Last week I was at an Manhattan Institute conference: “America’s Accountability Movement: Progress or Retreat:” Marcus Winter, a senior fellow at the Institute presented two brief papers, “School Accountability in NYC Under de Blasio” (Winter’s conclusion: there is very little accountability), and “Choice and Accountability in Education,” followed by a keynote address by Jeb Bush (Bush’s conclusion: vouchers for all – a free marketplace). A panel (Michael McGee, CEO of Chiefs for Change (See Chief for Change evidence policy paper here), Morgan Polikoff, professor at University of Southern California and Marcus Winters moderated by Matt Barnum, a staff writer at The 74, discussing “New Opportunities for School Accountability,”
Under the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, states will have wide discretion in establishing accountability systems: what kind is testing, defining accountability, etc. About fifteen states have been working with the Chiefs for Change since the spring and another dozen with Linda Darling-Hammond.
The panel agreed that the rigid NCLB system, based solely on proficiency did not work, and, was counterproductive; the unintended consequence was to create both a test prep culture and a concentration on getting kids to the proficiency point (in New York State – 3.0).and ignoring the others. The panelists all supported a growth model – perhaps combined with proficiency; in other words measuring individual student growth, regardless of their place on the proficiency scale. A school that moved kids from 1.8 to 2.2 would still be far below proficient; however, shows significant growth.
A number of states are working to move away from traditional testing, New Hampshire is moving toward using performance tasks in lieu of the Smarter Balance test. (Check out the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity – SCALE – https://scale.stanford.edu/student). McGee thought that New Hampshire would move to a state-wide performance task system. Other states are exploring portfolios and other approaches (“authentic assessment”) to define accountability working with Linda Darling-Hammond (See an April, 2016 paper entitled, “Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act here)
Check out an excellent and coherent discussion of the pitfalls of proficiency (“When Proficient Isn’t Good: The Deceptive Nature Of Proficiency as a Measure Of Student Progress— and How to Fix the Funhouse Mirror” here).
:I asked the panelists: “If the head of the new President-Elect’s Transition Team called you and asked for advice – a few guiding principles …”
Jeb Bush (smiling), “Neither of the candidates is going to call me.”
McGee reiterated a dashboard approach to accountability, moving to growth and proficiency along with a greater role for stakeholders at the local level: teachers and school leaders.
Polikoff: Equity, the resource differences between the poorest districts and the wealthiest district is both dramatic and unconscionable.
As I left I mused: do any of these proposed changes actually impact teaching and learning? As a classroom teacher how would these changes impact me?
The next day I sat in on a panel discussion at CCNY moderated by a CCNY professor, Terri Watson, “A Public Conversation About Testing and School Reform,” panelists included, David Bloomfield, Brooklyn College, Jamaal Bowman, a Bronx middle school principal, Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for Alliance for Quality Education and R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a sociology professor at the College. The panel was joined by Christopher Emden, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University (See recent op ed, “Why Black Men Quit Teaching” here)
The CCNY panel was at the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum. While the Manhattan Institute event focused on the big picture the CCNY panel focused on the impact of the “big picture” on students, parents and teachers. All the panelists supported the opt-out movement and opposed the current testing requirements. I asked: “The Leadership Coalition on Civil Rights,” representing over 200 organizations supports the testing requirements of the new law arguing that removing testing would result in removing the highly visual achievement gap.” The panelists supported alternatives to the current testing, varieties of alternative assessments; perhaps portfolios. Emden, passionately, called for “culturally responsive pedagogy ” and the recruitment of more teachers of color.
Both events left me unsatisfied – will changes in accountability or opt-out/testing alternatives/culturally responsive pedagogy actually impact teaching and learning, impact the classroom?
Policy-makers search for solutions, some magic bullet or combinations of bullets that will change the tide: perhaps reducing/ending inequality, recruiting more teachers/school leaders of color or a focus on school/teacher effectiveness; all or some may or may not be impactful but not dispositive.
How much can we actually change?
Psychologist Walter Mischel, conducted the Marshmallow Test research in the 1960’s and tracked the participants for decades: 4-year olds who were able to practice delayed gratification ended up with substantially higher SAT scores and numerous other lifetime positive impacts: should schools actually “teach” delayed gratification in the earliest grades?
David Epstein, in “The Sports Gene” explores the roots of athletic success: why are Jamaicans the best sprinters in the world and Kenyans the best long distance runners? Nature or nurture? Is there a genetic component or does the culture of the environment reward success?
In other words are we selecting the most effective triggers for change?
Professor Emden, quoted in a TC publication, cogently suggests,
While recognizing the potential of black male teachers to “serve as powerful role models” and the need for more teachers of color in classrooms, Emdin writes that “they cannot fix the problems minority students face simply by being black and male … Instead of fixating on black male teachers, we need to examine how teachers are trained, their beliefs about young minority men, and how they engage their students. They should be prepared to teach to each student’s unique needs, and to recognize that no student learns best under conditions that make him feel uncared for.
“A better solution is to train all teachers, black and white, to acknowledge the biases they hold about their students based on their race, class, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability. Then they can learn strategies for being effective with these students despite their differences.”
There is no single path, no single bullet, hopefully we can explore the many pathways, build rich toolkits and continue to explore. The master teacher knows that blaming the kid, blaming society is futile. Teachers are writers, producers, directors and critics of a play that will run for one period or one day. What works today fails tomorrow; hopefully, we learn from our failures and our successes.
Coming attraction: Off to John Hopkins for a Coleman Report at 50 conference – what did we learn from the report?