Is everything for which reformers fight actually making things worse?
Photo by ToniVC
"Confusion never stops
Closing walls and ticking clocks
Gonna come back and take you home
I could not stop that you now know, singing
Come out upon my seas
Cursed missed opportunities
Am I a part of the cure?
Or am I part of the disease?"
-Coldplay, "Clocks," A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002
I am haunted by the title of your post: "The Testing Obsession Widens the Gap" Could this possibly be true? Is test-based school reform reducing opportunity for America's neediest children? Is everything for which we school reformers fight actually making things worse? Am I a part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?
"It's OK to ask: 'What if I'm wrong?'" you wrote last week. So let me ask it. It wouldn't be the first time. A year ago, for example, I explored the "test score hypothesis"—a line of reasoning, undergirding much of the reform movement, that says that if we can significantly improve low-income students' math
On Monday, we kick off By the Company It Keeps in what I think is an exciting and important way. (It’s also going to be out of the norm, but more on that below.)
Three very influential organizations working on one of our field’s most important topics participated in a revealing Q&A.
I’ve been writing about the Common Core–aligned testing consortia for some time now, occasionally raising concerns about how things were progressing and what that meant for the future of high-quality assessments and the standards themselves.
Then a couple weeks ago, I wrote a short piece raising the ante, in effect wondering if we had reached a serious turning point. Independently, Checker, reading the same tealeaves, wrote a longer, more detailed piece drawing the same conclusion.
In short, we both suggested that an exodus from the consortia might be on the horizon.
Whether you’re a CCSS supporter or opponent, this should matter to you. Assessments are an essential part of meaningful standards-and-accountability systems. Their results tell us a whole lot about our schools, districts, teachers, and kids. And they are expensive.
These assessments are particularly important. They are supposed to be aligned with new common standards. They are supposed to be “next generation.” They are supposed to generate data that can be compared across states. They are supposed to give us a true reading on our students’ college- and career-readiness. They are being created by consortia of states. And
Michael Petrilli is absolutely right that many Pell grant recipients aren’t ready for college and would be better off doing something else. One sign of poor preparation is the need to take remedial classes in college, and Petrilli recommends that students enrolled in such courses not be given Pell money.
The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (which I head) offers a somewhat different solution to the same problem. We believe that the federal government should inject an element of merit into the selection of Pell grantees. Thus, in a paper on Pell grants, Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston recommend that Pell-grant recipients have SAT scores of at least 850 (verbal and math) and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 (between a C and a B).
“Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would provide a positive incentive for students to do better in school,” they write. “Students with very low high school academic performance are unlikely to graduate from college regardless of financial aid.”
The two solutions are similar, of course. As we see it, the advantage of our proposal is that it’s an objective standard that would be easy to enforce. Under Petrilli’s proposal, I would worry (as he does) about colleges renaming remedial courses as “regular” courses, something that may already be happening.
The SAT score we recommend, 850, isn’t high. According to the College Board, in order to
Last month, I asked why schools ignore so many good ideas. Have we not gotten the incentives right? Is it poor leadership? Do we have an ineffective system for disseminating promising practices? Or are superintendents, principals, and educators simply overwhelmed by the avalanche of advice that lands on their desks and in their inboxes? Might there be a way to help them sift the wheat from the chaff, then make good use of the former?
I believe there is. Let me introduce the open-source school district.
Imagine a virtual school district, charged with developing and constantly updating a strategy for addressing the needs of fictitious students.
Imagine the creation of a virtual school district. It wouldn’t have any actual students, teachers, buses, or facilities, but it would have a school board, a superintendent, and a central-office staff. (The superintendent and staff would be paid real salaries and be housed in a real office; the school board would be made up of various “education experts” or maybe “stakeholders” who, like real school board members, would volunteer their time.) It would be given a demographic profile—say, an inner-ring suburban district of 10,000 with a fair amount of racial and socioeconomic diversity. It would inherit the student achievement results, policies, and practices of a typical
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
May 16, 2013
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