Standards, Testing & Accountability

Amy Fagan

As Presidents' Day approaches, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have a wake-up call for many states regarding our country's history. A new study, which we published today, examines state standards for U.S. history and finds that the majority of states ? 28 to be exact ? have mediocre-to-terrible standards in this critically important subject. History standards in these 28 states receive D or F grades. And the national average across all states is a D. That's not exactly a pretty picture.

Among the few bright spots in the study, South Carolina was the only state to receive a straight A. And six others ? Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia ? receive A-minuses. States with weak standards would be wise to look to these seven.

Academic standards, of course, set forth what a state's young people are expected to learn in a given subject as they pass through grades K-12. As we've said many times, standards in and of themselves are not a cure for our education ills. But they are certainly an essential place to start. And this study shows that many states have a great deal of work to ensure that they have solid standards for U.S. history.

Please check out the study. You'll see that we have broken out the individual state reviews for your convenience. Find out...

Rarely do I come home from a school board meeting without wanting to scream, ?Call in the National Guard!??

To change metaphors, I could spin the globe, eyes closed, and put my finger just about anywhere on our little school district map to find what to my eyes looks like a train wreck and to others, based on the reactions,?the regular delivery van.?

Last night, our board received a ?hand carry? sheet titled, ?2011-12 Budget Development Information.?? (A ?hand carry? is always bad news; by definition, it is what the administration wants to spring on the board, at the public meeting, so it has no time to review it or prepare.)? Our tiny New York state district ? 2,000 kids ? faces a budget gap, according to the sheet, of $3,688,033 and a choice ? this is only preliminary, mind you -- between raising local property taxes 14.9% and laying off 32 teachers (16% of the total faculty) or raising taxes 3.9% and shedding 71 teachers (35%).? If it sounds Hobbesian, it's meant to.?

Sure, the district is overburdened with too many overpaid administrators and too many underpaid aides, too many uncoordinated programs, too many bad teachers, too many special ed kids, no curriculum -- but chopping-block budget numbers are always limited to teachers so that?parents will start conjuring up images of classrooms of 50 and 60 students.? Oh horror!

The real horror, however, was on a one-page sheet ? this was not on the agenda...

In?their continuing drive to ratchet up learning standards, New York State's education leaders?are now sounding the alarm?about high school diplomas. According to a new study, done for NY's State Ed department, fewer than half the kids in the state holding a diploma are ready for college. ?In New York City, 23 percent of graduates (remember 40 percent don't even get that far) are college ready; in Rochester, it's just 5 percent.? Startling numbers.

?Some ethnic and racial groups fared worse than others,? says Barbara Martinez in the Wall Street Journal, ??While statewide the published graduation rate among black students is 62%, only 15% are considered college- and career-ready. In Syracuse, only 1% of Hispanic students graduated from high school at college- and career-ready level.?

This is what we get nearly three decades after being told our nation was ?at risk? because of its mediocre public education system??

Reports?Sharon Otterman* ?in the New York Times,

State and city education officials have known for years that graduating from a public high school does not indicate that a student is ready for college, and have been slowly moving to raise standards. But the political will to acknowledge openly the chasm between graduation requirements and college or job needs is new?.

?Sound familiar?

Last October, Otterman, writing about the state's new efforts to toughen up its grade 3?8 tests, reported?that

[E]vidence had been mounting for some time that the state's tests, which have formed the basis

...
Liam Julian

Doug Lasken, writing on FlashReport, says it will cost California $1.6 billion to replace its current educational standards with the newly developed Common Core standards being pushed by President Obama. Lasken writes:

As a consultant for several education research institutes, including Fordham and Pioneer, I was involved in studying the wisdom of replacing individual state standards with one set of national standards . . . I, and virtually everyone involved in this work, considered California's standards to be in the ?no need to replace? category, first because they are among the best in the nation, and second because replacing them would be very expensive.

California's budget deficit is $25 billion. It makes no sense, Lasken argues, to spend another $1.6 billion to supplant its set of perfectly good standards: ?The Governor should ask his new appointees on the state board to keep our world-class standards and save $1.6 billion.?

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

?I'm not sure if Atlanta school board members were included in Rick Hess's latest survey of school boards, but if they were, let's hope they aren't representative.??

Atlanta has been embroiled in a school cheating scandal that has brought down its superintendent and caused the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to put the district on probation. (See my report from January 23 here).? A parent group formed (great name) -- Step up or Step Down ? with 740 members and 62,500 hits on its Facebook page in its first week of existence.? It told the board to get its act together:

Engage the public?. Close the loopholes in Board policy?. Seek expert executive guidance.

Whether the board sought it or not, Arne Duncan, in town for a speaking engagement at Morehouse College, weighed in anyway:

What you have now, frankly, is you have adults who I think have lost sight of why they're doing this work? It is what I call adult dysfunction.?

Adults?? School boards?? This could be a new concept.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

We've got a fantastic coffee mug at the Fordham office, gifted to us by the kind folks over at the Schwab Foundation. On it is printed a single cartoon image, two boys standing outside a classroom holding white pieces of paper. The caption on the bottom of the picture says: ?Big deal, an A in math. That would be a D in any other country.?

The recent PISA results shocked America into a heightened sense of global educational awareness. For the first time in a long time?since Sputnik some have argued?policymakers and pundits are now, en masse, peering into the bowels of education systems abroad. They're dissecting the teaching profession in Finland (it's true that the Finns only accept the top 10 percent of college graduates into teacher preparation programs) and ogling over the curriculum in Singapore.

But they're all missing key exemplars?and the point of the whole exercise to begin with. If America is to regain its prominence in the international arena, it must look to all nations for best practice notions. Focusing solely on those who fit into the top 5 percent of PISA scorers will ensure that we draw policies from the best, from those nations that have found their ideal education cocktail. But ignoring those below us will also ignore some key ingredients in our own magical education elixir.

The digital-learning sphere is a prime example of this close-mindedness. Nations across the developing world have been experimenting with online learning,...

Amy Fagan

In case you missed it, Mike?Petrilli?was a guest yesterday on the Pat Morrison (radio) show on Southern California Public Radio (the NPR affiliate for LA). The topic? No Child Left Behind and possible reforms to it. Kim Anderson of the National Education Association also was a guest on the show. Check out the discussion.

?Amy Fagan

Fordham gives its advice to Governor-elect Kasich and the incoming leaders of the Ohio House and Senate as it relates to the future of K-12 education policy in the Buckeye State. To move Ohio forward in education, while spending less, we outline seven policy recommendations. 1) Strengthen results-based accountability for schools and those who work in them. 2) Replace the so-called “Evidence-Based Model” of school funding with a rational allocation of available resources in ways that empower families, schools, and districts to get the most bang for these bucks. 3) Invest in high-yield programs and activities while pursuing smart savings. 4) Improve teacher quality, reform teacher compensation, and reduce barriers to entering the profession. 5) Expand access to quality schools of choice of every kind. 6) Turn around or close persistently low-performing schools. 7) Develop modern, versatile instructional-delivery systems that both improve and go beyond traditional schools.

Pages