April 23, 2013 

Top-down pressure from federal education policies such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind is making a popular set of market-oriented education “reforms” look more like the new status quo than real reform, according to a new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

Reform rhetoric asserts that test-based teacher evaluation, increased school “choice” through expanded charter access, and the closure of “failing” and under-enrolled schools will boost falling student achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps. But the new study finds that these reforms deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from a set of other, less visible policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment.

The report assesses the impact of these reforms in three large urban school districts: Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago. These cities were chosen for study because all enjoyed 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 proponents who implemented versions of this reform agenda. Indeed, former reform leaders in all three cities have become high-profile national proponents who disseminate the agenda across multiple districts and states.

Specifically the report finds:

  • Test scores grew 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 ones.
  • School closures sent students to worse, not better, schools and did not save money.
  • Charters caused further disruption to the system with only mixed benefits, particularly for highest-need students.
  • The focus on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
  • The reforms currently in vogue miss a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.
  • Real, sustained change requires realistic, patient, and multipronged strategies.

The report has special relevance for New Jersey, as the “reforms” studied closely resemble Christie Administration policies in the state’s large urban districts.


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240