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New study says it’s too early to pass judgment on Klein’s reforms

A new study examining one of Chancellor Joel Klein’s central reforms, as well as similar efforts in three other cities, calls the changes promising but says that the work is too incomplete to draw a conclusive answer on its effects.

The paper, released by the University of Washington-based Center on Reinventing Public Education, is the interim report of a longer study on school district restructuring efforts in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New Orleans. These four cities are all in various stages of putting into place what the authors call a “portfolio school district.” In these districts, control over budgets, hiring and curriculum are controlled by individual schools, rather than by the central school administration.

The report examines the context in which these changes were put into place and factors that will contribute to the success or failure of the reforms but argues that it is too soon to know for sure how successful the changes will be:

[T]he bottom-line question is whether districtwide gain scores have improved continuously over time, not only for students on average but also for poor and minority students formerly assigned to schools with very low average gains…

This is a very difficult analysis, given the need to follow large numbers of students over several years, and to take full account of changes in neighborhood and school demographic competition. Despite the claims of proponents and critics alike, no existing study can be considered definitive because none has used this form of analysis.

That’s a much more cautious position than other observers of Klein’s restructuring have taken. Earlier this year, for example, UCLA management professor William Ouchi published a book analyzing the same decentralizing reforms and found that they have a significant effect on reducing the total number of students a teacher must get to know, which in turn boosts student achievement.

The full interim report can be found here.

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