What Ed Sector Gets Wrong



By 08/02/2011

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Education Sector is one of my favorite groups in K-12 policy, and not just because I have lots of friends who work there. Since its creation five years ago its analysts have produced a steady stream of thoughtful, thought-provoking papers and posts on the most important issues facing education policymakers today.

Which is why I can’t understand why the organization continues to be so wrong about one of the most consequential developments in education today: The National Council on Teacher Quality’s review of education schools nationwide.

First there was Chad Adelman (since promoted to the U.S. Department of Education), who complained that NCTQ’s study wasn’t focused enough on outcomes:

Absent some objective outcome measures, NCTQ will only be assessing inputs to teacher quality…. There will be no mechanism to determine if all of the box-checking that NCTQ will be assessing has actually produced effective teachers.

You don’t say! As Chad acknowledges, NCTQ has been at the forefront of the push for states to collect value-added data linking ed schools with their graduates’ results in the classroom. A handful of states are starting to do that. But what about the other 45+ states? Should NCTQ sit on its hands until the data become available? Isn’t Chad’s argument just one for giving the ed schools a pass?

Then, last week, Sarah Rosenberg asked whether “anyone at home” really cares about this “report card.”

NCTQ and its supporters believe that clear standards and transparent evaluation will encourage schools to improve their teacher preparation programs and, in turn, their ratings.  For that theory of change to work, a school’s rating must trigger market response: A school of education that receives a high rating should see more students apply as well as more districts interested in partnering with the school and hiring its graduates.  The extent to which NCTQ’s national ratings matter will depend on whether districts and prospective teachers make decisions based on the ratings. The local nature of teacher labor markets makes it unlikely that this will happen in many parts of the country—will anyone in Weldon, NC really care that their one nearby school of education was rated poorly?

Sarah goes on to acknowledge that the “market response” may work OK in urban areas with multiple ed schools—districts may eschew the lousy ones. But since most suburban and rural districts hire from nearby colleges, this market mechanism won’t mean a thing in much of the country.

Maybe. But NCTQ is after much more than just a market response. The study is often billed as the “Flexner Report” for education—referring to a study of medical schools 100 years ago that led to the shuttering of hundreds of them. Yes, I am sure NCTQ wants the “average” ed school to get better. But more than anything else it wants the abysmal ed schools to go out of business. And that will take action by the states—action that is a whole lot more likely if NCTQ calls them out publicly.

So Education Sector, how about a little less skepticism, and a little more love, for one of the gutsiest projects in education reform history?

-Mike Petrilli




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  • Joe Beckmann says:

    I get incredibly suspicious when, in any discussion of outcomes, people cite “objectivity,” since, in a word, that’s smoke. It is always a cloak for something else, and that something is usually masked as a test or metric designed to obscure richer or more qualitative data behind over-simplified quantification. For example, a better measure of “good teacher” is the attendance and on-time rate of children than of their test scores, since the scores can be designed to reflect many things, but “being there” is hard to disguise. Another, similar measure, is age cohort analysis – or how many kids are in the grade they are supposed to be, and do they keep up with their cohort? Grade retention is the largest contributor to later dropout patterns, and, still another cohort would be how many kids actually complete courses, years, and schools on time or within a year of their cohort. These are hardly trivial data, and are “objective” in that they are child-centered, easily quantified, and project more sensitive profiles than tests alone. They hardly diminish the value of those tests, by the way, but they do give … finally … some meaning to their “objective,” which, after all, is the growth of the child.

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