Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Report on NYC Children First reforms provides useful insights but oversells statistical evidence

A report published earlier this year on the education reforms instituted in New York City during the three mayoral terms of Michael Bloomberg concisely summarizes those efforts – collectively known as “Children First” – but reaches too far in assigning causation to certain policies, according to a new review published today.

Randall Reback, an economist at Barnard College, reviewed New York City’s Children First: Lessons in School Reform for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

While Bloomberg is no longer in office, the report’s subject matter remains timely: “Management and accountability systems set up during Children First likely had a tremendous impact on how other reform components were implemented, and these systems likely continue to affect how education policies are implemented under the new mayoral regime,” Reback writes.

The report under review was written by Maureen Kelleher and posted in March by the Center for American Progress. It considers the wide range of policy changes implemented during Bloomberg’s administration from 2001 through 2013.

Reviewer Reback finds the report “does a very nice job of synthesizing important events and facts into a single narrative.” He also concludes that the report’s recommendations are supported by analyses and theoretical arguments presented by the report’s author.

However, Reback raises concerns that the report sometimes oversteps the bounds of evidence. In places, it too casually classifies certain policies as “successes” or “failures,” he notes. It also “overhypes research examining the success of small high schools and of charter schools.” A more balanced assessment of the research would justify “a far more neutral tone” in assessing their cost effectiveness.

Reback does give the report credit for considering “systemic governance and policy implementation” as it explores the Bloomberg reform outcomes. Thus, despite the report’s shortcomings, he concludes, it succeeds in making a useful contribution to our understanding of those reforms.

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