Education Department listens to (some) reason
Education Secretary Arne Duncan bowed to (some) reason Tuesday and announced that he was giving states some flexibility in regard to when they had to use student scores from new Common Core-aligned standardized tests to evaluate teachers.
Duncan said that he was giving the 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, which had won federal waivers from the most egregious mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, an extra year to implement teacher evaluations linked to new assessments that are supposed to be aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. This means the states have until 2016.
According to the Associated Press, he told reporters:
Ensuring that educators are well prepared to implement those new standards is critically important. After listening to teachers and education leaders, we are providing additional flexibility to states.
Duncan had been hearing concerns about the timing of the implementation of the Common Core and high-stakes consequences to aligned tests from teachers and activists, most notably American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. In April, she publicly called for at least a one-year moratorium on the high-stakes associated with the Common Core-aligned tests in regard to teacher evaluation because teachers had not had enough time to absorb the material. Furthermore, the Common Core-aligned assessments being developed by two federally funded consortia of states have not even finished designing the tests.
Weingarten released a statement Tuesday that said:
With today's announcement, Secretary Duncan recognizes that the Common Core State Standards are too important to focus first on high stakes before getting the standards implemented properly. If we believe the Common Core State Standards are essential to teaching students critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and persist to get there—and we do—then we actually need to prepare the people who will be helping students master these skills.
The secretary created an opening for states, and we're heartened that he listened to the tens of thousands of teachers, parents and others who told him that they believe in the new standards but are concerned about teachers' having the time to prepare and the supports to teach to the standards. The challenge now will be for states' education chiefs to also listen, to show leadership, and to work with their school community to support this shift. Teachers need the resources, aligned curriculum, time and professional development to support great instruction to help all kids succeed.
The ball is now in the states' court to take advantage of this opportunity, to work actively with teachers in the trenches, and to engage parents to make sure this rollout is successful — district by district, school by school.
Duncan's offer of flexibility is only for a year and would become moot if Congress were to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind bill before then. There are competing Republican and Democratic bills now in Congress, but nobody believes legislators will actually reach agreement on this anytime soon.
Psychometricians have warned for years that linking student standardized test scores to the evaluation of teachers and principals is an unfair and invalid way of assessment, but it has become popular among school reformers who believe that the "data" from the test results — when plugged into a complicated formula — can tell how effective teachers really are.
The Common Core initiative has run into opposition lately from both conservatives and progressives, and some states are pulling back from implementation, or considering it.
Why the NCTQ teacher prep ratings are nonsense
The National Council on Teacher Quality, an organization that is funded by organizations that promote a corporate-influenced school reform agenda, just issued ratings of teacher preparation programs that is getting a lot of attention in the ed world. The ratings are seriously flawed. Explaining how in this post is teacher education expert Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University.
By Linda Darling-Hammond
This week, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) issued a report titled: NCTQ Teacher Prep Review. Billed as a consumer's guide, the report rates programs on a list of criteria ranging from selection and content preparation to coursework and student teaching aimed at the development of teaching skills. While the report appropriately focuses on these aspects of teacher education, it does not, unfortunately, accurately reflect the work of teacher education programs in California or nationally.
NCTQ's methodology is a paper review of published course requirements and course syllabi against a check list that does not consider the actual quality of instruction that the programs offer, evidence of what their students learn, or whether graduates can actually teach. Concerns about the organization's methods led most schools of education nationally and in California to decline to participate in the data collection. (NCTQ's website indicated that fewer than 1% of programs in the country "fully cooperated" with the study.) NCTQ collected documents through websites and public records requests. The ratings published in this report are, thus, based on partial and often inaccurate data, and fail to evaluate teacher education quality.
The field's concerns were reinforced last month when NCTQ published ratings of states' teacher education policies which bore no relationship to the quality of their training systems or to their outcomes as measured by student achievement. In this study, the highest-achieving states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- including Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, and Minnesota -- all got grades of C or D, while low-achieving Alabama got the top rating from NCTQ. It is difficult to trust ratings that are based on criteria showing no relationship to successful teaching and learning.
In this latest study of programs, the indicators used to measure the criteria often fail to identify the aspects of practice that are most important or the actual outcomes that programs achieve. A case in point: Graduate programs at highly-selective universities like Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford got low ratings for selectivity because they do not require a minimum grade point average or GRE score, although their students in fact rank far above national averages on these measures. NCTQ was uninterested in the actual grades or test scores earned by candidates.
In addition, the degree of inaccuracy in the data is shocking. Columbia was rated highly for the selectivity of an undergraduate program that does not even exist. Stanford received low scores for the reported absence of courses in secondary mathematics education that do in fact exist (indeed candidates must take three full courses in mathematics curriculum and instruction) and are prominently displayed, along with syllabi, on its website. UC-Santa Barbara's three courses in elementary mathematics education, four courses in the teaching of English learners, and full year of student teaching were also entirely missed, along with its entire secondary credentialing program, all prominently displayed on the website. California State University at Chico was rated poorly for presumably lacking "hands-on" instruction, even though it is well-known in the state for its hands-on learning lab and requires more than 500 hours of clinical training during its full year of graduate level preparation.
It is clear as reports come in from programs that NCTQ staff made serious mistakes in its reviews of nearly every institution. Because they refused to check the data -- or even share it -- with institutions ahead of time, they published badly flawed information without the fundamental concerns for accuracy that any serious research enterprise would insist upon.
In addition to these shortcomings, NCTQ's methods are especially out of synch with California's approach to teacher education in two ways:
- First, while the NCTQ checklist is based largely on the design of undergraduate programs (tallying subject matter courses required during the program), California moved long ago to strengthen teacher education by requiring graduate level programs, which require subject matter competency BEFORE entering preparation. The means by which the state ascertains teachers' competency -- through college majors, approved subject matter programs, and rigorous state-developed tests -- are ignored in the NCTQ ratings.
- Second, while NCTQ focuses on paper requirements for inputs, California has moved toward accountability based on stronger evidence of outcomes, including rigorous tests of basic skills, content knowledge, and pedagogy. These include California's Teacher Performance Assessments, required under SB 2042, that have made the state the first in the nation to judge teachers' skills and abilities in real K-12 classrooms with real students. At least one of these assessments has been shown to predict teachers' later effectiveness in raising student achievement. These outcomes are also absent from the NCTQ framework. The candidates who have made their way through all of these assessments constitute only two-thirds of those who initially set out to seek teaching credentials.
Accurate, well-vetted information on course requirements and syllabi, plus extensive data on actual candidate qualifications, evaluations of program quality, employers' assessments of candidates' readiness, and graduates' performance in classrooms are available through state and national accreditation records, as well as in-depth studies conducted by researchers. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) is a ready source of such data, as is the national accrediting body (the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation). CCTC received no request from NCTQ for this information.
Unfortunately, the answer to the question of what we can learn about teacher education quality from the NCTQ report on Teacher Prep is "not much." Without reliable data related to what programs and their candidates actually do, the study is not useful for driving improvement.
In contrast to the NCTQ approach, researchers and educators serious about improving preparation are focusing attention on developing accurate and reliable data about program outcomes and useful evidence of program quality. In California, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, like others across the nation, is redesigning licensing and accreditation with these goals in mind. To secure ongoing improvement, teacher educators must pursue comprehensive accountability and increased transparency in data about the outcomes of our programs and the opportunities to learn they provide.
New problems with New York's teacher evaluation plan found
Here's a new post from award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York about the state's controversial new educator evaluation system. Burris has for more than a year chronicled on this blog (she calls it Star Wars here, and other things here and here and here, for example) the implementation of the system, which ignores research by using student standardized test scores to assess teachers and which has already started to negatively impact young people.
Burris was named New York's 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by more than 1,535 New York principals and more than 6,500 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here.
By Carol Burris
This weekend, I took a look at the teacher evaluation plan Commissioner John King imposed on the teachers and principals of New York City. I was taken aback by how different the scoring bands were from the 3012C cut scores for New York State teachers. Why would John King dramatically change the bands for New York City from those written into 3012c, the teacher evaluation law, which is now in effect across the state?
In order to understand the answer, we need to look at what the legislature created. Below is the scoring bands for 2011-13.
3012c APPR Cut Scores for NYS
|Growth or Comparable Measures||Locally-selected Measures of growth or achievement||Other Measures of Effectiveness (60 points)||Overall Composite Score|
|Highly Effective||18-20||18-20||(locally developed)||91-100|
It is important to keep two things in mind. First, the 3012c scoring bands were prepared so that teachers who were found 'ineffective' in the two growth measures would be 'ineffective' overall—2+2 with even a perfect 60 in the 'other measures', results in a score of 64--'ineffective' overall.
This point system also created other problems, which I wrote about last year here. For example, if a teacher was effective in the first two columns with scores of 9 and 9, she needs at least 57 points in the 'other' 60 to be 'effective' overall. That is a lot of points. So, many districts made sure that 'effective' translated into at least 57/60 points, even though that made the 'other measures' score band lopsided by leaving the majority of points in the ineffective range. This assured that a teacher who is 'effective' in all three components would be 'effective' overall.
But a more serious problem remained -- the problem of the developing teacher. Suppose you are a developing teacher with scores of 3 and 3 in the two growth measures. If you do not get 59 out of 60 points, you are rated 'ineffective' overall, which can lead to your termination. This is a problem that cannot be fixed with the 3012c scoring band. Even if your district negotiated 60/60 points for highly effective teachers, 59/60 points for effective teachers, and 58/60 points for developing teachers, the teacher who is at the low end of developing in growth scores is doomed to be rated 'ineffective'-- 3+3+58 = 64.
Apparently, the UFT rightly insisted that the 'developing teacher problem' be fixed. The commissioner gave them entirely different score bands in the first two measures, as he filled in the blanks in 'other measures', which would normally be done through negotiations. The resulting bands are given below.
Commissioner Imposed Cut Scores for New York City
|Growth or Comparable Measures||Locally-selected Measures of growth or achievement||Other Measures of Effectiveness (60 points)||Overall Composite Score|
If you get a SLO (which are absurd measures I wrote about here) and if you create your local measure right, you can just shift targets around to make these very odd bands work.
But teacher of Grades 3-8 get a "growth score" based on the 3-8 tests. So how can it be that a teacher in Scarsdale who gets a 12 is effective, while a teacher in New York City who gets a 12 is ineffective? The commissioner assures everyone that he will have a "fix" to make it all work out. I wouldn't bet my SLO on it. When you look at the plans side by side the differences are glaring.
Perhaps he will impose his new and improved score band on all of New York State teachers so that they will have only 3 scores (15, 16, 17) to show they are effective in student growth, but a whopping 13 ways to show that they are ineffective. It is absurd to think you can create a credible point system to evaluate educators.
And if he does impose the New York City bands on the entire state, what will happen to all of the 2013-14 negotiated agreements we needed to finish by June before our teachers leave for the summer?
And what of all of the teachers in Buffalo, and Albany and Long Island who believe that they are rated 'developing' only to find that they will be 'ineffective' overall? That foolish inequity, with real life consequences, will be shared with parents next fall, because Mayor Bloomberg, along with the governor and the legislature who put 3012c in effect, thought that parents had the "right to know'' a teacher's score.
So what should be done? First, get rid of the points and move to a professional evaluation rubric system, like the one adopted by Massachusetts, which does not insist that test scores trump all. That system was approved by Race to the Top. Their system is designed to improve teachers, not fire them.
Second, follow the advice of every New York State advocacy group from the Superintendents to SAANYs to NYSUT who have pleaded that this year's APPR scores be considered a pilot program only.
Third, admit and explain the problems that have been caused by the scoring bands and assure the teachers and principals of New York that you are seeking to develop a thoughtful evaluation plan that involves ALL stakeholders in an authentic way, which was not how 3012c was designed.
Doing the above would show New York educators and parents leadership in which they can have confidence. The Board of Regents is showing extraordinary courage in refusing to approve SED's recommendation to move to a 25% value-added model model. Perhaps they will show leadership on this issue as well.
The New York State Education Department found all of this amusing in 2011, likening it to a 'plane being built in the air'.
Well, that certainly has been an accurate description. I do not find it amusing. As a principal who always took the supervision and evaluation of teachers seriously, I find all of this very sad.
The Common Core's fundamental trouble
There's a lot being said and written about the Common Core State Standards these days, not all of it accurate. Here's a smart piece about the initiative by the editors of Rethinking Schools, a nonprofit organization that publishes a magazine of the same name that balances classroom practice and educational theory, while also addressing key policy issues. Writers include teachers, parents and researchers, You can see who is on the editorial board here.
By the editors of Rethinking Schools
It isn't easy to find common ground on the Common Core. Already hailed as the "next big thing" in education reform, the Common Core State Standards are being rushed into classrooms in nearly every district in the country. Although these "world-class" standards raise substantive questions about curriculum choices and instructional practices, such educational concerns are likely to prove less significant than the role the Common Core is playing in the larger landscape of our polarized education reform politics.
We know there have been many positive claims made for the Common Core:
- That it represents a tighter set of smarter standards focused on developing critical learning skills instead of mastering fragmented bits of knowledge.
- That it requires more progressive, student-centered teaching with strong elements of collaborative and reflective learning.
- That it equalizes the playing field by raising expectations for all children, especially those suffering the worst effects of the "drill and kill" test prep norms of the recent past.
We also know that many creative, heroic teachers are seeking ways to use this latest reform wave to serve their students well. Especially in the current interim between the roll-out of the standards and the arrival of the tests, some teachers have embraced the Common Core as an alternative to the scripted commercial formulas of recent experience, and are trying to use the space opened up by the Common Core transition to do positive things in their classrooms.
We'd like to believe these claims and efforts can trump the more political uses of the Common Core project. But we can't.
For starters, the misnamed "Common Core State Standards" are not state standards. They're national standards, created by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA). They were designed, in part, to circumvent federal restrictions on the adoption of a national curriculum, hence the insertion of the word "state" in the brand name. States were coerced into adopting the Common Core by requirements attached to the federal Race to the Top grants and, later, the No Child Left Behind waivers. (This is one reason many conservative groups opposed to any federal role in education policy oppose the Common Core.)
Written mostly by academics and assessment experts—many with ties to testing companies—the Common Core standards have never been fully implemented and tested in real schools anywhere. Of the 135 members on the official Common Core review panels convened by Achieve Inc., the consulting firm that has directed the Common Core project for the NGA, few were classroom teachers or current administrators. Parents were entirely missing. K 12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.
The standards are tied to assessments that are still in development and that must be given on computers many schools don't have. So far, there is no research or experience to justify the extravagant claims being made for the ability of these standards to ensure that every child will graduate from high school "college and career ready." By all accounts, the new Common Core tests will be considerably harder than current state assessments, leading to sharp drops in scores and proficiency rates.
We have seen this show before. The entire country just finished a decade-long experiment in standards-based, test-driven school reform called No Child Left Behind. NCLB required states to adopt "rigorous" curriculum standards and test students annually to gauge progress towards reaching them. Under threat of losing federal funds, all 50 states adopted or revised their standards and began testing every student, every year in every grade from 3 8 and again in high school. (Before NCLB, only 19 states tested all kids every year, after NCLB all 50 did.)
By any measure, NCLB was a dismal failure in both raising academic performance and narrowing gaps in opportunity and outcomes. But by very publicly measuring the test results against benchmarks no real schools have ever met, NCLB did succeed in creating a narrative of failure that shaped a decade of attempts to "fix" schools while blaming those who work in them. By the time the first decade of NCLB was over, more than half the schools in the nation were on the lists of "failing schools" and the rest were poised to follow.
In reality, NCLB's test scores reflected the inequality that exists all around our schools. The disaggregated scores put the spotlight on longstanding gaps in outcomes and opportunity among student subgroups. But NCLB used these gaps to label schools as failures without providing the resources or support needed to eliminate them.
The tests showed that millions of students were not meeting existing standards. Yet the conclusion drawn by sponsors of the Common Core was that the solution was "more challenging" ones. This conclusion is simply wrong. NCLB proved that the test and punish approach to education reform doesn't work, not that we need a new, tougher version of it. Instead of targeting the inequalities of race, class, and educational opportunity reflected in the test scores, the Common Core project threatens to reproduce the narrative of public school failure that has led to a decade of bad policy in the name of reform.
The engine for this potential disaster, as it was for NCLB, will be the tests, in this case the "next generation" Common Core tests being developed by two federally funded, multi-state consortia at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Although reasonable people, including many thoughtful educators we respect, have found things of value in the Common Core standards, there is no credible defense to be made of the high-stakes uses planned for these new tests.
The same heavy-handed, top-down policies that forced adoption of the standards require use of the Common Core tests to evaluate educators. This inaccurate and unreliable practice will distort the assessments before they're even in place and make Common Core implementation part of the assault on the teaching profession instead of a renewal of it. The costs of the tests, which have multiple pieces throughout the year plus the computer platforms needed to administer and score them, will be enormous and will come at the expense of more important things. The plunging scores will be used as an excuse to close more public schools and open more privatized charters and voucher schools, especially in poor communities of color. If, as proposed, the Common Core's "college and career ready" performance level becomes the standard for high school graduation, it will push more kids out of high school than it will prepare for college.
This is not just cynical speculation. It is a reasonable projection based on the history of the NCLB decade, the dismantling of public education in the nation's urban centers, and the appalling growth of the inequality and concentrated poverty that remains the central problem in public education.
Nor are we exaggerating the potential for disaster. Consider this description from Charlotte Danielson, a highly regarded mainstream authority on teacher evaluation and a strong supporter of the Common Core:
I do worry somewhat about the assessments—I'm concerned that we may be headed for a train wreck there. The test items I've seen that have been released so far are extremely challenging. If I had to take a test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I'm not sure that I would pass it—and I've got a bunch of degrees. So I do worry that in some schools we'll have 80 percent or some large number of students failing. That's what I mean by train wreck.
Reports from the first wave of Common Core testing are already confirming these fears. This spring students, parents, and teachers in New York schools responded to administration of new Common Core tests developed by Pearson Inc. with a general outcry against their length, difficulty, and inappropriate content. Pearson included corporate logos and promotional material in reading passages. Students reported feeling overstressed and underprepared—meeting the tests with shock, anger, tears, and anxiety. Administrators requested guidelines for handling tests students had vomited on. Teachers and principals complained about the disruptive nature of the testing process and many parents encouraged their children to opt out.
Common Core has become part of the corporate reform project now stalking our schools. Unless we dismantle and defeat this larger effort, Common Core implementation will become another stage in the demise of public education. As schools struggle with these new mandates, we should defend our students, our schools, our communities, and ourselves by telling the truth about the Common Core. This means pushing back against implementation timelines and plans that set schools up to fail, resisting the stakes and priority attached to the tests, and exposing the truth about the commercial and political interests shaping and benefiting from this false panacea for the problems our schools face.
Rethinking Schools has always been skeptical of standards imposed from above. Too many standards projects have been efforts to move decisions about teaching and learning away from classrooms, educators, and school communities, only to put them in the hands of distant bureaucracies. Standards have often codified sanitized versions of history, politics, and culture that reinforce official myths while leaving out the voices, concerns, and realities of our students and communities. Whatever positive role standards might play in truly collaborative conversations about what our schools should teach and children should learn has been repeatedly undermined by bad process, suspect political agendas, and commercial interests.
Unfortunately there's been too little honest conversation and too little democracy in the development of the Common Core. We see consultants and corporate entrepreneurs where there should be parents and teachers, and more high-stakes testing where there should be none. Until that changes, it will be hard to distinguish the "next big thing" from the last one.
You may also be interested in this: Why Common Core tests won't be the 'game-changers' Arne Duncan promised
The problem(s) with D.C. school reform bills
David Catania, the chairman of the D.C. Council's Education Committee, has introduced seven school reform bills that, according to this Post story, could reshape the city's public education system. Among other things, it calls for increasing funding for poor students, giving principals more power, altering the school lottery system, and ending social promotion.
Undoubtedly well-intentioned, the proposed legislation raises some important concerns. Before we get to the substance of his proposals, let's look at the way they were drawn up.
Catania hired a team of lawyers -- paid for with private donations -- to help him. Instead of engaging the public before the legislation was written, he plans to hold hearings now, which is not the same thing. Being given permission to comment on a structure after the structure has been erected means that the public had no involvement in the original blueprints. The public did not help frame the questions that the new policies are intended to answer, or articulate the values -- equity, quality, diversity, etc. -- that should be projected in those policies.
The people who live and work and send their children to school in the District are not customers of the public school system. They own it. But they were cut out of a crucial part of the policy-making process. This issue has special resonance in the District, where residents have always had limited rights to govern themselves. Incidentally, other cities have found ways to engage the public in revising education policy in recent years, including Boston and Seattle.
It should also be noted that the lawyer who led the research on this legislative project was Maree Sneed, a partner at the Hogan Lovells law firm. Sneed is a former Montgomery County teacher and principal, but has other affiliations, according to her biography, that suggest an ideological bias regarding school reform: She lists being on the faculty of the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy, on the Board of Advisors of the Broad Foundation and on the Board of Directors of Teach for America D.C.
Now to the specifics of the Catania legislation. Here is a commentary on his proposals, by Elaine Weiss, the national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, a national campaign to improve public schools by addressing poverty-related impediments to student educational success.
By Elaine Weiss
The proposed seven-part education reform package put forward by David Catania, D.C. City Council Education Committee chair, is a very mixed bag. Some elements are indeed innovative; others, however, are anything but. In fact, much of the plan mimics prior reforms that, as he himself describes, "aimed to spur student achievement but instead have left the city's traditional public schools stagnating in recent years."
A comprehensive report that our campaign, the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, released in April reveals that the reforms introduced in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) under Michelle Rhee and her successor, Kaya Henderson, have produced no real progress.
Our report compared National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores in three cities that instated market-oriented reforms — the District of Columbia, New York City, and Chicago — with scores in high-poverty, heavily minority urban districts that did not. It found that relying heavily on student test scores put those three cities at a relative disadvantage. Test scores grew less and achievement gaps narrowed less in reform cities, while systemic disruptions increased. Moreover, stagnation and losses under Rhee reversed years of real progress under her predecessor. Thus, it is perplexing that Catania proposes more aggressive versions of key components of that "reform" agenda.
First, Catania's proposal ratchets up the pressure on student test scores. After Rhee linked test scores to teacher and school effectiveness, achievement gaps widened, some from existing record highs, as nearly all gains accrued to white, higher-income students. Between 2005 and 2011, when black eighth graders in large, urban districts gained an average 5 points and Hispanic students gained 6 points in reading, DCPS black eighth graders lost 2 points, and their Hispanic counterparts lost 15 points. From 2007 to 2011, DCPS fourth graders lost much of what they had gained in reading prior to Rhee's tenure, with similar trends prevailing across other subject areas and grades.
Another result was increases in already high teacher turnover rates. Under Rhee, more than half of DCPS teachers left before their fifth year, sharply increasing the number of novice teachers in the poorest schools. Charter schools, which Catania proposes more of as "innovation schools," had even higher turnover. Research is clear that experience greatly improves teacher effectiveness—as is true in all professions. Experienced teachers particularly benefit the low-income and minority students whose schools, under high-stakes pressure, provide disincentives for such teachers to serve in them.
Increasing incentives for students to score higher on standardized tests—as Catania's plan attempts to do—will not raise scores. It will, however, replace engaging, hands-on experiences that inculcate a love of learning with scripted lessons that lack creativity or context. Schools serving low-income students with below-average test scores—those Catania wants to help—are at greatest risk of this impoverishment of education. Raising test-score stakes also increases teacher and student stress, particularly in schools under threat of closure or other sanction; when stakes are sufficiently high, as in DCPS, widespread cheating can result.
Second, Catania would turn over more "underperforming" schools to private managers or close them altogether. The track record of this policy is abysmal in DCPS. The three schools Rhee turned over to outside managers got worse, not better. Students who left the two dozen schools she closed landed, on average, in schools with even lower mean test scores. And the closures ended up costing DCPS $40 million—even though Rhee promised they would save $23 million. There is no reason to believe that more closures would deliver better outcomes on either front.
As Emma Brown recently reported, DCPS' track record with respect to "reconstitution," radical school overhaul, is hardly better: "Rhee and Henderson have reconstituted more than two dozen schools in the past five years — including Cardozo, which was last remade in 2008. Of the 18 D.C. schools reconstituted between 2008 and 2010, 10 have seen their standardized test scores decline further. Two of the schools have closed. Six have improved." If replacing staff and leadership doesn't work, perhaps they were not the main problem.
Catania's proposal also would invest more money in the district's poorest students. That makes a lot of sense—school funding formulas tend to perpetuate inequity—but will only help if it is evidence-based.
Catania is honest enough to admit that "everything we're doing here, I might have it completely wrong. But at least I'm trying." Conducting experiments on tens of thousands of vulnerable children who have already been subjected to six years of untested, failed reforms is simply unacceptable, especially given extensive evidence of what works well.
Applying the enriching, holistic approach of DCPS's prekindergarten program to elementary school would enhance children's capacity to learn, rather than narrow their experiences. Multifaceted teacher recruitment, support, and retention policies, like those U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan enacted as CEO of Chicago's public schools, help build a high-quality teacher corps, rather than driving churn among novices. Ensuring access to enriching afterschool and summer programs improves student attendance, grades, and graduation rates, and fosters the parent engagement Catania seeks. It also averts the summer learning loss that thwarts other reform efforts. Embedding health clinics in D.C. schools would reduce absenteeism and alleviate behavior problems linked to living in poor, violent communities.
We hope the D.C. Council will look closely at the evidence and deliver what DCPS students have been denied for far too long: real reform that works.