FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 2021
Does this explanation make sense?: In his latest column in the Washington Post, Jay Mathews speaks in praise of Karin Chenoweth's new book.
“Districts That Succeed: Breaking the Correlation Between Race, Poverty, and Achievement.” That's the full title of the very short, very expensive book—of the very short and expensive book no one will ever discuss.
We know that no one will ever discuss Chenoweth's book because no one ever does. In fact, people don't care about books like this. Just consider Chenoweth's earlier books, listed here along with her current title:
"It's Being Done": Academic Success in Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2007)
How It's Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2009)
Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2011)
Schools That Succeed: How Educators Marshal the Power of Systems for Improvement (Harvard Education Press, 2017)
Districts That Succeed: Breaking the Correlation Between Race, Poverty, and Achievement (Harvard Education Press, 2021)
You've never heard of those earlier books. You've never heard of Chenoweth herself.
You've heard of Harvard, but you've never heard of the Harvard Education Press. Most significantly, you've never heard of the Steubenville City Schools, one of six "Districts That Succeed" in Chenoweth's latest book.
You've never heard of any of this, and you never will. Mathews, you see, is a major outlier in the American upper-end press.
Mathews cares about public schools. He actually cares about low-income "Schools Which (allegedly) Work."
He cares about (alleged) "academic success in unexpected schools." He cares about schools and school districts which (allegedly) succeed.
Mathews cars about stuff like that! In the loftier precincts of Our (self-impressed) Town, almost no one does.
We know that no one cares about any of this because of the Steubenville schools. Below, Mathews describes what Chenoweth's new book says about those schools:
MATHEWS (6/21/21): The book has six case studies...Steubenville, a working-class community in Ohio, had some of the best-performing third- and fourth-graders in the country.
Steubenville benefited from bringing in the heavily scripted, phonics-rich Success for All program, invented by Johns Hopkins University researchers Robert Slavin and Nancy Madden. That imaginative married couple had a quirky but clever requirement: Schools were barred from using their system unless 80 percent of the teachers approved by secret ballot.
According to that account, Steubenville decided to use "the heavily scripted, phonics-rich Success for All program." Apparently as a result, the public schools of this working-class community produced "some of the best-performing third- and fourth-graders in the country."
Truly, that sounds like a miracle cure. Also this:
Until this week, you had never heard a single word about any of this. You'd never heard a single word about Steubenville's miracle cure!
In large part, that's because no one actually cares about what happens in low-income schools. We may not know this about ourselves, but few things could be more clear.
According to Mathews' account of Chenoweth's book, Steubenville began using a certain reading program. As a result, performance shot through the roof.
As we noted yesterday, the story is even more remarkable if we look at the data from Professor Sean Reardon which lie behind Chenoweth's book.
Reardon's data covered the academic performance of children in Grades 3 through 8 over the four-year period from 2009 through 2012. Based upon those voluminous data, Steubenville was already the nation's leading over-performing school district as of 2012, across that entire six-grade span.
Indeed, according to Reardon's data, Steubenville was the nation's leading over-performer by an extremely wide margin. No one else over-performed to the extent that Steubenville did.
Also, nobody cared. In fairness, it isn't even clear that anyone even noticed. Let's back up a bit:
We know all these things about Steubenville because of something the New York Times did. To its vast credit, the Times constructed and published an extremely informative graphic built from Reardon's voluminous data.
The New York Times posted that graphic in April 2016. You can peruse it here.
The Times created and published that graphic. But in one of its amazingly typical, amazingly incompetent attempts at education reporting, a trio of Times reporters offered this puzzling assessment:
RICH ET AL (4/29/16): The data was not uniformly grim. A few poor districts—like Bremen City, Ga. and Union City, N.J.—posted higher-than-average scores. They suggest the possibility that strong schools could help children from low-income families succeed.
“There are some outliers, and trying to figure out what’s making them more successful is worth looking at,” said Mr. Reardon, a professor of education and lead author of the analysis.
It's true! Based upon Reardon's analysis of test scores and socioeconomic data, the school districts in Bremen City and Union City actually had over-performed, compared to the rest of the nation. But neither district had over-performed to the anything like the extent the schools in Steubenville school district had.
According to Reardon's data, the Steubenville schools were by themselves when it came to over-performance. In a thoroughly typical journalistic performance, a trio of Times reporters had failed to notice this fact.
Long story short! Steubenville's schools seemed to be in a class by themselves as of 2012. As of April 2016, this striking fact was blindingly obvious on the graphic the New York Times published, even if the paper's reporters were too clueless to notice this fact.
More than five years ago, it was clear that Steubenville had been the nation's leading over-performer as far back as 2012. But until this very week, you never heard a word about that, mainly because no one cares.
Did anyone rush to Steubenville to see what was going on? Citizens, please! That would mean somebody cared!
All these years later, Chenoweth is finally offering an explanation of how Steubenville produced so much (apparent) success. Based on Mathews' account, she says the small district decided to use Success For All, and striking academic success ensued, of the Grade 4 and Grade 4 levels.
Mathews reported her claim this week, but you'll never hear about it again. That's because no one in Our Town actually cares about such highly tedious stuff.
Here in Our Town, we do perform a good game. We like to posture, parade and pose, especially on the "thought leader" level.
Rachel Maddow sells us her goods. We lap her porridge up.
Our cable channels make us feel that we're good, decent people. In fact, we are good, decent people—most people are—when judged on the "human race" scale.
That said, we aren't especially sharp in Our Town. (Scientists claim that we're so dumb that we don't even know that!) We're also stuck with our leadership class, and they just aren't real hot.
Karin Chenoweth's new book in her fifth such book on the "Schools That Work" theme. You've never heard of the first four books, and you'll never hear another word about this fifth book either.
You've never heard of Chenoweth herself, and you never will.
To visit the kids in the Steubenville schools, you can click this link. It takes you to the district's Pugliese West Elementary School, one of its three fairly small elementary schools. You can click further from there.
Tomorrow, our question will be this:
Is it possible that something was wrong with the data Reardon was using? Is it possible that Steubenville never really over-performed in the way which has been alleged—in the way, nine years later, we're finally hearing described?
Is it possible that Steubenville didn't over-perform? You've never heard such questions asked because nobody actually cares.
We'll also get to Chicago's performance. That district isn't tiny or small. What's been happening there?
Tomorrow: Amazingly, disappeared!