We Might Be Nearing the End of the Education Reform Wars

There's a growing consensus that learning is about more than test scores.

Like any sentient political junkie, I was struck in the third Presidential Debate by how much of a point Romney made to agree with President Obama's approach to foreign policy—on intervening in Libya, on leaving Afghanistan, on keeping troops out of Syria. It was Romney who stated, "we can't kill our way out of this mess," delivering a line one would have expected to hear from Obama in 2008. And like any sentient liberal, I was irked, wondering which Romney we'd get were he to be elected.
But then I thought about other debates that aren't really debates, and wondered if we've made a mistake to assume that every issue of importance has two sides.
In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Thomas Friedman declared the Administration's education policy one of "Obama's best kept secrets." Citing the growing need for high-skilled workers and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's oft-stated line that we must "educate our way to a better economy," Friedman praised the effect that Race to the Top, and its predecessor No Child Left Behind, has had on teacher and principal accountability.
In today's education reform climate, saying as much is an invitation to battle, and this occasion proved no different.
As friend and frequent collaborator Sam Chaltain wrote, "What Friedman seems to have forgotten, and what the Obama administration has repeatedly failed to heed is that systems as dysfunctional as those in American public education require more than a new set of end goals: they require deep and sustained investments in our collective capacity to imagine and sustain something new—and that sort of change requires two main ingredients: technical expertise and emotional commitment.
"Unfortunately, Race to the Top (RTTT) lacks both ingredients: its formulas for technical expertise, such as new teacher evaluation systems (good idea) based significantly on student test scores (bad idea), move the goalposts but ignore the skill levels of the players."
Here's the catch: call me Pollyanna, but I fail to see where the debate is.
The need to prepare high-skilled workers for the high-skill jobs of the future, as Friedman suggests, isn't in dispute: where we differ is simply with regard to our definitions of "highly skilled."

I am one of what I expect to be about a dozen people in the world who gets the daily Google Alert for "Empathy" delivered straight to my inbox. And so I am regularly reminded of the critical role that empathy plays in high-skilled fields, ranging from business to journalism, medicine, and robotics engineering.

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Can a New Campaign Force Candidates to Prioritize Education?

Two-thirds of swing-state voters say improving education should be a top priority, but politicians don’t always give the issue the focus it deserves.


Two-thirds of swing-state voters say improving education should be a top priority, but politicians don’t always give the issue the attention it deserves. Now a new nonpartisan College Board campaign called "Don’t Forget Ed" is aiming to use public support to pressure presidential candidates to pay more attention to public education.

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College Readiness Replacing Test Scores as Measure of High School Effectiveness

Will new get-tough measures for evaluating high school performance really improve schools?

What makes a high school effective? Is it the number of students who graduate? Sky-high test scores? Those are the traditional measures, but the majority of recent high school grads say they don't feel high school prepared them for college or the workforce, and college placement tests slot students into endless remedial classes that don't count toward their degrees. So a new model is emerging, one that aims to evaluate high schools based on how well they prepare students for college.

Both New York City and Chicago will begin evaluating high schools according to college readiness indicators. According to recently released data from the City University of New York—where 60 percent of the city's college-bound high school grads enroll—only a quarter don't require remedial classes. In order to better determine if schools are preparing students for college-level work, the New York City Department of Education intends to evaluate data on how many students pass tougher high school classes like physics and chemistry, Advanced Placement tests, and International Baccalaureate exams.

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National History Test Results Aren't Too Hot, But Could You Pass the Exams?

According to a new national report card, only 9 percent of fourth graders could identify Abraham Lincoln and give two reasons why he's important.

When it comes to history, are you smarter than a fourth grader? The just-released results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. History 2010 Report Card show that of 30,000 students tested in 2010, only 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders, and 12 percent of seniors are proficient in American history. Federal officials celebrated a slight increase in scores for eighth graders since 2006, and scores for all grade levels are higher than they were in 1994, but only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question about Brown v. Board of Education, and only 9 percent of fourth graders could identify a photograph of Abraham Lincoln and give two reasons why he's important.

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What Teachers Want to Know: When Will Testing Company Employees Get Laid Off?

Everyone has to feel the pain of budget cuts—except the companies being paid millions to make standardized tests.

This spring, school districts across the nation sent record numbers of layoff notices to teachers, all in the name of balancing education budgets. But, there's one area that most states and districts aren't cutting—the cost of standardized tests. States and local school districts pay testing companies millions of dollars annually, and with calls to evaluate teachers according to tests results and expand the number of subjects tested coming from the White House and Department of Education, the amount of cash being shelled out to testing companies is sure to skyrocket.

Here's how it works: In order to be compliant with the federal No Child Left Behind Act—which requires student testing—states first pay consultants and testing companies to write multiple choice tests aligned with individual state standards. Once kids take the tests, the states then pay those same companies to score them. The federal government does kicks in some cash to help cover the costs, but thanks to cutbacks, that money doesn't defray the whole expense or pay for the people districts and states hire to manage the entire process.

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Is Education About to Go Local?

The Republicans' obsession with local control could undermine efforts to fix No Child Left Behind.

Come January, the chair of the House's Education and Labor Committee will be Minnesota Republican John Kline. He's not a big fan of the federal government having too much say in how state and city school systems do their business. One of his favorite phrases is "local control."

And his disdain for programs like Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards could end up being a roadblock in any attempt to reauthorize ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind). He did, however, tell the AP that he thinks that the ESEA is an area where Democrats and Republicans can "make changes." After all, both sides of the aisle agree that the Act, in its current form, is largely ineffective.

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