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Thompson: Building on Common Ground

In their joint Huffington Post contribution Is There a Third Way for ESEA?, Linda Darling-Hammond and Paul Hill acknowledge that they are "members of very different 'camps' on school reform," but "we think there is more common ground than has yet been evident in the political process." They drew upon the efforts of two "distinct groups of scholars and policy experts that met separately to rethink educational accountability."

Perhaps the most important point of agreement was Darling-Hammond's and Hill's statement:

We agreed that, because a student's learning in any one year depends on what was learned previously and on the efforts of many professionals working together, the consequences of high and low performance should attach to whole schools, rather than to individual educators.

State and federal governments can provide data and research, as well as systems of support, and can incentivize improvement. But they should not make decisions about how to evaluate individual educators or manage individual schools. 

I just wish they had taken their impeccable logic one step further and applied it to individual students; for the same reasons, a student should not be denied a high school diploma simply because he failed a college-readiness test. 

In my experience, many or most reformers understand that value-added evaluations are a big mistake, but they sometimes are reluctant to openly call for a reversal of that failed policy. Sadly, in my experience, liberal reformers are often more uneasy about separating themselves from this crumbling cornerstone of Arne Duncan's term.

So, when I followed their link to Fordham Foundation's and The Center for Reinventing Education's Designing the Next Generation of State Education Accountability Systems, was only somewhat pleasantly surprised. The CRPE cites their "emerging consensus about state accountability systems providing a light (or lighter) touch on districts and schools." It also acknowledges that the "lack of autonomy forced by consequences can also drive high-performing teachers away from the schools that need them the most."

I was more pleasantly surprised by Robin Lake's Time for Charters to Lead on Special Education.

She complains that "charter advocates are currently talking out of both sides of their mouths, arguing that the movement can be a scalable systemic solution for all students, yet not consistently acting like it is one."

Lake cites three cities that "are finding ways to help stand-alone charter schools have access to special education services." But, she admits that charters in other cities continue to "treat students with disabilities and behavioral or other challenges as somebody else’s 'problem.'”

The tense of Lake's statements is crucial for two reasons. She is implicitly admitting that reformers were misstating the facts when repeatedly claiming that they serve "the same students." Will she and other reformers now apologize for using those falsehoods as weapons against traditional public schools?

Secondly, once the CRPE makes both sets of admissions - that test scores should not be used to punish individuals and that charters have not served their fair share of high-challenge students - what rationale is there for the continued existence of the CRPE?

In fact, once they admit that high stakes testing for individuals is wrong, and that charters have had unfair advantages in competing with neighborhood schools (and that charters are reluctant to give up that advantage), what purpose is there for the contemporary school reform movement?-JT (@drjohnthompson) 


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Thoughtful post here. These assessments and what they should be used for and how they should be used is so convoluted!

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