Category Archives: Washington, D.C.

Schooled Podcast: How to Choose a School

Check out the latest episdoe of my Slate podcast. This week: 

With more charter schools, magnet schools, and school choice than ever before, many parents face an intimidating set of options when enrolling their kids in kindergarten and beyond, especially in urban areas. What does the "good school" look like, in terms of teaching, curriculum, and student engagement? Why do one-third of all children struggle to learn to read? What should you do if your kid’s teacher is terrible? And are middle-class or affluent kids hurt academically when they attend schools with peers who come from less educationally privileged backgrounds? In this episode, I talk to Peg Tyre, author of The Good School, and Heather Harding, an education researcher at George Washington University. Both guests have enrolled their own children in urban public schools, in New York and Washington, D.C.

 Listen! 

Does It Matter When Education Reformers and Activists Send Their Own Kids to Private School?

The scandal-prone Michelle Rhee does it. So does Leonie Haimson, the combative leader of the advocacy groups Class Size Matters, Parents Across America, and NYC Kids PAC, which oppose almost all the ideas Rhee supports, like increased standardized testing, teacher pay tied to test scores, and larger class sizes for effective teachers.

Many lefty education writers have criticized Rhee for enrolling one of her daughters in the exclusive Harpeth Hall girls' school in Nashville, which boasts of tiny class sizes and a focus on critical thinking and the arts. But Haimson says her own decision to send her youngest child to a private high school is different, because unlike Rhee, she believes all children, especially the poor, should benefit from the small classes and progressive pedagogy many private schools provide. Indeed, Haimson has devoted her life to this cause, and isn't planning on stopping her activism simply because her own child is now enrolled in private schoool.

I am a product of socioeconomically diverse public schools and have written about why opting-out of public schooling — or any kind of schooling! — can have negative affects on both individuals and the common good. I've also reported on the choices prominent education personalities make on where to send their own kids to school, and like this media ethicist, I think it's a completely legitmate topic for journalists to cover.

But unlike Haimson, I'm not sure if it's fair to play gotchya! with Rhee, or any other public figure, on this question, as opposed to simply speaking and writing honestly about what personal choices can tell us about the constraints on American public schools. (Geoff Decker's reporting on Haimson at GothamSchools is an absolutely wonderful example.) We don't know anything about Rhee's daughter or Haimson's child; whether they have special academic or behavioral needs, for example. What's more, while I'm on the record as a years-long skeptic of some of Rhee's favored policies, I'm not sure if it is fair to accuse her of hypocrisy. Though it is rarely discussed openly, the contemporary standards-and-accountability school reform movement is based, in part, on the assumption that disadvantaged children need more structure, stricter discipline, and more back-to-basics instruction than many affluent kids do, in order to catch up academically and make up for some of the poverty-related turbulence in some poor children's home lives. If you're interested in reading about this way of thinking, check out Paul Tough's Whatever it Takes, about the Harlem Children's Zone, and Jay Matthews' Work Hard, Be Nice, about the KIPP charter schools. Rhee and her ex-husband, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, are generally associated with this ideology.

On the other hand, Rhee has admitted that the fastest way to improve a city's public schools would be to require every single child within district limits to enroll in them, which would bring engaged, politically savvy parents into the system. Instead, she and Huffman are choosing to opt out, and it's worth asking them more about it. Do they believe other people's children will benefit from a different type of education than their daughter needs? Why? Or are they simply unwilling to enroll their child in a school system that they do not — at least not yet — consider up to par for any child? Do they believe their own privileged daughter's educational and life outcomes would be hindered by attending school alongside less privileged peers? If so, why? These types of frank conversations happen far too rarely.  

Is Working From Home a Feminist Issue?

I've worked in offices for small magazines, large media companies, and think tanks. So I know there's a lot about office culture that sucks: useless meetings, crackberries that ruin your precious out-of-the-office hours, and sometimes an assumption that whoever stays latest or arrives earliest is working hardest. In New York, there's competitive dressing. In DC, there are old-school dress codes, as if everyone were about to meet with a senator, any minute now! A lot of this is absurd. I'm a huge believer in flex time for office workers. There's nothing about the hours 9-7 that make them especially productive; a lot of us get more done in the evenings, or while fighting insomnia, or at sunrise. And the occasional guilt-free day of working from home is priceless: the quiet, the pajamas, the home-cooked lunch. For new parents, people with chronic health conditions, or people who serve as caretakers for sick or elderly relatives, having the ability to work from home at least some of the time can mean the difference between being able to hold down a job and being forced to quit. 

So I sympathize with those who are outraged over Marissa Mayer's decision to put the kibosh on work-from-home arrangements at Yahoo. It's insulting to employees to suggest that the only legitimate reason to stay home is "for the cable guy," and Mayer does sound like kind of a nightmare boss, counting the cars in the corporate parking lot at 5 pm. Because women tend to disproportionately handle child care and other domestic responsibilities, it is very likely that female employees will be especially affected by Yahoo's policy change. 

All that said, I'm not sure working from home is feminist nirvana.

I'm a freelance writer — a really lucky one, with a book project, an interesting editorial consulting gig, and frequent magazine assignments. I love what I do. But working from home is by far the hardest and least enjoyable part of my professional life. For one thing, it's lonely, isolating, and, at least in my case, challenging for my physical and emotional health. I often get so caught up in my indoor responsibilities that I forget to get fresh air, put on real clothing, take a walk, or talk to other human beings. At The Awl, Ken Layne pretty much nails what this can feel like. 

And here's the thing. For a woman, being stuck inside "the home" all day–a space traditionally coded as female, one that many women hold themselves to high standards to care for–can be especially stultifying. Here are some of the things I can do, in my home, when I'm supposed to be writing my book: Laundry. Emptying the dishwasher. Booking a hotel reservation for a friend's wedding. Cleaning the toilet. Shopping for and preparing a healthy, low-carb, high-protein dinner for my boyfriend and me. (This morning, I've already done several of these chores, and it's only 11 am.)

No one is forcing me to take sole responsibility for these tasks. If I don't do them when I'm "working from home," they will still get done. My boyfriend and I will split them up, or do them together. But here's the thing: It's really hard for me to be at home and ignore my domestic to-do list. I have a voice in my head telling me that until my apartment is neat, clean, and stocked with fresh food, it's perfectly okay to procrastinate on my real jobs, the ones for which I get paid: reporting, writing, and editing. After nearly three years of freelancing, I've learned that I shouldn't work from home more than one or two days per week. I now commute from Brooklyn into "the city" almost every morning, to work at the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. Yes: I voluntarily spend my days in midtown Manhattan, eat lunch at the ubiquitous Hale & Hearty Soups, and dodge tourists in the subway.

Granted, I don't have children yet. And if I'm still freelancing when I do, I know my flexible schedule will make parenthood much easier. Yet I have many freelancer female colleagues, a few years older than me, who admit that a big professional challenge is learning to turn off their mom selves and simply get to work (luckily, work they love). They are some of the people who helped me realize that even if you "work from home," you have to work outside your home often, and if that means scrimping for a babysitter, a coworking space, or a $104 monthy Metrocard, it's totally worth it, if you're privileged enough to be able to afford it. 

So here's my tentative conclusion. Flex-time is a feminist issue. Working from home full time? Maybe not so much. And here are some very definite feminist issues: Access to high-quality, affordable childcare. Paid sick leave, maternity leave, and paternity leave. Male partners who pull their weight at home. 

Michelle Rhee, Back in the News in a Big Way

I'm looking forward to this evening's episode of FRONTLINE, which will explore evidence of adult tampering with children's tests in certain Washington, DC public schools during the chancellorship of Michelle Rhee, who is perhaps the nation's most controversial school reformer. The allegations are not new. They were first revealed nearly two years ago by my colleague Greg Toppo and his crack reporting team at USA Today, which used a computer algorithim to comb through reams of data, and found a national pattern of manipulated standardized test scores in the wake of No Child Left Behind, which greatly increased test-score pressure on schools and districts. Tonight's documentary, however, reported by John Merrow, will delve more deeply into Rhee's efforts to evade a thorough investigation of statistically implausible test score gains. In a preview interview with the Education Writers' Association, Merrow judges Rhee harshly. "The record is pretty clear that D.C. schools are not better because she was there," he says. "They’re still at the bottom, with the lowest graduation rate in the country."

The FRONTLINE report is especially timely as it comes just a day after Rhee's national advocacy organization, Students First, released a "report card" grading states on how closely they align with Rhee's agenda of tying teacher evaluation and pay to student test scores; weakening teacher tenure; transitioning teachers from traditional pension to 401(k) plans; funding charter schools and private school vouchers; instituting mayoral and state control of schools; and expanding the charter school sector and holding it accountable for results. Doug Henwood notes that states with high grades on the report card, including Louisiana and Florida, have woefully poor student academic achievement, while Massachusetts, with the highest math and reading scores in the nation, earned a D+ from Students First. This is true, but as Matt Yglesias writes, most of Rhee's favored policies are too new to be conclusively judged; the proof will be in the pudding a decade from now, when we can track what effect, if any, school choice and test-score based accountability policies have had on gold-standard NAEP test scores over time. 

That said, Rhee's most influential effort, her push to tie teacher pay and job security to individual students' standardized test scores, is the one element of this agenda for which we already have some powerful, and disturbing evidence, thanks to the investigations of USA Today and FRONTLINE. As I've reported, psychometricians, the scientists who study testing, have been warning for decades that when policy-makers attach ever-higher stakes to tests–first accountability measures targeting schools and districts, and now job security threats for individual principals and teachers–the reliability of test scores is compromised, sometimes due to teaching-to-the-test, and sometimes due to outright cheating. This consistent finding has crucial implications for "value-added measurement," the method, promoted by economists, of using standaridzed test scores as the major proxy for teacher quality and student learning. If we are concerned, as Matt is, about so much economic modeling being backed by poor data, we must deal with the implications this has for education policy. In my 2012 year-in-review, I talk a bit more about what all this means for education research; I want to emphasize that raising concerns about value-added measurement does not mean one is reflexively "anti-testing," it simply means that one is questioning the wisdom of tying high stakes to tests.

Before I leave the subject of Michelle Rhee, it's worth noting that Students First has had a very difficult time coming up with a consistent position on the rights of teachers to collectively bargain, even just for pay.  (Most recently, it seems that they are against collective bargaining — for everyone.) Now, as Joy Resmovits reports at the Huffington Post, many of the well-connected Democrats who worked for Rhee have left her team, and are being replaced by former staffers from Americans Elect, a hedge fund-backed effort to elect third-party independents. 

I'm not questioning Rhee's personal commitment to certain progressive aims. I was impressed, for example, with her genuine efforts to better integrate public schools in rapidly-gentrifying DC neighborhoods, by working hard to convince college-educated parents to enroll their kids in local schools. But as her career advances nationally, she is more and more allying with Republican, even Tea Party-type conservative governors and state legislators. I'm midway through writing a book on the history of American education, and from this vantage point, I'm very skeptical about relying upon an anti-government political movement–one almost totally indifferent to social and economic inequality–to invest in and improve the schools poor children attend.

Checking-In on the Legacy of Michelle Rhee’s Teacher Reforms in Washington, D.C.

A new report from The New Teacher Project, "Keeping Irreplacables in D.C. Public Schools," takes a look at how Michelle Rhee's controversial IMPACT teacher evaluation program has fared since she left the district in 2010. Under IMPACT, teachers are rated according to a number of measures, including multiple annual classroom observations by administrators, as well as teachers' individual students' academic growth, as measured by district and classroom-level tests. Teachers who agree to forgo certain job security protections, and who rate in the top category, "highly-effective," are eligible for annual bonuses between $2,000 and $25,000, as well as eventual raises in their base pay and promotions to "distinguished" and "expert" teacher status. 

There have been some significant changes to IMPACT under Chancellor Kaya Henderson, such as bonuses for effective teachers who agree to teach at the lowest-performing, highest-poverty schools; a renewed focus on holistic measures of teaching excellence, including "commitment to school community;" and fewer classroom observations throughout the year for teachers whose fall observations earn high scores. So is IMPACT working? Are great teachers staying in DC, and are bad teachers being replaced by better ones? 

According to TNTP's anlysis, DC retains about the same percentage of its top-fifth-rated teachers–88 percent–as four other, unnamed school districts whose practices the organization examined as a control group. Where DC stood apart was in the percentage of its lowest-performers–55 percent–it laid off, compared to 6-21 percent in the four other districts. Because the average first-year teacher peforms better under IMPACT than the average low-performing veteran, TNTP concludes these high turnover rates are justified, despite the worry that they could depress morale among the teacher corps. (Overall, more experienced teachers are more likely to be highly-rated; about three-quarters of DC's highest-performing teachers under IMPACT have more than three years of experience in the classroom.)

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Now for the less encouraging news. Less than half of high-performing DC teachers received positive feedback, public recognition, or additional responsibilites from their principals. These are less than stellar management practices. And highly-rated teachers continue to work disproportionately at schools with fewer poor children. (It is unclear why this is the case: because it is easier to score well on IMPACT if you work in a middle-class school; because many effective teachers avoid high-poverty schools: or some combination of both and other factors.) 

The chart below is one of the most sobering in the report. High-performing DC teachers who do choose to leave the district often cite the IMPACT bureaucracy as one reason for doing so. This dovetails with reports that up to 40 percent of DC teachers who earned IMPACT bonuses have rejected them, in part because they are unwilling to lose their seniority protections under a system many see as capricious. On the other hand, as the chart notes, "DCPS rarely loses Irreplacables because of dissatisfaction with their compensation." In most urban districts, pay is a big cause of teacher turnover, since educators can expect raises if they decamp to deep-pocketed suburban schools.

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So administrators still have some work to do to improve the professional culture within DCPS schools. And what about kids? This paper did not examine student acheivement, but results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show very modest improvement in DC over the past three years, though the District continues to demonstrate some of the largest race and class-based achievement gaps in the United States. The results of IMPACT over the longterm should be measured not only in teacher retention rates, but also in whether–as the program's proponents have claimed–overhauling teacher evaluation and pay will lead to significant gains for kids, both as measured by test scores and by more holistic factors, such as safety, better student discipline, a broader array of curricular and extracurricular options, and parent satisfaction. 

Read the full report from TNTP here.

On Party Politics and Education Reform Right Now

If you're interested in a detailed policy analysis of what Obama's second term could mean for early childhood and K-12 education, take a look at what my colleagues and I at the New America Foundation are projecting. I just want to say a word here about the larger, political realignment of the parties and various interest groups on school reform. A lot of standards-and-accountability reformers are rending their garments over the loss on Tuesday of Tony Bennett, the Indiana state schools superintendent who worked with Republican governor Mitch Daniels to implement the Common Core curriculum standards, tie teacher evaluation to student test scores, allow the state to takeover struggling schools, and provide vouchers for private school tuition. He was defeated at the ballot box by Glenda Ritz, a veteran teacher, union leader, and school librarian who ran with support from both organized labor and local-control conservatives. Ritz's allies on the right were angered, at least in part, by the Daniels administration's embrace of the nationally-shared Commore Core standards.

With the exception of vouchers, the Daniels/Bennett reform agenda was indistinguishable from that of many Democrats who have forged productive, if at times very strained, relationships with teachers' unions, including President Obama, Newark mayor Cory Booker, and New York governor Andrew Cuomo. Both big national teachers' unions, the AFT and the NEA, are strong supporters of the Common Core. And new union-negotiated teacher contracts across the country evaluate and pay teachers in part according to how well they improve student achievement. So what we're seeing is that data-driven, standardized testing-centered school reform is most politically palatable when it is pursued by Democrats. As Alexander Russo notes, reformers need to support school funding if they want to be trusted by teachers and the public. In other words, as the PAC Democrats for Education Reform has long argued, the standards-and-accountability agenda seems to make the biggest strides when it is pursued by Democratic politicians, because of the Nixon-goes-to-China power of the traditional allies of teachers' unions and public schools asking them to change their ways. 

None of this is intended to be a normative statement either for or against this particular agenda. I'm generally more skeptical of testing and more bullish on (modernized) vocational education and school desegregation than the standards-and-accountability movement writ large. But after covering education for six years, it has become more and more clear to me that in places where mainstream Democratic politicians embrace standards/accountability/choice-driven reform, the education left–teachers' unions, class size activists, charter school foes–have few recourses on Election Day. Where the choice/accountability agenda is most closely affiliated with Republicans, on the other hand, the unions can push back, hard, at the ballot.

It's worth noting that the one-party "state" of Washington, D.C. proved somewhat of an exception to this rule, in that the American Federation of Teachers developed special animus for Michelle Rhee and spent heavily to unseat her Democratic patron, Adrian Fenty. Yet even under new mayor Vincent Gray, the Rhee accountability agenda soldiers on.

On That Baby-in-the-Briefcase Story and the 5 Real Policy Fixes Women (and Men) Need for Work-Life Balance

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Can women have it all? Probably not. Can anybody who isn't wildly wealthy "have it all?" I don't think so.

I have long admired Anne-Marie Slaughter as both a foreign policy intellectual and as a role-model for women. But I was filled with annoyance and dread as I read her Atlantic cover story, which, as Jessica Valenti notes, was rather problematically packaged. 

I'm annoyed because the problem of not being able to "have it all" is NOT about "the failures of feminism," but, in Slaughter's case–in which she left the State Department to return to her job as a tenured professor at Princeton–about the particularities of the Washington power structure and the intense expectations on high-up political appointees. I personally know both men and women who've struggled with the lifestyle of an appointee; indeed, no one seems to want to stay in these jobs for more than two years or so. I don't see why it's surprising that appointees often lose steam after a short time, since this kind of job isn't personally sustainable for the vast majority of people of either sex. A small number of individuals want to risk their personal relationships and private happiness for the sake of having an internationally important job. As Slaughter notes, more of the people willing to do so are men than women, because of the history of expectations on men to be breadwinners and women to be caregivers. Here I agree with Slaughter that we need to deploy technology in the service of changing workplace cultures to make them more flexible and family-friendly for both sexes. We should also acknowledge that working in the State Department or White House will always be intense and not suited for all people indefinitely. 

But I also felt dread. As a woman in my late twenties who is, in fact, incredibly privileged, I am sick of being told to approach my personal and professional future with anxiety and foreboding instead of optimism and activism. (Men are never expected to wring their hands in this way, though plenty of men I know struggle with the exact same work-life balance challenges.) I am sick of hearing about the failures of feminism when actually what we need to fix these problems for all families, across socioeconomic distinctions, is more feminism, not less. Such as:

2. Extended learning time at school, not just for more test-prep, but for art, music, sports, and other enrichment and supervision affluent kids get as a matter of course. This would help the school day better conform to parents' work day, which helps women (and men) work and parent (Slaughter also points this out)
3. A higher minimum wage and workplace representation in the service sector (especially helpful for single moms)
4. Paid family leave
5. More enlightened men – men who do chores! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest time-use study, men still do only about 25 percent of housework, 29 percent of food preparation and clean-up, and 33 percent of childcare.*
I'd like to see college-educated women and men who care about work-life balance devote some of their energy to advocating for the above proposals. We need to raise active support for these ideas among folks who are affluent enough to spend their way out of these problems, through nannies, private schools, housekeepers, and the like. 
*To answer commenter John Romano's question, the BLS stats show men still do more lawn-care, for example, than women. If outdoor and indoor chores are combined, men do about 40 percent of all "household activities." I'd only add that there is a minute-to-minute, day-to-day quality to food preparation, indoor clean-up, and childcare that "outdoor" housework lacks. Hat-tip to Doug Henwood for help analyzing the BLS numbers.

My Al-Jazeera Appearance on American Jews and Israel

Last Wednesday I went to D.C. to appear on The Stream, a smart Al-Jazeera English show that combines traditional, in-studio interviews with feedback from online social networks. The topic was American Jews' changing views on Israel, the subject of Peter Beinart's new book The Crisis of Zionism, which I reviewed favorably for The Nation.  

I was especially interested in the Skype interview with Saar Szekaly, an artist who appeared on the Israeli version of "Big Brother" as a sort of political, performance art project, in order to raise awareness about what he considers an unjust occupation. On The Stream, Szekaly made the point that the average young Israeli, especially outside of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, has almost no contact with Arabs, Palestinians or Muslims, and that this makes it difficult for many Israelis to understand the depth of Palestinian suffering. Because of the continuing conflict, the security wall, and increased racial and religious segregation, a young Israeli is less likely than her parents or grandparents to have befriended non-Jews. 

This is in remarkable contrast with the experience of young American Jews. Many of us attended racially and culturally diverse colleges, where we encountered the Palestinian narrative and grappled with it. In the post-9/11, Arab Spring era, most of us have far more interest in and contact with the Arab world than our parents and grandparents did in their formative years.

I do wish this segment had included a perspective further to the left, from someone who supports the broader BDS movement, for example, like the writers at Mondoweiss.

an earlier version of this post appears at The Nation

“The Rent is Too Damn High” and Education

We know school desegregation is important because of a growing body of research showing that "peer effects" are correlated with better teacher quality and higher test scores for low-income children. So I've done a lot of reporting and writing about how public schools can racially and socioeconomically integrate classrooms, both through instructional reforms and by forging partnerships with other schools across the boundaries of neighborhoods and even muncipalities.

That said, school desegregation efforts are, at their core, a work-around for the problem of residential segregation by race and class. That's why I found my friend Matt Yglesias' new e-book, The Rent is Too Damn High, so fascinating. Matt argues for increasing the supply of affordable housing in central urban neighborhoods–the kinds of places with good or rapidly-improving public schools–by allowing real estate developers to build tall apartment towers, regardless of NIMBY concerns about historic preservation, aesthetics, or preserving sight lines. He also argues that inner-ring suburbs should reduce zoning barriers that make it impossible for developers to construct high-density, affordable housing near good schools.

Here's the crux of Matt's argument as it relates to education:

The United States is racked by a multisided and vicious series of controversies about improving learning outcomes in our public schools. One thing everyone can agree on is that it's neither logistically nor politically easy to achieve large improvements. But given that some schools are already performing better than others, this raises the question of why parents don't simply relocate to places with better schools. Many parents, of course, do relocate. It's common for afluent young couples to move out to the suburbs when their children reach the appropriate age. "Everyone knows" that poor families can't afford to do this. But we only rarely ask why poor families can't afford to move to nice suburbs. It's not because construction costs are higher in the suburbs. It's because it's frequently illegal to build the kind of dense apartment buildings that could accommodate lower-income families. Indeed, in higher-income suburbs, American regulatory policy often goes further and bans "accessory dwellings"–the practice of renting out a room a basement, garage, or attic to someone who's not a member of the family. 

Towns' reasons for wanting to zone out potentially "undesirable" low-income families are understandable, if not particularly admirable, but when exclusion occurs all across the country it becomes a major barrier to the delivery of high-quality public services.

Although I believe there is real cultural value in some historic preservation efforts, I generally agree with Matt that American urban liberals should worry less about preserving buildings and property values, and more about expanding access to quality education, transportation, and other services. 

I'd only add that politically, achieving greater residential integration may not totally solve the problem of school segregation. Some privileged parents feel so strongly about sending their children to schools dominated by racially and socioeconically similar children that they will do almost anything to preserve school segregation, including gerrymandering school zones; opening new schools for the "gifted;" suing to prevent school district consolidation; and so on and so forth. 

But Matt's thinking on the issue is creative and an important challenge to established policy assumptions. Check out the e-book here.

More on the D.C. Achievement Gap and Michelle Rhee’s Legacy

In response to my Nation piece on achievement gaps in Washington, D.C. district public schools, commenter E.B. wondered how things would look different if we measured student proficiency instead of raw NAEP scores. This is a great question, since proficiency–defined as "solid academic performance"–is the standard to which we should hold most children.

As you can see from the chart I've whipped up below, things still look pretty abysmal when we measure proficiency instead of raw achievement. While D.C. public school students from every demographic group made modest gains over the past four years, just a small minority of black (12 percent), Hispanic (22 percent), and poor children (11 percent) in Washington perform at grade level in math. I've included scores from Charlotte, North Carolina as a comparison, since Charlotte typically outperforms other urban districts.

When we compare Charlotte to D.C., we see that demographics play an important, but ultimately limited, role in a child's academic performance. Poor, black, and Hispanic students do better in Charlotte than they do in D.C. There are many reasons why this is so, starting with "peer effects:" The Charlotte district is more diverse than DCPS, with a greater percentage of white, Asian, and middle-class students, as well as individual schools and classrooms that are more socioeconomically-integrated. (To review why integrated schools are often better schools, click here and here.) There are also an almost-unlimited number of curricular, pedagogical, and human resources practices that could be responsible for one district, like Charlotte, outperforming another, like Washington, D.C.

I want to be clear–especially in response to Alexander Russo–that I'm not attempting to hold Michelle Rhee responsible for the existence of these achievement gaps, which far predate her term and are partly attributable to demographic realities out of her control. What I do want to do is call attention to the continued underperformance of disadvantaged D.C. kids compared to their peers in other cities. The Rhee agenda was multi-faceted. It included elements I support, such as bureaucratic streamlining and the recruitment of more college-educated families into the public school system, and elements about which I am skeptical, such as the tying of teacher evaluation and pay to student standardized test scores. The Rhee years also conincided, as Alexander notes, with an increase in charter school enrollment, and there is some limited evidence that D.C. charters may be outperforming the city's traditional schools.

The takeaway, I think, is that Rhee pursued a number of reforms, but there is no evidence that her most controversial, anti-union moves are responsible for the limited growth we've seen–or that teacher-evaluation reforms alone can, over time, move many more poor, black, and Hispanic D.C. chidren to academic proficiency. Indeed, the D.C. public schools are still highly segregated by race and class, with quality teachers more clustered than ever in whiter, wealthier schools. These trends are negatively correlated with high academic achievement for disadvantaged kids.