KIPP’s Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin take to the pages of The Washington Post to outline a five-point education agenda for President-Elect Obama.  You should read it.  It’s important and good stuff they put forward and hard to disagree with any of the proposals.  Still, I have to quibble with the weight they put on national standards as a lever for reform.   Mike and Dave note that with KIPP operating in 19 states now they see firsthand the mess that the maze of educational standards creates.   Sure, and national standards would surely increase efficiency there as well as create a common framework for other curricular and pedagogical innovations.  And that’s not a small thing.   But national standards are not a pedagogy nor a toolbox for teachers and just as today’s standards lead to a lot of low-quality teaching so will a new set if not coupled with big changes in how we approach teaching.  In other words, just as they won’t solve today’s political challenges, national standards alone will not solve some of the core teaching challenges we face today and we should be careful not to overestimate what national standards can do for us.

Update:  In the comments section Robert “Panic at the” Pondiscio helpfully illustrates the problem here by confidently asserting that a national assessment would be more transparent.  But why would a national assessment axiomatically be more transparent?  In fact, there is some evidence it wouldn’t be.   Why?  Well, we have one now, it’s called the NAEP, it’s very valuable but it’s not exactly a model of transparency in terms of its inner workings…just ask the other vendors who would like to bid on its contract or the combatants in the various debates about its technical worthiness…National standards and assessments are not an inherently bad idea, they have a lot of promise, but like a beautiful woman they seem to cause otherwise sensible people to completely lose their bearings.  The same political problems that exist in states exist in Washington, too, and it will take very intentional action to address that.

7 Replies to “KIPP’ed”

  1. National standards and assessments will create transparency. It’s not a panacea, and standards are not the same thing as a national curriculum. But it would make it harder if not impossible to lower the proficiency bar. That’s reason enough to back the idea.

  2. Your assessment of national standards seems misguided. I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that national standards alone will solve the problem of ineffective or lackluster instruction. However, what the creation of solid, content-rich national standards could do is provide a common set of expectations (in terms of outputs) for student learning and work. The folks at KIPP — and anyone else who’s worked in schools in multiple states — know that standards matter — as they can dictate (to the letter in some instances) what get’s taught in the classroom — and at what level of rigor (if it’s even specified — in many state standards, clear expectations of grade-level rigor are absent, which leaves it up to individual teachers to decide). If standards are mediocre, content, rigor and instruction will likely suffer. Improving what gets taught in the classroom and stating clearly what constitutes grade-level rigor (via national standards) would at least open the door to concerted efforts about how best to approach the instruction of said standards. But until everyone has a set of common goals and expectations, efforts to improve pedagogy will continue to be fragmented and unfocused. National standards alone won’t improve instruction; yet they could very well catalyze, focus and improve the chances of worthy efforts to make classroom instruction more effective.

  3. I support national standards, but I don’t see how they have relevance to transforming our low performing schools.

    My response to the Op Ed is similar to my response on the “21st century skills” debate. On one hand, how can you criticize 21str century skills and raising the bar to something really meaningful should be an unmitigated good. But I also understand the complaints of people who see the term as a code word for an approach that may have flaws.

    I agree that we should hold teachers and principals accountabile for student performance. I strongly support the efficient termination of ineffective teachers and principals. And Levin and Feinberg didn’t say anything explicitly about data that would be a deal-breaker. But in this climate of educational discussion – or should I say non-discussion – you never know if their is an agenda underneath. I support reasonable accountability measures with a reasonable amount of data involved, but iis hard to know when “reformers” who just know their little bit are going to push something really wierd. I think that comes from comparing tiny programs like KIPP and thinking that they have too many lessons for neighborhood schools.

    Bell rang, goota go. Hope I don’t have too many foulups here.d.

  4. Finishing up, I never want to sound like I’m criticizing KIPP or TFAers. But its silly to think that the lessons that comes from KIPP’s 17,000 students are replicable in any simple or direct way. If neighborhood schools had the authority to assess consequences, for instance, we would have never gotten this way.

    But I’d like to make a wider point. There is a fundamental tension in the concept of educational politics. In education, if we want improvements we must be painfully honest. We must debate the failures as well as the successes. You can’t debate solutions or implement them in an environment of half-truths. You can’t just wish problems away and ignore evidence to the contrary.

    In politics, half-truths are pervasive. So, reformers of all types must
    “play the game.” That’s life. The problems get worse, however, when advocates start to believe their own PR.

    I don’t know Feinburg and Levin and I can’t try to decipher their words. But in implementing their ideas, there must be tough negotiations. “Reformers” have got to be willing to adjust their bargaining positions to the realities of education if they want to help kids.

  5. You’ve lost me. How is NAEP transparent, Andy? Not every kid in every school takes it. So it’s useful for researchers and policymakers, but irrelevant to teachers and parents. In fact, stop parents in the mall this weekend. Ask them what NAEP is. I’ll give you $100 bucks for every Mom who has ever even heard of it.

    Parents care about “my kid’s school, my kid” not how their state does on NAEP. If every 5th grader in the country, for example, takes the same national ELA test, suddenly it’s crystal clear where my kid, my kid’s school and the district where I pay taxes in stand. Then lots of people will have some ‘splainin to do. That’s transparency. We’ll know where every school stands by the same metric. As Diane Ravitch said several months back, “If states and localities don’t want to improve their schools, then we are in deeper trouble as a nation than any law passed by Congress can fix.”

  6. I vote for the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to replace NAEP. Much better test, more challenging questions.

  7. How NAEP is constructed and how to interpret it is not transparent. What makes it worse is that generally the public doesn’t know the difference between NAEP and better known tests like the NCLB tests, which may not be understood either, and can’t figure out why we have both. Aren’t they the same, is a question that I often get from friends not privvy to the arcanery of assessment.

    But, because the current NAEP and its meaning and purpose aren’t transparent is no reason not to have national standards and a national assessment. Education is not business but education can take the right lessons from business about clarity of goals, good data and reporting, accountability for goals, holding employees responsible for achieving the goals and changing things that don’t work. We lack most of those elements in our education system. Standards, a scorecard for accountability based on common standards and the assessments to go along wtih the standards would be great first steps.

    It is trite to say now but we are competing with the world, not just between Texas and Illinois and the rest of the world has higher, clearer standards than we do. The recent CCSSO, NGA, Achieve report “Ensuring US Students Receive a World-Class Education” does a great job of laying out the case for standards and addressing many of the arguments for not creating common standards.

    Standards won’t help without good assessments. Assessments can be improved to be more innovative, performance based, richer in context and texture and so on. Assessments drive instruction. Assessment and instruction should be seamless. They are sometimes at loggerheads over time and resource allocation in the current scheme. Adaptive learning systems that integrate instruction and assessment can help solve this tension and resource allocation problem and more importantly improve student achievement. Rethinking how we invest our time and energy on instruction, materials, poor informative assessment and summative assessment toward building better adaptive assessments would be a good use of money. The interplay between instruction, intervention and summative assessment can be a lot more meaningful than it is in our current system which relies too heavily on summative assessment, an after-the-fact event.

    There is much to work on in education but starting with clear, comparable standards defining what we are setting out to accomplish is a necessary baseline. The other critical areas (of many that need to be addressed) are better data (consistency of metrics and reporting, systems) and smart investment in our human capital (pre-service and in-service education, professional evaluation, incentive, merit pay, meaningful career ladder, re-engineer the workplace and expand opportunity for educators).

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