Standards, Testing & Accountability

A flurry of legislative activity in 2010, spurred in part by Race to the Top, left many states with new teacher-evaluation systems, performance-pay metrics, tenure protocols, and more. This report, authored by Patrick McGuinn for the Center for American Progress, suggests that states are now struggling to implement and sustain these muscular policies. He looks closely at the implementation of revamped teacher-evaluation protocols in six states:  Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. How have they managed their increased role in what has long been a local pursuit? The process has proved slow and frustrating: New units (created to provide services like evaluator training and to track teacher effectiveness) have faced difficulties coordinating their work with that of local education agencies. Administrators skilled in teacher evaluation are scarce, forcing states to lean heavily on outside organizations. The see-saw between state policy and local control has proven particularly difficult to balance: Do states impose statewide evaluation systems (as in Delaware and Tennessee) or grant districts more flexibility? Still, these challenges are not insurmountable. McGuinn offers a number of common-sensical yet sensible recommendations to that end: For example,...

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program remains perhaps the most scrutinized voucher initiative of its kind, so it’s not surprising that it finally got a “review” from the Washington Post, and not a very positive one at that. The Post team determined that the program is subject to few quality controls and asserted that “the government has no say over curriculum, quality or management,” despite the fact that some schools collect more than 90 percent of their revenues from the voucher program.

Of course, governments have little to no say over the curricula at any private school that participates in any of the voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs that exist presently in fifteen states—as well they shouldn’t. But some state governments have, in recent years, held their voucher programs to account for producing decent results, and that’s where the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has fallen short.

Private schools that participate in the D.C. program must provide parents with the academic progress of their own children along with the aggregate performance of their children’s grade-level peers, but that’s as far as school-level disclosure goes. Students receiving vouchers must take standardized tests every year, but their results are not made public; they...

The cumbersome, inscrutable title is the first clue that something is not right: “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3): Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards.”

Welcome to the social studies follies. We might thank the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for ensuring—so far, anyway—that this jumble is not portrayed as “national standards” for social studies. Instead, it’s the beginning of a “framework” for states intending to re-think their own academic standards in social studies, a hodge-podge part of the K-12 curriculum.

It’s not the actual framework, however. That is promised for sometime next year. What we have today is a six-page “vision” of a “framework for inquiry,” whatever the heck that is supposed to mean. (See also Catherine Gewertz’s perspective in Education Week.)

But this preview document supplies reason to be plenty alarmed about what lies ahead. The second clue is implicit in its opening paragraphs:

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, currently under development, will ultimately focus on the disciplinary and multidisciplinary concepts and practices that make up the process of investigation, analysis, and explanation which will be informative to states interested in upgrading their social...

When I get a call from a reporter on a Friday, it typically means that a government agency is trying to dump bad news.  When I get a call from a reporter on the Friday before Thanksgiving week, I know that a government agency is trying to dump really bad news.

The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

And so it is with the U.S. Department of Education’s quiet release of results from the first year of the massive School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. (See Alyson Klein’s Ed Week coverage.)

The headline is simple: The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

Almost three years ago, in an article for Education Next called “The Turnaround Fallacy”, I detailed how and why previous turnaround efforts failed so consistently and predicted that future efforts would amount to the same. Chapter 4 of my new book, The Urban School System of the Future, extends that argument with even more evidence.

It’s not just me....

Nine months ago, the School Choice Demonstration Project delivered its final treatise on the Milwaukee school-voucher program, known as the MPCP (capping a run of thirty-seven reports on the topic). It concluded that “the combination of choice and accountability left the MPCP students in our study with significantly higher levels of reading gains than their carefully matched peers in MPS after four years.” This study by analysts at the Universities of Oklahoma and Kentucky and Furman University corroborates that encouraging assertion. Here, authors examine three years of achievement data—two years before and one year after stricter testing and public-reporting requirements were passed in Wisconsin for private schools accepting voucher students—to ascertain the impact of these new accountability provisions on student achievement. They found large increases in the average math and reading scores for students enrolled in voucher schools. Further, voucher students outperformed their traditional-school peers in reading in 2010-11 and narrowed the gap in math. Using value-added and other rigorous models, the research team was able to demonstrate that achievement increases in the neighborhood of 0.1 to 0.2 standard deviations reflect the impact of the new accountability policies as opposed to pre-existing trends and/or selective student attrition (think: counseling-out...

Six days after the election, and by a miniscule margin, Washington State became the forty-second state to allow charter schools. Charter advocates and operators will have plenty of work ahead if they want to convince such a polarized electorate (which rejected charters thrice before) that the forty schools they’re now permitted to open will add quality and innovation to the state’s public school landscape. The battle is won, but the war will continue.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released the preliminary findings of their study on the impact of the GreatSchools program in D.C. and Milwaukee—and the news is good! The GreatSchools program runs an online search engine to help parents discover their children’s schooling options. The programs in the two cities studied went further, providing in-person parent training to supplement the materials. CEPA found that these programs successfully influenced parents to select higher-performing schools. Disseminating information, the goal of so many groups (ourselves included), is not always enough; groups that actively try to educate parents about their options should be lauded and replicated.

Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal plan for...

Lots of people are weighing in on the implications of Tuesday’s election results.

  • Eduwonk Rotherham has a good piece in Time magazine lamenting Tony Bennett’s loss (my thoughts on that here), celebrating the wins for charter schools, and noting the continued strength of teachers unions when they are tested.
  • Mike comes to many of the same conclusions.  Tom Luna’s losses get his attention, as do a number of results from the Midwest.
  • Stergios also highlights the charter wins and the fallout from Bennett’s undoing (particularly regarding Common Core) and adds accountability and ESEA reauthorization to the list of affected subjects.
  • Naturally, the prolific Rick Hess has a series of posts on the subject, declaring the night a split decision for reformers.  He emphasizes the union wins and the subtle split in the reform community between conservatives and progressives.  See here for his take on Bennett’s loss and its implications for Common Core.
  • The WSJ’s Stephanie Branchero also concludes that voters are divided.  Branchero discusses Luna’s losses, the charter win in WA, and CA’s decision to spend more on schools.
  • Politics K-12 is already looking ahead, surfacing the five big issues
  • ...
...The education system can make all sorts of achievement gains but still fail because of the substandard education too many Hispanics receive.

In the words of a former republican president, they got thumped last night. While this is not the space to recount Republican failures in both the presidential and senate races, this much is clear: They cannot win national elections anymore by merely appealing to white voters. The last president who won with the percentage of white voters that Mitt Romney achieved was George H.W. Bush in 1988 (both received 59% of the white vote). However, Bush Senior received over 400 electoral votes; Mitt Romney won 206. The white share of the electorate is currently dissolving at a rate of about 3 percent every election.

And this is just the beginning of the demographic wave. According to the U.S. Census, racial and ethnic minority births now account for more than 50 percent of all births in the country. Hispanics, now 10 percent of the electorate, are the fastest-growing segment of the population—and one-third are currently under the age of eighteen.

The challenge that Republicans face is similar to the challenge facing the...

The Milwaukee voucher program remains one of the most tightly-regulated school choice programs of its kind in the nation, and it deserves better than the sloppy conclusions of Diane Ravitch. In a blog post earlier this week, Ravitch noted—correctly—that tougher standards applied to the Wisconsin state test went badly for all Milwaukee students, especially voucher recipients (just 10 percent of whom were proficient in reading, compared to 15 percent of their district peers). But then she reports that legislation expanding the Milwaukee choice program to Racine absolved private schools of the requirement that they administer the state tests to their voucher-bearing students. “Therefore,” she writes, “their proficiency rate will not be known or reported.”

Wisconsin has made a lot of progress in holding its voucher program more accountable.

This is absolutely untrue. For the past few years, students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program have had to take the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE), which is the same test administered to all public school students. When the Wisconsin legislature expanded the voucher program to Racine last year, nothing changed this requirement. In fact, test results for private schools in Racine and Milwaukee, as well as for public schools throughout...

I first met Indiana’s state superintendent Tony Bennett by phone in mid-2009. I had written something for Flypaper about reports of his frustration with Race to the Top. So and he (and his then-chief of staff and now state representative Todd Huston) called me, out of the blue, to discuss it.

Ed Reform Idol
Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid yesterday. 
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

I walked away from that call very impressed by Dr. Bennett. He was not only passionate about meaningful reform; he was also clear-thinking and strategic. As I got to know him in the years since, my admiration for him only grew.

Hence my enormous disappointment at the news that he lost his bid for re-election last night.

During his tenure, Tony pushed through a nation-leading reform agenda. Under his watch, Indiana made huge progress on teacher evaluations, accountability, choice, and much more. Last year, TBFI recognized Bennett for these remarkable accomplishments.

I also got to see him...

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