Dillon In Love

For how many long years has NYT’s Sam Dillon yearned to write this graf?  I have a hunch he kept it in a pretty case above his desk on a little doily:

The administration’s proposal, if enacted into law, would encourage states to raise academic standards after a period of dumbing-down, end the identification of tens of thousands of reasonably managed schools as failing, refocus energies on turning around the few thousand schools that are in the worst shape and help states develop more effective ways of evaluating the work of teachers and principals. And those are just some of its goals.

A little over the top, yes, but he’s been patient.  Still, it does raise two important issues.

First, is our goal “reasonably managed schools” or, you know, ones where students are learning?  For a long time The Times thought the former, generally viewing schools through a more general social policy or welfare state prism rather than as a distinct policy issue where outcomes matter.  Let’s hope that’s not coming back.  And, the sentiment raises the question of how much accountability remains for underserved kids in the vast swath of schools in the middle is an enormous outstanding question in this reauthorization.

Second, even the Fordham Foundation after a exhaustive search couldn’t find evidence of a dumbing down race to the bottom.  The best they could come up with was a “walk to the middle.” I’m all for college and career ready standards but it’s essential that we not lose sight of (a) how much variation there was in standards prior to No Child Left Behind and (b) to the extent there is dumbing down it’s generally the result of state-level political pressure that favors looking good over doing well.   There is no inherent pressure to do that.   The effectiveness of the new ESEA law will hinge on how the policy accounts for those issues.

Dillon’s next day story on how much the unions hate it is important reading. A lot riding on that.

One Reply to “Dillon In Love”

  1. I wouldn’t take the “reasonably managed schools” phrase as you suggest, though admittedly it could be more precise. To me, that phrase suggests that the identification of “failing schools” is the problem. If I showed you a “failing school,” would you assume that in some way it’s not being run well enough? That seems to be the assumption behind all of the turnaround and reconstitution advocates.

    And yet, we don’t do a very good job of identifying “failing schools.” Witness the recent Ed Sector report that found great data about a Florida school with a “D” grade outperforming a school with an “A”.
    So, which school is “reasonably managed”? It could be that both of them are. When the student performance data is ambiguous or misleading, then maybe we shouldn’t rush to dismantle schools based on faulty assumptions. Maybe we should let LEAs use a wider variety of information to decide what’s best.

    Then, to argue that there is no inherent pressure to narrow curriculum and lower standards seems disingenuous. There may be a simultaneous, competing, and preferable pressure to elevate performance. However, when the stakes are high, the measures flawed, the money tight and the deadline even tighter, then we’ve seen what happens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.