Standards, Testing, & Accountability

The Republican presidential field is beginning to take shape, and candidates and maybe-candidates are figuring out where they stand and what to say. Sooner or later, they will need to say something about education. May we suggest a few talking points? Or, better yet, a potential speech for a GOP candidate?

***

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Photo by Josh Berglund 19"][/caption]

Folks, you know that our education system is tattered. Some of it is fine, but too much is mediocre or worse. Once the envy of the world, American schools are losing ground to those in Europe and Asia. Today, many countries are out-teaching, out-learning, and out-hustling our schools?????????and doing it for a fraction of the cost.

Meanwhile, failed education systems in our cities worsen the odds that the next generation will climb out of poverty into decent jobs and a shot at the American dream. And as much as many of us prefer not to notice, way too many of our suburban schools are just getting by. They may not be dropout factories, but they're not preparing anywhere near enough of their pupils to revive our economy, strengthen our culture, and lead our future.

Turning this situation around has been the work of education reform for the past two decades. We've spent a lot of money on it. We've had any number of schemes and plans and laws and pilot programs. And we've seen some modest success. Graduation...

Categories: 
Laurent Rigal

Over at The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead asserted a few weeks back that ?when it comes to education, red states rule.? He bases this finding on data collected for Newsweek's recently released high school rankings.? (As it turns out, three of the top ten schools in the country are in right-to-work Texas?and two more are in Florida, also a right-to-work state.) Unfortunately, this article is just more evidence of an increasingly common education-policy trend. Far too often, statistics, scores, and school rankings are flaunted as proof of grandiose policy victories, no matter how thin the ties are or valid the original data collected is. Looking at Jay Matthews's rankings of the best-performing high schools in the nation, for example, the top five schools (which draw from wealthy communities or have rigorous admissions standards) cannot validly be compared to run-of-the-mill neighborhood schools. And to assert, as Mead does, that the existence of these top-tier schools settles the debate on whether right-to-work states provide better education is a bridge way too far. (To be clear, my gripe isn't with Texas's or Florida's education systems, which are generally solid, but with the cherry-picking of data.) Using these rankings to draw conclusion on the quality of an educational system of a state as a whole has absolutely no validity. There is no demonstrated causality between the level of achievements of the top high schools in a state and the overall quality of the public education system.

It's not just the Meads...

Categories: 

I wanted to offer a curricular observation about Mike's Understanding upper-middle-class parents since he raised the issue of whether ?different kids need different schools.?? It's a great question and an especially loaded one in a socio-economic context because, of course, most of the modern reform movement is premised on the assumption that too many poor kids already go to different schools ? lousy ones ? and that rich kids, by definition, go to good ones.

At the extremes, I think, it's easier to see "good" and "bad" schools -- or "rich" and "poor" ones -- and make decisions about how best to educate your children.?It's tougher in the middle, where most of us live ? or think we live -- but the sociology of the thing, no matter where you are, is a huge factor; all parents have an eye on "future happiness" or "future success" for their kids and run that through their own metrics, which usually include schooling. Lavish spending masks lots of academic problems just as the lack of spending can exacerbate them.? But even in the dark cave of ?adequacy and equity,? the good school / different school shadows are dancing. ?Even the rich want ?good? schools.

In this context I believe that E.D. Hirsch's insight about "background knowledge" provides the best guide for educators and policymakers.? Despite the new noise that the "college isn't for everyone? crowd is making, I think most of us have a pretty good idea of what we...

Categories: 

The June issue of The American Spectator carries a thoughtful--though ultimately unpersuasive--article by Lewis Andrews, "Meet the Suburban Parents." Like legions of activists and analysts before him, he ponders why upper-middle-class parents haven't rallied to the cause of school reform. [quote]

Suburban parents have always been ready to mob a school board meeting to agitate for improved athletic facilities, but never for teacher evaluations or merit pay. The PTA will mobilize families and schools to support the most controversial social movements, from gay rights and gun control to affirmative action and costly accommodations for the disabled, but not a peep about the pressing need to save urban children from failing schools.

In places like Marin County north of San Francisco, Fairfax County in Virginia, the affluent suburbs north of Chicago, and Fairfield County, Connecticut, even very modest reforms that could save taxpayers money while improving the quality of education--giving credit for courses taken at community college or online, for example--are either ignored or downplayed.

It's a provocative argument, and a worthy topic. But Andrews, like most of us in the education commentariat, isn't careful enough to keep two very different issues distinct: First, whether affluent parents should be satisfied with the public schools to which they send their own children. And second, whether those same parents can be energized to fight on behalf of school reform for the poor.

The second question, it seems to me, will soon be answered by Michelle Rhee's new endeavor, Students...

Categories: 

The June issue of The American Spectator carries a thoughtful--though ultimately unpersuasive--article by Lewis Andrews, "Meet the Suburban Parents." Like legions of activists and analysts before him, he ponders why upper-middle-class parents haven't rallied to the cause of school reform.

Suburban parents have always been ready to mob a school board meeting to agitate for improved athletic facilities, but never for teacher evaluations or merit pay. The PTA will mobilize families and schools to support the most controversial social movements, from gay rights and gun control to affirmative action and costly accommodations for the disabled, but not a peep about the pressing need to save urban children from failing schools.

In places like Marin County north of San Francisco, Fairfax County in Virginia, the affluent suburbs north of Chicago, and Fairfield County, Connecticut, even very modest reforms that could save taxpayers money while improving the quality of education--giving credit for courses taken at community college or online, for example--are either ignored or downplayed.

It's a provocative argument, and a worthy topic. But Andrews, like most of us in the education commentariat, isn't careful enough to keep two very different issues distinct: First, whether affluent parents should be satisfied with the public schools to which they send their own children. And second, whether those same parents can be energized to fight on behalf of school reform for the poor.

The second question, it seems to me, will soon be answered by Michelle Rhee's new endeavor, Students First....

Categories: 

There are no knock-out punches in this fight, but David Brooks comes close with a perspective-setting essay about school reformers and their adversaries. ?Appropriately, he takes out after Diane Ravitch, the reform movement's loudest and most visible critic (see Dana Goldstein's recent profile and Liam's caveat) who, says Brooks, ?has come to adopt the party-line view of the most change-averse elements of the teachers' unions: There is no education crisis. Poverty is the real issue, not bad schools. We don't need fundamental reform; we mainly need to give teachers more money and job security.?

I wish Brooks had spent more time exploring the difficulty these change-averse educators have in trying to argue that they should be paid more for doing something they claim is impossible to do (i.e., improve schools), but I'll settle for Brooks' wonderful exposition of why testing is such a bogus issue.

The only schools that are ?distorted by testing,? Brooks argues, are bad schools,? "the schools the reformers haven't touched.?

Brooks manages to work in references to a host of change agents and academics ? Whitney Tilson, KIPP, E.D. Hirsch, Caroline Hoxby ? to make his case.? And he concludes with this simple truth: ?If your school teaches to the test, it's not the test's fault. It's the leaders of your school.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

Categories: 

Here's a quick test; true or false?

1. Arne Duncan coerced many states into adopting the Common Core via his Race to the Top application.

2. The Obama Administration carelessly hinted that adoption of Common Core might become a requirement in a new ESEA or for states wanting a waiver from the current law.

3. Most states are free to back out of Common Core at any time, yet none have.

The answers: true, true, true!

The reason I bring this up is two-fold. First, several conservatives, perplexed by Jeb Bush's continued support for the Common Core, keep making the case that the standards aren't voluntary. And if they mean that some states adopted the standards because of federal pressure, they are right. But second, I bring it up because we are days away from the end of the 2011 state legislative session, and to my knowledge, not a single law was enacted to block a state from participating in Common Core. Yet, save for the Race to the Top winners--and the handful that might be contenders for the "round three" money this year--all of the states are free to opt out at any time, without consequence. That means, by my count, about 25 states that have chosen to stay involved in Common Core even though they don't have to. This after an election that brought 600 new seats for the Republican Party.

So are these states participating voluntarily? I'd say...

Categories: 

I stewed most of the week about how to respond to Deborah Meier's recent Bridging Differences post on ?college for all.?? She's against it, of course. She thinks the movement is another piece of the right-wing, high-stakes testing, corporate behemoth conspiracy.? And I had a high-brow response almost ready to go (see College for All, Please! Part 2, coming soon) ? until yesterday morning, when I picked up my New York Times and read (in the new ?Sunday Review? section) David Leonhardt's masterful KO of the silly notion that we shouldn't encourage kids to go to college: Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off. As Whitney Tilson would say Stop the Presses!!!? ?The graphics alone (compiled from the Center on Education and the Work Force at Georgetown) should take your breath away:

  • A dishwasher with a college degree earns 83% more than a dishwasher with no college
  • A cashier with a college degree, 56% more
  • A plumber, 39%

Etcetera.

Writes Leonhardt:

The most unfortunate part of the case against college is that it encourages children, parents and schools to aim low.

Why should we even be arguing about this?

Leonhardt quotes David Autor, an M.I.T. economist, saying rather bluntly, ?Sending more young Americans to college is not a panacea?. Not sending them to college would be a disaster.?

Unfortunately, that disaster, aided and abetted by smart people like Deborah Meier, is already upon us.? (Full disclosure:? Ms. Meier is a...

Categories: 

I have been an avid follower of Jay Mathews' work since starting here at Fordham, but his recent argument with a Fairfax County parent over Fairfax's decision to get rid of honors courses across the district caused me to panic. (FPCS has three standard tracks:? general, honors and A.P. courses). Their point of contention was Jay's suggestion that the district instead eliminate the general-level classes, calling on the schools to place all students in at least honors courses, giving them the skills needed to read, write and manage time well enough to succeed after high school. At this point my anxiety set in.

From my experience teaching at an under-performing high school in a blue-collar area of Metro-Detroit, I am all-too-familiar with mislabeled classes and the problems they create. The class I taught was an A.P. Government course, the same course I took in high school with a group of top-notch students, over 90% of which took and passed the A.P. Exam. The course I taught, however, looked nothing like what I had previously encountered. The chapter exams were all multiple-choice and the questions (and answers) were given to the students literally word-for-word during the review. Any student putting forth even the slightest amount of effort (you'd be surprised how many didn't) had no problem receiving an ?A? in the class. Yet, less than 10% of the class took the A.P. exam and I can count on one hand the number that passed.

Keep...

Categories: 

Pages