Standards, Testing & Accountability

It wasn't cool to be a "no-excuses," tough-love teacher for poor minority kids in the 1970s. That was the era of access centered "equity" for one and all, and most educators fretted more about kids struggling in school than about boosting their achievement. So academic standards (to the extent that there were any) were dumbed down, and lots of folks just took for granted the idea that environment was destiny. Kids from tough backgrounds, some thought, couldn't be expected to do all that well in school. 
Marva Collins thought otherwise. She believed—and said—that "kids don’t fail. Teachers fail, school systems fail. The people who teach children that they are failures—they are the problem.”
Then she put her own money and reputation on the line to prove that it didn't have to be that way. Along with a handful of other education renegades of the era (Jaime Escalante comes immediately to mind), she demonstrated that poor minority kids from inner-city environments could succeed just fine if given the right kinds of expectations, encouragement, and instruction. Today, we have plenty of these "proof points" in programs like KIPP, Achievement First, Success Academy, and many more. Most educators now understand that...
  • Teachers have been complaining about it for years: American students are just too hopelessly infatuated with Sophocles, Shakespeare, and George Eliot to buckle down and read nonfiction. Oh wait, no one ever actually complained about that. But schools are nonetheless attempting a shift in reading instruction away from fiction and toward journalism, essays, legislation, and speeches. The move is a signature feature of the Common Core State Standards, which set out to shift the classroom focus to the kinds of informational texts that students will be faced with in college and beyond. Though pairing Romeo and Juliet with articles about teen suicide may seem quixotic, the new method has its proponents. Susan Pimentel, who helped author the standards, claims that “there is enough great literary nonfiction out there that there shouldn’t be a forced fitting” between novels and newspapers. And traditionalists can take heart in the fact that eighth graders will hate reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as much as they used to hate reading Silas Marner.
  • When it comes to all the really sweet gigs, high school ends up being a little like Highlander—there can be only one prom queen, one first-chair piccolo, one class treasurer,
  • ...
Adam Peshek

This is the tenth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy SmarickNeerav KingslandLindsey M. Burke, and Jason Bedrick.

Believe the hype. The creation of a universal education savings account (ESA) program in Nevada is the most momentous event in the history of the school choice movement. Soon, parents of all K–12 public school students in the state will have the ability to direct their children’s state education funds to the schools, programs, courses, and services of their choice. Along with Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, nearly one million students will be eligible for an ESA in 2016. Despite their massive promise, education savings accounts require a much-needed evolution in the role of the state in education. 

The challenges in implementing ESA programs will be twofold. The first will be similar to any startup: securing funds, setting up infrastructure, creating processes and workflows, etc. The second set may prove to...

A push by some charter advocates resulted in a last-minute amendment to House Bill 2 which may introduce the “California Similar Students Measures” (CSSM) into Ohio’s school-accountability system. This is an entirely unnecessary effort, and CSSM should not be implemented in the Buckeye State.

The California Charter Schools Association developed CSSM, a simple regression model that uses school-level data, to approximate a value-added student growth model. The reason: California does not have an official student growth measure. CCSM is an improvement over using only a school’s raw proficiency results to evaluate schools, and the organization deserves credit for implementing it in California. However, a CSSM-like analysis should only be used in the absence of a proper student growth measure—and as such, it has no place in Ohio.

Ohio legislators should read very carefully CCSA’s own caveat emptor (emphasis added):

While CCSA believes these metrics [CSSMs] are an improvement on the existing measures in law for charter renewal, longitudinally linked, individual student growth data is the ideal source for most appropriately assessing a school’s performance. Because the Similar Students Measure is calculated with aggregate school-level data, it is an approximation of value-added modeling. True value-added modeling requires individual student data connected to the schools...

What is the role of authorizers in charter school policy? It’s a question that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) dive into in this new brief. Based on the assumption that authorizers should be accountable for the quality of schools they authorize and that “authorizer accountability and school accountability are inextricably linked,” NAPCS and NACSA examine recent developments in four states: Colorado, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Fordham’s beloved Ohio (sometimes called the Wild West of charter schools).

In Ohio, a 2012 law mandated that every authorizer would receive an annual performance rating—we were judged an “exemplary” authorizer—based on three components: academic performance of the authorizer’s charter schools, adherence to quality practices, and compliance with laws and regulations.

 Policy recommendations include sanctioning and terminating authorizers that fail in essential duties, defining more clearly what happens when a state terminates an authorizer, and detailing the fate of schools “orphaned” by authorizer termination. These policies are critical and ensure that parents and students are not left in the dark when a charter school loses its authorizer; they also help prevent “authorizer hopping,” whereby schools set for closure (either by their...

Matthew Ladner

This is the third entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael Goldstein and Seth Rau.

The public education system as we knew it in the mid-twentieth century had academic transparency that fell somewhere on the non-existent-to-scant spectrum. Academics were aware of achievement gaps in national data, for instance, but state- and (especially) campus-level academic or financial data were in short supply. Realtors served as the de facto information brokers of the public education system I enrolled into, in the Texas of the early 1970s, and they based their expert opinions on gossip and perhaps the ethnicity of the kids they saw running around on the playground.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but our notions of accountability must continue to evolve with the times. The statewide ESA program in Nevada poses a number of unique challenges that can be tackled with fresh thinking and thoughtful balances.

Our friends at Fordham posed the question thusly: “As Nevada implements its groundbreaking education savings account...

Seth Rau

Nevada is a state of constant experimentation. From its founding in the days before the 1864 presidential race to ensure an additional three electoral votes for President Lincoln’s reelection to letting the state be turned into a nuclear site in the 1950s to the so-far dormant Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, many forces have used Nevada for their experiments. Knowing its history as a testing ground, Nevada should regulate its new, nearly universal education savings accounts, or ESAs, (current private school students are excluded to avoid a large cost to the state) in a fashion similar to another uniquely legal phenomenon in the state: prostitution. You may chuckle, but there are real similarities here.

Prostitution in Nevada has a few non-negotiables. First, the employees (most are actually non-unionized independent contractors, but that’s another analogy) participating in the work must be tested and examined regularly to ensure the customers’ safety and satisfaction. On the user end, the client must use protection in order to protect the employee’s safety per the state’s regulations. Once these details are in place, however, everything else is open to negotiation. The employee and the client can take part in both imaginable and unthinkable acts within...

In this research brief, Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and David Scott Yeager of the University of Texas compare three measures of students’ non-cognitive skills: student surveys (in which students self-report on their non-cognitive skills), teacher surveys (in which the teacher provides his or her assessment of a student’s skills), and so-called “performance tasks” (such as the famous "marshmallow test"). After comparing these measures, the authors discuss their suitability for various purposes, including individual diagnosis, improved practice, program evaluation, and accountability.

According to the authors, each measure has advantages and disadvantages. For example, although student and teacher surveys are cheap and reliable, they suffer from “reference bias,” which occurs when individuals or groups use different frames of reference in making a judgment. Consequently, schools that are best at promoting non-cognitive skills may score lowest on a survey measuring such skills.

Unlike surveys, performance tasks don’t rely on the subjective judgments of students or teachers. Yet they too have drawbacks. To be a valid measure of a non-cognitive skill, a performance task must be administered under carefully controlled conditions, which may be difficult to achieve at some schools. They are also expensive and time-consuming, with a single task taking...

Those of us who have hoped Common Core would hasten the demise of dry and deleterious skills-driven literacy practices at the elementary level can only be heartened by Education Week’s recent in-depth report on building early literacy skills. The package is deeply practice-based and will cheer those who have championed the cause of content knowledge and vocabulary development as a means of raising proficiency—particularly among low-income kids, for whom early reading success (or lack thereof) establishes a trajectory that is devilishly hard to alter.

Highlights include Catherine Gewertz’s first-rate dispatch on the transformation of early-grade read-alouds: Teachers increasingly ask “text-dependent” questions that can only be answered with “detailed understanding of the material, rather than from students’ own experience.” She focuses on a collaborative effort of more than three hundred teachers called the Read-Aloud Project, which was launched by the Council of Great City Schools and Student Achievement Partners.

One of the most important pieces in the package ever-so-slightly misses its mark. Liana Heiten’s report on vocabulary development correctly notes—heavens be praised—the limits of direct vocabulary instruction. (Do the math: there’s not enough time to grow the fifty-thousand-word vocabulary of a literate adult by memorization or word study...

Last week, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, announced that he’s running for president. He is the tenth Republican to join the crowded race—a group that still doesn’t officially include poll-toppers Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. He’s also the subject of the fourteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Perry has been involved in Texas politics since 1985. He started out as a state representative and went on to become commissioner of agriculture, lieutenant governor under George W. Bush, and governor, a role he assumed when Bush was himself elected president. This will be Perry’s second run for the White House, having also tried back in 2012. He’s said much on education. Here’s a sampling:

1. Common Core: “It’s a Tenth Amendment issue. If you want Washington, if you want to implement their standards, that’s your call....We certainly had higher standards than [Common Core], so it was a very easy decision for Texans, myself and the legislature included, to basically say we still believe that Texans know how to best run Texas.” August 2014.

2. Charter schools: “Not every child learns for the same purpose, not every child thrives in the...