Tennessee and District of Columbia schools are making the fastest reading and math gains in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) , writes Richard Whitmire in a USA Today column.
A few years ago, Tennessee students were acing state tests but failing the high bar set by NAEP, writes Whitmire. Washington D.C. “was regarded as one of the worst urban school districts in the country.”
Both adopted education reforms that remain very controversial.
In Tennessee, a third of the district school superintendents along with the teachers unions in Memphis and Nashville just signed no-confidence letters condemning State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.
. . . The Washington reforms are famously controversial, designed by former chancellor Michelle Rhee (Huffman’s ex-wife), who was forced from office in part because of the political turmoil created by those school changes. Current Chancellor Kaya Henderson was able to preserve and improve those reforms partly because she is considerably less inflammatory than Rhee.
Tennessee and D.C. raised their standards, then switched to Common Core.
Both got serious about evaluating teachers.
In Washington, D.C., teachers routinely won rave reviews despite abysmal outcomes by their students — a contradiction routinely explained away by poverty (despite higher-poverty school districts with better outcomes). That changed dramatically with its groundbreaking 2009 IMPACT teacher evaluation. At the time, national union leaders dubbed it outrageous. Last month, a national study dubbed it effective. Overall, the better teachers stayed and tried harder, encouraged by the prospect of being rewarded. The “minimally effective” teachers tended to look for other lines of work.
Forty percent of D.C. students now attend charter schools, which tend to have higher test scores than district-run schools. That may be a factor in the rising scores.
Education Consumers Foundation lists Tennessee’s reforms.
Successes are fragile, Whitmire warns. There’s always push back.
The author of The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On the Nation’s Worst School District, he is writing a book about high-performing charter schools, On the Rocketship.
Maryland tops the NAEP dishonor roll by excluding most special-education students and English Language Learners, reports Dropout Nation.