Friday TV Part II

American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein and I discuss education policy over on  It’s not as boring as it sounds!   We’ve got it all, national standards, Washington, Gotham, merit pay! oh my!, and a stimulating stimulus dicussion…And I don’t even look completely as though I’m being held for ransom.

3 Replies to “Friday TV Part II”

  1. Will there be a discussion of good teaching? Or good teaching techniques? Of hiring and retaining good teachers? Or firing those who don’t make the grade?

    It seems, with so many things to talk about these days, we may be reforming ourselves right out of the picture.

    Why has it been so hard, for the last 20 years, for people to come around to the simple notion that improving learning means improving teaching? Where has the leadership been for this idea? Why are we so enamored of standards for kids but not standards for teachers? (I know, unions! That’s what everyone wants to throw out as the reason why we can’t get teachers teaching better. But this is simply not true when you’re actually doing the work down in the trenches. In 15 years, I’ve never had a union derail anything my company was doing in a school.)

    So many teachers want their jobs to be easier and more satisfying. They want to see more learning with less nail-biting, teeth-grinding effort. They want training in better ways to teach and they’ll gladly put them into practice if their principal will only support them.

    But when all the talk of reform hits every subject other than teaching quality, I think the truth gets lost in a fog of dangerous social engineering and the notion of some “grand plan” for national reform.

    The recipe, it seems to me, is pretty simple:

    1. Tough accreditation for teacher training institutions.
    2. Standards for teacher performance. (Use the National Boards if necessary)
    3. Improved working conditions and better administrative leadership.

    If we focused our energy on the core problem of improving teaching, we’d make more progress, more quickly, than with any other set of reforms currently under discussion.

  2. Andy, Andy, Andy! it’s not like you to say such silly stuff: Texas is not playing nice in the sandbox on common standards because it’s some sort of crazy place that wants to elect chuck norris as its president. please!

    the truth is texas just adopted new standards in reading, math, and science – all within the past two years. the new standards, though by no means perfect, are reasonably good and better than the ones they replaced; they’ve been compared to college ready standards; and fairly adequately benchmarked to others. could they be better? indeed! could they be worse? without a doubt!

    but, in reality, texas has already begun spending tens of millions of dollars on materials. we’ve been preparing our teachers to teach to these standards. we’re developing new tests to assess student knowledge to these standards. we’ve just adopted a new accountability framework to judge school success against learning to these standards.

    i don’t think it’s a matter of wanting chuck norris to be president to ask simply whether it makes any sense at all right now to put all this work in limbo while this dialogue takes place. in fact, i think it would be utterly irresponsible for texas to do anything but continue down the path of full implementation of its new standards.

    in fact, i suspect after the good feelings wear off, other governors and chiefs will begin to ask whether they can or should consider new standards at this time. once they learn about how hard it is to write new standards, they will ask even more questions. when we get to the controversies around whole language vs. phonics, they will ask more questions still. then comes computation vs. concepts. then comes all the many questions that arise once you get below the level of 30,000 feet. then – God forbid – you might even get to the place where you might possibly find the new standards under consideration to be no better than (or even possibly worse than) the standards you have! could it be that the tradeoffs that happen nationally will be the same as those that occur in the states? could the same interest groups intervene? could this nice dream be interrupted by the demons that bedevil state standard setting? could these interests be the problem as much as variation? oh no, could it be there’s no santa… no, i won’t go there.

    and, oh yes, what about performance standards? if we ever get to detailed precise standards in each grade for reading and math, do the participants agree to common performance standards? if they don’t, who’s kidding whom? the real problem today is not so much that some states have vastly higher standards than other states; it’s more that their performance standards are greatly different. have the states, or will the states, commit to making those the same? if not, this will be utterly fruitless.

    listen – DO NOT GET ME WRONG – i’m all for higher, fewer, clearer standards. i’ve spent a lot of time working on improving texas’ standards over the past 20 years. i’ve spent a lot of time with the hunt institute pushing more common standards. this is indeed the right thing to do.

    but this process is going to be much more difficult than some think. it won’t happen overnight, nor should it. and there will remain great variation at the end of the day. it is utterly naiive and/or foolish to expect states to jump track from their current gameplans, particularly where they’re reasonably well thought out.

    be prepared for states to recognize this “the morning after.” texas just recognized it before “the drinking began.”

    also be prepared to realize that a better approach might be for one or more of these organizations to begin by recruiting the best and the brightest and actually doing the hard work of developing a few sets of model standards and then shopping them to the states, with the political support of those who rightly want high, common standards as well as perhaps some incentives from the feds to take these steps.

    for states like texas that have just revised their standards, it may be focusing on key standards and emphasizing them, such as the “focal points” in math might do. for other states that are coming up to a re-write, it might mean using the models directly in the re-write. the transition will take time and effort and intelligence.

    let’s not write off the few who recognize these truths as yahoos, andy. otherwise, when you see the emperor without his clothes, as will happen here, you’ll be unnecessarily disappointed.

  3. I think Texas has every right to be concerned about the ELA “standards” that will come of the secret process and secret committees now in place in DC under the auspices of two organizations that should know better–a governors’ association and an association for commissioners of education in the states.
    Now that we know that an English major with no degrees in mathematics at any educational level is chairing the mathematics drafting committee, we have every reason to be concerned about what kind of mathematics standards we will be presented with, and what the ELA standards will be. This was not the way to develop national standards.

    Moreover, a validation committee chosen by the NGA and the CCSSO to evaluate the work of the committees they have put into place further reduces confidence–and violates a basic tenet of our form of government–checks and balances.

    Every state legislature should be setting up its own validation committee composed of faculty from the math, engineering, science, history, and English departments at its two and four-year colleges–to tell the state legislature whether the “college-ready” standards these committees are coming up with will actually make high school students ready for authentic college-level coursework, or whether they will make them less ready for authentic college coursework than the standards in the best state standards documents (CA, IN, and MA) and in such countries as Flemish Belgium, the Czech Republic, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Sandra Stotsky

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