The education sector is plagued by “astroturf” think tanks that issue “reports” that repeatedly conclude that (surprise!) reform is working. To do so, pro-reform scholars cherry-pick data in order to provide attractive, multi-colored graphics that show an upward trajectory, or at least would indicate growth to readers who don’t carefully study the charts. The worst example may be the“meteor” theoryof school improvement. It attributes growth from the late-1990s boom years to the NCLB Act of 2001. Yes! They claim that improved scores on tests taken years before NCLB were caused by the law. This teleological explanation is based on the claim that the 1990s gains were due to “consequential accountability” that was not dissimilar to NCLB. But, reformers can’t even agree on which states supposedly had consequential accountability or even what it supposedly was.
The new report from the Urban Institute about increased student performance in the District of Columbia, by Kristin Blagg and Matthew Chingos, is just as brazen of an act of misrepresenting issues. Blagg and Chingos acknowledged that “the proportion of white and Hispanic students in DC has roughly doubled, while the proportion of black students has declined.” Their analysis of NAEP scores from 2005 to 2013 indicates that those demographic changes account for only four to six points of that eight-year increase. They thus minimize the effects of D.C.’s gentrification on test score growth. But, hold on there! Doesn’t gentrification include more than a shift in children’s skin color?
Blagg and Chingos do not adjust for “any measures of family income!” And, that is not even the most intellectually dishonest part of their spin!