Donald Campbell was an American social psychologist and noted experimental social science researcher who did pioneering work on methodology and program evaluation. He has also become—posthumously—an unlikely hero of the anti-testing and accountability movement in the United States. In the hands of accountability critics, his 50 years of research on methodology and program evaluation have been boiled down to a simple retort against testing: Campbell’s Law. But a deeper reading of his work reveals a more complicated and constructive message: Measuring progress (using both quantitative and qualitative indicators) is essential; when using quantitative data for evaluation, the indicators can become distorted or manipulated; and there are concrete steps we can—and must—take to minimize data manipulation and distortion.
Campbell’s December 1976 article, “Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change,” has become a flashpoint in the educational accountability debate. There, he argued,
The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."
Foes of testing and accountability frequently evoke this “Law” to argue against the use of standardized tests and test-based accountability. In a May 25 blog post, for example, Diane Ravitch explained:
Campbell’s Law helps us understand why No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are harmful to education…As high-stakes testing has become the main driver of our nation’s education policy, we will
Earlier this year, the GE Foundation awarded an $18 million, four-year grant to Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by the chief CCSS architects David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba—to support (among other things) the development of Common Core–aligned curriculum and instructional resources. In addition to being developed under the careful guidance of the lead authors of the standards themselves (and all signs seem to suggest that these materials will be top-notch), SAP-developed resources will be open source and provided at no cost to teachers around the country.
This week, Student Achievement Partners announced a new partnership with the NEA and AFT, which will be funded with a three-year, $11 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, “to jointly design tools and digital applications to support teachers in their practice.”
Here’s what Sue Pimentel told Education Week:
…The New York City–based nonprofit would be "the engine room" for the new project, but teachers would be the fuel behind it. It will cover both ELA and math.
SAP will meet regularly with teachers to find out what they need most in the classroom, and come back to them with early versions that can then be reviewed and revised, Pimentel said. Teachers from the two unions will also play a key role by piloting the tools in their classrooms next year, she said. The tools will be available on SAP's website, Achieve The Core, and NEA
In 1972, Yale sociologist Irving Janis coined the term “groupthink.” It was a way of describing the group dynamics that occasionally lead smart, thoughtful, and well-intentioned people to make catastrophically bad decisions. What I have often wondered is, what would Janis make of the decisions being made by today’s education reform leaders?
Does education reform, like JFK's White House, suffer from groupthink?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Janis, who passed away in 1990, focused much of his research on the meetings and conversations that preceded several key presidential decisions, including those that led President Kennedy and the best and brightest “whiz kids” he brought into his administration to move forward with the Bay of Pigs invasion—an American-supported attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba that was, by all accounts, a spectacular failure. In the end, Janis concluded that Kennedy’s biggest failure was not the final decision, but rather the process he and his advisors followed to get there. Most importantly, he felt that they failed to have open, critical conversations that might have pushed them to rethink their assumptions, and that individuals within the group failed to either voice their own concerns, because they felt there was already consensus, or listen to objections that would have helped them reshape the invasion plan.
For some strange reason it had to be.
He guided me to Tennessee.
When looking for a model of smart Common Core implementation, it’s easy to get depressed. Most state plans are confusing, their guidance buried deep in government websites (usually in hard to read documents full of jargon), their tactics difficult to follow, and their policies disconnected, compliance-oriented, and unlikely to set educators up for success.
I know what you are thinking: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
But there is some hope amidst the noise. And fittingly enough for these voluntary common standards, that hope is in the Volunteer State. Tennessee has been quietly developing what might be the most thoughtful, cohesive, and outcomes-driven state CCSS implementation plan in the nation.
There are three areas, in particular, where Tennessee seems to be outshining the rest of the states: leading with outcomes; clarity of communication and smart prioritization; and growing leaders, as opposed to micromanaging teachers.
Leading with outcomes
Far too often, Common Core implementation efforts are an amalgam of compliance-oriented activities and programs masquerading as thoughtful and effective implementation plans.
Tennessee’s approach seems refreshingly different. The state has set specific goals for each of its first four years of CCSS implementation. In 2012-13, for instance, they expect a 4 point scale score growth for all students on the NAEP 4th grade math, and a 5 point scale score growth for students on the NAEP 8th grade
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
June 13, 2013
Sign Up for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Core Knowledge Blog
- Daniel Willingham: Science and Education Blog
- Education Next Blog
- Getting Smart
- Gotham Schools
- Jay P. Greene
- Joanne Jacobs
- National Journal Education Blog
- NCTQ Pretty Darn Quick
- NCTQ Teacher Quality Bulletin
- Ohio Education Gadfly
- Politics K-12
- Quick and the Ed
- Rick Hess Straight Up
- The Corner
- The Hechinger Report
- Tim Shanahan on Literacy