In the American Spectator RiShawn Biddle argues that Romney largely will continue the education policies of Bush and Obama – mainly because he has some moderates advising him and once was a moderate on the issue. But as a rule it’s always risky to conflate the policy apparatus of a presidential campaign with its political imperatives. So Biddle’s analysis would be more convincing (a) if many of these advisers were not privately saying that the politics of education are tough on the Republican side (b) if the candidate himself – who does seem prone to change his positions on this stuff – was not saying he’s going to pursue a more conservative federal role in education and (c) if we ignore that were he to win Romney would almost certainly be dealing with conservatives in Congress not favorably disposed to a strong federal role in education and eager to undo some Obama (and Bush) era policies and, of course, (d) if Biddle’s best evidence of Romney’s moderate education credentials were richer than supporting the D.C. voucher program and some pro-reform speeches from 2003. And of course President Bush himself hinted disapprovingly at what the Republican candidates were up to himself. My take on current state of presidential education politics via TIME here.
In The Times Michael Winerip takes a look at resistance to a new teacher licensing system based on video that’s being jointly developed by Stanford and Pearson. It’s one of a few efforts to use video currently underway. As to the resistors, let’s just stipulate that when you think Stanford’s Graduate School of Education is too reformist, well…anyway…
Winerip seems most concerned that this new idea will lead to outsourcing and “corporatization” and denigrate teachers. Perhaps, but teachers have to pass licensing tests now. Absent subject matter tests for secondary teachers they’re mostly low-level and most people from the educational left to the educational right think a higher-bar would help elevate the profession – it’s one of the few points of pretty widespread agreement in today’s education debate. And probably worth nothing that today’s licensing tests are also developed and administered by the private and non-profit sector and then paid for by candidates and used by states. It’s, well, outsourcing. Or, in other words, this is how it works today. The only difference in this case is the technology.
A more serious objection might be the cost-effectiveness of this video approach relative to better hiring and human resources practices at the school level. Rather than sparing people from making decisions should we be investing in capacity to make those decisions? And once there is more data a key question will be what the predictive leverage of this approach is relative to other – cheaper – licensing tests now in use? A second, related, issue is that for all the talk about value-added scores bouncing around it’s observations that are really noisy right now and have big reliability issues. The way to address that is more observations but that’s costly.
More generally, the idea of more observational protocols is obviously a good one. It’s still entirely possible to get hired for a teaching job without anyone in the place where you are teaching having actually seen you teach. And the majority of teachers do not teach in subjects or grades where standardized tests are used, so other approaches are needed even if you think value-added data are useful. But as with all things evaluation you can’t just go from zero to 60. In this case there is still a lot of work to be done to figure out how to norm the evaluators for greater consistency and more generally around how to most effectively use video. The Gates Foundation MET project is one important piece of that work (and is about to produce a large library of live teaching video for public use, the privacy issues are not the three ring circus they’re made out to be in this column). Other fields – particularly athletics of all things – are further ahead on using video in different ways. It’s an area where some innovation could lead to new ideas and methods.
Finally, higher-bar or no higher-bar, a big part of the problem here is the lack of accountability for schools of education (I say that as a board member of two of them – UVA and HGSE – and a former state official). Another area of broad-agreement in today’s education debates is that the country’s education schools need to step up their game, in many cases dramatically. How to do that and the politics of doing it are the flash points. That’s an issue of better policy, not better video.
Note – I’ve done a very small amount of consulting indirectly for Pearson and unrelated to this work. Gates is a funder of BW.