPP?  Not even a rolling stop in New York City?  Nothing for aspiring cities like Indianapolis, Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Clark County (NV), Cleveland, Austin, or Portland?  
Yes, all questions that are rattling around in my noggin.  But they are pushed aside by a bigger question.  Day after day, we witness the escalation in rhetorical sparring happening around the country over proposed healthcare reforms.  We see staunch advocates for both sides offering their sweat and tears (with many looking to draw some blood as well).  Will these whistlestops serve as a kumbaya moment for all involved, with conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, reformers and the status quoers joining together to fight the good fight for the “sake of the children?”  Or will that loyal opposition we know is out there start organizing and have their voices heard?  Will we see teachers fighting to protect their tenure?  Will we hear from those local controllers who want to return all accountability and assessment to a citizen school board and keep the feds out of their classrooms?  Will we witness concerned parents and community activists stand up for the “whole child” and profess there is more to education that just reading and math, and we need a host of qualitative measures and a greater emphasis on the arts and the social development of the child?  Will the home schoolers demand that school choice include more than just charter schools?
Or will we simply have more of the same, with everyone just hoping that they will have a chair when the music stops playing?  Since Eduflack’s rant in search of the “loyal opposition” earlier this week, I’ve heard from some that they are quietly organizing or silently twisting arms behind close doors to try and influence which tune we’ll be playing as we start walking the ESEA reauthorization circle.  Is that true, or are those who are quietly grumbling into their pillows at night simply hoping beyond hope that Holding Out for a Hero is going to start blasting through those ed reform speakers?
Am I trying to instigate an education reform fight?  Maybe.  But maybe I also think that these proposed reforms can only improve and get stronger if we force them to withstand public scrutiny.
 I too want to see these proposals succeed, but I also know that if support is merely on the surface, real change will never take hold once good ideas are moved into status quo implementation and decisions are made that leave many states and districts in the cold when it comes to new innovation money.  Are we playing for the love of the game, or will pay to play take effect, with SEAs and LEAs quickly losing interest when there isn’t a U.S. Treasury check there to reward their “loyalty?”

Looking for a Chicago Education Miracle?

Eight years ago, the education community was all abuzz about the “Houston Miracle” and how then EdSec Rod Paige was going to take the magic that transformed the Houston Independent School District into a Broad Prize winner, federalize it into No Child Left Behind, and leave a path of school improvement and student achievement in its wake.

Nearly a decade later, we’re still waiting for some of that magic.  Chalk it up to poor implementation, increased criticism, a lack of faith, or even programs that didn’t work.  But those Texas improvements, carried out in theory with even more zeal by EdSec Margaret Spellings, are still a work in progress.  We still haven’t bottled what made HISD the success story it was in 2000-2001, and we likely never will.
Interestingly, we are not hearing the same claims about Chicago Public Schools and the real impact EdSec in-waiting Arne Duncan can have on our nation’s schools — until now.  Maria Glod’s piece in today’s Washington Post paints a picture of an urban school district of reform, innovation, and improvement.  Test scores up, achievement gaps closing, performance pay awarded.  The full story can be found here —  
Eduwonkette ( has been telling a different story on Chicago and its data.  So have others on the blogsphere who look at the third-largest school district in the nation and wonder if it has come far enough and if it has accomplished enough to be sold as a success story.
Leading an urban school district is hard work.  The life expectancy for a schools superintendent is about three years.  Duncan has been there more than twice as long.  He’s worked with a strong union (the AFT affiliate in Chicago) and he’s managed to expand charter schools and implement a performance pay plan that seems to be working, at least according to WaPo.  And he’s mostly done it without drawing headlines for himself.
This past fall, Eduflack learned how strongly folks feel about NYC Public Schools and the alleged turnaround led by Chancellor Joel Klein.  I’ve remarked that the NYCDOE has demonstrated improvement.  Test scores are up.  Achievement gap is closing.  NYC kids are doing better against students upstate than they used to.  Such remarks brought a hail storm of attacks from those on the front lines in New York, those who believed that such statements were merely the PR work of a zealous schools chancellor.  Folks just didn’t want to believe that NYC schools and NYC schoolteachers had begun to turn the corner on student achievement.
The same could be said about Chicago.  Demonstrating eye-popping results in a school district of 400,000 is near impossible.  Incremental gains are the proof.  The case studies and stories offered by Glod and WaPo give us insight into the sorts of improvements Duncan and his team have brought to Chicago.  We know there is a lot more we need to learn about Duncan and Chicago.  But the data demonstrates an uptick.  And we all know that upward movement is better than downward.
But there is a larger issue here, one not raised during the Paige era and one that should be raised during the Duncan era.  The EdSec is not intended to be a superintendent in chief, the top supe in a nation of chief school officers.  He is meant to lead federal investment, policymaking, and thought leadership on education.  Yes, being a supe brings a unique perspective to that job, allowing very real experiences in boosting student achievement, closing the achievement gap, and negotiating collective bargaining agreements with teachers to educate and color one’s world view on education policy.  It demonstrates one understands the challenges facing today’s educators and today’s school leaders.  And it shows appreciation for practice and impact, and not just theory.
It is silly to think that Duncan is going to transform the nation into one larger version of Chicago Pubic Schools.  The CPS experience is helpful in showing us what Duncan thinks of issues like charter schools and performance pay.  It is useful in showing how well the incoming EdSec works with teachers, how much respect he shows them, and how much power he grants them in school improvement efforts.  And it helps determine whether he is an improver or a status quoer, whether he will go along with what has always been done or whether he will bring about real change for a real goal.
We shouldn’t be looking at Chicago test scores and ask how we replicate the experience nationwide.  Instead, we need to look at the innovations implemented by Duncan, the team he’s built, and the relationships he’s established with Chicago teachers, families, and community and business leaders and use all that information as a map for what is possible and where ED may head.  We look at the Chicago experience to measure Duncan’s character and set our expectations for the next four years.  

As Goes Brownsville, So Goes the World

This morning, the Broad Foundation unveiled the big winner of the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education.  Heading into the announcement in New York City, many believed that Miami-Dade would be the big winner.  But when the name was announced and the check was awarded, Brownsville, Texas stood proud and tall.

For those not in the know, Brownsville is a “border community” on the southernmost tip of Texas.  According to the Houston Chronicle, “Brownsville Independent School District serves nearly 50,000 students — 98 percent Hispanic and 43 percent learning English.  Ninety-four percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a common measure of poverty.  Surrounding Cameron County had the highest poverty rate for a county of its size in the country at 34.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”
The full Chronicle piece can be found here —  
So why Brownsville ISD?  According to Broad, the answer is clear — student performance.  Brownsville simply outperformed other districts across Texas when it came to reading and math achievement.  They made dramatic steps in closing the achievement gap between Hispanic and white students.  And they did so despite the demographics and with 2,000 new students coming in from Mexico each school year.
At the announcement ceremony, Eli Broad noted that “Brownsville is the best kept secret in America.”  Not for long.  By winning the Broad Prize, Brownsville has demonstrated that student achievement and school improvement is possible, period.  No excuses.  No data sleight of hand.  No exclusions or “recalibrations” of the system.
For most, it would be easy to write off a community like Brownsville.  Too many at-risk students.  Too many language barriers to overcome.  Too much poverty.  Too many first-generations.  Too little funding.  Too little hope.  
What many failed to see, and failed to respect, is that Brownsville is a true community.  For nearly a decade now, Eduflack has heard from a native daughter of Brownsville about all of the good that was going on in this community.  The investments made to boost student reading achievement.  The commitment to early education and getting every Brownsville child ready for the start of kindergarten.  The partnerships with businesses and institutions of higher education to make postsecondary education a possibility and a reality for virtually all, and not just a select few.
Brownsville is a testament to the good that can happen from collaboration, an unwavering sense of community, and a commitment to results.  They refused to make excuses, and now they’ve got the hardware to show they are doing what works.  Congrats to Brownsville ISD, the city, and its many proud citizens.  Felicidades!

Who’s on Deck for EdSec?

This month, Washingtonian Magazine did a two-page spread on who Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would select for their Cabinet, should they take ownership of the big desk in the Oval Office.  Lots of interesting names to ponder and fuel cocktail party discussion. 

But one thing troubled Eduflack greatly.  There is no mention of the U.S. Department of Education.  After all of the money and attention spread by Ed in 08.  After the dogged pursuit of the issue by Richard Whitmire and EWA.  No mention of who would lead federal education in this NCLB 2.5, merit pay, voucher/charter whack-a-day world.

So Eduflack is going to take it upon himself to fill the Washingtonian’s holes.  Let’s set aside the campaign advisors that Alexander Russo so kindly provides on his Campaign 08 wiki.  Let’s forget the whispers Eduflack has heard over the last year, mentioning everyone from UFT/AFT Randi Weingarten to Eduwonk Andy Rotherham to even NLNS CEO Jon Schnur.  All good fun, yes, but who do we really think will be heading ED in a Democratic administration?

Eduflack’s narrowed his choice down to a top three … and a dark horse.

Candidate A – NC Gov. Mike Easley.  Gov. Easley is one of the top education governors out there.  He gets it, and speaks passionately about key issues, particularly school-to-work concerns.  Sure, he is a lawyer by trade, but not everyone is perfect.  One could see him in the Secretary Riley model, a strong southern governor who knows how to lead and motivate.  The downside, as a NC governor, he will always be in Jim Hunt’s shadow on education issues.  And he has endorsed Hillary in advance of the NC primary, which could hurt him with Obama later on.

Candidate B — Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.  Cut from the same cloth as Easley, Granholm is smart, articulate, and a true motivator.  She’s also made major education moves in Michigan, from PreK programs to instituting a comprehensive reform to high school graduation requirements.   The downside, we still time to see the effectiveness of her reforms and Michigan’s test numbers are still waiting to see the Granholm bounce.

Candidate C — NYC Chancellor Joel Klein.  He has the results, he has the national recognition, and he is ripe for a new challenge.  What more is there to do in NYC.  He’s won the Broad Prize and test scores are up.  NYC is now the model for urban reform.  Let’s see what he can do on the national stage under a reauthorized NCLB.  The downside, another lawyer who may try to run ED like he ran his department at Justice.  Who at ED is up for that?

The Darkhorse — Rep. George Miller.  We seem to look to governors to serve as EdSec.  Just look at Lamar Alexander and Richard Riley.  Many would say the superintendent experiment with Rod Paige didn’t work (Eduflack doesn’t believe that.  In fact, Eduflack finds Paige to be one of the brightest, thoughtful educators he has had the pleasure of working with (post ED).  It’s unfortunate that DC saw an overly scripted EdSec, courtesy of DPC, and not the real and true Paige.  Paige has gotten a raw deal these past few years, in my opinion).  NCLB needs reauthorization.  ED needs someone who understands Congress.  Who better than a co-author of the original NCLB law, an ed reform champion, and one who has stood up to the status quo.  Let’s give the keys to Miller and let him enforce the spirit of the law he helped write in 2001.  The downside, of course, is why would he want to give up the Ed Committee Chairmanship to run a tough agency during a difficult time?

Let’s see Washingtonian and the whispering class chew on these names for a while, and see what they think.  If not these four, then who? 

And don’t worry, Senator McCain, Eduflack has a few names for you as well.  As you confer with Lisa Graham Keegan on ed issues, try floating names like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (if you don’t choose him for VP) or Congressman Buck McKeon.  Heck, in another year, Paul Vallas may be ready for another challenge too.  He could be McCain’s token Democrat in the Cabinet.

And the Prize Goes To …

When talking school improvement, we often hear that an individual school or even a school district may be beyond repair.  Wrong teachers.  Wrong curriculum.  Wrong buildings.  Wrong students.  Sure, we may hear that, but it is just the wrong thing to say.

If you look at public education across the United States, there is not a single district, school, or student we can afford to give up on.  It may be hard.  It may take time.  It may require suspending previous thinking.  But Eduflack would like to believe any school can be turned around with the right culture, knowledgebase, commitment, curriculum, measurement, and feedback loop.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the Broad Prize.

Nearly impossible to miss, yesterday the Broad Foundation awarded the New York City Public Schools with the annual Broad Prize, the sixth urban school district to win the prestigious award.  A $1 million pot speaks volumes about the impact of the Prize, but what does the Prize tell us about urban school reform?

If you look at NYC — along with past winners like Houston, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Norfolk, and Boston — you see a collection of urban school districts that, a decade or two ago, we were ready to complete give up on.  We see districts that many, especially those who knew them best, said were beyond repair.  Spurred by a desire to improve and encouraged by the prize across the Broad finish line, these school districts did the impossible.  They made real change.  They reinvented the school culture.  They demonstrated real student achievement.  Simply, they got the job done.

And this year’s winner?  Chancellor Klein and company have much to be proud of, even without the oversized Broad check.  In reading and math, NYC outperformed other New York districts serving students of similar income levels.  African-America, Hispanic, and low-income students showed great improvement in reading and math.  The city has made real strides in closing the achievement gap.

This isn’t a revolution.  By definition, a revolution has a finite end.  Instead, NYC and its fellow winners have started a movement.  An ongoing process of improvement and success designed to continue to gain momentum.

What lessons can we learn from the Broad Prize, aside from the notion that school improvement is a universal possibility?  Interestingly, the Broad Prize can serve as a teaching tool for those who are weighing the future of NCLB and AYP.  Much has been written, spoken, and shouted about the issue of multiple measures.  Is there one — and only one — way to effectively measure student achievement?  Or are there a number of factors that must be taken into account when evaluating the success of a school or classroom?

If Broad is any indication, the true measure of school improvement requires multiple measures.  Looking at quantitative and qualitative data, analyzing a range of topics and issues, taking all facets of the school and the operating environment into account, Broad makes its decisions.  It is a complicated process.

It’s one thing to give an award to the urban school district that simply shows the greatest year-on-year improvement in student achievement.  It is something completely different to recognize that there are a number of factors — some immeasurable — that contribute to the overall success of a school district.

It’s enough to give even the strongest of data-driven decisionmakers a little something to think about.