Fordham Discovers Federalism! Again!

New Fordham Foundation study out today again (pdf) calls attention to the variance between states in terms of accountability rules under No Child Left Behind.  It’s well worth reading, illustrative, and important, but for the foreseeable future this awkward federal- state marriage is going to be the game so transparency around things like cut scores on tests and state implementation decisions are important elements in the short term.   The stimulus money and the incentives there are one lever for accomplishing some of this.

Update:  Bushie on Bushie Action!  Don’t miss Sandy Kress’ reax below.   And, Ladner piles on Wisconsin!  Kevin Carey previously badgered them on this issue.

19 Replies to “Fordham Discovers Federalism! Again!”

  1. it amazes me that the ever-naiive petrilli gets away with “making news” with this nonsense.

    to be sure, the paper is indeed helpful to those of us who are always trying to raise the bar in the states.

    but does petrilli believe that these discrepancies in the states would have ever been reported in the absence of nclb?

    does he believe they didn’t exist before nclb?

    does he believe they didn’t exist when his pal checker was in the usdoe?

    and, most important, does he believe they’ll go away when, and if, he’s able to sprinkle the pixie dust of national standards and a national test on the states?

    we have a federalist system. yes, we need to push for higher, common standards, tests, AND accountability systems. and, yes, the current system, including the terribly important steps forward in nclb, are messy. but let’s be clear about one thing: it would be a disaster to toss out the accountability measures in nclb until and unless a new and rigorous and complete and better system with real accountability is put in its place.

    it should come as no surprise that the states have their own differing accountability systems with different results. we knew this would be so when we developed nclb, and it was indeed a price for getting it through. the point was not to get a uniform accountability system throughout the nation, which i have never heard anyone advocate. the point was to say that there would be a uniform system in EACH state that would apply to rich and poor students alike. this idea, which extended accountability in the states from the state experiments in the 90s, has improved naep scores and narrowed achievement gaps.

    petrilli is having a lot of fun with his inside-the-beltway papers. it catches people’s attention that mississippi is not as tough as massachusetts. big news! but folks who care about reforms should realize that the real pressure these days is to give states and districts even greater latitude to LOOSEN accountability, not STRENGTHEN it. we cannot afford to let that happen on the mere hope that one day washington think tanks will do the job of holding locals’ feet to the fire after somebody else in washington has forced all of america to use the exact same standards and the exact same test with the exact same performance standards.

    real conservatives along with progressive reformers would call this thinking dreamy at best. let’s get real, friends.

  2. If by “naive” Sandy means “young and vivacious,” hey, I’ll take it!

    Look, Sandy is absolutely correct that there was state by state variation before NCLB. But that was one thing when states set the penalties (if any) for schools that didn’t make the grade as defined by the states. But now every state operates under a federal mandate to offer “public school choice” and “supplemental services” to children stuck in “failing schools,” and further mandates to overhaul change-resistant schools. All those sanctions and interventions, uniform as they are, are triggered by AYP systems that couldn’t be more different. This is craziness.

    It’s true that the only way to ensure the exact same ratings of the exact same schools, from state to state, would be to adopt a national accountability system, complete with a national definition of AYP. Nobody, including us, wants that. What is feasible is decoupling the transparency that was supposed to flow from NCLB (and could actually come from a rigorous set of national standards and tests) from state decisions around school “success” or “failure” and the appropriate interventions that follow. In other words, let’s do “transparency” at the national level and leave “accountability” to the states. (More on all of this here:

  3. Mike-

    You seemed to have arrived at the near to the same spot Gene Hickok and I reached in 2007 when discussing NCLB reauthorization. for the Heritage Foundation. We wrote then:

    Policymakers should embrace transparency as the primary goal in this round of debate over federal education policy. Transparency is one of several necessary steps in education policy reform. It is essential to inform the decisions of parents and taxpayers. Ultimately, education policy at all levels should equip Americans to take ownership of their public schools.

    Sandy- all of the travesties you cite will continue to exist regardless of what the feds try to do. By putting the focus on transparency and only transparency, it might help matters to improve. To date even a crusty local control guy like me would concede that NCLB has improved transparency on balance, but that will not remain the case unless we let go of the utopian 2014 stuff.

  4. While there are certainly some serious problems with NCLB and the testing system in Texas (yes, we have some relatively low cut scores and we actually have the sense to require a fairly large sample of kids to have a subgroup included–this is backed up my experts in the area), Petrilli fails to look at NAEP scores. Texas comes out smelling pretty badly in the Petrilli document, but no state has higher Black or Hispanic reading or math scores than Texas on the 4th grade NAEP. Failing to look at the NAEP scores of the states in teh study was a serious oversight.

    This does not mean that Texas does not have a LOT of work to do–it most definitely does. But let’s at least look at all the data available before making conclusions about what works and what does not.

  5. Ed-

    That is no longer the case. Florida’s Hispanics outscored Texas Hispanics in both reading and math on the 2007 NAEP. African Americans split (Florida higher in readng, Texas in math).

    As a Texan by birth if not current residence it pains me to say that Texas has stalled on the education reform front, in part I suspect for the reasons you suggest.

  6. my “expatriate” friend, ladner, gives only an incomplete naep report. both hispanics and blacks in texas did considerably better on 8th grade naep math than did their peers in florida in 2007.

    we have issues in texas, to be sure, but the education reform drive is very much alive and, in some ways, getting stronger. i certainly feel better about texas than post-bush florida!

  7. Sandy-

    Texas has made progress, and I’m rooting for you reformers, so don’t get me wrong. Living outside the state has just made it painfully obvious just how cautious the state’s political culture is, which is usually a strength. In education reform, it can be a weakness.

  8. This is the fundamental difference where my experience as a inner city teacher leads me to disagree. In education, cautiousness should be our prime virtue. In schools as in life, it is much easier to avoid mistakes than to correct them. A famous Okie turned Texan once said of the forward pass, “three things can happen and two are bad.” I would not be that cautious, but the best way to help schools is to model ourselves after the best coaches and “avoid unforced errors.”

    Believers in data-driven accountability want to count all of the points they put up on the board in terms of test score increases (when increases occur) but they don’t count the points lost to turnovers and other bone-headed mistakes. I don’t deny that the billions of NCLB investments have done some good. But you guys ignore the bad it has done, and all of the additional waste. Count both sides of the equation and the issue of who has scored more points – Texas or Florida? – and your debate is irrelevant. Our opponent is educational failure and since NCLB it has been whipping our butts.

    Take two teams with equal talent and have one practice razzle dazzle plays and have the other concentrate on not “putting the ball on the ground,” and the cautious system will always win. The same applies in most systems. Were it up to me, I’d recommend ultimate ground control game. I’d have every principal and every union building rep take a daily walk around every school, make a list of problems and then collaboratively modestly plan and implement the most practical solutions.

  9. Matthew–we are both incorrect in a sense. I am looking at whether the differences are statistically significant. I don;t believe you are. This is a common mistake that many non-researchers or young researchers make. For example, Florida African American students had a scale score of 2008 while their Texas’ peers had a scale score of 2007. There is no statistically significant difference, yet you claim Florida outperformed Texas. Hispanic students in Florida do outperform Texas Hispanic students in reading, although “Hispanic” is far different in Texas than in Florida.

    Your point that reform in Texas has stalled out has some basis of truth. This is borne out in the scale score progression in Texas. This started back in 2001. I predicted that the scores would flatten out because a greater proportion of our teachers are produced in low-quality alt cert programs. We are seeing the effects of that in high school where the greatest producers of secondary math and science teachers are from programs that provide no pre-service training and whose graduates have lower certification scores than other programs.

    So, one reason for the lattening out of our NAEP scores is the failure of the state to address teacher quality in any substantial way–either in teacher preparation, recruitment, professional development, or retention.

  10. i actually agree with matthew that the pace has slowed.

    part of this is due to the concerns ed has studied and pointed out clearly and forcefully about teacher preparation. i agree that some of the problem is due to the lack of pre-service training, but it is even more seriously due to the lack of content mastery, particularly in secondary math and science teachers.

    part of the problem is also due to the tremendous resistance to change from forces of the status quo. oddly, while the spirit of reform seems to be strengthening in many of our cities, especially where strong mayors have asserted themselves, the energy at the state level has waned in many states, i believe.

    finally, in response to john, while i disagree with his statements about nclb and accountability in general, i very much support his common sense suggestion about what principals and teachers ought to do. i’d suggest, too, that accountability ought to consist mainly of solid, research-based help the states and the feds could provide to these educators.

    yes, there should be ratings. and, yes, there should be consequences when performance does not improve. but let’s agree that the main response to the data ought to be the very best assistance that can be provided along with the resources needed to improve the teaching and learning process.

    the states and districts that have made the greatest progress actually do more of this as part of accountability. take a look at the broad prize winners, for example.

    surely, a whole lot more can and should be done. this has become more of my work over the years, as well it should for all of us.

  11. Would you agree with John Thomasian, NGA Best Practices Director who said yesterday that “Transparency is 90% of accountability?” If so, how much do we fight over the remaining 10%?

  12. Ed-

    I will happily amend my statement to “might be/are higher” in 4th grader for you, and are still behind in 8th grade for Sandy.

    On the teacher certification front, I’m inclined to think that Texas should liberalize certification still further and then let bad teachers go on the back end.

  13. john, i do not agree that transparency is 90% of accountability, and i doubt that, as a good teacher, you do either. accountability is about getting standards and expectations right, having appropriate materials and other support, measuring to see how well students are learning to the standards, using the data that become transparent about these things to improve the teaching and learning process, and taking other steps that will help teachers, students, parents, and others play their part more effectively. it is also, as ed suggests, about getting the most effective teachers in the classroom in the first place.

    transparency is a key ingredient – to be sure – but 90%? no way. it’s as if to say that my knowing i’m overweight and by how much is 90% of getting leaner, or knowing that smoking causes cancer is 90% of quitting smoking, or knowing my profits and losses is 90% of becoming a profitable company. helpful, yes. important, yes. sufficient or 90%, no.

  14. Matthew–We have the lowest barriers to entry in the country. We have a plethora of privately run alt cert programs which require a 2.0 (or less GPA) for entry, no pre-service training, and very little mentoring/induction or in-service training. Where do these teachers become employed? As one would guess, low-performing schools serving large percentages of poor and minority students. These teachers leave at a very, very high rate and are statistically between 50 and 100% more likely to leave teaching within 3 years than traditionally prepared teachers even after controlling for teacher and school characteristics.

    We don;t need lower barriers. Rather, we need higher barriers and more pay for those who are effective.

  15. Sandy,

    This is helpful because it does illustrate our different worldviews as well as views of education. I’d say that 90% of the accountability in the classroom coming from transparency is about right. As I guest blogged last week on TWIE, there is a place for accountability and grades in the classroom, and I don’t beat myself up when I employ them. But if I have to use accountablity measures on students, my lesson hasn’t succeeded.

    One thing about education, we will never know who is right. There is room enough for all views, and especially with the shortage in the inner city we don’t have the luxury of battling over different approaches.

  16. Ed-

    I’m curious what you think about the Brookings study referenced in this post:

    I would agree that if we could figure out how to predict who is going to be a good teacher, that we should apply a filter. It looks to me that some foreign countries do a much better job at that.

    In the absence of that, it seems that the thing to do is to be liberal about who can be hired, but to aggressively let teachers go who do not add value in the first three years.

  17. I completely agree students today need to have encouragement and goals to succeed in school, improving the important test scores. Students need to see how their education will affect their life outcome, and how opportunities expand when their test scores and commitment to school rise. This is a great tool I recommend everyone to watch on education today
    That directly relates to what we’re discussing here. What a great discussion everyone!

    Azahar (EducationDynamics)

  18. I am finding it interesting to read Mr. Ladner speak of transparency while he touts Florida’s grade 4 Hispanic results without noting a grade three retention policy which filters poor performers from polluting the grade four poll. I continue to fail to see the glory or amazement that a group purged of its low scorers will look better than a group which contains its poor achievers.

  19. After reading all the posts, I suggest other readers google Walter Haney and Florida and Texas NAEP scores. Then judge the transparency of some posters for yourself.

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