George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Ghost of Ed Reform Past -- and the Hope of Ed Reform Future

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As 2011 winds to a close, we are about to turn the page on a year that saw new evidence suggesting that the education reform policies du jour aren't really working. Most charter schools perform no better than traditional public schools (at least in Chicago); value-added modeling does not produce consistent, reliable measures of teacher effectiveness; and the school curriculum is narrowing, in part because of the pressures of state tests (according to teachers).

Student performance on standardized assessments has remained stubbornly flat during the past few years (though much more progress has been made in math than reading). And despite all our efforts over the past decade to dictate down school improvement through governance and accountability policy, the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their middle- and upper-class peers is actually growing. We must be doing something wrong.

In looking ahead to the education agenda of 2012, I hope that we can learn from what hasn't worked in school improvement over the past few years, as well as what has worked.

Focus on Instruction

A recent study by the Council of the Great City Schools and the American Institutes for Research found key differences between the instructional practices of three urban districts that performed well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and one that showed lower performance and weaker gains. The higher-performing/higher-improving districts all had stable leadership and staff focused on improving teaching and learning; a common, high-quality curriculum that created a coherent instructional program; and quality professional development that helped staff meet instructional priorities, among other commonalities. The study also indicated, as have so many that have come before, that structural reforms of urban school systems are not likely to improve student achievement unless they are directly tied to instructional program.

A Vision for the Teaching Profession

To improve instruction on a wide scale, we must strengthen the teaching profession. And do that, we must have a clear vision for what the teaching profession should look like.

The Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT), made up of 21 accomplished teachers and educational leaders from around the country, has recently provided one. Their vision puts student learning at the center of everything a teacher does. It requires that teachers take primary responsibility for student learning and that effective teachers share in the responsibility for teacher selection, evaluation, and dismissal.

From this report emerge several areas in which policymakers and educators can work together to support the teaching profession. For example, by developing high standards for entry into the teaching profession -- perhaps by requiring teacher candidates to complete teacher residency programs and rigorous classroom-based performance assessments prior to becoming fully certified. Or by developing evaluation policies that comprehensively examine teacher practice, perhaps though Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), where master teachers help other teachers improve their practice and, when necessary, aid in dismissal.

To be sure, many in the education community have supported these and similar policies for years. Both of the national teachers unions -- the National Education Association (the NEA, which initially convened and supported CETT) and the American Federation of Teachers -- have committed to such ideas. So have the institutions that govern teacher education -- NCATE and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Perhaps in 2012, policymakers will recognize the importance of these policies, too.

For too long, teachers and classrooms have been ignored in policies that have resulted in large-scale (and often negative) changes to the educational system. Hopefully in 2012 the ghosts of education reform past are dismissed, and a focus on what really matters for improving student achievement begins.

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Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Whitney's picture
Director, Marketing and Communications/higher education

For me, as a parent, I guess I care about standardized tests. But, I really want to see a progression of learning -- not just "this is where your child ranks among peers." An A for every 6 weeks doesn't really tell me if my child moved up or down a level in reading or in math skills. So, I guess if the charters haven't performed any better in testing, then that reform doesn't work from a numbers stand point. But, I am getting from our charter school what level they're currently reading at, vs just a grade, and what we can do at home to keep them progressing (ie: her reading level is high, but it's not progressing for HER, it's stayed level this 6 weeks.)So, what we're getting from our charter vs the ISD is individual learning plans. I think their lower ratio of students also helps deliver the curriculum in a less stressful environment than our previous ISD (and that's JUST for my area -- we also have some great ISD's.) And that can't be measured in an assessment with outcomes. But, for me, I want to see if their reading levels are going up, what their skill sets now are in THIS 6 weeks, etc. Not just how they rank among peers in a test. Just two cents from a parent who works in education. ;)

Marsella's picture
Virginia Beach School System

Good articile! Only I feel te emphasis is on the teaching proffessional instead of where it should be. We must hold everyone accountable for what he or she do or do not do. The CETT is made up of accomplished teachers and advises, who are working on real improvement, real ideas which should be made to strenthen the school system and help our children acdemically.

james michael's picture
james michael
Educational reformer

I do believe its the lack of innovation in the process of k-12 that stifles not only the intelligence but the humanity of the child. The teacher is programmed to provide a set curriculum and meet a set of standards set forth by the whatever state board of ed. they fall under. And more so they are left little leeway with regards to the approach of learning. The goal of education should be to develop the whole child ,the whole person . Attacking teachers and saying we need to improve their own efficiency in order to better reach students is in a way treating the wrong disease. Children are failing because the system is failing them. It is failing to provide them an enviroment that inspires ,encourages, listens , and innovates . A system that will make learning an experience not a task. For these and many others reasons I am strongly opposed to teacher reform as an effort towards educational reform.

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