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NEPC Review: Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren't Making the Grade (September 2011)

Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade is a new report from Third Way, a Washington, D.C.-based policy think tank. The report aims to convince parents, taxpayers and policymakers that they should be as concerned about middle-class schools not making the grade as they are about the failures of the nation’s large, poor, urban school districts. But, the report suffers from egregious methodological flaws invalidating nearly every bold conclusion drawn by its authors. First, the report classifies as middle class any school or district where the share of children qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunch falls between 25% and 75%. Seemingly unknown to the authors, this classification includes as middle class some of the poorest urban centers in the country, such as Detroit and Philadelphia. But, even setting aside the crude classification of middle class, none of the report’s major conclusions are actually supported by the data tables provided. The report concludes, for instance, that middle-class schools perform much less well than the general public, parents and taxpayers believe they do. But, the tables throughout the report invariably show that the schools they classify as “middle class” fall precisely where one would expect them to—in the middle—between higher- and lower-income schools. 

(Note that in addition to the reply by Third Way and the Baker response below, Prof. Baker has blogged here and on other parts of his blog.)

Suggested Citation: Baker, B.D. (2011). Review of “Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade.” Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved [date] from

Document Reviewed:

Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren't Making the Grade

Tess Stovall and Deirdre Dolan
Third Way