Education Nation & Finland

Assessment, Equity, Learning, Teacher Quality

I’m playing catch up with all the programming NBC is producing this week as part of its Education Nation series, but I want to highly recommend one of those videos, an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Finland’s Minister of Education, Pasi Sahlberg.
See for yourself on the video below, but here are a few highlights worth underscoring:

Questions for the Next Schools Chancellor

Assessment, Leadership, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

Today, presumptive-next-mayor Vincent Gray will meet with presumptive-ex- chancellor Michelle Rhee to discuss the future of DC public schools.
In a way, this is a lose-lose meeting for both. As Rhee has made clear in her typically tin-eared style, she is skeptical Gray shares her commitment to a particular set of reforms. Meanwhile, Gray’s ultimate decision about Rhee is guaranteed to disappoint a significant percentage of his electorate – either those who voted for him to register their disapproval of Fenty’s and Rhee’s style of leadership, or those who voted against him to see her reign continue.
This puts Mr. Gray in a bit of a pickle, but he might as well use the opportunity to think about the essential questions he would want to ask any potential candidate to be the next Schools Chancellor. Here are five he might want to consider:

The Science of School Renewal

Assessment, Equity, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

There’s a revolution underway in the scientific community, and it’s changing the way we understand both the structure and the inner workings of the universe. These insights have far-reaching implications for all of us – and none of them are being heeded by the leading voices of our current efforts of transform America’s antediluvian public education system.
This is a serious problem. Here are three examples of what I mean:

The Good, Bad & Ugly of Value-Added Analysis

Assessment, Learning, Teacher Quality

I’m on the road all week — from DC to Oregon to Philadelphia to Oklahoma City — and everywhere I go people seem to be talking about the L.A. Times’ recent expose into the city’s school teachers, and the extent to which individual teachers are either helping students learn — or holding them back.
The conversations are based on the Times’ decision to use value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Thickening the plot, the Times produced this report using seven years of data the school district had — but had never analyzed. As the paper explains: “Value-added analysis offers a rigorous approach. In essence, a student’s past performance on tests is used to project his or her future results. The difference between the prediction and the student’s actual performance after a year is the ‘value’ that the teacher has added or subtracted.”
Because the idea of value-added analysis, or VAA, seems to be everywhere in K-12 education discussions (it has been embraced by the Obama administration, and many of the field’s leading philanthropic entities, from Gates to Walton to Broad, are intrigued by the approach), I want to offer what I see as the good, the bad and the ugly of VAA — and of the Times’ decision to use VAA as the foundation of its landmark report:

A Sinking Ship?

Assessment, Equity, Leadership, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

During a week in which both Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama will publicly defend their education reform priorities – in response to severe criticism from the country’s leading civil rights organizations – I’m trying to figure out how a set of ideas that was so close to mobilizing a quiet revolution in public education has instead led the soldiers of that revolution to passionately (and loudly) take up arms against each other.
All I can come up with is they’ve gotten some lousy advice. And I think I see where they’ve gone wrong.

Are National Standards a Good or a Bad Idea?

Assessment, Leadership, Learning

Today, a Washington Post story reported that the push for common national standards in reading and math is gaining ground. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have now agreed to adopt the standards as their own.
This is notable progress when one considers how all prior efforts to promote a common set of academic standards in the United States have failed. But as the Post’s Nick Anderson reports, the Obama administration, working in concert with the National Governors Association, has been effective where others have failed by “encouraging the movement and dangling potential financial incentives for states to join.” The administration has also opted not to fund the actual work of the groups that drafted the standards, relying instead on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private donors.
As with many other major issues, the question of standards has become a polarizing issue with starkly divided camps. On one side are advocates like Massachusetts state education commissioner Mitch Chester, who believe the proposed standards would provide “clearer signals to K-12 students about their readiness for success at the next level, including readiness for college or careers.” On the other side are folks like the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey, who worry that the push for common standards “is opening the door to federal control. It is the most alarming centralization of power in education you can come up with.”
Who’s right?

The Testing Carousel Goes Round and Round . . .

Assessment, Leadership, Learning

Today’s Washington Post reports that the test scores of elementary school kids slipped this year after two successive years of growth, “a setback to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as she seeks to overhaul the city’s schools.” No doubt, this news is being used by Rhee’s critics to point out that her particular brand of reform can’t bring the city the … Read More

Data-Driven Decision Making . . . and Soccer?

Assessment, Learning

Great timing. A week after I wrote about what the World Cup can teach us about school reform, the New York Times published an article about the growing push for more detailed data in the relatively data-free world of professional soccer. I am not, for what it’s worth, against the use of more sophisticated data in making decisions about how … Read More