James J. Kemple, Children First and Student Outcomes: 2003-2010 (paper presented at Children's First retrospective conference, New York City, NY: New York City Reform Retrospective Project, November 2010).

What was the true effect on student outcomes of New York’s sweeping education reform initiatives—collectively known as Children First—during Joel Klein’s regime? This paper by James J. Kemple tackles that timely question in a statistically rigorous way. It compares NYC school students to those in the state’s other “Big Four” (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers), as well as the rest of the Empire State and finds that the Children First reforms had a positive effect on ELA and math proficiency rates in grades 4 and 8, and on graduation rates between 2003 and 2009. Moreover, “the evidence suggests that the effects on proficiency rates extend both to general education students and to students with disabilities, with especially large effects for the latter.” These powerful findings are mitigated, however, by some of Kemple’s other observations. First, raising the proficiency bar on state tests (which happened in 2009-10) decreased the efficacy of the Children First reforms. Second, drawing conclusions about the impact of Children First on NAEP scores still isn’t statistically possible; and third, the reforms haven’t narrowed the gap between high- and low-poverty schools. Despite these lingering questions the analysis offers rigorous proof of the positive effects of the reforms undertaken by Klein et al. Interested in learning more? This is just one in a series of papers assessing these reforms (and Joel Klein’s legacy) from the New York City Reform Retrospective Project.

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