Standards, Testing & Accountability

Poland’s gains in mathematics and science on the 2012 PISA assessments made big news in the United States. The impressive achievements by fifteen-year-old Polish youngsters contrast starkly with the scores of American youngsters. U.S. results have remained essentially flat since the tests were first given in 2000 to 180,000 students in 32 countries. As a result of these diverging trajectories, Polish students now outperform their American peers in both math and science by a significant margin.

I was a high-school teacher in Poland in 1990–91 and again in 1994–95. During my first stint, I taught in a town of about 15,000; the second time, I worked in one of Warsaw’s elite high schools. The children of the students I taught are now the Polish generation that is outpacing much of the world in academic achievement.

After reading the new PISA report—especially when read in tandem with Amanda Ripley’s excellent recent book—I am not really surprised by Poland’s success. The students I taught had many of the attributes for success that now benefit their own children. These included families that care deeply about education and that view education to be the path to upward mobility. By doing well in school, children could do more with their lives. This was a belief I saw in the parents both of small-town students and of elite metropolitan kids.

Poles also take great pride in knowledge: acquiring it and showing it off. I was always amazed, and more than...

The Grand European Engagement

Michelle, freshly returned from a trip to Madrid and Prague (with an extra piece of jewelry on her hand), chats with Mike about special education, career and technical education, and pension reform. Amber reviews an obscure cross-sectional Dutch analysis on the multicollinearity inherent in the study of the learning habits of three- to five-year-old children of blacksmiths—just kidding! It’s PISA week, baby.

Amber's Research Minute

Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Mathematics, Science, and Reading Literacy in an International Context: First Look at PISA 2012 by Dana Kelly et al., (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, December 2013).

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released a study that seeks to better understand the decision-making processes of parents who send their children to private schools. The authors hypothesize that if state and local governments empower parents to choose the schools of their choice, a “spontaneous education order”—a state in which parents seek information about schools and in which schools make available the necessary information without public officials’ intentional intervention—will arise. Accountability, they speculate, will take care of itself.

To test this theory, they use survey data from 754 parents whose children received scholarships through the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program (GOAL). The survey sought to identify the factors involved in parents’ decisions and the types of data that informed those decisions.

GOAL was established in 2008 under Georgia’s Education Expense Credit Program. Under the law, taxpayers may receive a state income tax credit for contributions made to qualified “Student Scholarship Organizations” (SSOs). SSOs use these funds to award private school scholarships to families.

The law places no limits on recipients’ household incomes (i.e., it’s not “means-tested” for low-income families), and in fact the average adjusted gross income of recipient families was $51,923, slightly higher than the state’s 2012 median income. Scholarship recipients are approximately 60 percent white, 25 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 10 percent unknown/other.

Of the 2,685 families who had at least one child receiving a GOAL scholarship in 2013, only 754 provided complete data (a response rate of 28 percent). Survey respondents were...

It seems the largest battle in education policy today centers on the question of whether or not the Obama administration cheerleading for the Common Core State Standards, a state-led initiative, represents an existential threat to federalism. Serious Common Core supporters concede that the federal government (unwisely) dangled incentives for swift state adoption of the standards, while pointing out that the vast majority of instructional decisions will now, as before, remain with local school boards and educators. On the other hand, serious opponents admit as much but worry that locals will have to make significant changes to meet these higher targets and say it is only a matter of time before we see a proposal for a national curriculum. I, for one, think even casual observation of the current debate over standards shows the possibility of a national curriculum to be so remote as to make it not worth discussing, except to say that if it were proposed, many Common Core supporters (myself included) would strongly oppose it.

The “federal overreach” argument used by Common Core opponents is quite perplexing, not only because some claims are so wildly exaggerated, but also because they all but ignore (and thereby excuse) actual and obvious examples of overreach with much larger potential consequences for federalism. If the Common Core debate is truly just a principled stand for states’ rights, why haven’t we heard a word about the specific requirements on school turnaround or teacher quality within the Race to the Top competition? Where was the conservative backlash against the clear disrespect shown to...

It often seems that when wonks, researchers, and legislators get together to talk education reform, they exclude one group of stakeholders—a group for whom these reforms mean the most and upon whom their success depends: teachers. In this new book, TeachPlus founders Celine Coggins, Heather Peske, and Kate McGovern offer a corrective: a series of short essays written by their Teaching Policy Fellows cohort that illustrate the work being done on the ground to advance reform. The book is divided into seven sections, each covering a different policy issue: using data in schools, ensuring fair access to quality teachers, measuring teacher effectiveness, creating a performance-driven profession, engaging early-career teachers in union politics, building school leadership that enables great instruction, and improving the status of the profession. What is most striking about these stories is their genuine call-to-action narrative: Having been identified as highly effective teachers, these men and women know exactly how much of a difference putting the right teacher in the right classroom can make. All education stakeholders would be wise to learn from these experts.

SOURCE: Celine Coggins, Heather G. Peske, and Kate McGovern (eds.), Learning from the Experts: Teacher Leaders on Solving America’s Education Challenges (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2013).

The sharp-shooters edition

Michelle and Dara discuss class sizes, the new Youth CareerConnect program, and why the DOJ is backing away from its attack on Louisana’s school-voucher program. Amber gets wonky with cross-district effects on teacher-bargaining contracts.

Amber's Research Minute

My End of the Bargain: Are There Cross-District Effects in Teacher Contract Provisions?, by Dan Goldhaber, Lesley Lavery, and Roddy Theobald, CEDR Working Paper 2012-2.2 (Seattle, WA: Center for Education Data and Research, 2012).

Recently, 2013 NAEP results were made public, and, as is typical for such bi-annual releases, there was lots of excitement, somberness, and everything in between. Enter the always smart, always temperamentally sound Tom Loveless, who sought to simmer down the hyping of some states’ scores. Talk of statistical significance and p-values is Greek to some, but Loveless’ accessible explanation and color-coded charts will have you saying both, “A-ha!” and “Well, that’s not what I’d been told.” Here’s the upshot: Yes, some states did quite well, but both the number of such states and the extent of their gains have been oversold. (And, no, Tom, we don’t think you’re a skunk at a picnic.)

Emily Richmond from The Educated Reporter writes up an excellent summary of TBFI’s new report on teacher effective vs. class size. In short, getting kids in front of more effective teachers is valuable even if it means making those classrooms more crowded. Sad finding: Schools are not currently putting more kids in the best teachers’ classrooms; instead, they just evenly distribute the number of students among teachers. This report is classic Fordham: Ask an interesting question, the answer to which could quickly influence policy, get sharp people to study it, then package the findings in an accessible report.

It’s a day of the week, so Rick Hess has a new book out! This time, it’s with my boy Mike McShane, and it’s about Common Core...

It’s silly season for the Common Core debate, and I’m not referring to the latest outlandish claims from folks on the far right. It appears that Common Core Dystopia Disorder has infected some of our usually rational and levelheaded friends in the think-tank community, too.

Jay Greene, I’m talking first and foremost about you. Jay thinks he’s found a smoking gun, proof that we supporters of the Common Core, especially those of us at Fordham, have been dishonest when we’ve claimed that the standards don’t “prescribe” a particular curriculum, because of a recent report...

Ever wonder what separates a charter school sponsor (aka authorizer) from a non-profit governing board? A charter management organization (CMO) from an education management organization (EMO)? With so many characters treading the boards of Ohio's charter school stage, even Gadfly needs a little help keeping them all straight (that's when they're not blurring their roles on their own). To that end, readers may want to check out a brief summary of Ohio's charter school governance structure and those organizations that play key roles within it. It's available here....

The D.C. Charter Board recently released its annual ranking of charter schools in the nation’s capital, showing that one-third of the schools it sponsors deserve a top-performing, or Tier 1, status. Five schools attained Tier 1 status for the first time this year, bringing the total number of high flyers to twenty-three among sixty-eight that were ranked (at least four schools dropped from Tier 1 status to Tier 2 this year). Most schools were in the middle, and eight dwelled at the bottom, where they risk getting shut down. Still, hurrah for the progress the Board can claim. And hurrah for D.C. kids,...

While the Common Core has hogged the national spotlight of late, standards-based reform is just one of many improvement strategies coursing through our nation’s schools and classrooms today. But will educators’ and policymakers’ obsession with the Common Core hinder the rest of the reform agenda? This volume from AEI’s Rick Hess and Michael McShane examines a wide swath of Common Core–related topics—the impetus behind the creation of the standards, potential long-term governance models, the prospects for the development of social-studies standards, and on—but the most consequential chapters are those that consider the interplay between the Common Core and other reform...

No matter what side of the ed-policy debate you fall into, getting effective teachers in front of disadvantaged students is a priority for almost everyone. Yet this new study from  Mathematica and AIR highlights just how far we are from ensuring that lower-income kids have access to the same quality of teachers as their affluent peers. The study looked at twenty-nine large school districts (with a median enrollment of 60,000) and calculated for each an “effective-teaching gap”: a measurement that compares the average effectiveness of teaching (using value-added models) experienced by disadvantaged students (those who qualify for free or reduced-price...

The Philanthropy Roundtable's generally praiseworthy magazine hits a number of topical education-policy issues in its Fall 2013 issue. The first profiles Eli and Edythe Broad's Superintendents Academy—which, since 2002, has produced “150 alumni...[including] Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy and state superintendents of Louisiana (John White), Maryland (Lillian Lowery), New Jersey (Christopher Cerf), and Rhode Island (Deborah Gist).” (Then there’s Broad’s Residency in Urban Education program, which seeks to transform private-sector leaders into future heads of schools or school systems.) The second notable article highlights the Relay Graduate School of Education, an alternative teacher-prep program in New York started by Norman Atkins of Uncommon Schools,...

After lamenting the fact that Hanukkah this year falls before black Friday, Dara and Brickman tackle Friedman’s argument against voucher-school accountability, the D.C. Charter Board’s updated rankings, and the brand-new pre-K bill. Amber gets jazzed about last-minute Christmas shopping—and an evaluation of the Reading Recovery program.

Does three times four equal eleven? Will "fuzzy math" leave our students two years behind other countries? Will literature vanish from the English class? Is gifted-and-talented education dying? A barrel of rumors and myths about curriculum has made its way into discussions of the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts. Experts will tackle these fears and claims at Fordham on October 23, 2013. Hear from Jason Zimba on math myths, Tim Shanahan on the texts that teachers may assign, and a panel of practicing K--12 educators for an early look at Common Core implementation in their states and districts.
 
Common Core math myths: A conversation with Jason Zimba
 
Are teachers assigning Common Core aligned texts? A conversation with Tim Shanahan
 
An early look at Common Core implementation: A panel discussion
 
Moderated by Michael Petrilli

The early holidays edition

After lamenting the fact that Hanukkah this year falls before black Friday, Dara and Brickman tackle Friedman’s argument against voucher-school accountability, the D.C. Charter Board’s updated rankings, and the brand-new pre-K bill. Amber gets jazzed about last-minute Christmas shopping—and an evaluation of the Reading Recovery program.

Amber's Research Minute

Evaluation of the i3 Scale-up of Reading Recovery by Henry May, et al., (New York: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, August 2013).

While the Common Core has hogged the national spotlight of late, standards-based reform is just one of many improvement strategies coursing through our nation’s schools and classrooms today. But will educators’ and policymakers’ obsession with the Common Core hinder the rest of the reform agenda? This volume from AEI’s Rick Hess and Michael McShane examines a wide swath of Common Core–related topics—the impetus behind the creation of the standards, potential long-term governance models, the prospects for the development of social-studies standards, and on—but the most consequential chapters are those that consider the interplay between the Common Core and other reform initiatives. There are chapters devoted to teacher evaluation, charter schools, accountability, and education technology, each addressing how said reforms might affect or be affected by the transition to the new standards. For instance, how should we set proficiency levels for Common Core–aligned assessments? And how should we tackle accountability and teacher evaluation in a way that’s fair to educators but, most importantly, promotes student learning? Rather than arguing for or against the standards themselves, this volume takes a pragmatic (though markedly cautious) approach. And if the Common Core standards are to reach their full potential on behalf of the nation’s students, all stakeholders—educators, advocates, and policymakers alike—would do well to ponder the issues posed in this volume.

SOURCE: Frederick M. Hess and Michael Q. McShane (eds.), Common Core Meets Education Reform: What It All Means for Politics, Policy, and the Future of Schooling (New York: Teachers College Press, 2013)....

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