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September 11, 2013

Education reform and the march on Washington

UnknownThe March on Washington played a pivotal role in transforming hearts, minds and laws during the civil rights movement. Protesting racial inequalities, 250,000 Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and helped create the necessary political pressure to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. While it is certainly true that people from all economic and ethnic groups joined the march, education leaders must not forget that it was heavily comprised of the movement’s key disadvantaged population: African Americans. Other movements, including women’s rights, rigid smoking regulations and strict drunk driving laws, also had substantial input from people that the issue harmed most. This is a critical trend because it captures the notion that social movements need intense participation from those within marginalized populations and those outside of it. If there is a movement to close the achievement gap and improve public education systems then past events should encourage education leaders to include academically disadvantaged families.

Organizations like the Harlem Children Zone and Promise Neighborhoods embrace the inclusion and empowerment of underperforming communities. In addition to providing a variety of social services, these initiatives teach parents from low achieving communities how to prepare their newborns for pre-school and continue to guide parents throughout their children’s k-12 careers. Both programs were also designed, in part, by Geoffrey Canada, a prominent education reformer who hails from struggling public schools in the Bronx, NY.

Although these organizations help incorporate disadvantaged families, other education sectors must continually improve their efforts. In particular, research suggests that school boards and districts are in a prime position to expand parental outreach. A 2011 report by the Center for Public Education shows that programs in Minnesota and West Virginia significantly improved parental involvement and student gains by merging innovative home activities with school practices. Inclusive and inventive initiatives like these cannot grow unless education leaders step to the plate and offer their support.

The bottom line is that the quantity and influence of education leaders from afflicted neighborhoods is far too low. Reformers are surely doomed to fight an uphill battle if they aren’t joined, even lead, by the communities they’re trying to help.

~Jordan Belton






May 18, 2012

Using test scores to evaluate teachers can work

Sometimes I agree with Jay Mathews and sometimes I don’t. Either way I always have the utmost respect for his opinion. The same is true when it comes to his recent blog on teacher evaluations where he argues that rating teachers based on test scores will never work. While I disagree with his conclusion, I do agree they will not work if teacher evaluations:

  • Are based on only one year of data (even if value-added measures are used).
  • Do not include multiple measures of teacher performance.
  • Scoring is not transparent.
  • Do not encourage teamwork.

As a matter of fact I make the same points in my Building a Better Evaluation System report.

Where I disagree with Jay is his implicit assumption that these are not part of most teacher evaluation systems. As matter of fact they are. Most teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores that I am aware of include each of these elements. Jay is correct to bemoan the fact that DC teacher’s are evaluated on only one year’s worth of value-added scores. I would much rather see those scores averaged over 2 or 3 years like many other evaluations system do. But a teacher’s individual value-added score is just one part of DC’s evaluation system. Teachers are still evaluated on their instructional techniques and abilities as well as their contribution to the school community, so multiple measures are used to evaluate teachers.

Furthermore, DC as well as many other districts use their evaluation systems to encourage teamwork by evaluating teachers on how well their school performed as a whole. By giving credit to all teachers when the school improves, that gives incentives for teachers to work as a team. So basing teacher evaluations on student test scores can actually encourage rather than discourage teamwork within a school.

Finally, I have to take issue with Jay’s comment “New value-added assessments in the District, New York and elsewhere carry a whiff of Stalinist economic planning: secretive measures immune to review or logic.” Of course he is referring to a lack a transparency. However, with just one quick Google search I found a DC document clearly defining how teachers are measured. In the document I found it clearly spelling out how teacher evaluation scores are calculated:

  • Individual value-added scores: 50%
    • Student test score improvement
  • Teaching and learning frame work: 35%
    • Observations and other qualitative measures of teacher abilities
  • Commitment to the school community: Up to 10%
  • School value-added scores: 5%
    • School’s test score improvement

Furthermore, the same document provided more detail into how each of the categories is calculated. Not exactly Stalinistic. Maybe there isn’t enough detail for Jay because it doesn’t provide the code used to calculate the value-added measures. But most non-statisticians wouldn’t have a clue what the code said anyway. That’s why DC had their value-added model examined by two well respected experts who have worked extensively with value-added models. Again, I don’t think Stalin would have asked for second or third opinions.

What Jay may not realize is that the lack of transparency may have less to do with the teacher evaluation system itself and how it was developed, but about who runs DC public schools. DC, or New York City for that matter, doesn’t have an elected school board, so DC residents likely didn’t have as much of a say in the development of the evaluation system as residents in districts run by elected school boards.

So my response to Jay is that teacher evaluations based on test scores can and do work but they have to be done right, including public input through their local school boards. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Growth Models,School boards,Teacher evaluation — Jim Hull @ 9:15 am





May 17, 2012

The Common Core: still a state initiative, not a federal one

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on backlash against the Common Core standards in its article, “School Standards Pushback.” Apparently some states, including South Carolina, are claiming that the voluntarily-adopted, state-developed, consensus-driven math and reading standards represent an unfair federal intrusion into local and state territory.

Excuse me?

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, these are some of the concerns: Adopting the standards could create a national curriculum that would dictate more controversial subjects like science. The standards won’t work to raise achievement and are weaker than they should be.

Excuse me again, but I fail to see how voluntary standards can somehow morph into a nationally-dictated curriculum. Especially when those standards were created through the states working together.

I also fail to see what stops local school boards, or states, from adopting additional standards that go beyond what is set in the Common Core, if they want to. Isn’t that what the name implies, anyway? A common core, not a common curriculum?

I firmly believe that local control helps produce the best student outcomes. Besides being an example of our democracy, having the community involved in its children’s education is often the best way to develop solutions that work. Local people understand local needs.

But anyone who’s spent as much time as I have looking at the huge variation between schools (for instance, the number of high schools that don’t even offer Algebra II) can’t help but feel that core standards, especially when developed by the states themselves, would be a useful benchmark for local communities to use.  Ignorance of what other schools can, and are, doing with similar students is detrimental to both students and their communities. 

So the use of these arguments both confuses and discourages me. Quite honestly, they simply seem to coincide with the reality of implementing the standards starting to hit. If that’s true, I’d rather these states bring up honest concerns about how to implement the standards well. Poorly-implemented standards will help no one. Hiding behind ignorance and calling it independence, however, won’t help anyone either. – Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: School boards,standards,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — rstandrie @ 10:30 am





October 21, 2011

The local crunch

I came across an interesting report the other day entitled “The Local Crunch.” Written by the Pew Center on the States,  it argues that states are both cutting funding to, and passing more responsibilities on to, local districts.

In light of the Center’s “Cutting to the Bone” report on funding, it made me wonder what the recession will mean for the balance of money and power between state, local, and federal governments — especially with programs such as “Race to the Top” spurring specific reforms (in some cases, with or without the money).

What kind of changes have you seen in local funding and reponsibility? How has your district handled any changes? And how do you think this affects participation in federal programs such as Race to the Top? –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: funding,Public education,School boards — Tags: , — rstandrie @ 4:40 pm





June 9, 2011

Success story: From 53 percent to 83 percent

Seven years ago, the school board in Everett, Washington found out that their graduation rate was 53 percent. By using data to uncover students’ stumbling blocks, increasing (not decreasing!) the rigor curriculum, and supporting late graduates, they now have an on-time graduation rate of 83 percent and an extended (five-year) graduation rate of over 90 percent.

Interested? Read the whole story here.






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