Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Most of the time,
Congressional hearings on federal education research are just an opportunity
for various interested parties to plead for more money. A couple of weeks back,
however, Rep. Duncan Hunter and the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood,
Elementary, and Secondary Education held an unusually candid and (I hope)
fruitful review of this crucial but not-very-sexy policy domain. Terrific
witness list—ISUSand an outstanding testimony by former IES director Russ Whitehurst,
now of Brookings, who did more than defend his own solid track record in that
role. He pulled no punches regarding research quality (needs to be raised, not
lowered), the American Educational Research Association (another
self-interested and greedy lobby), the (complex but crucial) relationship
between IES and the rest of the Education Department, and the hopelessness of
the regional education laboratories. He also urged Congress not to “try to
dictate how states and LEAs should use findings from research,” about which he’s
mostly right. What he might not be right about are the late, lamented Reading
First program and the future relationship between IES and the National Center
for Education Statistics. Have a look for yourself.

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Testimony
on the Federal Role in Education Research: Providing Relevant Information to
Students, Parents, and Educators
(Washington, D.C.: Brookings, November
16, 2011).

To improve student learning in Ohio, and in other states, we need to improve the quality of our teaching force. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to the impact of teachers on children’s learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has observed that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” Yet, according to a new report by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and US News and World Report too many of our new teachers enter the classroom unprepared. 

Over a century ago, Abraham Flexner provided a withering critique of the nation’s medical schools, which led to a transformation of a sub-standard system of doctor preparation into preparation programs that would become models of quality for the rest of the world. NCTQ wants to do the same thing for teacher preparation that Flexner did for medical training back in 1910.

Toward that end, NCTQ and US News and World Report have issued their Teacher Prep Review. The Review provides data on the 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained new teachers. Forty-six institutions in Ohio were included in the Review. The findings are not good. In fact, NCTQ warns that the nation’s teacher prep programs “have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.”

The urgency to improve teacher preparation has never...

 

High Stakes Accountability coverIn her new book, Kathryn A. McDermott of the
University of Massachusetts tackles the complicated theory and history of
educational accountability. According to McDermott, our increasingly
centralized system has been shaped by the push for educational equality, going
back to desegregation and continuing with performance-based accountability
today. To make her case, McDermott showcases the rise of accountability
structures in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New
Jersey, and the growth in federal involvement. Perhaps most interesting are the
lessons McDermott draws from these case studies—relevant to other public-policy
sectors as well. Notably, to design a smart accountability system, policymakers
must first ensure that they have the capacity to operate it. Else accountability
creates perverse incentives (like cheating on high-stakes testing). As federal policymakers
contemplate handing
accountability back to the states
, it will be smart to remember whence and
why our current model originated. This book shines a light onto that past.

Kathryn A. McDermott, High-Stakes
Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability
(Georgetown
University Press, Washington, D.C., 2011).

This Fordham Institute publication—co-authored by President Chester E. Finn Jr. and VP Michael J. Petrilli—pushes folks to think about what comes next in the journey to common education standards and tests. Most states have adopted the “Common Core” English language arts and math standards, and most are also working on common assessments. But…now what? The standards won’t implement themselves, but unless they are adopted in the classroom, nothing much will change. What implementation tasks are most urgent? What should be done across state lines? What should be left to individual states, districts, and private markets? Perhaps most perplexing, who will govern and “own” these standards and tests ten or twenty years from now?

Finn and Petrilli probe these issues in “Now What?” After collecting feedback on some tough questions from two-dozen education leaders (e.g. Jeb Bush, David Driscoll, Rod Paige, Andy Rotherham, Eric Smith), they frame three possible models for governing this implementation process. In the end, as you’ll see, they recommend a step-by-step approach to coordinate implementation of the Common Core. Read on to find out more.

 

 

Responses from several of our contributors:

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 veto of a bill to tweak his state's accountability system by adding ?multiple-measures? to a test-score laden index. Brown's complaint wasn't the multiple measures per se, but the notion of data-based accountability writ large. ?Adding more speedometers to a broken car,? he wrote, ?won't turn it into a high-performance...

Pages