Standards, Testing & Accountability

This morning, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released our ESEA Briefing Book. The report serves two purposes: First, to provide helpful background for reporters, analysts, and even hill staffers following the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, No Child Left Behind). Hence, we identify 10 of the key issues that Congress must resolve to get a bill across the finish line, and offer the major options on the table (and their pros and cons) for each one.

The second purpose is to offer our own recommendations, in line with what we've been calling "Reform Realism" for two years now. Reform Realism--a pro-school-reform orientation that is also realistic about what the federal government can (and cannot) do well in K-12 education--entails three main principles:

?Tight-loose? ? Greater national clarity about our goals and expectations for students (i.e., standards linked to real-world demands of college and career), but much greater flexibility around how states, communities, and schools actually get their students there.

Transparency instead of Accountability ? Results-based accountability in education is vital, but it can't successfully be imposed from Washington. Instead, Uncle...

OhioFlypaper

Sean Cavanagh's recent blog in Education Week depicts cautionary warnings from Byong Man Ahn, the former South Korean Minister of Education. He suggests that over-testing children can adversely impact a student's desire and ability to learn.? Mr. Ahn warns the United States not to follow his country's education model, arguing that his country is too test-centered, saying, ?we force the students to memorize so much that they experience pain rather than pleasure [of] acquiring knowledge through the learning process.? ??According to Ahn, South Korea's overly tested and rigid curriculum has placed extreme pressures on students while simultaneously stifling their creativity.

Vicki Abeles makes a similar argument in the documentary ?Race to Nowhere? claiming that increased homework loads and stress to perform well in school are adversely affecting American students' achievement and health. It may be true that stress exists for some, but this is a less compelling case to make in the US, where achievement is lagging in comparison to countries like South Korea. Abeles claims that students arrive to college burnt out,? but once on campus, many college goers fail to enhance their own creativity at a time when they have greater freedom and flexibility to...

Unlike Fat Tuesday or St. Patrick's Day, April 19th may not strike you as an unofficial drinking holiday. But then you haven't been reading Jay Greene lately, who has created a nifty little drinking game to accompany Fordham's ESEA reauthorization proposal to be released tomorrow.

Here's a sneak peek; in our "Briefing Book" we lay out 10 of the key questions that we believe Congress needs to answer in order to get a new ESEA across the finish line, identify the major options for each one, and present the pros and cons. Our recommendations will wait till the morning, but see if you think we got the issues right.

The 10 big issues

  1. College and career readiness - Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness (such as the Common Core)?
  2. Cut scores - What requirements, if any, should be placed upon states with respect to achievement standards (i.e., "cut scores")?
  3. Growth measures - Should states be required to develop assessments that enable measures of individual student growth?
  4. Science and History - Must states develop standards and assessments in additional subjects beyond English/language arts and math?
  5. School ratings -
  6. ...

Yesterday afternoon my colleague Chris Irvine and I sat down with three of Denmark's most promising. They're elected leaders of the Association of Danish Pupils, the nation's student-run education-policy organization. (Think: a national student council, or a stellar group of model Congress participants, only the model Congress actually gets to influence policy.)

A few highlights stood out to me as we explained the American education system and federal and state policy, and heard a bit about the issues facing Denmark's schools:

  • The Danes are struggling with how to incorporate virtual learning into the classroom in much the same way that the United States is. For these intrepid youth, intent on discovering means of diversifying instruction and providing targeted, individualized instruction, digital learning wasn't really on their radar. According to the youth, Denmark is behind when it comes to virtual schooling. We commiserated over that fact?and I wondered silently how long it would be before each of our nations were so far behind in this domain that it is noticeably and negatively affecting our global competitiveness. Hopefully we push the throttle forward on digital learning and don't see that reality come to pass.
  • We talked briefly about how our
  • ...

When Sheldon and Jeremy Stern reviewed the Minnesota social studies standards earlier this year, there was certainly much room for improvement. (See here for the full review.) Unfortunately, if a description of the changes by the Minneapolis Star Tribune is right, it sounds like the state may be moving in exactly the wrong direction. According to the article,

a key goal for this year's social studies committee, which is made up of citizens and teachers, is to shrink the standards to more manageable lengths, which means far fewer examples than are contained in the current standards.

Note first that the committee is made up of ?citizens and teachers.? Does that mean to imply that the state isn't deliberately soliciting the input of historians? Let's hope not. While there would certainly be tension between what the historians wanted to include and what the teachers felt was manageable, such tension is a healthy way to ensure the pendulum doesn't swing too far in one direction or another.

Further, it's disheartening to hear that the state is moving to remove content from the standards, given that the Sterns felt the inclusion of so much substantive content was the...

Last September, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren adopted the Common Core standards in ELA but not in math, arguing that the state's existing math standards were far superior than the CCSS. With a new Commissioner, Brenda Cassellius, selected by the new Democratic governor, Republican lawmakers are now working to ensure that that decision cannot be revisited.

An education bill introduced last week specifically prohibits the Commissioner ?from adopting common core standards in the subject and school year listed in the revision cycle in paragraphs (a) to (f).?? (See here and here.) Translated, that means that, when the state's math standards are up for revision in 2015, the state will not be permitted to adopt the Common Core.

Even more troubling, though, the sweeping statement has implications that go well beyond math, because the revision cycles outlined in ?paragraphs (a) to (f)? include science, social studies, technology and information literacy, the arts, and language arts. That means that, if passed, this bill would prevent the state from adopting common standards in any content area?no matter how much better than the state's existing standards they may be.

It also calls into question what's going to happen...

Rick Hess strongly implies that I'm a Finland lover just because I signed the AFT plea for better curricular materials for teachers to use in connection with the Common Core standards. Wrong. I don't believe the Shanker Institute folks even mentioned Finland. And all I like about Finland (saunas and reindeer aside) is that it's home to a lot of Finns.

?Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Ohioans, for the most part, understand that strong teachers and good schools are a critical investment in our children's and our state's future. Consider that in 2010, the state invested more than $18.3 billion in K-12 public education ??? roughly $2,078 for every adult living in the Buckeye State.

In fact, school funding in Ohio has steadily increased over the past three decades. Just since 1991, when the first DeRolph lawsuit was filed, per-pupil revenue for Ohio's public schools has risen 60 percent (even accounting for inflation). After decades of steady growth in spending on its schools Ohio now faces a funding cliff. Education in the state is facing cuts of at least $1.3 billion.

The state's schools are being asked to do more with less. How do we do this smartly, without damaging children, especially our neediest? To answer this question it is prudent to look at the data. Where are we making gains? Where are we falling flat? Where do the investments pay off? Where don't they?

The Akron Beacon Journal jumped into the debate with a recent news story and follow-up editorial using NAEP test scores (commonly referred to as the Nation's...

Today, Jay Greene has an Ed Next column arguing against government mandated standards and curriculum. ?Most of the important elements of American education are already standardized,? he argues.

No central government authority had to tell school districts to divide their schools into grades or start in the Fall and end in the Spring. Even details of the curriculum, like teaching long division in 4th grade or Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade, are remarkably consistent from place to place without the national government ordering schools to do so.

Schools arrived at these arrangements through a gradual process of market competition and adaptation?.Of course, not everything is synced, but the items that are most important to consumers often are.

That's how standardization in market settings works and we have a lot of positive experience with this in industry. ?VHS became the standard medium for home entertainment because the market gravitated to it, not because some government authority mandated it. ?If we followed the logic of Gates-Fordham-AFT-USDOE we would want some government-backed committee to decide on the best format and provide government subsidies only to those companies that complied.

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