The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) assessments are regarded as the gold standard by which to evaluate the academic performance of America’s school system, by state and also within large cities. The results are sobering. In Baltimore, taking 4th grade mathematics as an example, only one in five students reached proficiency. The disparity between subgroups is more troubling still: 70% of white students, but only 16% of black students, were able to become proficient. Comparisons between cities are complicated by the fact that the NAEP data do not disaggregate between poverty and severe poverty sufficiently; free lunch and reduced lunch students, for example, are treated as the same category. But however we interpret the data, it is clear that urban school districts struggle to serve all students well.
How do those entrusted with addressing this immensely difficult challenge respond, and with what track record or expectations for success? Memphis, Newark and Detroit have pursued various structural strategies that include achievement school districts, direct state oversight, and mayoral control. On April 11th, we were joined by distinguished speakers who are on the front lines in these three districts and explored the political, operational, and fiscal challenges and advantages associated with the respective interventions. Our speakers were Chris Cerf, Superintendent,Newark Public Schools and former Commissioner of Education,New Jersey;Jamie Woodson,CEO, Tennessee Score and former Tennessee state legislator;Richard Tao,Senior Advisor to the Mayor of Detroit.The event was moderated by David Steiner,Director, Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy