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Topic: Another Ed Reform Turns Out to be Bogus
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Another Ed Reform Turns Out to be Bogus
Posted: Jan 29, 2013 6:03 PM
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From Mother Jones magazine, Monday, January 28, 2013. See
. Our thanks to Mike Martin for bringing this little piece to our
attention on the EDDRA2 listserve, Tuesday, January 29, 2013.
Big Surprise: Yet Another Ed Reform Turns Out to be Bogus

By Kevin Drum

Do high schools with higher standards get better performance from
their students? If you require everyone to take college prep classes,
will more kids go to college? The San Jose school district has long
been a poster child for this notion, but guess what? It turns out it
was all a crock:

San Jose Unified has quietly acknowledged that the district
overstated its accomplishments. And a Times analysis of the
district's record shows that its progress has not, in fact, far
outpaced many other school systems'....In 2000, before the
college-prep program took effect, 40% of San Jose graduates fulfilled
requirements for applying to University of California and Cal State
University. In 2011, the number was 40.3%.

My cynicism about the ed reform community grows by leaps and bounds
every time I read a story like this. And that's pretty often. Here's
my advice for what you should do whenever you read an article about a
school that's shown miraculous results by applying some reform or
another (or by hiring a miracle worker of some stripe or another):

1. Don't believe it if it's based on a single school or other small sample.
2. Don't believe it if most of the evidence comes from the school itself.
3. Don't believe it if the reform in question was put in place only
a few years ago.
4. Don't believe it if it hasn't been replicated elsewhere.
5. Don't believe it unless it's been rigorously tested by academics
who didn't already support the idea in the first place.
6. And even if it passes all those tests, don't believe it anyway.

The number of ed reforms that hold up when the evidence is looked at
critically seems to be tiny. The number that continue to work when
they're scaled up seems to be tiny. The number that continue to show
results all the way through high school seems to be tiny. The number
that can withstand critical scrutiny seems to be tiny. And of the
ones that are left, the cost to keep them up usually appears to be

I understand that I'm being too cynical here. I'm probably going to
get the usual batch of emails from ed reformers telling me that there
are too reforms that really and truly work. And I suppose there are.
But I don't think you can go too far wrong by being almost
boundlessly and annoyingly skeptical about this stuff. Don't worry
about seeming unsophisticated. Just keep repeating that you don't
believe it until and unless the evidence becomes simply overwhelming.
You won't go too far wrong with that attitude.
Kevin Drum is a political blogger.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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