The U.S. Department of Education is on the verge of making an unprecedented and unwise decision.
Unless Secretary Duncan can be prevailed upon to reconsider, decades of education policy will be overturned and a federal agency will have assumed authority that should remain squarely in the hands of Congress and the states.
A group of California districts have jointly applied for an NCLB accountability waiver. So far only states have had proposals approved. It’s not the consortium’s application that’s noteworthy; it’s that the feds are taking it seriously. (Duncan evidently encouraged them, and the submission has been forwarded to peer reviewers.)
There’s very good reason to deny the application on the merits. The proposed accountability system relies too heavily on non-academic measures; sets the expectations bar too low; has weak interventions; and, most troublingly, trusts districts to hold themselves accountable. (Grave concerns about the plan’s achievement-gap implications have been raised by, among others, a former Bush administration official and Ed Trust’s head.)
But regardless of its content, this application—and similar district-accountability-waiver requests—should be denied for two reasons.
First, for years America has maintained an intricate K–12 accountability framework, with states playing lead. I never realized how critical this was until I worked for a state education agency.
Under state constitutions, state governments have responsibility for public education. Districts are
A first look at today's most important education news:
"Open enrollment sweeps across Ohio," by Terry Ryan, Ohio Gadfly Daily
"Margaret Thatcher, Education Reformer," by Chester E. Finn, Jr., Flypaper
After changing its screening process for gifted children in an attempt to lessen the influence of test-prep programs, there are slightly fewer children eligible for New York City’s gifted classes…but the changes aren’t huge. (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and New York Post)
A literature review finds that we don’t know enough about how student teaching affects teacher-candidates’ skills. (Teacher Beat)
An Education Week opinion piece blasts Bill Ayers’ assertion that the Atlanta scandal can be blamed solely on the testing policy. In the meantime, you can take a test to determine whether you have what it takes to teach in the Atlanta public school system. (Education Week, Answer Sheet, and New York Times)
A first look at today's most important education news:
"The right response to the Atlanta cheating scandal," by Michael J. Petrilli, Flypaper
"In the knowledge economy, it’s knowledge that matters," by Kathleen Porter-Magee, Common Core Watch
"Bill Gates not a fan of Ohio's PE evaluations," by Aaron Churchill, Ohio Gadfly Daily
Bill Gates cautions that teacher-evaluation systems must be built in a thoughtful and balanced manner, without overusing standardized tests. (Teacher Beat)
New York City teachers are staying in their jobs longer, due in part to the recession. (Wall Street Journal)
Mississippi lawmakers have passed legislation expanding charter schools in their state. (Hechinger Ed)
On Friday, Obama proposed paying for his pre-K expansion by raising taxes on tobacco products—an idea that is already facing heavyweight opposition. (Politics K–12)
The new superintendent of Dallas’s schools plans to replace forty to fifty principals out of the district’s 223. (Dallas News)
A new report finds that although homelessness can produce risk factors for students (such as high mobility, poverty, and unsafe living situations), homeless students also display strong indicators of resilience. (Inside School Research)
A new online platform called “myEDmatch” links teachers to schools that share similar values and cultures. (Teacher Beat)
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
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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