Here's the thing: at the same time Waiting for Superman, NBC's Education Nation, and Oprah launched an education reform onslaught with Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone at its center, New York City was releasing its school progress reports for last year.
Check out the Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy Charter School's rankings for student progress (i.e., "value added") in English Language Arts. I'm not sure which of these stats makes the punchiest soundbite or exactly how to word them:
- The percentile rank of the median ELA growth HCZPA's lowest third of students, relative to similar NYC neighborhood and charter schools: 0%
- The above compared to the "city horizon:" -10.6% (how you generate a percentage rank that's negative, I don't know)
- Percentile rank of median ELA growth for all HCZPA children compared to similar NYC neighborhood and charter schools: 4.2%
- Above compared to the "city horizon:" -1.4%
Put another way: HCZPA had the least growth in ELA among the lowest third of their students among NYC neighborhood and charter schools schools with a similar population.
This isn't some random school I cherry-picked, it is the flagship school of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. It's so extreme that your first reaction is probably "Wow, something must be wrong with those numbers." Which is fine by me. That's the beauty here: you either have to give up some of your faith in the miracle of the high performing charter school as the solution to our problems, or some of your faith in the reliability of narrow measures based on test scores and, in particular, the efficacy of more complex value-added measures.
The thing is, I haven't seen anyone else mention this rather breathtaking statistic, but I can't be the only one to have wondered how the HCZPA did on the new report card. This is news, and a wonderful way to turn the discussion in a different direction, but even opponents of business model reforms haven't brought it up yet. And to be honest, even doing so makes me feel a little guilty somehow.
Later... the explanation for the negative growth percentile (you can find the guide for teachers in the link above):
For each element in the Progress Report, the peer range is the range of scores earned by peer schools in the 2008-10 period excluding “outlier” scores that deviate so dramatically from the other scores that it is not reasonable to use them as reference points. An “outlier” score is defined as one that is more than two standard deviations away from the mean. The peer range “minimum” is the lowest non-outlier score and the peer range “maximum” is the highest non-outlier score.