Strongest Evidence Yet That The Obama Administration Is On The Right Track On Education?

Look ma! I’m reasonable!  In The Times today Rick Hess and Linda Darling-Hammond lay out an odd-couple agenda for federal education policy.

Some of it is stuff that the federal government is already doing now, for instance they call for more research and development but don’t mention various administration initiatives (eg i3, ARPA-ED, etc…).   And some of it is cheap shots.  They write that, “The Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition tried to do some of this, but it ended up demanding that winning states hire consultants to comply with a 19-point federal agenda, rather than truly innovate.”  Really?  Of all the critiques you can level at RTT that’s a pretty weak one.

But their two main points bear some discussion.  They write that:

“Instead of the vague mandate of “adequate yearly progress,” federal financing should be conditioned on truth in advertising — on reliably describing achievement (or lack thereof) and spending. To track achievement, states should be required to link their assessments to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (or to adopt a similar multistate assessment). To shed light on equity and cost-effectiveness, states should be required to report school- and district-level spending; the resources students receive should be disclosed, not only their achievement.”

I’m all for transparency but “vague mandate?” I thought the problem with “adequate yearly progress” was that it is too prescriptive.  Where did I read that? Oh right, it was in this 2009 article by Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli. Darling-Hammond also says – at least recently said – it’s too prescriptive.

They extend the thought in their second point writing:

Second is ensuring that basic constitutional protections are respected. No Child Left Behind required states to “disaggregate” assessment results to illuminate how disadvantaged or vulnerable populations — like black and Hispanic students and children from poor families — were doing. Enforcing civil rights laws and ensuring that dollars intended for low-income students and students with disabilities are spent accordingly have been parts of the Education Department’s mandate since its creation in 1979. But efforts to reduce inequities have too often led to onerous and counterproductive micromanagement.

Wait, wait, wait. I thought the thing to do was to “drop the racial subgroups and wishful-thinking accountability. If such changes offend civil rights advocates, who may clamor to keep race-conscious labels or want nclb to stick to goals more aspirational than actual, so be it. Their offence can only lead to a debate that conservatives should welcome.”  Gosh, where did I read that? Wait, it was that exact same Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli article.

Rhetoric of the day inconsistencies aside, I think Rick and Linda are right that some accountability efforts have led to micromanagement but absent those federal prods there is no evidence that states systematically address these issues.  It’s an evolving balancing act. So from where I sit in addition to civil rights enforcement a good civil rights policy is ensuring a floor for performance and expectations not merely rooting through the data looking for pervasive violations (which are awfully hard to make stick anyway).

Bigger picture: The right-left confluence on education reform marches on. That’s too bad.

4 Responses to “Strongest Evidence Yet That The Obama Administration Is On The Right Track On Education?”

  1. The Truth Says:

    “Enforcing civil rights laws and ensuring that dollars intended for low-income students and students with disabilities are spent accordingly have been parts of the Education Department’s mandate since its creation in 1979. But efforts to reduce inequities have too often led to onerous and counterproductive micromanagement”

    This statement is loathsome as it is both false and hypocritical.

    Efforts to reduce inequities have NOT been counterproductive. They have been successful. Ironically, they have been successful as measured by the same metric both Hess and Darling-Hammond are supposed to support: the NAEP exam. In an article comparing states that implemented high stakes reforms (as a result of NCLB) to other states, Tom Dee found that NAEP score gains for the NCLB reform states were “particularly large among low income and minority students.” Hess and Darling Hammond are objectively incorrect in this statement, given the exact measure they are espousing.

    The article is available at:
    http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/Programs/ES/BPEA/2010_fall_bpea_papers/2010fall_Dee.pdf

  2. Monty Neill Says:

    But the abstract for Dee & Jacobs says the gains were at grade 4 math – and not in reading. A long way from the promises and ideology of NCLB. I say that while not believing there is no useful federal role somewhere between the punitive, test-centric monitoring of NCLB – which needs to end forthwith – and assuming that therefore there is not a positive federal role in promoting genuine school improvement. For recommendations in that direction, see the work of the Forum on Educational Accountability at http://www.edaccountability.org, particularly the summary recommendations for ESEA reauthorization and the paper on turnarounds and ‘common elements’ of successful schools. (I chair the FEA.)

  3. Art Says:

    Another analysis found that NCLB did not improve 4th grade reading, but did improve math at grades 4 and 8…

    http://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/publications/workingpapers/wpabstracts09/wp0911.html

  4. The Truth Says:

    Your studies are all well and good, but most studies show that schools have more of a role in increasing understanding of math than increasing reading skills, as reading skills require at home reinforcement. Therefore, a policy intervention (such as NCLB) that allows the school to reach its potential in increasing learning of mathematics should be lauded.

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