Standards, Testing & Accountability

The Education Gadfly

If memory serves, the old TV show Hart to Hart used to begin with the narrator intoning, ?And when they met, it was murder.? Well, earlier this week AFT honcho Randi Weingarten and I engaged in a hard-hitting but genial debate at the Fordham Institute. Within a couple hours, we experienced the most severe East Coast earthquake in sixty-plus years. A coincidence? You decide. The Oprah-style affair, titled ?When Reform Touches Teachers,? was adeptly hosted by Fordham's Mike Petrilli. You can catch the video online here or when it shows on C-SPAN.

In my experience, these kinds of ?union leader v. ?reformer'? conversations tend to go in three unfortunate directions. The first is that everyone engages in vague ?it's for the kids? banalities, agree that the kids must come first, and pledge vague, meaningless collaboration going forward (e.g. see the Denver labor summit that the U.S. Department of Education hosted in February). The second is that the self-styled reformers beat on the union leader to concede on this or that, or the unionists squeeze the reformers to utter reassuring things about how much they love and respect teachers. And the third is when everybody just screams that those on the other side are ?seal-clubbing, crypto-fascist child-haters.? Each of these does a poor job of illuminating serious disputes or identifying places of real agreement.

You can judge for yourself, but I'd like to think that Randi and I managed to have a serious but civil debate about whether teachers are under attack, teacher pensions and health care, the new unionism, teacher evaluation, teacher pay, and the rest. We agreed on the failure of principals to do their job when it comes to teacher...

If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy ?debate,? and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular ?coherence,? and the lack thereof in our nation's schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America's trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert. [quote]

Let's start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen's Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America's teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what's expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending ?reform? pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.

The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the opportunity to work as professionals in environments of trust, clarity, and common purpose. (Japan envy yesterday, Finland envy today?) The members of this camp praise national standards, a national (or at least statewide) curriculum that gathers the best thinking about how to reach these standards and shares this thinking with the teaching corps, authentic assessments that provide diagnostic information, and professional development (pre-service and in-service) that is seamlessly woven into all of the rest.

These countries can (and do) pore over their latest PISA results, identify areas for improvement, and get their educators to row in unison toward stronger...

Each year, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute conducts an analysis of student achievement in Ohio's Big 8 urban districts and charter schools. 2010-2011's analysis looks at performance, growth (as measured by value-added), growth over time, comparisons between students in district schools, charters (and charters by type and authorizer type), e-schools, and more.

The Education Gadfly

In case you missed it or were distracted by, say, the D.C. earthquake, the video of yesterday's thought-provoking ?When Reform Touches Teachers? discussion between American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and the American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess is up on our website. ?Fordham's Mike Petrilli moderated the discussion and posed some tough questions about whether reformers and educators could find common ground.? A peek at some of the lively conversation about teacher compensation, evaluation, and collective bargaining, and you watch the whole conversation or check out some of the highlights below.

How teachers are perceived and the negative tone in some education debates was a point of contention.

Weingarten: New poll says teachers are respected more than ever, but 2/3 of reporting on education is negative.

Hess:? Republican governors are making measured cases for reform and are threatened or compared to tyrants.

Weingarten:? ?Educators have a right of freedom of speech, but we have a responsibility as to how we use it.?? Both sides of the debate are guilty of ?demagoguery.?

Both speakers reflected on the value of disagreement, but came to different conclusions:

Hess:? ?There's no reason we should be able to sing kumbaya. We should be able to disagree vigorously, but with respect...

Last June, the Wyoming Board of Education adopted the Common Core, making the Equality State one of the first states to do so. And implementation of the core standards has begun in earnest, with teachers around the state beginning to align their curriculum and instruction to the new standards.

Now it seems like Wyoming lawmakers are beginning to question the Board's decision and have actually told districts to ?slow down implementing standards not yet adopted.? (See here.)

In short, it seems that last year's adoption decision by the State Board did little more than include the Common Core ELA and math standards ?in the next revision of the Wyoming Content and Performance Standards,? which is currently underway. And those standards are still being vetted and changes can still be made through the end of this year. (See here for more.) And now lawmakers are starting to get cold feet and they're trying to decide whether the challenge the adoption decision writ large.

What's more, even if Wyoming does move forward the Common Core ELA and math standards, there is still some question about whether the state will opt to administer the assessments developed by one of the national assessment consortia, or whether it will opt to go it alone. (Wyoming joined the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) as a participating state, but has not yet fully committed to implement the assessment system.) Superintendent of Public Instruction, Cindy Hill, assures that "the Common Core standards will be assessed," but it seems that the state may choose to continue to work with and make changes to its existing assessment, rather than to implement an entirely new assessment system. Should Wyoming opt to go it alone, it would be the first state to decide to develop its own...

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="199" caption="Photo by Jim Bowen"][/caption]

With Gov. Rick Perry officially stepping into the GOP presidential-candidate pool over the weekend, we thought this piece?written on June 15, 2011 for the National Review Online?timely once again.

Deep in the heart of Texas is where some education-policy lessons might best stay.

But they tend not to. Rick Perry's seemingly imminent entry into the 2012 GOP race suggests that, for the second time in less than a dozen years, we could very well see an ardent effort by a Texas governor to make the federal role in education conform to his own preconceptions and to lessons drawn from his experience in Austin.

That's what happened in 2001 when Governor George W. Bush carried with him from Texas the essential elements of policy and practice that (after much fiddling by Congress) became the No Child Left Behind Act.

And that's what could happen again in 2013 should Perry win the Oval Office and endeavor there to magnify and replay the conclusions he has reached about education during his dozen years running the Lone Star State.

Besides (and partly due to) its enormity, Texas is a proud, sometimes arrogant, and seriously self-absorbed place. One need only stand under the immense dome of the state capitol?taller than the one in Washington?and gaze at the six flags depicted in the terrazzo floor. All have flown over Texas. One senses that its current affiliation with the United States is a sort of dalliance that could one day end.

So it's no surprise that Texas governors can be a bit cocky. Bush took for granted that the standards-based education reforms that had worked...

Adding fuel to a small but growing anti-Common Core fire, Andrew Porter penned an op-ed in Education Week this week that questioned the value and rigor of the Common Core ELA and math standards. He explains:

I hoped that new national curriculum standards would be better than the state standards they replaced, and that new student assessments would be better, too.

I wish I could say that our progress toward common-core standards has fulfilled my hopes. Instead, it seems to me that the common-core movement is turning into a lost opportunity.

His critique of the Common Core is grounded in a study that he and a team of U Penn researchers conducted that compared the both the topics covered and the ?cognitive demand? of the Common Core standards with the state standards they are going to replace. (According to Porter and his team, there are five categories of cognitive demand: memorize; perform procedures; demonstrate understanding; conjecture, generalize, prove; and solve non-routine problems. All objectives from the state and Common Core English Language Arts and math standards are grouped under one of these headings.)

Before even diving into a discussion of the substance of their analysis, the metric that Porter et al use is problematic. The researchers dive immediately into the weeds by dividing content into different topics and categorizing each objective under different headings. And, by doing so, Porter and his team lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Take, for example, a common math standard: ?demonstrate fluency with addition and subtraction facts.?

For starters, this standard could be categorized under more than one header. Some might mistake it as a memorization standard and tag it to the first category of cognitive demand. Others might code it under the second or third category??perform...

Arnius Duncanus is at it again. Unmoved by pleas that he "first do no harm" when it comes to promising reforms like the Common Core State Standards Initiative, he seems compelled to attach mandates to his forthcoming NCLB waivers that will require adoption of the Common Core standards.

No, his team won't mention the Common Core, but everybody knows that's what he's talking about when he calls for "college and career-ready standards."

Duncan says that he doesn't want to be tone-deaf to state officials' concerns about No Child Left Behind. Fair enough. But why be so tone-deaf to the politics around all of this?

I once heard Arne talking about winning gracefully. That's what's called for now. Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core. Most are deeply engaged in developing assessments related to the standards. During the past legislative session, no state backed out. In other words, proponents of the Common Core have won a great victory. The only possible outcome of Secretary Duncan putting more federal pressure on the states to adopt the Common Core is stoke the fires of conservative backlash--and to lose many of the states that have already signed on.

Walk away from this one, Mr. Secretary. Please, those of us who support the Common Core are begging you.

-Mike Petrilli