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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Almost everybody concerned with educational policy agrees on two things: the U.S. has a very serious achievement problem and teachers are the most important element in our school for addressing this problem. Beyond these, agreement breaks down.
The news is full of stories about incidents of cheating on various accountability tests. The Secretary of Education has urged all state commissioners to focus on testing integrity. In response, states are asking task forces to develop new security protocols, are hiring consultants to evaluate erasure patterns on test booklets, and are contemplating how they can change the pressures for cheating.
What is the worst way one could think of to deal with school district budget problems? Of all of the options, reducing the length of the school year must be the absolute worst – at least from the perspective of students. But California, always proud of being a leader, has written into law that this is the preferred option if districts face budgetary shortfalls.
One of the most significant changes in educational policy of the past two decades is the movement toward test-based accountability in the schools. From the beginning, this movement has elicited strongly held opinions about its design, impact, and desirability. We now have another addition to this packed field – from a distinguished panel of experts flying under the banner of the National Research Council. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to clear up the issues. Indeed it is more likely to leave the casual reader with just the wrong impression.
Class size is again in the media across the country, this time because of increases in class size related to fiscal cutbacks. Instead of discussing the achievement gains that would come from class size reduction, the current commentary has focused on the calamity for public schools that will necessarily follow from increases in class size. The discussions, while ever-tinged by politics, ignore the fact that increases are not symmetric to decreases.
An expanding list of states has joined in legislative battles over the future character of collective bargaining, a territory that was completely uncharted six months ago. A combination of state fiscal crises plus newly elected Republican legislatures and governors, has emboldened the legislatures in the traditionally union-friendly states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. They are joined by states as diverse as Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. But, what is it all about? Or, more interestingly, what should it be about?
It has now become conventional wisdom that teachers are the most important ingredient in an effective school. It is probably also the case that teachers are the most important ingredient in an ineffective school. The point is that that there are large differences in teacher quality, and these differences are felt in very tangible ways by students and by U.S. society.
State budgets this year face huge revenue losses, thanks to the recession and the end of federal stimulus money. Each threatened interest group has mobilized to try to escape any impact but none as effectively as schools, which have a special weapon: the courts.
The argument in the courts — playing out now in New Jersey and likely soon in New York — is simple: The state Constitution protects us from taking any share of the pain of the fiscal calamity. This kind of logic may indeed spread to other states.
Meet Eric Hanushek, who is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and an expert on education policy. He was the first scholar to measure the effectiveness of a teacher based on the learning gains of his or her student. You may have also seen him in the movie, “Waiting For ‘Superman.’” Hanushek was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.
Each time international tests of student achievement are released, there is a parade of glib commentators explaining why we should not pay much attention to the generally poor performance of U.S. students. The arguments have become fairly standard. Don’t worry, these tests really do not indicate anything that is very important. Moreover, if one reads the results carefully, it is possible to find areas where the U.S. looks pretty good. And if we just look at our best students, they are competitive with students from other countries.
In an unexpected action last summer, the Los Angeles Times published the ratings of teacher effectiveness for 6,000 teachers by name. This is a potential game-changer.
The publication created a firestorm. The unions were apoplectic. A vocal set of commentators attacked this action from a variety of viewpoints. Nonetheless, it shows signs of spreading – to New York City and elsewhere. Since my research started this development, I believe it is useful to share my perspectives on how we should judge this development and whether we should stop its spread.
Many Americans were shocked to learn how poorly U. S. students were doing when the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA) released its study of math achievement for 2006. U. S. 15-year-olds came in 35th among the 57 nations who participated in its administration. The U. S. average score was 474 points (against an average of 500 for students in the industrialized countries that have been accepted as members of the Organizations of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA’s sponsor).
Many people find it hard to believe that student performance has been flat for four decades when we have more than tripled funding for schools and when we have put into place a number of reform measures. Those facts are clear, but the explanation is less clear.
There are a variety of educational policies that simply conflict with research. One of the largest is pay for master’s degrees. Across the nation, extra pay for a master’s degree is deeply ingrained in the salary schedule. Overall, some ten percent of the total salary bill goes to pay bonuses to teachers who have master’s degrees. Yet one of the most consistent findings from research into the determinants of student achievement is that master’s degrees have no consistent effect. In other words, we regularly pay bonuses for something that is unrelated to classroom effectiveness.
Over the past decade, Florida has shown its laser-focus on student performance. Beginning with Jeb Bush and his able and imaginative education team, Florida moved forward on a reform agenda. But it was a reform agenda with a difference. Instead of following tradition and simply doing more of the same old things, Florida did two things. First, the rhetoric was not about “helping schools”, which too often translates into helping the adults in schools. Instead it was about student achievement – first reading and then achievement more broadly.
The effectiveness of charter schools in raising student achievement has become an intensely debated issue. When we last considered this topic (10/08/2009), the Department of Education was pushing charter schools but dueling studies introduced uncertainty. CREDO had done a national study that found more charters doing badly compared to their feeder schools from the traditional public sector, and an NBER study in New York City found substantially better performance of charters versus traditional public schools.
School accountability for student outcomes is central to current policy discussions. While the policy idea is often attributed simply to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), 44 states already had some form of test-based accountability when the 2002 federal accountability law came into existence. With NCLB, test-based accountability became a national strategy. It placed a clear goal on improvements in student achievement and established a series of actions and penalties for failure to meet annual improvement goals.
Over the last 40 years, the state courts have become important players in the funding of America’s public schools. During this period, only a handful of states have escaped state court scrutiny over the allocation and amount of funding they devote to their K-12 schools. Initially, these state court orders focused on the allocation of money between school districts, requiring many states to change their education financing systems to more equitably distribute school funding.
This has been a good year for evidence on the effectiveness of charters, highlighted by a major national study from CREDO and a new study in the continuing work from New York City. Nonetheless, understanding and interpreting the scientific research within the political and media environment is made more difficult by the political context. Charter schools have received considerable attention since President Obama put them on the administration’s policy agenda.
One sleeper in the flurry of decisions at the end of the last U.S. Supreme Court term has to be the decision in Horne v. Flores, a long-running Arizona case about funding special programs for English Language Learners (ELL). In overturning lower court decisions calling for continued court-ordered school spending without regard to student outcomes, the Court may lead to a new era of more rational and effective court involvement in school funding policies.