What’s Next For Virginia? Three Things To Look For

The Department of Education’s letter to Virginia requesting modifications to the Commonwealth’s No Child Left Behind wavier was good news if you want to see a more robust accountability system.  Virginia officials are rightly miffed that [to some extent] they’re getting busted for the same thing other states are doing.  But that points up some larger issues for the waiver policy (and everyone is probably lucky that even though all the information is in public view no one actually reads it…).  Anyhow, with Virginia poised to make some revisions in September here are three things to keep an eye on in the Old Dominion (and by extension in other states):

1) Are the “annual measurable objectives” (AMOs) ambitious enough?  Lost in some of the furor about the race/ethnicity/income-based nature of the targets was the simple fact that they were not ambitious.  Setting intermediate targets that are differentiated by socioeconomic characteristics is not inherently outrageous – and is essentially current policy by default under No Child Left Behind and existing waiver authority.  You don’t unwind generations of regressive education policy in an instant. What’s more, a legitimate critique of No Child Left Behind is that it spread school improvement efforts too broadly.  But the answer to those issues is not to focus accountability so narrowly that only students in the absolutely worst-performing schools get any help. That would have been the effect of the targets Virginia adopted.  And it’s certainly not to adopt the thinly-veiled racial and socioeconomic determinism that characterized some of the public debate about Virgina’s plan.

2) Do the AMOs take you somewhere worth going long-term? Not only should they be ambitious, but the AMOs should set Virginia on a course to where this sort of differentiated accountability is not needed. Or put plainly, are the new targets ambitious enough to close gaps?  For instance will we see dramatic gap closing within a decade or twelve years – so for this year’s kindergarteners. 1oo percent proficiency is not necessary but aiming to have less than six in ten poor and black students proficient by 2017 doesn’t set in motion the level of effort that is necessary to change educational trajectories.

3) Does the rest of the waiver plan support the short and long term planned AMOs? Perhaps the most depressing and embarrassing aspect of the peer reviewers response (pdf) to Virginia’s waiver request (which was originally denied) is the striking lack of confidence in Virginia’s accountability system and commitment to gap closing.  More of the same is not going to fundamentally change a system that is failing too many students.  Are the supports for struggling students and schools adequate?  Will schools genuinely be turned around and will those turnaround be sustained? If the state wants to rely on its own accountability system is it any good (Virgina’s really isn’t) or are there plans in place to make revisions? More generally is the state going to take on bigger issues around teacher preparation and other contextual factors?

Again, those aren’t just Virginia questions and issues, they’re worth asking in a lot of states.

6 Replies to “What’s Next For Virginia? Three Things To Look For”

  1. Rationality from Taiwan where for-profit education has diluted the labor markets for REAL college students.

    “The parents are the major difficulty. We have to persuade them not to hope that everyone of their children can become a lawyer or a doctor,” Hsu said.
    “In fact, carpenters and butchers with special skills may end up having better lives. And anyway, not everyone in a society can become president. Only one.”

    Is there ANY hope that our country will somehow come to its senses and stop blaming teachers with emotional movies about victimized children and parents?

    Is there any hope for a rational debate about whether assessments really do measure student knowledge and teacher performance?

    Is there any hope that TFA will be forthright with the true cost of their programs and their effectiveness?

    Is there any hope that unions will start acting like adults and self police themselves and stop the nonsense that ALL disciplines are equal and that AP physics is just as difficult as drama or journalism?

    Is there any hope that we as adults will get to know our children and what they can and cannot do and stop FORCING them to be something they cannot or do not want to be?

    Is there hope that the federal government will get out of the education business and return control to local entities?

    Is there any hope that local entities can finally hold textbook publishers and consultants accountable for contractual violations due to non-performance?

    Is there any hope that charters will be as forthcoming with performance and financial data as the publics are?

    Is there any hope that ANYONE in the edu-industry would take an oath to put students first even at the cost of their own careers? And that they would FIRST teach in a needy classroom for the normal hitch of an enlisted sailor (five years) before becoming nationwide edu-experts? And that they would be forthcoming with their state testing performance?

    Is there any hope that teachers will decertify their unions for failing to represent their interests since at least 1975?

    Is there any hope that teachers will stand up and self police their profession and chase off the incompetents and slackers?

    Is there any hope that the curse of economists can somehow finally be told that their opinions are useless and that their analysis is at best window dressing on a fundamentally human problem that can be solved in short order IF people act like adults?

    Is this too much to ask for? Or are our the adults of this country so entirely invested in their careers in education in which they SERVE THEMSELVES AT THE EXPENSE OF CHILDREN that the kind of adult behavior I suggest is entirely impossible?

    Right now, its seems that way.

    There is a culture war in education right now. IF I still had school aged children I would absolutely home school them. The edu-debate is leaving children behind.

  2. Would evolutionary biologists or the real scientific community support this edu-accountabiity nonsense? And support a mandate that ALL children are created equal?

    Absolutely not.

    Perhaps we need a more practical, immediate remedy.

    Start a draft for teachers. Compel all college graduates at some point in their lives to give four years to a struggling public school.

    And leave it at that.

  3. So what’s your prescription for improving educational achievement for low-achieving students — poor, minority, or otherwise?

    Seems like most schools are doing reasonably well for most students — based on test scores, graduation rates, college enrollment, and public opinion polls. The achievement problems are concentrated in the low-SES-area schools, particularly the low-SES-area inner-city schools.

    The corporate school reformers generally advocate reforms — high-stakes-testing, teacher evaluation/discharge, weakening/eliminating tenure, charters, vouchers — to be applied everywhere, not just in the low-SES-area schools. This mismatch between the problems and the proposed reforms strongly suggests that the problems addressed by the reforms are not the problems mainly responsible for the low achievement levels and, similarly, that the reforms will not solve the problems that are responsible for the low achievement levels.

    The problems that are responsible for the low achievment levels are almost certainly problems that correlate with living in low-SES areas — societal problems (i.e., poverty, single-parent families, non-English-speaking, low parental education levels, poor health) and school-based problems (i.e., chronic absenteeism, minor but endemic classroom misconduct, and students reading far below grade level). Certainly, the societal problems contribute to the school-based problems and each individual societal or school-based problem probably contributes to the other school-based problem.

    To solve the real problem facing American education — low achievement levels in low-SES-area schools — reforms must focus on the societal and school-based problems that are actually causing the low achievement levels in low-SES-area schools.

  4. Labor Lawyer nails it.

    If LL doesn’t mind, I’m keeping her/his post for use in other venues–with attribution of course. I’ve tried to say the same things but it’s never come out so eloquently and succinctly.

  5. Yes, of course what Labor Lawyer says is correct, and I’ll bet everyone knows it, too. This “reform” movement is clearly about something else, and we all know what that is as well. 2

  6. Labor Lawyer makes very good points. As a former teacher, I don’t understand why so much emphasis is placed on fixing teachers (when most teachers do a pretty darn good job, considering everything) and so little emphasis is placed on the students who are failing: Identifying the reasons behind their failure (which often have little to do with their particular teacher).

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