Standards, Testing & Accountability

Listeners of the Education Gadfly Show Podcast may recall my segment from February 24th highlighting the decision of Rockingham County, North Carolina to ban corporal punishment. Following some internal debate that took place afterward, I took it upon myself to do some more research on the matter.

Admittedly, some psychologists have found that the use of gentle physical punishment can help maintain discipline in schools. While this may be the case, allowing the variance in what individual teachers and school districts define as ?gentle? is simply too great a risk to our children. These beatings or ?paddlings? can occur for reasons well beyond correcting bad behavior. Examples of such include failing an exam, dress code violations, and forgetting a pencil, among others. School is a place for learning, exploration, and personal growth; it should never be a place where children fear being beaten.

In conducting this research, I was thrilled to discover the efforts of fashion designer Mark Ecko, who recently launched a campaign to end corporal punishment in the United States. My hat goes off to people such as Mark who are willing to use their influence achieved outside of the education community to help put an end to this archaic practice.

  • Every 20 seconds of the school day, a child is beaten by an educator.
  • Every 4 minutes of the school day, a child is beaten by an educator so severely that he or she seeks medical attention.
  • The United States is the only
  • ...

Today, in advance of this week's International Summit on the Teaching Profession, Fordham is releasing a little paper by Janie Scull and me, American Achievement in International Perspective. We analyzed the recent PISA results in reading and math a number of ways, and came up with some interesting (and surprising) insights. Among them:

  • In raw numbers, the United States produces many more high-achieving students than any other OECD nation. In both reading and math, the U.S. produces more high achievers than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. (This is of course due to our large size?but explains why Americans continue to dominate prestigious universities, leading corporations, etc.)
  • Proportionally, Asian American students are the best readers in the world, and white Americans are bested only by Finns and New Zealanders.

Now for the bad news:

  • In both reading and math, the U.S. produces more low achievers than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.
  • Approximately 50 percent of black American students are low-achieving in math?a higher proportion of students than is found in any OECD country save Chile and Mexico. In reading, only Mexico does worse.

And a few interesting tidbits:

  • In both reading and math, in raw numbers, the United States produces more high-achieving Hispanic students than Asian students.
  • In both reading and math, the U.S. produces about the same number of low-achieving white students as
  • ...

Robert Pondiscio over at Core Knowledge wrote a very thoughtful response to my post the other day. He says that my point?which was that states would do better to focus their attention on standards and assessments, and allow curriculum decisions to be made as closely to the classroom level as possible?was a bit of a ?strawman-fest.? He argues:

She confuses the core curriculum manifesto's?call for guidance on what students should learn with?a call to?pick winners and losers among published curricula, or?prescribe the methods by which?children should be taught.? The Call for Common Content is merely a sensible proposal to?describe the?common, knowledge-building content that all children must have in order to be fully literate.

While I will admit to being confused about what, precisely, the Shanker Institute's ?call? is actually advocating (particularly after the latest round of blog posts about it), that may have more to do with the way the manifesto is written than with my larger point. So let me be clear: Prescribing scope and sequence from the state or national level is a mistake. If that is what the manifesto is trying to achieve, then it's a step in the wrong direction.

The details matter in this debate, since they have the potential to impact classroom practice very directly and deliberately. I do think it's entirely appropriate for states to define the scope of content that students should learn. States have for many years defined what students should know and be able to...

Liam Julian

The president said today he wants a No Child Left Behind rewrite before students' summer vacations end this September. And he wants other things, too. According to the Washington Post, Obama ?wants a more flexible system that focuses on preparing graduating students for college and career and he wants better assessments to understand whether kids are meeting that goal.? He wants ?skills such as critical thinking and creativity? to be reintegrated into math, science, and reading lessons, and he wants teachers to be both supported and judged to some degree by the rate of their students' academic progress. And he wants education to be funded robustly: ?Let me make it plain: We cannot cut education. We can't cut the things that will make America more competitive.? Quite the wish list.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

Over in the more feverish corners of the blogosphere, and sometimes even in saner locales, the Shanker Institute's call for "common content" curriculum to accompany the Common Core standards has triggered a panic attack. There's talk of "bait and switch," of double-cross, of treacherous inconsistency, of blah blah blah?all associated with what is depicted as the dire threat of a "national curriculum."

And yes, I signed onto it, so am said to be personally culpable.

For Pete's sake, people, this is an effort to help teachers do a better job of getting their pupils to a higher standard of achievement in English and math, not to repeal local control, eliminate autonomy and choice, or impose the federal government on state and local education agencies.

Let's keep a few important "knowns" in mind.

First, we know that many teachers crave better curricular guidance aligned with?quality academic standards that in turn are (one hopes) in alignment with the assessments that?their students will be taking and their performance will be judged on.

Second, we know that, absent such guidance and materials, some gifted teachers are willing and able to develop sound curricula for themselves?and some others are able to borrow (often, nowadays, from websites, bulletin boards, and such) from?curricula developed by other teachers who have already done the heavy lifting.

But, third,?we also know that?far too many teachers, unsupplied with decent curricular specifics and materials by their schools, districts, and states, wind up using crummy...

There continues to be a lot of discussion around the idea of creating a ?common? curriculum to supplement the Common Core State Standards. Robert Pondiscio over at Core Knowledge applauds the move, arguing that, while the CCSS are ?praiseworthy,? they are ?not a curriculum?and are unlikely to amount to much?in the absence of a shared curriculum.? ?Tom Vander Ark cautions that moving to adopt a traditional curriculum is a mistake and that we should be thinking not about common curriculum, but rather about ?uncommon? delivery system that provides ?fully customized engaging learning sequences for every student.? (If you haven't already, it's also worth reading Pondiscio's scathing take-down of Vander Ark's idea.)

Unfortunately, I still think that these debates are missing the point, and potentially distracting states from allocating their now very scarce resources towards policies that have the potential to much more dramatically impact student achievement.

It's worth noting that, as a former curriculum director, I am a strong believer in the transformative power of curriculum. It is essential.

But, I sincerely believe that making curricular decisions at the state or?even worse?national level is a mistake. States would do better to create or adopt rigorous assessments and a strong state accountability system, and then to devolve ownership over student achievement results?and that includes curricular decisions?as closely as possible to the classroom.

Heading up the curriculum and professional development team at Achievement First, one of our early missteps was to focus on mandating?or...

So what else is new?? Isn't this just the statistic that confirms the message of Nation at Risk or the flat NAEP scores for the last forty years?

The troubling?part of Arne Duncan's Capitol Hill testimony yesterday?is that he concludes from the dismal statistics ? that 80,000 of our 100,000 public schools are failing ? that it's the law's fault. ?This law is fundamentally broken, and we need to fix it this year,? he told the House education committee. We all know what ?this law? means: No Child Left Behind.

Harping about NCLB's tough love approach to school improvement has dogged the revolutionary bill almost from the beginning ? I say almost because it was at first hailed as a masterstroke of nonpartisanship. Under intense pushback from teachers and their unions, however that coalition quickly splintered along predictable partisan lines. Then came a host of nitpicking, from left and right, that has made the NCLB brand poisonous.? ???

The huge law no doubt has flaws. Liam says that ?a seminal problem? with it is ?its focus on race,? the infamous subgroup standard that has sent many schools to the proficiency woodshed. President Obama says we need to replace NCLB with ?a law that's more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids.?? Mike says??NCLB has done ?some good,? mostly for poor and minority students, but has had some ?unintended consequences,? including too much testing in too few subjects.? But the major benefit...

Today, education leaders from across the nation (including our own Checker Finn) came together to endorse the idea of creating a national, voluntary, common curriculum that would be designed to supplement the national, voluntary, Common Core ELA and math standards. (See here and here for more.) While well-intentioned, shifting the focus right now to a national curriculum?no matter how voluntary?is a mistake.

That's not to say that teachers aren't going to need rigorous and thorough curricula to help them effectively teach to the standards. They are.

Rather, it's a question of what is the proper role of the state in CCSS implementation. And unless the state wants to get in the business of policing schools' proper implementation of a curriculum?whether that ?curriculum? is as detailed as a script or as general as a pacing guide?they would do better to focus the lion's share of their time and attention elsewhere. Namely, on ensuring that there are rigorous, CCSS-aligned summative state assessments in all core content areas.

The easy answer is of course to say that's already being taken care of. Most states have joined one of two consortia and the work on those CCSS-aligned assessments is already well underway.

But there is still much assessment work that needs to be done. For starters, between now and when the consortia-created assessments are ready for prime-time, states be tweaking their existing assessment blueprints to ensure that essential content is being properly prioritized across the grades.

What's...

OhioFlypaper

Education in Ohio, as in most of the country, is coming to terms with a challenging ?new normal,? as Arne Duncan calls it?the prolonged period ahead when schools must produce better results with diminished resources. The Buckeye State faces a daunting budget shortfall over the next two years, the resolution of which will powerfully affect K-12 education, which now consumes about 40 percent of the state's money. And Ohio's situation is far from unique.

Yet schools?in Ohio and beyond?can produce better-educated students on leaner rations so long as their leaders are empowered to deploy the available resources in the most effective and efficient ways, unburdened by mandates, regulatory constraints, and dysfunctional contract clauses. That's the message that comes through loudest from a new survey of the state's school superintendents. And again there's no reason to believe that Ohio's situation is unique.

While governors and lawmakers are responsible for balancing state budgets, it is district and school leaders who must make their schools work on tighter resources while still boosting achievement and effectiveness. Over the past year, as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has organized various discussions, conferences, and symposia across Ohio on the big challenge of ?doing more with less? in K-12 education, we've been privy to innumerable comments?usually off the record?by superintendents and school leaders along the lines of, ?We could survive these cuts if we had real control over our budgets.? They called in...

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