It takes some chutzpah to write an op-ed stating that the success of a school created as part of a comprehensive effort to "to address all the problems that poor families were facing" demonstrates that such a comprehensive effort is unnecessary. That's what David Brooks did today, prompted by an email by the young but "meticulous Harvard economist" Roland Fryer.
In particular, Fryer's self-described epiphany, "The attached study has changed my life as a scientist," is not credible. The statistics from the study, which is not linked, show significant progress by middle school students at The Promise Academy Middle School, but on the surface at least, little different than what other high achieving middle schools in New York score on common assessments. Frankly, KIPP, Democracy Prep and some of the other charters bump up against the statistical upper limits of the assessments used by the city and state. It would be difficult mathematically to score significantly higher.
It is also important to note that if you follow Brooks' advice and read Paul Tough's Whatever it Takes to understand the culture of the school what you find is a school struggling mightily to pump up test scores by turning itself into a KIPP knockoff without actually giving up and letting KIPP run the school. The book ends with the current principal narrowly avoiding being fired.
So what are possible interpretations of Fryer's statements to Brooks?
- The results are actually much better at Promise Academy than other charters, using similar methods, which would even more strongly suggest that additional social services do make a big difference, beyond what "schools alone" can do.
- Promise Academy is actually doing something different and more successful than other charters (other than being in the Children's Zone) but neither Tough, Brooks, nor Fryer mentions what that might be.
- The Promise Academy isn't doing anything unique but they're getting extra-ordinarily high scores even by charter school standards, with a suspiciously small sample size (about 80 kids per grade) over no more than the last year or two.
- Fryer isn't aware of the other well known high performing schools in New York.
- Fryer doesn't believe the reported achievements of other high performing schools in New York.
- Fryer, while "meticulous" is very excitable and has a poor memory.
- Fryer is intentionally misleading a very willing Brooks.
For a broader (and bolder?) analysis, read Doug Noon.