A State-Led ESEA Compromise

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Reposted from the Flypaper:

A few weeks ago, I used a graphic to show the four dimensions of federal accountability, each of which has a range of options. I then used this graphic to show the consensus for preserving NCLB testing. Here I used it to show how eleven major ESEA reauthorization proposals address the other dimensions (remember, minimum federal accountability is on the left; maximum on the right). The total picture is as confusing as subway map.

The best chance for ESEA reauthorization can be found in the approach taken by the nation’s governors, legislatures, and state superintendents. Their proposals, which I have labeled Accountability for Results, hew to one of the key principles of management and leadership—and the heart of the charter school bargain: Set clear goals and give people the freedom to reach them. They would set performance targets but then give states wide latitude in designing school categories and interventions. In other words, tight on ends, loose on means.

It’s essential to underscore that the very state leaders who will be responsible for leading the post-NCLB era are the ones recommending Accountability for Results Moreover, this compromise keeps faith with those demanding we give K–12 authority back to the states and those demanding we continue protecting disadvantaged kids. It would merely require the Right to agree to include explicit performance targets and the Left to agree to give states greater flexibility in tackling challenges. Important details would still need to be worked out (e.g., the role of the education secretary in approving state plans, the consequences for a state’s failure to improve results). But state leaders may have shown us the path to reauthorization.

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Improving Accountability in ESEA

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Reposted from the Brown Center Chalkboard:

The fix, then, for schools performing poorly is straightforward but not practical: gauge effectiveness for all teachers in a district, and move high performers to low-performing schools. The Institute of Education Sciences tested something like this approach on a small scale. As part of its study, high-performing teachers were offered financial incentives to move to low-performing schools. Only one or two teachers were moved to any one school. The study found that high performers resulted in an improvement of an entire grade level’s test scores. If the high performer were a fifth grade teacher, for example, the entire fifth grade improved its test scores from fourth to fifth grade. The high performer’s class generally improved the most, but that improvement was so large it was enough to move the whole grade level up.

This fix is about as low-risk as one can get to improve performance of a whole school, like ensuring the U.S. wins an Olympic gold medal in basketball by putting ten NBA all-stars on its team. It’s hard to imagine doing this fix on a large scale, however. A practical though possibly less effective approach would be for low-performing schools to increase skills of their teachers. Upskilling quickly means bringing in skilled teachers as overseers or mentors, possibly transferring weak teachers out of schools and bringing in high performers, as noted already, or providing materials or technologies that improve teacher skills directly or indirectly. This is not “teacher professional development” as it’s usually understood. But a school facing consequences right now has little time for its teachers to attend classes, in-service workshops, or summer institutes. A manufacturing company facing bankruptcy because it is producing defective products does not send its employees to the local community college to take courses. It locates the cause of the defects and fixes them as soon as it can.

Suppose a school continues to perform poorly despite upskilling its teachers. What next? The focus would turn to the principal. (These approaches could also happen at the same time.) Another finding emerging from recent research is that, like teachers, principals differ widely in their effectiveness. Principals of low-performing schools can be assigned a mentor or coach, given added support, or replaced by a known effective principal.

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Reauthorizing ESEA: A Chance to Fix Testing & Accountability

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Reposted from the Shanker Blog:

Making the test the curriculum harms all students, but it does the most harm to those with the lowest skills. When I taught seniors in the Bronx, I worked with the highest-performing students who had already passed all their exams to help prepare them for the rigorous reading and writing they would face in college. We read philosophical and theoretical works ranging from Kant to Rawls to Nozick, and wrote and revised college-level argumentative essays. Though the Common Core was a far-off whisper at that point, my course far exceeded its demands, even if all my students could not yet meet them.

At the same time, I worked with the lowest-performing students who had yet to pass the New York State Regents. With them, I focused on mindless repetition of the facts that make up most of the Regents, and combined it with writing formulaic, timed essays that bore little resemblance to any real academic, civic, or career-based writing. I was really good at it, getting 100 percent to pass their exams in my final year leading Regents prep.

But I was doing my students no favors. I think to this day about T., a second-semester senior who could hardly write and struggled to read. In “Regents Prep Class” I worked with her on rote memorization rather than improving the reading, writing and thinking skills she would need for the rest of her life. The incentives were all wrong; sure, she passed the test, but she was still not ready for the community college work she encountered that fall. When we focus our efforts only on helping struggling students jump over the hurdle of mandated exams, the learning and opportunity gap widens.

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