Testing Dangers and Opportunities
School Choice Weekly #45
For the past 40 years, tests have formed the cornerstone of national education policy. Common Core is changing all that.
The Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst thinks it’s most likely the ensuing muddle will give rise to “accountability 3.0” after the new set of tests and curriculum mandates has exhausted itself upon yet another generation of guinea pigs. Whatever happens, it will significantly shape all of education policy, including whether growing school choices deserve the name. Whitehurst writes:
One thing I’m sure about in education is how little we know about what works best for which students under what circumstances to produce the best long-term outcomes. This includes how to design an optimal standards and accountability system. Accountability 3.0 doesn’t have to look like Accountability 2.0. That’s certain. Perhaps it is time for central government to yield some of the control over standards and accountability that it has amassed in the last 30 years in exchange for the opportunity for districts and schools to innovate around what students are taught and how the actors in the system are held accountable.
In other words, the Common Core debacle could be opening a window of opportunity to expand individual liberty in education. It could be a moment where we realize education’s increasing centralization has not benefitted children, and it might move us to give families and educators more freedom. As Whitehurst says, competition includes its own natural form of accountability, where schools that do a poor job shut down because they cannot attract students.
Another testing trend may both endanger and supplement this thought experiment. Some colleges are interested in substituting a new kind of tests for the SAT and ACT. They want to measure a student’s soft skills, or character, because these more than mental prowess can determine whether a student sticks it out until graduation. If behavioral tests merely replace ACT, SAT, and current skills-based state tests, then government will be free to regulate attitudes and behavior instead of mere academics.
But if accountability 3.0 turns out to be market accountability, where parents are free to choose the schools and tests they think will benefit their children most, then coercion and manipulation retreats, and individuals will be free to use or discard what tools they wish to employ in their pursuit of happiness.
SOURCES: Education Next, Nautilus
IN THIS ISSUE:
- FLORIDA: A teachers union has filed suit to stop an expansion of the state’s highly popular private school choice program. The new law also introduced education savings accounts for special-needs students. Florida already has special-needs vouchers, but education savings accounts allow parents to divide their child’s education dollars among several education options.
- LOUISIANA: A thousand more children applied for statewide vouchers this year over last year, and nearly 9,000 received them.
- MASSACHUSETTS: Even though Massachusetts has the highest-performing charter schools in the country, and some 45,000 poor children sit on waitlists to get into them, the state Senate rejected a bill that would have slightly lifted the state’s tight controls on charter enrollment.
- NORTH CAROLINA: The state will distribute vouchers under its new program starting August 15, although a court case against the program is set for just a few weeks later. If the court rules against vouchers, the students using them for new schools may be pulled back into their previous schools.
- DC: Now that two in five Washington DC students attend a charter school, principals from traditional public schools are going door to door to convince families to enroll their kids.
- CHOICE MARKET: A new study finds families are less likely to choose a private school with a voucher if they have more public-school options, such as charter schools, available nearby. The study also found low-quality public schools and high-quality private schools made parents more likely to choose private schools.
- CHARTERS: Children learn more for less money in charter schools, finds a new study from the University of Arkansas. The study breaks down its finding by each of the 28 states for which data were available. The most dramatic cost difference was in Washington DC, where charter schools are at least twice as effective at teaching math and reading for every $1,000 spent on them as traditional public schools.
- WISCONSIN: Gov. Scott Walker issued a statement calling on the legislature to repeal and replace Common Core with education mandates “set by people in Wisconsin.” Although Walker has not been especially proactive in challenging Common Core, the real obstacles are the Republican state Assembly and Senate’s education chairmen, who support Common Core.
- NORTH CAROLINA: Gov. Pat McCrory says he will sign a bill that requires the state to review Common Core, because “it does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards.” The bill would have the state board of education review and possibly modify Common Core. The state and local districts have already spent more than $70 million to put Common Core in place.
- UTAH: Gov. Gary Herbert has asked the state attorney general to review Common Core and determine whether it expands federal involvement in education. He also has asked higher education administrators to examine the mandates’ academic quality.
- NEW JERSEY: Gov. Chris Christie issues a do-nothing executive order convening a task force to examine Common Core. It would issue a report well after Common Core tests replaced state tests.
- KENTUCKY: Rural schools struggle to make computer-based Common Core tests work for their students. The new demands are costly and time-intensive.
- PARENT RIGHTS: Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered a United Nations treaty that has the power to displace parents as the prime guardians of children within all of U.S. law.
- ILLINOIS: Polling data suggest Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis would be a contender against Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The two have battled repeatedly over teacher pay and charter school expansion.
- NEW YORK: Lobbying records show a slew of unions supported New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preschool initiative. While preschool has no long-term proven benefits for children, unions like it because it’s a jobs program for adults, says Wall Street Journal writer Jason Riley.
- LOUISIANA: Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed a bill that would have the state use random ID numbers for students instead of Social Security Numbers. It also would prohibit the state from collecting some types of information about students, such as family political affiliation, mental health, income, and gun ownership.
- IMMIGRATION: Schools across the country are struggling to care for a flood of illegal immigrant children. Public schools are required to educate, feed, and provide medical services to children, even if they are not U.S. citizens.
- SOUTH CAROLINA: A teacher explains how demands for her to gather more data about students put unhelpful, restrictive labels on children and occupy time she could spend in far more productive ways.
- BREAKFAST: A new study finds offering government-subsidized breakfasts at school does not prevent kids from going without breakfast but instead substitutes government breakfast for family-provided breakfast.
Thank you for reading! If you need a quicker fix of news about school choice, you can find daily updates online under the Ed News Roundup at http://news.heartland.org/education.