A little more than a decade ago we embarked on what is arguably the most significant change in educational policy of the past half-century—the introduction of No Child Left Behind. As with any 1,000-page guess about how to do something, I thought the idea of revisiting the law in 2007, the date designated for its reauthorization, was an important part of the underlying wisdom of the act. Without researching it, I suspect that other congressional acts have missed their reauthorization date by wider margins. But, given the importance of this act to the hopes, aspirations, and operations of our schools, I am willing to assert that this ranks among the most consequential dropped balls of Congress.
Over a five week period in early 2013, there were a series of exchanges with Deborah Meier about accountability, testing, personnel evaluation, and salaries. The sequence of posts is provided here, along with a link to the responses by Deborah Meier.
Why Educators' Wages Must Be Revamped Now (February 06, 2013)
Does inefficiency in current school spending imply that we can simply cut back on spending without harming students? This surely is a key question that will come up this spring in statehouses across the nation as they face another tough budget year. District officials, if they are wise, will not just rely on the same old belt-tightening maneuvers. Indeed, perhaps the only viable option is seriously addressing policies toward educator salaries.
Improving outcomes—either with fewer or more resources—requires significant change. It will be virtually impossible to get such change without active state policies that push for the alignment of salary budgets with classroom performance.
Education Week, February 6, 2013
Secretary Duncan and others have emphasized the mediocre international test scores of U.S. students. Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein now tell us that performance is not as bad as you think and that Secretary Duncan should stop making “exaggerated and misleading statements” about the performance of U.S. students. However, we cannot paper over the fact that a large number of other countries have shown that it is possible to develop considerably higher skills in their youth.
Are Video Games the Learning Tools They’re Cracked Up To Be? Three facts about educational video games—and educational technology more generally—are important to consider as we look at their current use and impact. First, video games, educational and otherwise, show that clever technologies can attract and hold the attention of users and can teach them a variety of sophisticated thinking patterns. Second, educational games have made little dent in education. And, third, advanced technologies will be an important part of education in the future.
Recent school reform talk has focused importantly on teacher evaluations and on using evaluations for personnel decisions – both positive and negative. But this discussion is almost always too narrow. We should never focus exclusively on teacher evaluations without also including administrator evaluations.
When asked to propose ways to deal with budget cuts, the National Park Service famously proposed closing the Washington Monument, and this tactic of choosing the most egregious conceivable action as a way of forestalling budget cuts is enshrined in budgeting lore.
When asked to propose ways to deal with budget cuts, the National Park Service famously proposed closing the Washington Monument, and this tactic of choosing the most egregious conceivable action as a way of forestalling budget cuts is enshrined in budgeting lore. But now California is moving to displace this symbol of governmental malfeasance with a much more harmful ploy: If you will not give us the money we want for schools, we will close them down.
Human Capital and the Latin American Growth Puzzle (July 18, 2012)
Long run growth is very closely linked to the human capital of the population as measured by international mathematics and science scores. On this count, the nations of Latin America have done very poorly compared to those in all other regions except Sub-Saharan Africa.
There has been considerable discussion about the advantages of benchmarking the performance of American students in various states and localities to international tests. In simplest terms, this is something we should support because it would provide new and important information to both states and localities. This new information would also provide added impetus to the imperative to improve our schools.
Is the Common Core just a distraction? (May 06, 2012)
All of the intense pushing and shoving about the “common core” leaves one simple question, “should we care?” The existing evidence suggests that there is no relationship between learning standards of the states and student performance.
In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future—the human capital produced by our K-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the U.S., because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income. Over the past half century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations. In the chart nearby, we compare GDP-per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with achievement results on international math assessment tests. If we accept our current level of performance, we will surely find ourselves on a low-growth path.
Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2012
The movie Waiting for Superman chronicles the role of chance in determining the fate of a relatively small number of families trying to enroll their children in oversubscribed charter schools. Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff document the much larger problem of ineffective teachers scattered about a multitude of schools.
Misplaced Optimism and Weighted Funding (March 28, 2012)
Liberals and conservatives alike have made "weighted student funding" a core idea of their reform prescriptions. Both groups see such weighted funding as providing more dollars to the specific schools they tend to focus upon, and both see it as inspiring improved achievement through newfound political pressures. Unfortunately, both groups are very likely wrong. Schools will not improve until there are greater incentives for improving student achievement. Redistributing funds across schools or increasing the funding to schools by themselves will not magically put us on this path.
The recent release of teachers' value-added scores in New York City (NYC) has kicked up a lot of dust. Regardless of the merits of publishing such data for public consumption, we shouldn't let the dust obscure the larger issue that our previous attempts to improve teacher quality were so ineffectual.
Even if average teacher quality is the same across middle-class and poor schools, the poor kids in general will score lower because they come with less average inputs from family and neighborhoods—and we have to deal with that as a nation.
Teacher ratings are a vital step forward (February 24, 2012)
Nobody would ever advocate making personnel decisions through public posting of evaluations in the newspaper. The public release of value-added scores for more than 12,000 New York City teachers, set for Friday morning, should not be taken as a model for how to run the human resource departments of the schools. But that is not what is going on here.
Weighted student funding has become a core idea of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals like the idea because, by their vision, it would push funding to schools that served more disadvantaged populations. These schools have traditionally engaged in less actual spending than more advantaged schools because they employ more rookie teachers, who come with lower salaries. Conservatives like the idea because, by their vision, it will push funding to charter schools that traditionally have received less than equal shares of the local funding for schools.
Gov. Jerry Brown made two important statements about K-12 education in his State of the State speech on Wednesday. First, it is very important to have a strong accountability system that makes student achievement the focal point of our schools. Second, within that accountability system, local districts should have discretion to decide how to provide a quality education. Both represent an encouraging move toward improving the embarrassing state of California schools.
Diane comes back to a simple prescription: We should pursue business as usual with a few extensions of current policy. Unfortunately that is not serving us well, because this is exactly what we have done for several decades. We have developed a system that pays little attention to students and their achievement but that supports any adult who has found a job in schools. This policy does not look good by historical evidence on student outcomes. But it is common to defend this basic lack of management by throwing in red herrings whenever any policy change is suggested.