Hubris alert!

As education reformers eagerly await the premiere of Waiting for Superman, Mike Petrilli has issued a hubris alert.  He cites a Philadelphia Daily News story by Dom Giordano, who interviewed Superman director Davis Guggenheim.

Guggenheim told me that we now know what to do to educate and advance every kid. He said, “In recent years, we’ve cracked the code. The high-performing charter schools, like KIPP and others, have figured out the system that works for kids in even the toughest neighborhoods.”

I echo this. And my mantra is – it’s a mystery? We know what to do. The only question is do we have the will to do it?

It’s not that simple, Petrilli writes.

1. Maybe we’ve “cracked the code” on making high-poverty schools more effective, but we’re far from cracking the code on how to scale them up to serve lots more kids. We have a few hundred excellent urban schools when we need tens of thousands.

2. There’s little doubt that one of the reasons these schools succeed is that they bring motivated kids from motivated families together. We know from decades of “peer effects” studies that kids learn more when surrounded by high-achieving, striving youngsters. This part of “the code” can’t be replicated everywhere.

Even the most successful charter schools aren’t “closing the achievement gap,” he adds. Matching suburban schools in “proficient” students is a huge step forward, but the “proficient” children of home health care aides and janitors aren’t earning the same SAT scores as the children of doctors, lawyers and CPAs.

Seven of the top 10 high schools in Los Angeles are charters, as are the top two middle schools, notes Eduwonk. Four of the lowest-scoring 10 schools are charters too. Aspire Public Schools, which just got $1 million from Oprah Winfrey, are basically the best large school district in the state, while the ICEF charter network in LA has “elementary school students outperforming schools in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, high performance overall, and the best SATs among charters and neighborhood high schools.”

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  1. I often wondered when newspapers report a closing of the achievement gap whether the report is referring to proficiency rates or actual scores.

  2. At my school, we’re screening Race To Nowhere. Whistling past the graveyard….

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    How can you solve a problem is you don’t consider all the factors affecting the problem? School reform efforts ignore the 800 pound gorillas sitting on the stairs: parents, home environments, and peers.

    A guy named Brian D. Ray did a study of the demographics of homeschoolers and it’s interesting that the parents of homeschoolers look pretty much like the parents of kids who achieve in schools. (There is a review of this research at Homeschooling Research Notes: )

    Parents and home have a huge impact on how children learn. Teachers, who care enough about children to spend an enormous amount of time with them, attempt to step into the breach and fill in the gaps: this may be not only impossible but a mistake. Schools can feed kids breakfast and lunch but they can’t, without parental help, get kids to bed in time to get enough sleep to do school work. That is only one example of the host of things kids need for success in learning that teachers cannot do but parents can. I predict that any attempt to close the achievement gap that focuses solely on school and ignores parents will fail.

  4. The original article about the “Why Johnny Can’t Read” book of the 1950’s:,9171,807107,00.html

    When Hubris hits, Nemesis can’t be far behind:

    “Nemesis, winged balancer of life,
    dark-faced goddess, daughter of Justice”

  5. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    The values of the family determine success or failure of a school. Quality teaching is important, too. Diane Ravitch and others have found that charters do no better overall when compared to traditional public schools; as with public schools, Ravitch analyzed charter school scores in New York City and found them to be either flat or worse than public schools, but were marketed as something better. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that the VALUES of the families’ attending any school matter, as does overall teacher quality. But, even a superb teacher cannot build a sturdy “house” without a firm foundation and decent building materials. ‘Nuff said.


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