Out in Chicago they've been taking a look at the educational reform strategies that are now being used to reform schools across the country. The strategy - which focuses heavily on closing failing schools, opening new ones, and charters - has been, well, not as encouraging as one might hope. To get right to the point, scores from the newly opened elementary schools are the same as the city average and the high schools tend to do worse than the city average. In other words, just opening new schools doesn't mean that they're going to automatically be better than what they are replacing. Good schools are good schools. New schools can go either way.
Meanwhile, out in Long Beach - which has just received the Broad Prize - they've achieved success by being the anti-Chicago. They have focused on data, community buy-in, and staff development. Also, instead of "flitting from reform to reform or looking for silver bullets", they have stuck with that approach for nearly 20 years. (Are you listening Joel Klein?) Now data, community buy-in, and staff development aren't exactly the sexy stuff of the Education Reformers, but if it works then why isn't the data set all over this. And if the portfolio method isn't so effective, you'd think they'd be turning against that.
The thing about all this reform is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. People are getting locked into their ideas of what works whether it does or not. I'm not saying that only one approach can be successful. I think the exact opposite is true, in fact. But we need to make sure we're actually looking at what works instead of just saying it works and taking action that doesn't help.