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...

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...

In 2010-11, 40 percent of public school students (enrolled in both district and charter schools) in Ohio's eight major urban areas attended a school rated D or F by the state. This is an improvement from the previous year, when 47 percent of students attended such schools.

The percent of students attending schools rated A or B has remained roughly the same. However, the percent of students in these cities attending a school that has met or exceeded "expected growth" (according to Ohio's value-added metric) has risen significantly, from 67 percent in 2009-10 to 78 percent in 2010-11.

City by City Analyses:

    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.

    ...

    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...

    [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...

    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...

    Every so often educators and reformers think, if we're educating kids for the future, we need to do a better job of adapting our education system to meet the needs of tomorrow. That our education systems needs to, in some sense, ?get with the times? so that we can better serve our students today.

    The latest argument to that effect comes from a book (Now You See It) written by Cathy N. Davidson and related blog post from Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times. In her piece, Heffernan argues:

    ??fully 65 percent of today's grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn't been invented yet?For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it's high time we redesigned American education.?

    And so, because today's students will be doing things that we can't imagine, we need to rethink the kinds of work we're assigning today. Including research papers, which Heffernan argues have outlived their usefulness:

    Teachers and professors regularly ask students to write papers. Semester after semester, year after year, ?papers? are styled as the highest form of writing. And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up

    ...

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