For those of us who support academic standards, testing and accountability as strategies to improve public education, the Atlanta cheating indictments are sobering. Here was a system where dozens of employees, over the course of almost a decade, racketeered to rig results (or so it is alleged).
And while one can hope that Atlanta was an outlier in terms of the scope and longevity of its cheating conspiracy, it’s hardly an isolated case, as examples from El Paso, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other locales demonstrate.
As expected, test critics are having a field day, using Atlanta as evidence of why all this must go. They yearn to throw the accountability baby out with the testing bathwater. But they’re wrong. The better approach is to “mend it, not end it.”
Try this thought experiment: What would happen if U.S. schools ceased all standardized testing—and related consequences? No more annual assessments, no more grading schools based on the results, no more interventions in low-performing schools, no more teacher evaluations tied to test scores, no more “merit pay” for high performing teachers or job jeopardy for low performers.
The result: In our most affluent communities, little would change. Schools would continue to drive toward the real-world standard of college acceptance at elite universities, via Advanced Placement exams and high SAT scores.
At schools serving both rich and poor kids, we would probably see a return to the 1990s, when achievement gaps were overlooked, wealthy students were guided toward
- Just got back from a great trip to Kansas City (part of my National Agitation Tour). The Kauffman Foundation is doing very important work (check out these videos), and their team members were terrific hosts. You can scroll through the audience’s take on my book talk here. Per my pushing for the replacement of the failed urban district, Marc Porter Magee, temporarily at the helm of the SS Hess-blog, turns in a good piece about the need for cage-busting leaders to change the system, not just break its rules.
- Common Core (and assessments!) guru KPM teamed up with Sol Stern on National Review Online to explain to conservatives why the new common standards aren’t to be feared or pilloried. Tom Friedman’s column explains why the U.S. needs tougher standards and expectations, even (especially?) in our more comfortable (complacent?) middle-class communities.
- If you care about urban schooling, charters, and/or governance reform, you ought to give the latest report from Fordham and Public Impact a read. It looks into charter performance in five cities and offers lots of reason for encouragement and sound advice for improving policy and practice. Its prescription (smart authorizing, closures, replications, strong support environment, etc.) mirrors that of my book. When you combine these lessons with recent findings from CREDO’s many city-
Category: Charters & Choice / Curriculum & Instruction / Standards, Testing, & Accountability / Teachers
If I could go back in time and begin my stint at an SEA all over again, I’d dedicate more energy to educator-preparation policy for three reasons.
First, obviously, educator effectiveness is hugely important to student learning, and we could accomplish a much by ensuring that those entering the profession are fully prepared for the tough work awaiting them.
The second reason is that SEAs have far greater power over this issue than most people—including lots of incoming state chiefs—understand.
(The third reason comes later…)
Under nearly every state constitution, the state government is given responsibility for public schooling. Lots of this power is then devolved, via statute, to districts.
But most state-level authority is vested in the state department of education. Though legislatures pass lots of laws related to schooling, they generally know where their expertise ends; and regardless of the issue or level of government, when legislators recognize the water’s edge of their understanding, they defer to executive branch (administrative) agencies.
What this translates to is SEAs’ (and/or state boards of educations’) having huge leeway when it comes to teacher preparation and credentialing.
State law may say that each teacher must have “appropriate certification for the position held,” but determining what a person needs to do in order to earn and maintain certification is in the hands of these departments and boards.
For the uninitiated—actually, for the initiated, as well—this field can feel like a tangle of professional associations and acronyms. There’s InTASC ,
Talk of pension reform for K–12 public school teachers is known to spark an array of emotion, ranging from boredom to rage. It's understandable—the issues with traditional pension plans are complex and personal. Yet, it's critical that policy makers, taxpayers, and especially teachers join the conversation.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released a case study on Florida's teacher pension reform that adds to a growing body of evidence that it is possible to reform teacher pensions and that teachers do in fact want portable retirement plan options. These are important findings that help to debunk the popular myth that all teachers prefer traditional, defined benefit, retirement plans.
The final retirement benefit paid to an employee under a defined benefit plan is a fixed amount determined through a formula that includes years of service, final average salary, and a salary multiplier. In defined benefit plans, employees' benefits are not affected by investment gains or losses. In order for a teacher to receive the full benefit these plans provide, however, they must continue to work as a teacher, typically within the same state, from 25 to 35 years. Otherwise, the teacher incurs significant losses from their retirement wealth. For example, a teacher who splits
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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