Standards, Testing & Accountability

It's official: Federal policymakers across the political spectrum are finally willing to admit that Congress overreached when it passed No Child Left Behind and put Uncle Sam in the driver's seat on education accountability. First there was (Republican) Senator Lamar Alexander's proposal to get the feds out of the business entirely, save for requirements around the worst five percent of schools. Then there was (Democratic) President Obama's waiver package, which allows states to make a pitch for their own approach to accountability. And, this week, there's the (bipartisan) Harkin-Enzi bill, authored by the chairman and ranking member (respectively) of the Senate education committee, which, well, it's hard to tell exactly what it does, but it surely reduces the federal footprint around accountability. (Try making sense of the convoluted bill yourself. And quick?the mark-up is next week.)

[pullquote]Could we be watching the beginning of the end for the accountability movement in toto?[/pullquote]

But if the debate around the federal role in accountability is coalescing, a much bigger question remains wide open: Could we be watching the beginning of the end for the accountability movement in toto?

One harbinger might be California Governor Jerry Brown's...

Representatives from twenty states are hard at work developing Next Generation Science Standards—and using as their starting point the National Research Council’s recently released Framework for K-12 Science Education. This review of that framework, by Paul R. Gross, applauds its content but warns that it could wind up sending standards-writers off track. This appraisal finds much to praise in the Framework but also raises important concerns about a document that may significantly shape K-12 science education in the U.S. for years to come.

Last week, Fordham released a groundbreaking new study on high-achieving students, titled Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. In a series of Flypaper posts that followed, we examined the report's main findings: First, that three in five high-achieving students remain that way over time; second, that most students coming in and out of the 90th percentile never fall below the 70th percentile overall; and third, that high achievers maintain the same pace as middle and low achievers over time in math, but grow more slowly than middle and low achievers in reading.

For those readers interested in more nuanced findings, I encourage you to poke around the report's data gallery, hosted by the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association. Through the data gallery, you can break down these findings by grade range, subject, year, and even demographics?gender, ethnicity, poverty status, and location.

The future of our country rests on the shoulders of those high achievers in our schools today. While this study suggests that they are not in short supply, it also demonstrates that we could expand our pool...

The Obama administration's new waiver plan (officially here, and covered extensively here, here, and here?and elsewhere, I'm sure) doesn't officially repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, but it is tantamount to making large-scale amendments to it. Which it does unilaterally, without even a thumbs-up from Congress.

Though the specific conditions that the White House and Secretary Duncan are attaching to statewide ?flexibility waivers? are consistent with the Administration's long-standing ?blueprint? for reauthorizing NCLB, and also happen to be conditions that I think generally have merit, they amount to changing the law, not just waiving it. This raises Constitutional as well as statutory issues?though the administration's response, not surprisingly or implausibly, is that ?if a do-nothing Congress won't act to solve problems, we'll solve them ourselves as best we can.?

Yet the changes themselves?at least their timing and high-profile release?are motivated at least as much by election-year political considerations as by policy. This is not the first example, and surely won't be the last, of appealing to key constituencies by undoing, suspending, or waiving government practices that...

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