Does Chicago Really Have the Most Effective Big Public School System in America?
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Last year I wrote up in Taki’s Magazine a lengthy analysis of a database Stanford researchers had put together of all the school district average test scores by race in the country. Amusingly, the biggest white-black performance gap in the country was in the most liberal district, Berkeley.

The Stanford people now have a new analysis of their data out trying to measure average improvement in test scores between third and eighth grade in each district in the country. I’ve been talking about these kind of value-added analyses for about 25 years but they are still pretty rare.

The typical student performs at the third grade level in third grade and the eighth grade level in eighth grade for a change of five years.

Some school districts do worse. Baltimore City students in 3rd grade score at the grade 2.3 level, 0.7 grade levels behind the national average, but by 8th grade are only at the 5.5 grade level, 2.5 grade levels behind. Relative to the national average, Baltimore students lose 1.8 grade levels in 5 years. This is one of the worst performances of the larger school districts in the country, although Baltimore City isn’t that big anymore due to black flight.

The worst performance of all is in post-apocalyptic-looking East St. Louis, IL where students gain only 1.8 grade levels (lose 3.2 grade levels versus the national average) between 3rd and 8th grades. The best performance is in Montgomery Township, NJ, a suburb of Princeton, where students gain 6.7 grade levels, 1.7 more than the national average.

So these are pretty plausible candidates for worst-run and best-run school districts.

Most school districts are within one year of the national average (i.e., they gain at least 4 grades and not more than 6 grades in 5 years). Rich school districts tend to be more toward above average, which makes sense because rich parents tend to have higher potential kids.

One of the worst performing rich school districts if Manhattan Beach, CA, south of LAX, which is kind of a rich jock town (e.g., UCLA’s quarterback Joshua Ballinger Lippincott Rosen is from MB).

The two biggest school districts did not so hot. New York City lost 0.4 grades versus the country and Los Angeles lost 0.6.

The best performance by a big city was Chicago, which improved by 1.0 grades relative to the country. Chicago was 1.3 grades behind in third grade but only 0.4 grades behind in 8th grade.

Sean F. Reardon of Stanford wrote a paper looking for obvious explanations for this and concludes that it could be legit. (Or it could be massive, careful cheating.) He finds most of the improvement in Chicago coming since 2009. It shows up among all ethnic groups and also appears on the federal NAEP test.

I haven’t lived in Chicago in 17 years so I don’t have an opinion.

One thing about Chicago public schools is that the mayor has a lot of direct influence on schools, whereas in L.A. he has almost none. Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel is not an inconsiderable guy. He has criticized the schools pretty harshly. Maybe criticism works?

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