Rigorous standards and aligned assessments are vital tools for boosting education outcomes but they have little traction without strong accountability systems that attach consequences to performance. Today, Fordham is releasing a new pilot study, "Defining Strong State Accountability Systems: How Can Better Standards Gain Traction?," laying out the essential features of such accountability systems, intended to add oomph to new common standards and aligned assessments. Specifically, the study identifies six essential elements of effective systems:
- Adoption of demanding, clear, and specific standards in all core content areas, and rigorous assessment of those standards;
- Reporting of accessible and actionable data to all stakeholders, including summative outcome data and other formative data to drive continuous improvement;
- Annual determinations and designations for each school and district that meaningfully differentiate their performance;
- A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the school and district levels;
- A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the individual student level; and
- A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the individual teacher and administrator level.
What distinguishes the report from previous work on this subject is that it insists that individuals—both students and adults—must be held accountable along with institutions. These elements were developed from in-depth analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of seven states’ accountability systems and provide a framework for Fordham’s future analyses of state accountability systems during the early years of Common Core's
This post is drawn from an essay in the March, 2012 edition of Wisconsin Interest.
One hundred years ago, a progressive populist barnstormed the country, delivering fiery speeches and railing against the gold standard. Today another progressive populist barnstorms the country, delivering fiery speeches and railing against academic standards. Meet Alfie Kohn, the William Jennings Bryan of our age.
Kohn's arguments are half-crazy and half-true, which is what makes him so effective—and so maddening.
Like most demagogues, Kohn knows how to tap into his audience’s raw emotions—anger, feelings of powerlessness, and resentment of a ruling elite. In his case, he puts voice to what many educators already believe: That school reform is a corporate plot to turn young people into docile employees; that an obsession with standardized testing is crowding out any real intellectual engagement in our schools; and that teachers have no say over what happens inside their own classrooms.
These arguments are half-crazy and half-true, which is what makes Kohn so effective—and so maddening.
Where Kohn gets it right is in his observation that many American schools are “mindless, soul-killing” institutions, especially the schools serving our most disadvantaged communities. While this has almost certainly been the case for decades, it’s probably true that test-based accountability has made the situation worse, at least in many locales.
Even the most hawkish reformer must blush at depictions of the endless test prep and shamefully narrowed curriculum that is present
Despite pressures to upgrade the teaching and learning of “STEM” subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), state standards for science, although often revised, remain, on average, mediocre—undemanding, lacking crucial science content, and chockablock with pedagogical and sociological irrelevancies. That’s the conclusion of Fordham’s most recent review of state science standards to which I contributed. To be sure, there are outliers: A handful of states have done justice to the importance and economic urgency of real science, to the needs of teachers as well as students. But a dreary low-C average for fifty states reveals their continuing failure to deal satisfactorily with standards for K-12 science.
America's state standards continue to disrespect Darwin's contribution to science.
Photo by Kevan Davis.
There are, of course, multiple reasons for the low marks. Among these, the saddest and least justifiable is what the authors call “Undermining Evolution.”
Evolution science (grown over 150 years far beyond geology and biology) is by no means the whole of natural science. But it is a very important topic among the thirty or so that must be taught and learned in a school science program. It is central to all life science and one of its most active fields. Yet the reviewers find that, in many
Writing last about the “war against the Common Core,” I suggested that those English language arts and math standards arrived with four main assets. (In case you’re disinclined to look, they boil down to rigor, voluntariness, portability, and comparability.)
Let me now revisit a fifth potential asset, which is also the main reason that small-government conservatives should favor the Common Core or other high-quality “national standards": This is the best path toward getting Uncle Sam and heavy-handed state governments to back off from micro-managing how schools are run and to return that authority to communities, individual schools, teachers, and parents.
Common Core or other high-quality “national standards” are the best path toward getting Uncle Sam to back off from micro-managing how schools are run.
Photo by DonkeyHotey.
It’s the path to getting “tight-loose” right in American K-12 education, unlike NCLB, which has it backward. (I refer to the well-known management doctrine that large organizations with many parts should be “tight about ends, loose about means.”)The proper work of conservatives going forward is to stop doing battle with the Common Core and instead do their utmost to ensure that the “loose” part gets done right. This could also be the path toward a viable political compromise on
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.
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