Stunning success from education reforms

I grab a Washington Post in a bar last night, and the front page has a story about the huge improvements in educational outcomes in DC schools since 2007.

The District, which initiated major school reforms in 2007, has served as a test case for often controversial policies — such as expanding school choice, eliminating teacher tenure and tying evaluations to test scores — which have since been adopted by a growing number of states.

The city has had persistently low test scores and lags behind most of the rest of the country on many academic measures. But between 2007 and 2013, proficiency rates in math and reading increased 18 percentage points on the D.C. tests, including a four point gain in the past year, to 51 percent.

In just six years the number of students who gain proficiency in maths and reading has gone up 18%. That is huge. NZ has around 750,000 students at school. An 18% increase would mean around 140,000 students would gain proficiency in maths and reading. Think of the huge benefits that would bring to them, their families, their futures – let alone the country as a whole.



The great thing about the DC reforms, of which are a massive part, is they have improved student outcomes in public schools also. The “competition” from charter schools has benefited public schools.

The District’s push to identify and remove poor teachers, and to reward effective ones, is paying off, Henderson said. She also cited as successful a series of new initiatives, including experiments with longer school days and home visits by teachers.

What we need to do in NZ. I can’t recall the last time a teacher was sacked for incompetence.

Here’s some data from the 2013 report:

  • Overall proficiency up 18% since 2007
  • Maths proficiency up 22%
  • Reading proficiency up 13%
  • Charter school overall proficiency is 56%, up 15%
  • Public school overall proficiency is 48%, up 17%
  • The percentage of black students who are proficient in maths has gone from around 22% to 40%.

The Washington Post (a left leaning newspaper) has an editorial that should be read by Labour in NZ. Sadly David Shearer has vowed that the first thing a Labour/Green Govt will do is to abolish charter schools – regardless of how successful they are. It is an awful policy that puts placating unions ahead of helping struggling students.

It was a reaffirmation of the reform of public education launched in 2007, a rebuke to the naysayers who want us to believe reform has failed and a warning to those who would interfere with policies that are clearly gaining traction.

Labour wants to kill of charter schools before they can gain traction. It seems their worst fear is that they will be both popular and successful – and then unable to be killed off.

D.C. Public Schools students improved their proficiency in math and reading by 3.6 percentage points and 3.9 percent percentage points respectively over the previous year, bringing proficiency rates (49.5 percent for math and 47.4 percent for reading) to the highest level in memory. All subgroups — black, Hispanic, white, special education and others — improved in math and most improved in reading; students in every ward and students in every grade improved their performance over 2012, and rates of advanced proficiency were up while rates for below proficiency were down in both subjects.

It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of improvements.

Charter schools, which enroll 43 percent of public school students, had even more impressive results, posting slightly higher average scores than their traditional counterparts and showing a 58.6 percent proficiency rate in math and 53 percent proficiency rate in reading. Particularly noteworthy were the gains made by English- language learners and economically disadvantaged students attending charter schools.

Labour should be the champion of charter schools, if they really cared about income inequality.

Public education in D.C. is on a healthy trajectory, thanks to the growth of quality charters and reforms that are taking root in the traditional system. These include weeding out ineffective teachers, overhauling teacher evaluations and pay, putting new curricula in place, supporting good teachers and measuring results.

As I said the Washington Post is a left-leaning newspaper. It used to be called “Pravda on the Potomac”. The editorial shows that you can’t dispute facts – well unless you are captured by the unions.

Here’s a challenge for Labour. Why don’t they amend their policy to say charter schools will be scrapped if within five years they haven’t shown at least a 5% gain in student proficiency? Instead, they are saying we will scrap charter schools even if they are as successful as in DC where 18% more students can now read and do maths.

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