I was struck by some of the feedback to last Thursday's post on the whole "why can't pols get out of schooling?" question. Meanwhile, reform skeptic John Thompson continued our occasional, engaging, correspondence, penning a thoughtful missive that took the blog to heart while arguing that reformers ought be equally willing to make their peace with the ways of liberal democracy. His take is constructive and applies the insights usefully (though you'll note parts that I obviously don't buy), and I agreed to run it as a follow-up.


Well, I'm starting to enter the back stretch on my next book, The Cage-Busting Teacher. It's due off to Harvard Ed Press in September, and should be out in early March. I thought I'd start sharing some of the themes, mostly because I'd love to hear your reactions, criticisms, questions, and suggestions. Today's is a topic that I'm often struck by, particularly when smart and engaged educators bemoan the fact that lawmakers won't let them be.


I've been struck of late by how would-be reformers have been reacting when things go awry. After all, even some of those bullish on Race to the Top have privately conceded that maybe it didn't turn out quite like they'd hoped. Champions of teacher evaluation are busy explaining, "Well, that's not what we meant!" when hit with complaints, lawsuits, and concerns about the reliability and validity of some ill-conceived systems. Common Core advocates are busy explaining that the goofy homework questions and worksheets don't accurately reflect their handiwork.


The summer research also tells us something that, much to my surprise, has been largely ignored in policy and research. If we know that achievement gaps widen over the summer, that students are not randomly assigned to schools, and that we only measure students' achievement each spring, then the school performance measures we use in accountability policies are likely biased--especially against schools serving larger shares of traditionally under-served students. In fact this is true.


I break today's discussion into two areas: the measurement of teacher and school quality and the process by which teachers and schools are held accountable.


Instead of implementing more of the same, I am, perhaps naively, optimistic that there are opportunities for researchers, policymakers, practitioners, parents, and other stakeholders to come together to design an accountability model that is valid, fair, reliable, and trustworthy. The research community is just starting to understand how school-level accountability policies impact students, teachers, and so on, and now we're talking about holding universities and teacher programs accountable. For all the issues listed above, there is a positive role that accountability policies can play in the future of U.S. public education. We just need to slow down, work together, ...


It is clear that the policy landscape (e.g., the ESEA waivers) has quickly moved past asking "Should we hold teachers accountable?" to "How should we hold teachers and school accountable?" Yet, it appears that all too often we do not start with the two most important questions: What qualities and practices characterize the ideal teacher? What are the skills and knowledge we want students to obtain from our schools?


ReSchool Colorado is a multi-year effort to design a new, public, state education system where learning is reimagined and students are equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing world.


If one cannot tweak the current K-12 education system (by adding more mandates), then you must consider re-designing it. And this is the bold work we're embarking upon: to rethink the key drivers and to create a new and parallel space for students, families, and educators to do their work. We know this will not be a perfect utopia, but we firmly believe that creating student-centered, welcoming, and dynamic learning environments, through a fundamental re-design of the system, is the only way to create the quality we seek in a scalable way.


Why Gus the Truck, a 1949 Chevrolet light duty truck, is an appropriate metaphor for today's K-12 system.


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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