Items I wish the education pundits would read
Four years ago, we published Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right. We surveyed national samples of adults, school superintendents, state legislators and school board members and concluded that they all supported a balanced set of goals for public education, including not only basic skills but also reasoning, social skills, preparation for civic participation, a good work ethic, good physical and emotional health, and appreciation of the arts and literature. Accountability systems based heavily on basic math and reading skills will undermine these balanced goals by creating incentives to shift instruction towards those aspects of the curriculum on which the school or teachers are being evaluated.
You can read the introduction and summary of Grading Education for more. You can also look at a summary of the goals survey. In addition, a chapter summarizing how other fields—medicine, job training, law enforcement—have learned about the dangers of standardized accountability was published separately. And an appendix reprints a sample of letters and statements we have received from teachers describing how standardized testing, and preparation for it, has destroyed creative and successful curricula and instruction nationwide.
EPI assembled a group of prominent testing experts and education policy experts to assess the research evidence on the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. The group published the report Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.
It is also a myth that the private sector uses formula-based measures for determining pay or in evaluations. John Heywood and Scott Adams provide the data on this issue.
There are is also a much better model for teacher evaluation and pay, laid out by Susan Moore Johnson and John Papay.
Grading Education concludes with a proposal for a balanced school accountability system, relying on outside experts who conduct regular school inspections. The campaign for a Broader, Bolder Approach to Education has published a statement summarizing the reasons for such a system.
Of course, public schools should do a much better job of teacher evaluation. The present system that makes tenure almost routine is, well, untenable. But we question how high a priority teacher evaluation reform should be in comparison to other challenges facing public schools. Some of our work makes the point that the drive for teacher accountability relies on the claim that the achievement of students, particularly disadvantaged students, has not been improving in the absence of such accountability. We have shown why that claim is false.
Decades of research have established that the chief cause of disadvantaged children’s low achievement is the social and economic conditions in their neighborhoods and homes. If children have parents who are not well educated and don’t use complex vocabulary and read frequently to young children, if children have poor health and are often absent from school, if children don’t gain a breadth of experience outside school that can provide a context for reading, if children live in neighborhoods with high levels of crime and violence and suffer stress as a result, such children will do more poorly in school than children who do not have these disadvantages. Addressing these disadvantages should be a priority for educational as well as social and economic policy.
Class and Schools explains the pathways of many of these disadvantages. You can read the book’s introduction and summary for a detailed outline. And the founding statement of the campaign for a Broader, Bolder Approach to Education also makes that argument. BBA calls for a program of raising the achievement of disadvantaged children by giving them high-quality early childhood experiences to prepare them for school, school-based clinics providing routine and preventive care that will permit them to attend (both physically and mentally) school regularly, and high-quality after school and summer programs in which they can gain the experiences on which learning is based. Good teachers alone cannot overcome the achievement gaps generated by social and economic disadvantages.
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