As everyone in the education world already knows, the New York Times won a lawsuit that forced the New York City Department of Education to publish the teacher-level value-added data it has been collecting as part of its accountability system. The result? The public unveiling of the work product of an expensive system that is confusing, unreliable—and apparently—error-riddled.
Before we go further down this path, now is probably as good a time as any for education reformers to pause and ask themselves if this kind of top down effort is really what will lead our schools to excellence?
The question is not whether student achievement data should be used as one of several measures of teacher effectiveness, but rather how those data should be used and who is ultimately in the driver’s seat.
Critics of using test data argue that it’s unfair; that standardized tests are imperfect and therefore cannot be used to determine whether students have learned what they should have, and certainly not whether teachers have taught what they were supposed to.
Such arguments are misguided for lots of reasons, chief among them that there is, in no profession, a perfect measure of effectiveness. And teachers ultimately should be held accountable for how well they are able to drive achievement in their classrooms.
No matter how well developed a tool is, it needs to be reality checked.
But these critics are correct on a larger point: no matter how well developed a tool is, it needs to be reality checked. Of course, the one thing critics—teacher unions chief among them—hate more than giving Departments of Education the power to determine who should
The Pioneer Institute—no friends of the Common Core to begin with—released a report this week claiming that it will cost the nation $16 billion to implement the new standards. (If you read the full text, the authors frequently note that this is, in their opinion, a wild underestimate.)
The astronomical estimate is not entirely surprising. If you want to scare cash-strapped states away from moving forward with their Common Core plans, it’s not hard to attach a frighteningly large price tag to implementation. After all, the purpose of standards is to create the foundation upon which the entire education system is built. So, obviously, changing standards must mean knocking down the house, re-pouring the foundation, and starting again.
Implementing Common Core doesn't necessarily mean knocking down the house and starting from scratch.
Photo by Concrete Forms.
Well, not quite.
Yes, implementing the Common Core will be costly. No one disputes that. Aligning materials, instruction, and assessment around new standards cannot be done on the cheap if it’s going to be done well.
On the other hand, let’s pretend neither that implementation of the new standards needs to look exactly like implementation of a state’s previous standards, nor that every dollar spent on CCSS needs to be “new money.”
I've already weighed in on Alfie Kohn's ?pedagogy of poverty? article that appeared in Ed Week last week. (See here.) The debate sparked by Kohn's article rages on?in blogs and on Twitter?and my colleague, Mike Petrilli, weighed in today, arguing:
The question of whether affluent and disadvantaged kids need a different kind of education?different instructional strategies, different curriculum, maybe even different kinds of teachers?is a serious one. This discussion is easily demagogued (particularly on Twitter). But it's not racist to say that poor kids?who generally come to school with much less vocabulary, exposure to print, and much else?might need something different?more intense, more structured?than their well-off, better-prepared peers.
On some level, we're overcomplicating this. In the end, the ?achievement gap,? as we now call it, is really little more than a practice gap. And schools that are succeeding in closing it are simply better at creating a culture that makes time for that practice.
In his bestselling book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that, across divergent fields (athletics, music, business, academia), the people who rose to the top had two things in common:
- They had been exposed to and given the opportunity to learn, and
- They had logged at least 10,000 hours of practice.
That's because extraordinary achievement is a function of extraordinary practice. Unfortunately, the sad truth for too many of America's poor children is that they are never given the opportunity to learn. ?And they are even more rarely given
In his most recent missive (published today in Ed Week), Alfie Kohn decries "the pedagogy of poverty," i.e.: the way many poor children are taught in traditional public and public charter schools around the nation. He complains:
Policymakers and the general public have paid much less attention to what happens inside classrooms—the particulars of teaching and learning—especially in low-income neighborhoods. The news here has been discouraging for quite some time, but, in a painfully ironic twist, things seem to be getting worse as a direct result of the “reform” strategies pursued by the Bush administration, then intensified under President Barack Obama, and cheered by corporate executives and journalists.
In an article published in Phi Delta Kappan back in 1991, Martin Haberman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, coined the phrase “pedagogy of poverty.” Based on his observations in thousands of urban classrooms, Haberman described a tightly controlled routine in which teachers dispense, and then test students on, factual information; assign seatwork; and punish noncompliance. It is a regimen, he said, “in which learners can ‘succeed’ without becoming either involved or thoughtful,” and it is noticeably different from the questioning, discovering, arguing, and collaborating that is more common (though by no means universal) among students in suburban and private schools.
This description is misleading on so many levels. First of all, it seems to suggest that having tight classroom management and routines is antithetical to creating classrooms where students can
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.
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