Standards, Testing, & Accountability

In his most recent missive (published today in Ed Week), Alfie Kohn decries "the pedagogy of poverty," i.e.: the way many poor children are taught in traditional public and public charter schools around the nation. He complains:

Policymakers and the general public have paid much less attention to what happens inside classrooms—the particulars of teaching and learning—especially in low-income neighborhoods. The news here has been discouraging for quite some time, but, in a painfully ironic twist, things seem to be getting worse as a direct result of the “reform” strategies pursued by the Bush administration, then intensified under President Barack Obama, and cheered by corporate executives and journalists.

In an article published in Phi Delta Kappan back in 1991, Martin Haberman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, coined the phrase “pedagogy of poverty.” Based on his observations in thousands of urban classrooms, Haberman described a tightly controlled routine in which teachers dispense, and then test students on, factual information; assign seatwork; and punish noncompliance. It is a regimen, he said, “in which learners can ‘succeed’ without becoming either involved or thoughtful,” and it is noticeably different from the questioning, discovering, arguing, and collaborating that is more common (though by no means universal) among students in suburban and private schools.

This description is misleading on so many levels. First of all, it seems to suggest that having tight classroom management and routines is antithetical to creating classrooms where students can think deeply about issues. Nonsense....

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Winning RTT states got a lot of points for promising to adopt CCSS and implement the standards by adopting some fairly bold reforms. Now the rubber meets the road and it's time to look at whether states are beginning to do what they promised. (And, perhaps, to evaluate whether those promises made any sense in the first place.) To that end, I have begun to read the RTT applications from the winning states, beginning with DC. My plan is to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of each state's implementation plan and eventually to track how states are progressing against their own implementation goals.

Washington, DC

Overview

I think that I may have started by reading the gold standard CCSS implementation plan because the District's RTT application outlines a plan that is as thoughtful as it is comprehensive. States and districts that are looking for smart CCSS implementation advice would do well to read and adapt DC's plan.

Strengths

There are essentially three areas of the RTT application that deal directly with CCSS implementation: standards and assessment, data, and great teachers and leaders. What impressed me most about DC's plan was how well integrated these areas were. It seems clear that the ?state? officials had a unified and clear theory of action and aligned all elements of their reform plan around particular goals. Even better, they are clearly using assessment and data as the driving force behind CCSS implementation. To that end, DC plans:...

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This article originally appeared in the April 21 edition of The Education Gadfly newsletter. You can sign up for The Education Gadfly or read an overview of the latest newsletter.

Along with paralysis over the budget (and so much else), there's enduring paralysis on Capitol Hill?over federal education policy. While 2011 has brought a flurry of promising reform activity at the state level, we detect barely a heartbeat in Washington when it comes to updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently NCLB), even though an overhaul is at least four years overdue and just about everyone agrees that it's not working very well.

A year ago, the Obama Administration offered a decent ?blueprint? for reauthorization; but in Congress there are major fissures within each party?and little evidence of desire to cooperate across the aisle. Most commentators agree?and staffers privately admit?that chances are slim for an update before the 2012 elections. Sadly, they are probably right. It's a major abdication of responsibility by our nation's lawmakers.

Click to read our ESEA briefing book

And what makes it especially painful is that there's a pretty obvious path forward, not too different from the Administration's proposal. We sketch it out in a new ESEA reform proposal released this week. It capitalizes on some key realities:

First, NCLB has done a pretty good job of sensitizing the country to the...

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In science, statisticians must frequently grapple with interaction effects. Let's say, for example, that a scientist wants to study the impact of diet and exercise on lowering cholesterol. They have one group follow a low-fat diet, another a new running regimen, and a third group both. It's possible that both the diet group and the exercise group see a modest dip in cholesterol. But it's also possible that the third group will see a drop that is more than double what could have been achieved by diet or exercise alone?meaning that diet and exercise are ?interacting? in some way to affect cholesterol more powerfully. But, at what levels do participants see this interaction effect? When you follow a strict diet and exercise once a week? Twice? Etc.

In education, interaction effects are everywhere. As I've argued before, a strong curriculum implemented by skilled instructor often yields amazing results. The same curriculum implemented by a weak teacher may yield no (or negative) student achievement gains. That's because, as anyone who's ever worked in a school knows, outstanding student achievement results are the product of many different interacting elements within schools, not just of standards or curriculum alone.

For policy makers, it's challenging because no policy can control all of the (school-based) factors that will determine whether their programs succeed or fail in boosting student achievement.

So it is with Common Core. While the standards themselves are far more rigorous than what existed in most states previously,...

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Former Bush White House adviser (and NCLB drafter) Sandy Kress turned in a very compelling New York Daily News op-ed on Monday arguing that President Obama has gone "wobbly" on education accountability. [quote] In the piece, Kress presented impressive NAEP data illustrating the big gains that minority and special needs students have made since the late 1990s.

What has caused these and other similar gains? Most researchers say the biggest factor was that in the late 1990s, states began to implement policies holding schools accountable for improving education for children. Further, in 2001, the Congress extended those policies to schools in all states through the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act.

Today, if schools shortchange students, especially subgroups of disadvantaged students, improvement in the operation of the school is required. Student problems can no longer be swept under the rug. Because of "consequential accountability," business as usual is no longer acceptable....

Now, here's the second big secret: For all of its promise to bring about education reform early in the term, the Obama administration wants to turn back the clock on accountability...

Under the framework being proposed for the reform of the law, the administration would require that, unless a school is among the very worst in the nation, it would no longer be required to improve even if it continues to fail its black, Hispanic and other disadvantaged kids. Further, in the case of schools that do not improve, special tutoring and public school choice

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Political leaders hope to act soon to renew and fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind). In this important paper, Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Executive Vice President Michael J. Petrilli identify 10 big issues that must be resolved in order to get a bill across the finish line, and explore the major options under consideration for each one. Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness? Should the new law provide greater flexibility to states and districts? These are just a few of the areas discussed. Finn and Petrilli also present their own bold yet “reform realist” solutions for ESEA. Read on to learn more.

The 10 big issues

Issue #1 College and career readiness - Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness (such as the Common Core)?

Issue #2 Cut scores - What requirements, if any, should be placed upon states with respect to achievement standards (i.e., "cut scores")?

Issue #3 Growth measures - Should states be required to develop assessments that enable measures of individual student growth?

Issue...

This morning, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released our ESEA Briefing Book. The report serves two purposes: First, to provide helpful background for reporters, analysts, and even hill staffers following the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, No Child Left Behind). Hence, we identify 10 of the key issues that Congress must resolve to get a bill across the finish line, and offer the major options on the table (and their pros and cons) for each one.

The second purpose is to offer our own recommendations, in line with what we've been calling "Reform Realism" for two years now. Reform Realism--a pro-school-reform orientation that is also realistic about what the federal government can (and cannot) do well in K-12 education--entails three main principles:

?Tight-loose? ? Greater national clarity about our goals and expectations for students (i.e., standards linked to real-world demands of college and career), but much greater flexibility around how states, communities, and schools actually get their students there.

Transparency instead of Accountability ? Results-based accountability in education is vital, but it can't successfully be imposed from Washington. Instead, Uncle Sam should ensure that our education system's results?and finances?are transparent to the public, to parents, to local and state officials (and voters), and, of course, to educators.

Incentives over Mandates ?When Uncle Sam seeks to promote specific reforms in education, he should do so through carrots rather than sticks?and...

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Unlike Fat Tuesday or St. Patrick's Day, April 19th may not strike you as an unofficial drinking holiday. But then you haven't been reading Jay Greene lately, who has created a nifty little drinking game to accompany Fordham's ESEA reauthorization proposal to be released tomorrow.

Here's a sneak peek; in our "Briefing Book" we lay out 10 of the key questions that we believe Congress needs to answer in order to get a new ESEA across the finish line, identify the major options for each one, and present the pros and cons. Our recommendations will wait till the morning, but see if you think we got the issues right.

The 10 big issues

  1. College and career readiness - Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness (such as the Common Core)?
  2. Cut scores - What requirements, if any, should be placed upon states with respect to achievement standards (i.e., "cut scores")?
  3. Growth measures - Should states be required to develop assessments that enable measures of individual student growth?
  4. Science and History - Must states develop standards and assessments in additional subjects beyond English/language arts and math?
  5. School ratings - Should Adequate Yearly Progress be maintained, revised, or scrapped?
  6. Interventions - What requirements, if any, should be placed on states in terms of regarding and sanctioning schools and turning around the lowest performers?
  7. Teacher effectiveness - Should Congress regulate teacher credentials (as with the current "highly qualified teachers" mandate) and/or
  8. ...
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OhioFlypaper

Sean Cavanagh's recent blog in Education Week depicts cautionary warnings from Byong Man Ahn, the former South Korean Minister of Education. He suggests that over-testing children can adversely impact a student's desire and ability to learn.? Mr. Ahn warns the United States not to follow his country's education model, arguing that his country is too test-centered, saying, ?we force the students to memorize so much that they experience pain rather than pleasure [of] acquiring knowledge through the learning process.? ??According to Ahn, South Korea's overly tested and rigid curriculum has placed extreme pressures on students while simultaneously stifling their creativity.

Vicki Abeles makes a similar argument in the documentary ?Race to Nowhere? claiming that increased homework loads and stress to perform well in school are adversely affecting American students' achievement and health. It may be true that stress exists for some, but this is a less compelling case to make in the US, where achievement is lagging in comparison to countries like South Korea. Abeles claims that students arrive to college burnt out,? but once on campus, many college goers fail to enhance their own creativity at a time when they have greater freedom and flexibility to do so (compared to K-12). Claiming that burnout is due to too much pressure to achieve during high school seems to oversimplify the problem.?

But the main point is that Mr. Ahn's criticisms of Korea's education system and Abeles' argument that we are already putting too much pressure on...

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