Race to the Top: The Research Base
Susan Notes: Here's a good overview of what's at stake in Race to the Top.
This is everybody's favorite sound bite. However, it gets foggy when we start asking what data would we collect and how would we use it. If it is to identify groups that are not doing so well or characteristics of successful students, we actually know a great deal without collecting more information. The trouble is we donĂ¢€™t use what we know. For example, what systemic program does Vermont have for students in poverty?
Nothing wrong with the idea but how does it improve education? Without a clear vision, the danger of amassing too much private information is problematic. We tend to go around and collect what we can rather than what we need.
As a data cruncher, I love data bases. We have national data that shows charter schools segregate by poverty, handicap, race, and language. But will this change Duncan's policy? Doubtful.
7. Accessing and using state data
Certainly no harm in this (with privacy protections). What evidence do we have that that helps improve instruction? How? One trouble is that the level of data we collect is not valid (focused) enough. FRL as a proxy measure is good but we need to know if Mom supports her kids. Again, we measure what we can rather than what's important.
Standardized tests, by design, do not have sufficient power to give useful diagnostic information.That relegates us to a lot of correlational (not causative) studies. Yet, there are all kinds of interesting questions that can be raised with a sufficient data base. Differences in sped classifications, for example.
8. Using data to improve instruction
This has been promised since programmed instruction in the early 1960s. (To my chagrin, I published such a paper in 1967. I still hope to be proven right some day). The evidence on data improving instruction is weak and largely anecdotal. Our data does not have predictive validity and we inaccurately measure vital factors. In instructional use, the inability to resolve linearity assumptions has yet to result in a demonstrable set of packages or prescriptions. Knowledge and learning is far more fluid and plastic than our data systems.
Standards and Assessments
9. Adopt Common Standards
"To wholeheartedly embrace this suggestion, states have to overlook the damages national standards can do to education, and not take into consideration the fact that having national standards neither improves education for students nor narrows the achievement gap." Yong Zhao, Michigan State
See the fall, 2009 Bracey Report which reviews the fallacy of increasing standards. The call for "higher standards" as a means to improve education has been a rallying cry for over 100 years.
See Alfie Kohn, Education Week, January 2010.
Saying students that previously had to jump four feet now have to jump five doesn't do a thing to get them over the bar.
Without too much detail, the international economic rationale is not supported, nor is comparability, nor the needs of society. Stay tuned. I have a paper coming out on this in April.
10. Common high-quality assessments
How does this improve instruction? I have yet to see any legitimate rationale or research that makes this case. Perhaps we can argue that this makes education uniform. We have unassailable evidence that it narrows curriculum.
Examples from the legitimate peer-reviewed literature, please. OK, just give me one legitimate source that supports this.
11. Transition to enhanced standards and Assessment
Answer the two above questions positively and this becomes relevant.
Supporting Struggling Schools
12. Intervening in the lowest performing schools
States simply do not have the capacity (see Center on Education Policy) and it is doubtful that they will in this economic climate. Interventions have been "drive-by" and non-substantive.
Look at my ultimate sanctions paper at epicpolicy.org where I reviewed the research literature on the four NCLB required interventions.
13. Increase the supply of high quality charter schools
See Stanford CREDO study. The states that expanded charter schools the fastest showed the worst performance. CREDO also shows that charters have more negative than positive results. Bifulco and Ladd show they segregate and cause the achievement gap to get larger. Miron, et. al in a national study show they segregate (I'm a co-author). The research evidence simply does not support this notion.
14. Turn around struggling schools
The methods proposed by the federal government have no research foundation or history of working. See Jack Jennings, Center on Education Policy, discussed in Education Week and Mathis at Education and Public Interest Center (EPIC) and/or the District Administrator.
15. Demonstrating significant progress
What does this mean? I presume that means you get points for rapidly implementing the foregoing ideas.
16. Making education funding a priority
It's been 40 years since Serrano. We win 70% of the court cases but seldom win the funding. What does making a priority mean? How does this insure adequacy for all children? Poor children and children of color still receive less money than white and affluent kids. In these economic times how much of a priority will education funding be in Vermont or any other state?
17. Enlisting statewide support and commitment
I'm all for it. What's this mean? Hold a pep rally? Have the Lake Champlain Chamber say something positive? Without funding, this is a PR sound bite.
18. Raising achievement and closing gaps
I'm all for it. It's just that we have not made the right kinds of commitments in the right places to make this happen. From what we know, EE, summer school, after school, health programs, parent support, etc. will have the best effects. I don't see expansions this budget cycle.
19. Build strong state capacity
I'm all for it! However, the Commissioner reportedly said cutting 40 positions at the State Department of Education is an efficiency measure. What state capability do we currently have? We' ve spent the last 20 years stripping state capacity.
William Mathis is managing director of Education in the Public Interest Center.
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