The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Business, schools, and workforce development

I was talking with an educator recently about business’ interest in K-12 education, and he was less than impressed with what he had seen. He said that a common feeling within the education community is that educators care about the whole child, and that business’ interests start and stop with workforce development. That, he said, made educators skeptical about working with businesses or accepting their support.

Is that the case? Do businesses want to turn schools into job training centers, from kindergarten on up? Or is the real picture a bit more complicated?

Speaking just for myself, as a businessperson and an advocate for business’ engagement in education, I believe that schools should prepare children to succeed in the adult world. That includes preparing them to succeed in a vocation of their choosing, to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligations as citizens, and to live independently as aware and capable consumers. In short, to be successful as workers, citizens, and neighbors.

And I would expect that most businesspeople feel the same way – or at least that they would see the purpose of public education as being more than workforce development, whatever their particular beliefs might be as to other objectives.

So why is there such a singular message on workforce preparedness? A few thoughts:

  • Credibility is not universal – Craig Barrett (Intel) has been particularly outspoken on the need for an educated workforce, and people listen to him because of his status as an accomplished businessman and major employer. He may also care greatly about voting and citizenship issues – but if he were to speak out on those instead, would anyone listen to him? It’s doubtful, since he has no credibility or accomplishments in those areas. So one might expect that people like Craig Barrett would limit their efforts to areas where people will take them seriously.
  • Pick Your Battles – Education has many external stakeholders, and each of those stakeholder groups has a different particular interest – some most concerned with politics, some with life skills, etc. Educational outcomes should reflect a composite of those particular interests – should business carry the flag for all of those, or just for those that reflect its most pressing interests? Perhaps the question is not why businesses push for workforce development, but why the other stakeholder groups are failing to push for their interests as forcefully.
  • ROI – Businesses are accountable to their owners, and it’s much easier to justify their investment in workforce issues than it is to explain why they’re investing their resources in outcomes like citizenship and independent living.

So again, I would not assume that businesspeople are only interested in one outcome; it is in their interests professionally to have a self-sufficient and engaged citizenry, and they do realize it. One should also remember that businesspeople are not one-dimensional caricatures: they are mothers and fathers, community members, and citizens who care about their children, their communities, and their country.

But, like the rest of us, they choose their battles: they're realistic about what they can and cannot accomplish, whether they'll be seen as credible in an area, and whether they're working in the best interests of the people paying for their time. So you might expect to continue to see businesspeople focusing on workforce development issues - but it doesn't mean that they don't care about the rest of the student.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Educator Roundtable - doomed to fail

A group called The Educator Roundtable has made a splash in education circles recently, calling for “the dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act.” They’re encouraging people to sign a petition to that end and promoting their message through the trade media, the blogosphere, and undoubtedly through the social networks that connect teachers to teachers and schools to communities. They’re even collecting funds to launch an ad campaign calling for the elimination of NCLB.

They’re going to fail.

While I disagree with their reasoning and goals, their inevitable failure has nothing to do with either of those. We could argue back and forth, point/counterpoint, and it wouldn’t change the fact that they have no chance whatsoever of succeeding in their mission.

The reason has nothing to do with their message; it has everything to do with human nature. The simple fact is that, for people to achieve great things (however they define them), they have to move towards something, not away from something.

And that’s the problem with The Educator Roundtable’s fight to dismantle NCLB: they want to move away from something, but offer nothing to replace it.

From their petition:

We, the educators, parents, and concerned citizens whose names appear below, reject the misnamed No Child Left Behind Act and call for legislators to vote against its reauthorization. We do so not because we resist accountability, but because the law's simplistic approach to education reform wastes student potential, undermines public education, and threatens the future of our democracy.

Below, briefly stated, are some of the reasons we consider the law too destructive to salvage. In its place we call for formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators rather than by politicians, ideology-bound "think tank" members, or leaders of business and industry who have little or no direct experience in the field of education.

Their vision – what we get if we successfully overturn NCLB – is that they’ll hold formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators. Let that sink in for a minute.

What they’re saying is that they have no plan at all – one can only assume that we’ll go back to the ways things were before NCLB and sit tight, awaiting further instructions. But assumptions aren’t visions, and state-level dialogues aren’t going to inspire anybody.

Our forefathers overthrew British rule, but it wasn’t simply because they didn’t like being oppressed; there have been, and always will be, plenty of oppressed people who put up with being ruled unfairly. What got them to act was the promise of something better: the vision of independent democratic self-rule. They almost certainly would not have revolted if they had not had a better option clearly in mind. They risked everything to move toward something, not just away from something.

When the Russians leapt ahead in the space race with the Sputnik program, John F. Kennedy inspired the country by promising to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. He didn’t motivate the dispirited masses by promising to fight technological obsolescence; he helped the country move toward a great accomplishment, not away from doom.

Other people spoke out against segregation, but it wasn’t until Martin Luther King Jr. painted a picture of a better world that people bought in and forced change, often at great personal cost.

Once The Educator Roundtable can give us a compelling picture of a world without NCLB – one that all of education’s stakeholders, not just teachers, can buy into – then they’ll have a fighting chance. Until then, their efforts are futile.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Best In Class

Ernst & Young just came out with a white paper titled “Best In Class: How Top Corporations Can Help Transform Public Education.” It’s the most important piece on the subject in years; I’d highly recommend it.

Independent evaluation in the real world

I mentioned having a couple of thoughtful responses recently; the other one concerns independent evaluation, something I’ve been thinking more about quite a bit. The comment was in response to a post entitled "He said, she said"; rather than interspersing my comments, I’ll just post my notes after presenting the entire thing.

Thank you for raising this topic. A group of parents, community members and educators were discussing a topic very similar to this past Thursday evening. One concern is our school district has academic magnet schools with minimum entrance requirements. The challenge is an 85 gpa needed to qualify for the lottery (minimum B) from one school is not the same as another school. Consequently with grade inflation or whatever you want to call it there are students who are "qualified" and get in the school but are ill-prepared once they start 5th, 7th or 9th grade work (depends upon which school you attend as to what grade you enter). does one ensure that an 85 is an 85 is an 85 and that all children who are "qualified" are truly qualified? Without this the academic magnet schools will sink to the level of the comprehensive high schools (rather than being the benchmark toward which the comprehensive high schools need to move). Two of our academic magnet high schools are top 50 schools based upon the number of AP classes/tests taken by their seniors or whatever the measure is. However, even without this flawed measure they would be a top high school (public or private) in the country.

We are concerned about maintaining the quality of these schools and want to increase the academic requirements for entrance to do this. However, with grade inflation, teacher-to-teacher discretion for grading, the ability to determine the foundation of the kids who "qualify" are receiving is next to impossible without testing them. Maybe this is the answer -- there is another screening test before the kids can get placed in the lottery. This would be in addition to their third grade TCAP scores having to be "advanced" in both reading and math.

Any thoughts on how to get conformity in grading would be most beneficial. This is a much bigger issue than just those kids that qualify for the academic magnets. This goes to the basics of how well prepared are second graders to move to third grade, third graders to fourth grade, etc.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

I do believe many more children should be failed than are today. However, there is such a stigma on holding students back a year to give them the extra help they need.

Well...we need a T-1/pre-first program, we need kids to start kindergarten at age 6, we need to be able to hold students back for social immaturity, etc.

Thanks -- I look forward to reading your response.

This is an excellent example of the real-world issue of grade inflation. Students have to clear a bar in order to apply for these magnet schools – but if the bar is set at different heights for different students, based on variations in rigor and subjectivity in assessment, how can the district know which students are qualified and which are not?

Under the current system, there’s no way that they can. There’s no way to know that an 85 from School A is the same as an 85 from School B, and there are any number of reasons for that, and any number of potential culprits involved. (As mentioned before, it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that it’s the teacher’s doing, but it could just as well be an administrator or parent pushing for revised grading.)

There are really only two solutions in this case. The first is to institute system-wide independent assessment, with a third-party evaluation conducted to verify academic achievement. This could be an independent written test or board-evaluated portfolio model – the format doesn’t matter as much as the independence and expertise of the reviewers. That way, the admissions people at this magnet school have a reason to trust the validity of the data and know that it's comparable from source school to source school.

Failing that (it is a monumental shift, and will either never happen or will happen very, very slowly), the only recourse available to the district and magnet schools is to require their own independent evaluation of student preparedness as part of the admissions process. If we can’t trust the data coming in with the students, we need to generate data that we can trust, whether that involves additional assessments, personal interviews, essays, or portfolios (or all of these and other options).

But at some point along this path we need to find data that is not compromised by subjectivity and self-interest. It’s the only way to know what you need to know in order to make effective decisions.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The STEM Accelerator Initiative

I’ve written recently about the competing aims of equity and excellence in public education: in short, it’s nearly impossible to create a system that generates both outcomes, and our current focus (after a history of lurching between the two) is on equity. This is evidenced by the goal of NCLB, which seeks to ensure that every child is able to clear a minimal bar in core subjects.

Equity is certainly a laudable goal, and it may in fact be the proper mindset for universal public education. However, educating to a baseline does little to help the employers who need highly capable employees to compete in a knowledge economy at a global level. Since the public education system cannot pursue excellence while simultaneously focusing on equity, outside support is clearly required if we are to sustain and increase the pipeline of highly capable workers.

I’m fortunate to be working with a nonprofit group interested in increasing the number of prepared workers – and they not only have an innovative program model grounded in the operating principles of business, but they are uniquely qualified to carry out this plan. (And to be clear, they are a client – but this is something I would be writing about regardless, since I believe in their approach and believe that others can learn from it.)

NASSMC (The National Alliance of State Science and Mathematics Coalitions) has launched the STEM Accelerator Initiative (SAI), a program designed to identify and support STEM education programs that are making a demonstrated and verifiable impact on the STEM workforce pipeline. (You can go here to learn more about the project - lots of good information available.)

There are a few interesting elements to NASSMC’s approach on this project:

  • Second-stage support – Most programs provide support to new programs; while it is essential to experiment with new approaches in order to innovate, there’s no guarantee that these programs will make a difference in academic performance or career awareness/selection. SAI, on the other hand, only provides support to those programs that have been around long enough to generate evidence of their effectiveness, which means that every single program that SAI supports will have an impact on the STEM workforce pipeline in either the immediate or long term.
  • Multitude of services – SAI provides far more to programs than simply funds: its goal is to help these proven programs to either become sustainable or to scale (depending in the stage of the program), and it takes more than money to do that. Therefore, NASSMC will provide selected programs with full support based on their needs, including funds of course but also including help with planning, evaluation, business operations, fundraising, communications, and partnership development.
  • Coalition - One of NASSMC's great strengths is its network of 42 state-level coalitions, which are comprised of business, education, and government leaders. These coalitions understand their local markets intimately, and will be involved not only in identifying eligible programs but also in providing some of the services mentioned above. Their knowledge of local markets, including the requirements, priorities, funding models, and political realities within their states, makes them an invaluable and central element to SAI's success.

As I mentioned, the project has just been launched, and we’re in the early stages of fundraising and campaign implementation. Of course, if you’d like information on joining the project as a sponsor or partner, let me know and I’ll share more on the opportunities and advantages available to you through this program.

I’ll post updates as they occur – this should be a project worth watching.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dr. Wheatley takes the stage

In my last post, I offered a rebuttal to comments submitted by Dr. Karl Wheatley, and offered to post a response from him if he cared to provide one. He followed up with a second thoughtful note, and I'm sharing it verbatim below.

I'm catching up from a trip at the moment and haven't had time to craft a response, but I didn't want to withhold his comments any longer. If I decide to respond later, I'll do so in a followup post; I'd like to, and certainly his comments are worthy of a serious response, but I don't know if I can commit the time to do it justice, and I also feel that I've already laid out my thinking in several previous posts on the blog.

Dr. Wheatley's note:

Thanks so much for such a thoughtful response. A few points.

1) I couldn’t agree with you more that schools are often very unresponsive to parents and local community. For example, if my child is in your school, I expect to be welcome to come in and see what you’re doing. Let’s have dramatically more local control—but that means bean counters in D.C. or Columbus can’t be calling all the shots. (Nor can the Business Round Table).

2) Many groups are upset about NCLB, including parents who overwhelmingly think too much testing is going on. Mental health professionals are writing about mental health problems related to increased school stress, pediatricians have been critical—which is part of why they came out with a statement supporting unstructured play. Independent researchers (i.e., not part of DOE, Achieve, Ed Trust, etc.) have been very critical of NCLB—many from the very beginning.

3) I agree—Disaggregated data is great. However, I see no evidence that poor kids are getting any better education now. I teach in America’s poorest major city, and in the panic to somehow pass those tests, many schools are doing some of the most mind-numbing parroting instruction imaginable. For some, they often just practice old tests. This turns education into Trivial Pursuit—cram answers you don’t understand for the test, forget, cram again. It’s a brilliant way to prepare kids for the 1800s, and ensure that poor kids can’t think well enough to compete for good jobs.

4) I teach a lot about competition and competitiveness, especially in my master’s and doctoral courses on motivation. We like to pay competitive prices, want our kids to go to competitive colleges, and “compete” with ourselves to improve ourselves. The first problem with competition and competitive is that those words mean a lot of different things, and we tend to lump it all together, and assume it’s all beneficial. In the real world, the win-lose type of competition has various benefits and costs—sometimes the costs are greater than the benefits.

Competitive markets bring us great, inexpensive cars—competitive classrooms create all sorts of problems for motivation, learning, and behavior—especially if we’re serious about educating all kids. Education is about learning; business is primarily about performance, products, and profits. Different dynamics apply in education vs. business.

There’s no evidence I know of that competition between schools is beneficial overall. Private schools serve a legitimate function, but don’t do any better than public schools on apples to apples comparisons. Where charter schools are very loosely regulated, as here in Ohio, we’ve had disasters. Many of my students teach in charter schools, and their stories are just as disturbing as what I hear from Cleveland public schools. Once you distinguish between the various meanings of compete/competitive, the research on true competition in education is pretty depressing.

5) It has been a long-accepted professional and ethical standard that no single assessment be used for high-stakes decisions. That’s one reason dozens of professional, civil rights and religious organizations have signed FairTests’s petition regarding changing NCLB. I believe you could get a disclaimer from every major testmaker—either on the web or on their materials—that tests are not designed to be used this way. (This is a big reason academics are seething—this is educational malpractice.)

A sampling of quotes:

  • "When these tests are used exclusively for graduation, I think that's wrong."—Eugene Paslov, President, Harcourt Brace
  • ". . .Even if the SOL tests were beyond reproach, the use of test scores as the ultimate criterion for graduation decision violates professional standards for test use. Test scores should inform professional opinion, not override it."—Dr. Laurence H. Cross, Professor of Educational Research, Evaluation & Policy Studies
  • "High-stakes decisions based on school-mean proficiency are scientifically indefensible. We cannot regard differences in school-mean proficiency as reflecting differences in school effectiveness. . . . To reward schools for high mean achievement is tantamount to rewarding those schools for serving students who were doing well prior to school entry." —Stephen Raudenbush, Schooling, Statistics, & Poverty (he’s a top expert on HLM)
  • "There is no date by which all (or even nearly all) students in any subgroup, even middle-class white students, can achieve proficiency. Proficiency for all is an oxymoron, as the term 'proficiency' is commonly understood and properly used." —R. Rothstein, R. Jacobsen, & T. Wilder, 11/06
  • " School leaders have a duty to undo the harm being perpetrated on schools today. " —W. James Popham (The Mismeasurement of Educational Quality)(Perhaps America’s best-known statistician. Has another book—The Truth About Testing—heavily critical of how we’re using tests. He’s written tens of thousands of test items, even helped Texas design their tests, but he knows what tests are and aren’t for).
  • "NCLB is martial law. States that were doing innovative stuff took a step backwards when NCLB came along." —John Katzman, founder, Princeton Review

6) I agree that assessment should be used for something—especially to inform altered or improved teaching. Most people will interpret many of the consequences of NCLB as punishments, and motivationally, the effects of something depend a great deal on how it is interpreted. Unfortunately, while punishments can effectively bring short-term compliance, substantial reliance on them is an inferior approach to motivation, what Stephen Covey calls the primitive carrot-and-stick motivational paradigm.

7) High stakes are well known to affect validity. Think of two people—one who knows all subjects well, and one who is not very knowledgeable, but memorizes a stack of Trivial Pursuit cards. Both can answer many of the questions, but we get fooled into believing that both people are very knowledgeable, when only one is. Under high-stakes conditions, we see something akin to memorizing Trivial Pursuit cards. To really understand something well, you have to understand a million pieces, and how the pieces fit together. Tests can only target so many pieces and a few relationships, and teachers with their feet to the fire start teaching only to those things most likely to be on the tests. The easiest way is to just teach the low-level standards in your state—that’s what’s most likely to be on the test. Unfortunately, the teacher is now targeting a lot of dots, but not enough to make a meaningful picture of history or science, or whatever. In reading, they actually sometimes assess ability to decode nonsense syllables. No one needs this skill in real life, but it’s easy to test, and it leads to people drilling kids on nonsense syllables. This inflates our judgment of whether kids can really read. Also, students who learn something in order to pass a test are more likely to forget material quickly after a test when compared to students who learn something just to learn it.

8) That a fair question--if the states can’t get it right, why trust them? Unfortunately, DOE has bullied states into doing assessment their way—by not accepting states’ plans. I believe only Maine and Nebraska have stuck it out and kept something interesting. Maybe Rhode Island. Many states doing interesting assessments returned to bubble sheets when pressured. If we treat people like sheep, we won’t get creative solutions.

9) Fair enough—what’s the alternative assessment plan? Linda Darling-Hammond provides some examples in Right to Learn. You need multiple types of assessments, and multiple folks looking at the data—definitely including people outside the school.

10) What do you mean by objective? Standardized? We say “objective test” a lot in education, but there is no such thing as objectivity in testing. In constructing tests, human subjectivity creeps in at every single step. Sack’s book Standardized Minds is a good source on this.

11) I believe they re-evaluated Follow Through a while ago, using newer statistical techniques, and there was no longer any clear advantage for Direct Instruction. However, cooperative learning has a lot of research support, as the NRP report notes.

12) People have been saying the sky is falling on American education for a century. Since a Nation at Risk, we had our two biggest economic expansions in history. When do we put the Chicken Little reports in some perspective? It’s raining in some places, even damaging hail in some places, but U.S. kids have been middling on tests for decades, yet those same kids keep going out into the world and outperforming kids with higher test scores from other countries. The tests have a place, but we’re trusting them way too much. I saw somewhere recently that among the most competitive countries economically, test scores are negatively correlated with economic competitiveness.

We were cleverly sold on the idea schools were failing terribly and schools and teachers were behaving irresponsibly. That’s convenient spin, but it misleads the public about the complex story. We have “failing police stations” in most of the same neighborhoods, but we haven’t framed it that way, or gone after cops the way we went after teachers, because we know that’s a misleading way to frame it.

13) More assessment data can be very helpful, but do we want meaningful evidence of real-world competence, or high-stakes testing? You can’t have both. With all this testing, no one in DC or Columbus really knows how well your local teacher is teaching. When I say fraud, I mean the gov’t is taking our tax dollars to pay for all this testing, and there are so many holes in the system, it’s essentially useless. And value added will just add another layer to the illusion that we have meaningful accountability—and watch your wallet on that.

14) There are all sorts of important outcomes that cannot be bubbled in, including ability to carry out scientific experiments, and all sorts of technology applications. Paper-and-pencil testing is extraordinarily limiting, and even if you do essays, that has been reduced to pat formulas for writing a good 5-paragraph essay. Paper-and-pencil testing works best for math—which is why they always drag out math tests—but is much weaker for science, technology, etc. If you look at the outcomes most valued by parents and the business community, including items from SCANS report, many of them are not assessed on these tests, as well as the more complex content standards states have identified. The same thing is true in teacher ed.—what students do on some paper and pencil tests is both limited and misleading. I have them role play all sorts of things and we watch them in the classroom. What they can do on paper is just the beginning.

Anyone else care to share their thoughts, pro or con?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Two views on NCLB

I’ve received a couple of thoughtful and detailed comments recently, and wanted to highlight them and respond. The first comes from an education professor at Cleveland State University in response to my post, The NCLB ‘Resistance Movement’ – I’ll share Dr. Wheatley’s comments below and intersperse my thoughts.

I understand why Ohanian sounds crazy to you, so why DOES she get such applause? And why are so many leading educational researchers and even statisticians clapping along, and writing their own books to say NCLB is a disaster?

Right off the bat, we get to the core difference between me and Dr. Wheatley: we simply see public education differently. Dr. Wheatley (as he’ll affirm later in this note) gives primacy to the people inside the system – NCLB is a disaster because educators (who are Ohanian’s audience) and others within the industry say it’s a disaster. In this world view, the public education system is an end in itself, and it is the people inside the system who should set the objectives and methods of learning. The people outside the system should have no voice in determining why we educate, how we educate, what we teach, or how we measure progress and success.

For me, public education is a means to an end – external stakeholders (citizens, business, etc.) pay for the public education system and therefore have the right and responsibility to state what we want it to accomplish. The people inside the system are paid to fulfill the objectives set forth by the citizen taxpayers who fund the system.

NCLB came about because the people who fund public education were not satisfied with the system’s outcomes and wanted some way to start gathering independent information on what’s going on in our schools. And while there are any number of flaws in this first effort at accountability (and yes, everyone thinks it can be improved), it has succeeded in providing new information to stakeholders, and more importantly, a focus on outcomes to everyone involved in education.

Quite a difference in perspectives, I’d say – and one that sets the stage for marked disagreements over every aspect of education.

Because there has never been an education law that was so brilliantly marketed (complete with bullying into silence people who suggested that poverty matters!), and yet was designed in so many ways to do the opposite of what is effective in the long run.

As I understand it, NCLB was created because poverty does matter, and children in poverty were being swept under the rug. Information on their performance was hidden within averages (in the case of test scores) or with deceptive figures (dropout rates). We can’t address a challenge like ensuring every child in poverty has a shot at a good education unless we can identify the problem and establish a way to gauge progress.

As an educational researcher and teacher educator, I teach teachers, future teachers and doctoral students about curriculum, lesson plans, content standards, child development, and motivation. NCLB undermines every one of those areas.

Most researchers assume that NCLB is really designed to privatize education--why else set goals that are flatly impossible to achieve (This isn't Lake Wobegone--all children will never be on grade level), then send the money to (poorly supervised) private vendors when schools inevitably fail.

I’ve talked to a lot of businesspeople about NCLB, and yes, there are some who want privatization. However, most people fail to grasp why that is. They’re not interested in privatization from a profit perspective – they’re interested in it because they see how a competitive marketplace (which privatization would create) forces improvement and innovation in an industry, and they see that as the best path to improving our education system. If control over all schools went from the government to a single company, the monopoly would remain, and there would be no improvement.

I would also say that NCLB and school choice (which is where the privatization concept falls in) are simply two different approaches to increasing school quality. If you had a free market for schools, you wouldn’t have NCLB – competition would ensure quality. And if you had strong performance on independent accountability (a la NCLB), there would be little interest in school choice.

Next, according to our professional standards (APA, AERA, etc) , high-stakes testing is educational malpractice. Even the testmakers say tests are not designed to be used this way.

I’d like to hear more on this. Which testmakers? What do they say?

Also, most of what matters is simply not on the tests, and will never be something you can bubble in. Tests have their place, but they're probably good for about 30-40% of what matters in education, and their validity drops when you attach high-stakes to them.

This is a common argument in this debate: you can’t test what we’re teaching. It’s the ultimate unassailable position, but I believe it to be patently false. Knowledge can be tested. Skills can be tested. What can we not evaluate? What is the 60-70% of what matters in education that we cannot assess? (And I’ll of course follow up on any response with: matters to whom?)

Also, let’s look at the concept of “high stakes” testing – it sounds scary, but deserves to be broken down.

To be meaningful, any system of assessment must have consequences. If a student cannot demonstrate that he or she has learned some material, there should be consequences: the student should be re-taught, whether that means redoing a unit, being held back a grade, or not graduating. This is not punishment: if we say that students have to know X, Y, and Z in order to succeed in life, we’re doing them a disservice by allowing them to go forward without that knowledge or those skills. We’re setting them up for failure. And if there are no consequences – if we’re just going to advance those students anyway – what’s the point of assessing them? Why measure if you don’t use the measurements for something?

And in terms of validity - how can the validity of a test drop when we attach consequences? Either a test is a valid measure of knowledge and skills, or it is not. It certainly becomes more important due to the addition of consequences – and it may cause anxiety – but it does not affect validity. (And note that in the case of NCLB, the consequences are the school’s, not the students, so the anxiety should reside there, and not with the students – despite what is so often reported.)

Education is about learning, and unlike business, it's not much about performance, and not at all about products or profits. Whatever you want to use in business, carrots, sticks and competition have a dreadful track record in education. Sure, you can get short term obedience, but in the long run, they work about as well as a fad diet.

Yes, it sounds reasonable to say teachers should teach to tests, but it's more complicated than that. If we're talking about knowledge, teaching to tests is a very bad idea--tests are designed to sample 15-20 of what we teach. To teach to the test often becomes teaching mostly the 20% that will be tested, and not teaching the other 80% that is equally important, and without which that 20% is useless trivia.

It also sounds reasonable to say that tests can't be preventing teachers from teaching high-level content if the scores reveal kids haven't mastered the lower-level stuff. It SOUNDS reasonable, but it's wrong. There is an infinite amount of lower-level content we can teach and test, but much of it is trivial, and is not necessary to master in order to move onto more complex subject matter. The tests have education stuck in 1st gear on this low-level content. Exemplary magnet schools have had to dumb down their content because "higher-standards" often just means learning a LOT of lower level material. This is the nonsense that high-stakes testing creates in schools.

Dr. Wheatley’s arguments in the previous two paragraphs seem to focus entirely on the quality of the tests being administered, not on whether we should have independent assessment. Considering that the states (not the federal government) determine what is measured and how it is assessed, surely there’s at least one state doing it right? And if not even one of 50 states can get assessment right, then how can we trust them on the other elements of education?

And I would also argue with the notion (in the last paragraph above) that we don’t need to master lower-level material in order to tackle more complex subject matter. This may be another of those intractable differences between me and Dr. Wheatley – I thought it was pretty well established that one has to master foundational knowledge and processes in order to grasp more advanced material. (See here, and the original Scientific American article here.)

Cockroach analogies aside, educators DO want meaningful accountability, but standardized tests can only be a piece of that, and local control must be a big piece of that process.

One thing that would be helpful would be to see an alternate proposal for accountability. If you want to eliminate NCLB but believe in establishing a meaningful accountability system, what would that look like? (And when I say meaningful, I would include words like ‘independent’ and ‘objective’ in that definition – I don’t believe there’s much meaning in having the same person who teaches the child also oversee evaluation – there’s too much conflict of interest.)

I teach teachers in the poorest major city in America, and many schools for poor children have become absolutely dreadful. If rich folks won't put up with scripted instruction for their children, why are we subjecting poor children to this mind-numbing nonsense? Talk about increasing the learning gap!

Many schools for poor children are dreadful. But this has nothing to do with scripted instruction in reading – it’s the only thing with hard evidence behind it showing its effectiveness (see here for information on Project Follow Through).

Never mind that the public has been misled about the state of American education for decades, and has been misled about the need for high-skill jobs, and have been misled about the tests themselves, and about how students and NCLB are doing (Increases in NAEP scores came almost entirely before NCLB kicked in). We're tired of the politicians and CEOs misleading Americans about education (I assume they just don't know any better), and we researchers are finally speaking up.

Again, this comes back to our respective views of the reason for public education. I would argue that citizens (represented by politicians) and businesspeople are the ones who are paying for the system, and who are doing so for a reason: to give children the tools they need to succeed in life. Clearly, those people believe that changing workforce requirements and global competition mean that our children will graduate into a very different world than existed in times past, and that our current education practices are not providing them with the tools they need to live successfully in that world. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for these people to insist that education change accordingly.

And a minor point: NAEP scores have been stagnant for decades. See here for results in math, reading, and science between 1971 and 2004. Pay particular attention to the scores for 17 year olds - the people just about to graduate.

If America's teachers weren't afraid of losing their jobs for speaking up, NCLB would have been dropped like a bad habit two years ago--because teachers would be telling everyone just what is going on.

I require teachers to learn about content standards, and the deepest irony of all is that teacher are not supposed to focus on some of the very sensible outcomes that have been dreamed up by the business community (What we look for in new workers) because they are not in the content standards-because they are hard to quantify on tests.

America is the drunk looking for the keys to its educational future under the streetlamp of high stakes testing, but that's not where the keys are.

And no, I'm not some left-wing nut. The U.S. flag is waving out front right now, I attend church every Sunday, and yes, I teach Sunday School.

God Bless You, and please help some of your friends wake up to NCLB. We were duped.

I don’t have any intention of casting aspersions on Dr. Wheatley, although I can understand his concern - there's a lot of flaming in this debate, and I'm glad he's not interested in participating at that level (I'm certainly not). I’m sure he’s a patriot, and when talking about NCLB, it doesn’t seem that political leanings make any difference. (Consider that Kennedy and Miller spearheaded the bill in the Senate and House and continue to argue for it, and that Republicans now want to gut it.) But clearly we see this issue differently.

I’ll wrap by disagreeing with his last statement. Dr.Wheatley says that we’ve all been duped by the promise of NCLB – I would argue that we’ve been duped for decades with faulty information on school performance, and that NCLB (or at least the spirit of NCLB) is an important first step on the road to a solution.

I’ve asked Dr. Wheatley to respond – I’ll be happy to post anything that he cares to send and make public.