This year’s NAEP results are bleak. But they were foreseeable, with the Great Recession's effects still impeding progress. Demography need not be destiny though: A few jurisdictions bucked the overall trends and showed improvement. D.C. deserves much of the praise, given its ability to demonstrate sustained and significant progress over time, and its decade-plus commitment to fundamental reform. As does Mississippi, which has been on an upward trajectory for the last decade, especially in reading. Despite the dismal results, there’s hope if we can follow the lead of these notable locales.
Alas, it wasn’t hard to predict that this year’s results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress would be bleak. With the lingering effects of the Great Recession still serving as powerful headwinds against progress, it would have taken a miracle to see big gains at the national level. Truthfully, I expected worse news for fourth graders, given how poorly they did upon entry into kindergarten; in reality, though, it turned out to be eighth grade where the news was most dismaying.
But demography need not be destiny, and economic correlations have their limits: A few jurisdictions bucked the overall trends and showed improvement. Washington, D.C., deserves much of the attention today, given its ability to demonstrate sustained and significant progress over time, and its decade-plus commitment to fundamental reform. Yet even D.C. comes with a demographic asterisk, given the rapidly changing population of the nation’s capital. It’s also true that, in many ways, the Great Recession skipped D.C.; let me encourage analysts in coming days to figure out how much credit should go to the schools and how much belongs to economic and social conditions.
There’s no need to caveat the other star of this year’s release, Mississippi. For a decade now, the long-suffering Magnolia State has been on an upward trajectory, especially in reading. That appears to be no coincidence. It has one of the very best early-literacy initiatives in the country, and has been quietly and methodically implementing the Common Core standards without much commotion. The same goes for neighboring Louisiana, which has been a leader in curriculum-based reform. Let this be a note to state superintendents elsewhere: If Mississippi and Louisiana can overcome the “local control” arguments and develop deep and meaningful efforts to assist districts with teaching, learning, and curriculum implementation, so can you.
Two more bits of good news are worth highlighting. First, large urban districts continue to close the gap in achievement with the rest of their respective states. Perhaps that’s because their own demographics are becoming more similar to outlying areas, as poor families head to the suburbs and more middle-class families head back into town. But it’s also consistent with what we found in Fordham’s recent study of charter school market share: As the charter sector has grown, it has brought a rising tide that appears to have lifted all boats.
Finally, we should keep an eye on the gains we’re seeing at the top of the performance spectrum. Perhaps that, too, is being driven by socioeconomics and could be a sign of rising income inequality. But I have another hypothesis: That the shift to higher academic standards, tougher tests, and accountability systems that encourage paying attention to everybody’s progress may be working, at least for our higher-achieving students. Perhaps more of them are gaining access to instruction that’s actually and appropriately challenging. If so, that’s worth celebrating—but it means we need to double down on our efforts to identify ways to help their lower-achieving peers benefit from the higher expectations, as well.
It’s still the troubling truth that America’s academic progress as a whole remains extremely disappointing. That it doesn’t have to be that way is also true, however, as illustrated by the handful of states and districts that are making notable gains. Let us follow their lead.
The content of K–12 education is a minefield for conservatives. Over the past thirty years, education reformers who wanted parents to have choices for their children have tended to focus more on the creation of new public charter schools, or on private school scholarships, than on curriculum and classroom content. They have placed their faith in school choice and the market to create demand for a rich, well-rounded education: Let parents choose and the market provide, and may the best curriculum win.
That faith is largely misplaced. Nearly all—90 percent—of K–12 students in the U.S. attend the public schools to which they are assigned based on their ZIP code. Parents and policymakers should also not assume that schools of choice are automatically more sophisticated about curricular content (some are; many are not). There is a foreseeable price to be paid for the reluctance to engage on the foundational question of what the 45 million public school children across the country should know, and leaving it to chance or whim. Doing so risks abandoning the next generation to semi-literacy and, therefore, less than full citizenship. The content delivered in classrooms across the country is a matter that conservatives should not abandon to the Left.
Education should ensure that children grow up to be fully literate, and it should equip students with the necessary tools for becoming responsible citizens. This is a point that E. D. Hirsch Jr., has stressed throughout his career. But, as Hirsch explained in his landmark 1987 book Cultural Literacy, America’s elementary schools have come to be “dominated by the content-neutral ideas of Rousseau and Dewey.” At the time, 16,000 independent school districts represented “an insurmountable obstacle” to renewal. “We have permitted school policies that have shrunk the body of information that Americans share, and these policies have caused our national literacy to decline,” Hirsch wrote.
What options do conservatives have for addressing inadequate academic content? An incoherent skills-driven vision of curricula, vacuous and ineffective, has dominated American education for a half-century or more. Textbook battles have tended to end badly for conservatives, as opponents claim that instruction based on classic texts whitewash American history.
Parental choice in education should remain at the heart of conservative public policy. Still, attention must be paid to the content taught in public schools. As William J. Bennett observed, “[I]t would be intellectually dishonest to not recognize the limitations of choice, given that more than four in five students attend a traditional neighborhood public school and the exercise of choice requires parents who will participate and teachers and schools that teach well.” In sum, what children learn in school matters. Instructional content is a critical component of basic literacy, and advances (or fails to advance) the fundamental civic mission of schools in fostering thoughtful and engaged citizenship.
Education choice leads to different governance models and has created curricular diversity in some, but not all, cases. The traditional district-based school system has been slower to adjust. The high-quality content that has blossomed in some choice networks has not propagated across district schools due in large part to schools of education, school board associations, and other interest groups that vie for power and to influence or control what children learn.
The path leading to this conservative conundrum on curriculum is instructive. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy made the unimpeachable case that schools were systematically denying American children the knowledge they needed to function as fully literate members of civil society. “We Americans have long accepted literacy as a paramount aim of schooling, but only recently have some of us who have done research in the field begun to realize that literacy is far more than a skill and that it requires large amounts of specific information,” he wrote. Hirsch subsequently described how he was “shocked into school reform” while conducting research on reading ability at a Richmond, Virginia, community college. He discovered that the community college students could read just as well as the undergraduates at Hirsch’s own University of Virginia when texts were about everyday topics, such as car traffic or roommates, but when required to read, for example, about the U.S. Civil War, their reading comprehension fell apart. “They had not been taught the things they needed to know to understand texts addressed to a general audience. What had the schools been doing?” he wondered.
Hirsch’s basic insight, consistently validated by cognitive science, is that a student’s ability to comprehend a text is largely determined by the student’s background knowledge. Speakers and writers make assumptions about what readers and listeners know, and rely on them to understand references and allusions, and to make correct assumptions about word meanings and context. For example, even the simple word “shot” means different things in a bar, a rifle range, a basketball court, or when the repairman uses it to describe one’s refrigerator. If readers cannot supply the missing information or make correct assumptions about context, comprehension suffers. A piece of text is like a child’s game of Jenga, where every block is a piece of background knowledge or vocabulary. When just a few are missing, the tower of blocks still stands. Pull out one too many, and it collapses.
Hirsch attempted to catalogue much of this assumed knowledge with a list of 5,000 “essential names, phrases, dates, and concepts,” ranging from Biblical references and Greek myths to basic scientific concepts and key figures in history, which drove Cultural Literacy to the top of bestseller lists. Most Americans likely assume that their children are getting what Hirsch is prescribing: a well-rounded elementary and middle-school curriculum, rich in literature, history, geography, science, and the arts, that would endow them with the basic assortment of mental furniture—general knowledge, allusions, and idioms—that educated Americans take for granted.
A man of the Left who has described himself “practically a socialist,” Hirsch was widely criticized, even reviled in some quarters, for what many perceived as an effort to enshrine a dead, white male canon, and to impose conservative views of “What Every American Needs to Know” (as the subtitle of Cultural Literacy puts it) on U.S. education. But Hirsch’s project was and remains a curatorial effort aimed at explaining—and rescuing—reading comprehension. This fundamental disconnect led University of Virginia professor of psychology Daniel Willingham to describe Cultural Literacy as “possibly the most misunderstood education book of the last fifty years.”
Crucially, the America in which Cultural Literacy was first published was one in which charter schools did not yet exist, and where private school choice existed mostly in Milton Friedman’s head. Thus leading conservatives in education, such as President Ronald Reagan’s Education Secretary William Bennett, Chester Finn, and (erstwhile conservative) Diane Ravitch (authors of What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? also published in 1987), were more apt and eager to battle it out over the curricular content of children’s education. Those three were among Hirsch’s earliest and most vocal champions, eagerly taking up his call to transform the content of the curriculum in public schools since few, if any, alternatives existed.
There is far less appetite among conservatives today for battles over curricula, whether because of evolving theories of educational change (read: increased choice), practical politics, or concern about encroachment into local school autonomy. The past decade’s battles over Common Core suggest that conservatives have little appetite for large-scale standards-based initiatives with federal financial backing. Hirsch, meanwhile, has enjoyed at least something of a reappraisal (if for no other reason than the general absence of improved reading scores in the decades since choice began to flower), and a muscular test-driven accountability regime has come to dominate American education. His broad general thesis—knowledge matters—if not his precise prescription, was embedded (and almost entirely overlooked) in the Common Core standards for English language arts, which advised:
By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.
This recommendation might have been expected to resonate with conservatives and ought to have been taken up vigorously. But Common Core or no Common Core, the wisdom of the passage above remains. It can be summarized with just three words: Hirsch was right.
More than thirty years after Cultural Literacy appeared, the opportunity for conservatives to use Common Core to re-engage on curricular content has largely been lost. The failure of schools to “fulfill their acculturative responsibility” that Hirsch observed remains the default condition in American education, reflected in the experience of the vast majority of American children. And where conservatives have grown wary and suspicious of meddling in curricula, activists and advocates on the Left have demonstrated far less reticence about imposing their views, moving further from the unifying impulse undergirding the entire purpose of public education. It is only a mild overstatement to say that the vast majority of current thought in education practice and policy—from personalized learning to “culturally relevant pedagogy”—reflects an assumption that curricular content should not just reflect, but be grounded in, children’s personal interests and experience. This notion drifts ever further from the common school ideal of American public education, and does violence to basic literacy. There remains a profound risk that abandoning efforts within the public system to ensure equal access to common knowledge, even in the laudable service of honoring educational pluralism, will further estrange Americans from one another, deepening social, cultural, and political divisions. What is taught in the nearly 100,000 public schools across the country should be a matter of grave concern to conservatives.
The conservative project for school curriculum extends from the founding (and largely forgotten) purpose of public education: preparing each generation of children for engaged and responsible citizenship. Civic education—once the founding purpose of American education—has been marginalized, particularly in the education-reform era. The thrust of school improvement efforts has been raising reading and math scores, inevitably marginalizing other content areas, and none more so than civics. Indeed, compared to student achievement in civics and history measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reading performance in U.S. schools, generally viewed with alarm, is downright robust. Here again, Hirsch is the indispensable theorist. His 2009 book The Making of Americans traced the history and purpose of the American common school: “The center of its emphasis was to be common knowledge, virtue, skill, and an allegiance to the larger community shared by all children no matter what their origin.”
To state the matter mildly, the goal of fostering “allegiance to the larger community” is no longer anywhere near the heart of American education. This allegiance is in danger of being abandoned altogether, even as an aspiration. The same dynamic that has fatally damaged literacy for untold numbers of American children is playing out again in civic education, and the same mistake—valorizing vague skills over educational content, and blithely dismissing what should be common knowledge as “mere facts”—is readily observable.
A quiet revolution in civics education has been gaining ground in recent years, emphasizing student “voice” and “agency,” as well as direct participation in public affairs, politics, and protest. Where civics education has historically concerned itself with ensuring that students know how a bill becomes law, “action civics” seeks to close a “civic empowerment gap” and to reverse the “marginalization of youth voice.” Students routinely participate in rallies and demonstrations on controversial issues, such as climate change and gun control. Schools and districts seem less likely to be concerned with presenting a balanced view of contemporary controversies than whether students should be held accountable for skipping class to participate. The common impulse, well-intended if misguided, is to “support” and celebrate student activism.
Yuval Levin has observed that “conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.” A critical function of American K–12 education is citizen-making and fostering the ability to contribute productively in the public sphere. It cannot be sensibly denied that “action civics” by definition focuses students’ attention on the bad and the broken, not on gratitude for what is good and what works. The omission is as harmful to citizen-making as the lack of common content is to basic literacy.
In a recent paper for the Hoover Institution, William Bennett, one of Hirsch’s earliest champions, observed how “the lack of conservative consensus on content has very real and very negative consequences.” More ominously, Bennett concluded, “the vacuum cedes the field to the other side, who knows very well what it intends to do.” Conservatives can no longer stand on the sidelines of debates about the foundational question of what children in public schools across the country should learn. They risk leaving the next generation semiliterate and ill equipped for participating in—and simply maintaining—a civil society. For that reason, school choice must be pursued in conjunction with reforms to improve content and curricula in public schools across the country.
This essay is excerpted from the newly released edited volume The Not-So-Great Society, edited by Lindsey M. Burke and Jonathan Butcher and published by The Heritage Foundation. Click here to request a full copy of the book.
With Wonkathon season kicking into high gear, asking participants what’s the best way to help students who are several grade levels behind, it occurred to me that this year’s question, as fundamental and challenging as it may be, is a withering indictment of our education system. Unlike the United States, countries like Canada and Singapore don’t need to ask it. To wit, in describing some of the highest performing systems in the world, veteran education analyst Marc Tucker once pointed out, “Students do not routinely arrive at middle school from elementary school two or even three years behind. It simply does not happen.”
As entries continue to roll in, it’s worth considering Tucker’s words and remembering the parable of the river:
A group of people are standing at a river bank and suddenly hear a baby crying. Shocked, they see an infant struggling in the water. One person immediately dives in to rescue the child. But right away another baby comes floating down the river, and then another! People continue to jump in to save the babies and then see that one person has started to walk away from the group still on shore. Accusingly they shout, “Where are you going? We need everyone available to help save these drowning babies!” The response: “I'm going upstream to stop whoever's throwing babies into the river.”
Like the group gathered along the shore, this year’s contestants will invariably be part of what my friend Ian Rowe has called our “overwhelmed rescue squads,” valiantly proposing out-of-the-box, innovative, but tragically insufficient solutions to effectively remediate the millions of children who fall behind each year. Lest the reader think that a dated parable offers little of use for today’s education improvement context, consider this excerpt from my colleague Robert Pondiscio’s new book:
When no-excuses charter schools began opening in significant numbers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most focused on middle schools, the point at which achievement gaps in reading and math widened and calcified. It became quickly evident, however, just how difficult it is for children who have already fallen years behind, particularly in reading, to catch up—even at the best-run schools [emphasis added]. Fewer than one-third of students who have fallen behind academically by fourth or eighth grade catch up and graduate “college ready,” according to a 2012 ACT study. As a result of these hard-learned lessons, most major charter management organizations now prefer to start students in elementary school.
The best charter management organizations may have indeed internalized these “hard-learned lessons,” but the education sector as a whole certainly hasn’t. Whether it’s assigning the least-effective teachers to non-tested grades (particularly the critical earliest years of school) or the wanton use of unproven teaching strategies, schools—including the very best ones—continue to leave too many of our babies flailing in the water. Like a zombie that refuses to die, the question of what to do with them is caught in a feedback loop among advocates calling for a greater focus on grade-level material and those who believe in the need for more differentiation and personalization. Given the low-success rate of remediation efforts generally, I’m skeptical as to whether a good answer lies anywhere between these two poles.
Instead, I echo Rowe’s sentiment that the only real solution (i.e., one that obviates the need to ask this year’s Wonkathon question in the first place) must be found upstream. This means putting shoulder to the wheel in one of the few areas where there’s real science: reading instruction. I’m thinking of three things in particular:
1. Assign the most effective teachers to the early grades. I don’t know how to shift the hearts, minds, and lesson plans of millions of individual teachers, but I do know that education has been and will continue to be a human endeavor. It’s unclear to me whether improving teacher training generally is worth the return on investment, but something that should be easier to do is to put our best teachers in kindergarten and first grade, and discontinue the blinkered practice of assigning them to the grades that are tested. Granted, there’s an argument to be made that kindergarten is still too late, that we need to start at pre-K, or zero-to-three. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett described this as “the myth of the fourteen-egg omelet.” Regardless, elementary educators generally have little control over what happens before age five, so at the very least we should be going full speed ahead in grades K–2.
2. Adopt a high-quality language arts curriculum. Two years ago, my friend Kathleen Porter-Magee made this compelling argument in these pages:
In education we have been conditioned to believe that mandating curriculum is akin to micromanaging an artist. That’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous. And as Robert Pondiscio has persuasively argued, it simply makes “an already hard job nearly impossible [for teachers] to do well.” Yet study after study has demonstrated that requiring teachers to use a proven textbook or curriculum to guide their teaching is one of the surest ways to improve outcomes for students.
Getting down to brass tacks, this means students should receive daily, explicit, systematic phonics instruction in the early grades. Incorporating rich content into the curriculum is profoundly important. Students must also develop fluency with mathematical procedures in the early years. Schools and districts should look for reading and math programs grounded in a robust research-base and strongly aligned to standards.
3. Make teacher tenure an achievement. My colleague Mike Petrilli wrote a thought-provoking piece about the progress schools might make if they would only go after the low-hanging fruit such as halting the practice of tenure as an automatic proposition. Districts could and should make the process of achieving tenure more rigorous instead of a rubber stamp. Sure, it’s not directly related to reading instruction, but tenure reform is essential to the task of making sure every kindergarten and first grade classroom is staffed by an effective teacher.
If schools were simply able to do these three things, not only would we stem the rate at which our babies are being thrown into the river, there’s an added benefit of potentially side-stepping some of the sticky questions that enervate our assessment and accountability systems.
To be clear, the pedagogical debate we’re having today is a worthwhile one. As futile as the effort may seem to catch up those who are far behind, we can ill afford to throw our hands up. Our collective failure at preempting failure compels us to redouble our efforts, so we need more ideas and more strategies to remediate and rescue more students. But it won’t be enough. To help students who are several grade levels behind, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.
With the backing of Chevron and local philanthropy, the Appalachia Partnership Initiative (API) was launched five years ago. The initiative’s purpose is “to help develop a skilled workforce that can meet the needs of the energy industry and related manufacturing industries” within a twenty-seven county region that encompasses Southwestern Pennsylvania, Northern West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio. With a rapidly growing natural gas industry in the region, improving the STEM skills of workers is critical to meeting the human-capital needs of employers.
To gauge progress, API tapped the RAND Corporation to conduct periodic analyses about project implementation (my review of an earlier paper is here). While API also invests in adult workforce training, the focus of its latest report is the initiative’s efforts to bolster STEM education among the region’s K–12 students. API articulates four goals: 1) raise young people’s awareness about STEM career opportunities; 2) promote the acquisition of skills needed for those careers; 3) provide professional development for teachers and career counselors; and 4) develop networks between students and employers through activities such as mentoring or job-placement.
It’s important to note at the outset that this report does not provide evidence about the initiative’s effects on student achievement outcomes. Rather, it offers a useful overview of the programs that API helped to support, which students participated in them, and how the initiative helped to create connections within communities. To provide this type of descriptive portrait, the analysts rely on self-reported data from providers along with interviews with program staff.
During the first three years of implementation (2014–17), API provided grants to seven organizations supporting anything from hands-on programming directly serving K–12 students, to STEM curricula and teacher development. To get a flavor of the program’s scope, a few specific examples are worth mentioning.
- The Education Alliance, a West Virginia nonprofit, has led efforts among eight West Virginia schools to implement new STEM programs based on the Carnegie Science Center’s STEM Excellence Pathway framework.
- The Central Greene School District in Southwestern Pennsylvania expanded its natural resources course, which assists high school students in attaining the skills and credentials needed for jobs in the oil and gas industry. (For great coverage, see this U.S. News article.)
- Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, raised awareness of STEM job opportunities, including a video contest that connects students with local manufacturers.
All in all, the RAND analysts estimate that API funded programs reach about 40,000 students per year in the tristate region. Yet the report also notes that participation is more heavily concentrated in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but only “lightly represented” in Ohio. It’s not altogether clear why that is, though the lack of Ohio-based philanthropic support for API might explain some of it. Regardless, this seems to be a lost opportunity for Eastern Ohio students, many of whom struggle to reach the college-and-career-ready targets needed to excel in STEM occupations. Despite that setback—and c’mon Ohio!—the API approach of connecting businesses, nonprofits, and schools together in the mission of improving STEM education should be heartily applauded.
SOURCE: Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Shelly Culbertson, and Nupur Nanda, The Appalachia Partnership Initiative’s Investments in K-12 Education and Catalyzing the Community, RAND Corporation (2019).
Only 30 to 40 percent of high school students graduate college- or career-ready. And one of the main reasons may be traditional public schools’ focus on grade-level proficiency. My colleague Mike Petrilli identified the underlying problem almost a decade ago, and reiterated his warning earlier this year: “the greatest challenge facing America’s schools today… [is] the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom.” That variation remains unaddressed when mandatory tests can’t tell us where—if not at grade-level—teachers must meet students.
A recent report by Joel Rose, founder of New Classrooms Innovation Partners, explains how Teach to One: Math—a radically unique learning model—tackles this problem, and how traditional schools can open themselves to such novel, evidence-based teaching methods.
Teach to One: Math, developed by New Classrooms Innovation partners, is an “innovative learning model,” meaning it’s an alternative classroom experience that departs from the paradigm of standardized, age-based models that apply the same curriculum to every student. The program designs an annual, personal curriculum for each student based on the results of a diagnostic exam at the beginning of the year. The curriculum includes below-, at-, or above-grade-level content targeted to students’ needs and incorporates teacher-led, peer-learning, and individual activities. Students also take brief, daily exit exams that facilitate the grouping of similarly-situated students, which helps teachers optimize acceleration. This division of labor frees educators to focus on implementation and relationship-building with students, and the program provides them with quality pupil data.
While many schools may welcome this kind of innovation, Rose’s report found that they aren’t ready for it. It argues that four embedded aspects of the education system are to blame: accountability relies on uniform instruction paths; there’s inadequate investment in developing learning models; bureaucrats are encouraged to stick to the status quo; and long procurement processes discourage partnerships between districts and new model providers.
Rose blames ESSA for the accountability problem, particular its mandate of annual, grade-level, standards-aligned tests that omit critical information about learning gaps, and disincentivizes teachers from addressing them by teaching content outside students’ grade levels. He acknowledges that these assessments keep expectations high, but notes that the research supports emphasizing a mixture of on- and pre-grade level skills in math that the tests often omit. Rose also found that many schools that are willing to adopt Teach to One: Math were constrained by inflexible local accountability policies. In one case, district policy forbade them from using curriculum dollars for materials that weren’t grade-level-aligned, and in another, teachers worried that the new model would interfere with the formula for their evaluations.
Regarding the lack of investment in developing innovative learning models, Rose blames state laws, such as those that require massive allotments for old-fashioned textbooks but detract from funding for nontraditional approaches. Such policies can signal to the private sector that states are not interested in change. He quotes a venture capitalist who said his firm rarely invests in the K–12 sector because “the market is too fragmented… slow-moving, and often resistant to change,” making profitability and scalability difficult to achieve. He also believes the federal government’s R & D budget should devote more funds to development as it did to revolutionize the green energy sector.
Adding to all of this is bureaucratic inertia. Because district leaders reach their current positions by working within the system, they develop loyalties to its underlying pedagogical philosophy. Rose recounts a meeting with one district leader who expressed his conviction that “all students should do the same thing on the same day, no matter where they are.” Moreover, once a district adopts a model that bucks the system, he asks, “What does that say about the chief academic officer who drove last years’ textbook adoption?” So adopting innovative models breeds political conflict—a fact that makes innovation riskier than sticking to the status quo. Nonetheless, the report found that teachers were the most willing—yet, ironically, the least empowered—to try new models and effect major policy changes.
On the significant barrier that stifling procurement procedures presents to innovative organizations, Rose tells the story of an enthusiastic district that he partnered with in good faith, agreeing that they would resolve the paperwork later. After months of form-filling and providing services for the full school year, the district had still not offered them a signed contract.
Rose offers four recommendations for overcoming this quartet of impediments. First, accountability policies should move away from annual, grade-level proficiency tests, and instead use adaptive exams that measure learning growth and evaluate schools using multiyear growth data. Second, the government should fund development by supporting learning-model providers like Teach to One: Math, since it’s unlikely the private sector would. Third, states should identify and support early adopters through initiatives such as Texas’s Math Innovation Zones, which works within ESSA’s framework to find volunteer schools and fund their adoption of experimental, state-approved learning products. Last, Rose suggests states and districts revise and streamline their procurement policies.
Rose’s assessment of the obsolescence in our K–12 infrastructure is both eye-opening and challenging. We absolutely need a revolutionary shift away from grade-level proficiency systems if we want to address student learning gaps—and the time is ripe for it. Rose’s best recommendation is his call for better federal investment on the development side of innovation. But he’s also right to suggest that our school evaluation policies should comprise multiyear and growth-centered measures, which are permitted under ESSA and leave room for more experimentation than the alternatives. The multiyear approach has already worked to weed out good and bad ideas with charter schools, for instance, which get evaluated every three-to-five years. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a sensible policy that pairs these two insights: a second Race to the Top–style funding grant that rewarded states that develop innovative accountability reforms. If we want a personalized-pacing revolution that mirrors our green energy revolution, it may require a strategic nudge from the federal government.
SOURCE: Joel Rose, “Overcoming the challenges facing innovative learning models in K–12 education: Lessons from Teach to One,” American Enterprise Institute (October 2019).
On this week’s podcast, Mike Petrilli and David Griffith talk to Checker Finn about Senator Warren’s flawed education proposal. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines improvements to the student teaching experience that can help candidates feel more prepared for success in the classroom.
Amber’s Research Minute
Matthew Ronfeldt, “Improving Student Teachers’ Feelings of Preparedness to Teach Through Recruitment of Instructionally Effective and Experienced Cooperating Teachers: A Randomized Experiment,” retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University (October 2019).