Blame the Heat? Reformer Cries Foul Over Vox Coverage of NCLB Effects

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 4.25.20 PM

A screengrab from Libby Nelson’s recent Vox piece on NCLB lessons.

Over at his Relinquishment blog, reformer and occasional media critic Neerav Kingsland has some thoughts about how Vox’s Libby Nelson has covered NCLB and the research that’s come out about its impacts (The Scariest Lesson).

For her part, Nelson seems to think that Kingsland is misreading her piece. But more about that in a minute.

I’ve written about Kingsland’s media criticism before, which has included blog posts addressing a Washington Post article about Newark reform efforts written by Lyndsey Layton.

In the new post, Kingsland focuses on a recent post by Libby Nelson from Vox that praises Nelson’s work in general but raises questions about her NCLB story (The scariest lesson of No Child Left Behind).

In his latest piece, Kingsland writes: “I find Libby’s national policy writing to be well done… However, I thought this NCLB piece fell short in that it correctly identified a problem (most NCLB turnaround efforts didn’t really work), while not fully covering the research behind potential solutions.”

His issue isn’t Nelson’s rundown of programs funded through NCLB and related programs: “not one of these models has actually been proven to work at scale across grade levels.” But he’s not so sure about her conclusion, which includes the line “12 years of the law [NCLB] left us with a better idea of what doesn’t work than what does.”

According to Kingsland, this simply isn’t true. Urban charters are “delivering strong results” and have been confirmed by independent research. “We have rigorous evidence on what type of whole school reforms works for poor and minority students: charter schools, particularly those that adopt the No Excuses model.” He cites CREDO studies across 41 cities in 22 states.

Of course, it would be more compelling if Kingsland’s point didn’t coincide so closely with his work and views on education (which are, generally, in support of charters and other kinds of models of education and governance). But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

However, according to Nelson, Kingsland is misreading her piece and its conclusions. Via Twitter, she asks Kingsland “Did you read the article? This was about consequences and turnarounds, and mentioned that restructuring works.” 

Indeed, Nelson’s piece notes that NCLB-inspired improvement efforts did make positive differences, especially at the extremes, and addresses the question of whether the new version of NCLB which will likely leave intervention decisions to states and districts will prove any more effective.

Like Kingsland, I’ve generally appreciated Nelson’s coverage of education issues. I’ve asked Nelson if she has any further thoughts on Kingsland’s post, and will let you know whatever response I get. Ditto for any additional thoughts from Kingsland.  It could be that there’s a major disconnect here, or it could be something smaller, related to the end-of-July heat that’s making me (and perhaps others) slightly light-headed. 

Related posts: A Nagging Disconnect Between Vivid Anecdotes & Underlying DataNew Hire Helps Settle Politico’s Education Coverage12 New Yorker Ed Articles Vox Missed/Got WrongActually, Ranking High Schools Can Be Enormously UsefulMore Questions About Warren’s Pro-Choice Views.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.