« What Should Happen in Our Houses of Learning? | Main | Is Finland the Answer? »

A Marshall Plan for Teaching


Dear Diane,

Let's pursue, over time, these topics: (1) the way we see "popular" culture and "the street" as sources for learning, (2) the notion of a "consensus" on curriculum—and the idea that we can insure that it only takes 50 percent of our time, and, finally, (3) that it doesn't matter whether we put the moral and social purposes of society or each individual's success on the job market as the public purpose of education. Alas, the latter isn't even within our means—as the economy doesn't produce more good, decent-paying jobs just because there are well-educated people who want them! I suspect we aren't so far apart on the latter.

But I'm rushing off to Washington, D.C., for a press conference of a group we started a few years ago—our own smoke-and-mirrors "think-tank"—the Forum for Education and Democracy. We've issued our own statement: about "Democracy At Risk" 25 years after the seminal A Nation at Risk.

Here's my contribution to it.

Editor's note: The following are Deborah Meier's prepared remarks for the Forum's April 23 press conference:

What are the “basics”, the ABCs of a democracy? Among others, they involve the exercise of thoughtfulness and wise judgment on the part of its citizens. We cannot expect to teach this to our youngsters if they are keeping company with adults who are not able to exercise such habits—and do so in the presence of their students.

We propose—in short—schools that operate on the basis of both the collective and individual judgment of the adults most important in young people’s educational lives. Both their families and their teachers. There is no shortcut that leaves them out.

But this also means a well-educated teaching force, accustomed to exercising such thoughtfulness and judgment.

Imagine schools where educators work together to address students needs, not federal mandates, where the decisions are made by those closest—not farthest—from the real action. Where student engagement and responsibility for their work is mirrored in the attitudes of their faculty.

These are the schools that we need today. Some of them exist. I helped establish several in New York City’s East Harlem and Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. In the deepest sense of accountability, few schools have made their work more open for public review and critique. Each developed a set of authentic and meaningful standards and then designed every aspect of the school so that students could meet them.

They are designed so that teachers are powerful adults who make decisions that continually improve the school—who work in teams that share students, and who have time every week to plan a curriculum together that responds to the realities on the ground as well as in the subject disciplines, to develop and evaluate portfolio assessments, and to talk about kids and what they need and how to support them.

These schools and others created since have succeeded with students who were previously written off in urban schools. And they have succeeded because teachers had the expertise and the authority to design powerful instruction responsive to kids’ needs. And they had the time. The latter is the much forgotten and ignored ingredient essential for schools designed for democracy.

Schools like these are widespread in some nations like Finland, which rose to first in the world in reading, math, and science after making massive investments in highly expert teachers who are prepared to teach all kinds of students and to teach for inquiry and problem solving. Having developed such teachers, Finland allows them great latitude in designing schools and curriculum that can meet the needs of their students.

Unlike the U.S., where teachers either go into debt to prepare for a profession that will pay them poorly or enter with little or no training, high-achieving countries like Finland and others recruit top candidates and pay them to go through a top-quality preparation program. Beginners are supported by expert mentors, and teachers routinely have 10 to 20 hours a week to work and learn together—supports that are non-existent in most parts of the United States. We consider ourselves lucky in the USA if we set aside an hour or two a week. Mission Hill and Central Park East Secondary School went to the extraordinary length of building in five hours a week—less than half of what most nations in the world provide.

The report we are releasing today provides a realistic plan to make powerful and continuously well-prepared teachers available to all children through what we call a Marshall Plan for teaching.

Like the original Marshall Plan that rebuilt a democratic Europe after World War II, this is a strategy for moving beyond the half-measures that have characterized the last 25 years.

For an annual investment of $4 billion—or less than what we are currently spending for a week in Iraq—we could underwrite strong preparation for 40,000 teachers in high-needs fields annually—enough teachers to fill every vacancy currently filled by an unprepared teacher—seed 100 top-quality urban teacher education programs, ensure mentors for every new teacher hired each year, provide incentives to bring expert teachers into high-need schools, and, above all, strengthen ongoing on-site professional development for teachers and principals.

To dramatically improve schools, we need to transform the profession—making it attractive to thinkers and do-ers. Our plan will support this while developing new career pathways that help teachers extend their abilities and share their knowledge with others.

Finally, we propose a major initiative to improve school leadership. This includes proactively recruiting expert teacher leaders—rather than just waiting to see who shows up in administrative credential programs or wooing people from unrelated fields. Once again, it must rest on a full-year internship under the wing of principals whose work apprentices want to emulate.

I’ve never believed there was one best system for educating children, or adults. But if we have the preservation of democracy in the front of our minds, then we have no choice but to build schools where children experience what a democratic community of adults can produce.

There may not be one right way, but there are also many wrong ways. Every time we issue mandates that effectively remove power and responsibility from the adults who surround kids we remove the ingredients needed for them to become powerful and responsible adults.




While there is much to be admired in Finland's development/support of teachers, the schools/teachers do not have complete freedom to pick curriculum as students must pass their very rigorous, national end of high school exam (Abitur) to enter college.

The Abitur largely defines the scope of study and its use as the primary determinant of college entrance has been the reason that Finland's students have excelled.

(See Fuchs and Woessman, 2004 "What Accounts for International Differences in Student Performance: A reexamination using PISA data")

So all the development of Finnish teachers have only succeeded in the context of external evaluations.

As a condition of your teacher development/recruitment proposals, would you be willing to accept well defined external exams?

Erin Johnson


Thank for the citation to that study. It is very interesting. To return the favor, I will point you to something I am reading today...

Education Quality and Economic Growth

by Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann


Please let me know if you have found anything else along these lines to read. It is so much more fun to have data on which to base our discussions!!

Thanks again, G.B.


Great paper! I wish there were more papers like this. Real data, imagine.

Erin Johnson

With regard to the World Bank paper linked (and complimented) above:

Unfortunately, the World Bank and IMF hardly supports education in developing countries, so this report by the World Bank is specious, to put it kindly. I know the case of Colombia best, but I also know this is the way World Bank and IMF "structural adjustment" programs work. While struggling to pay its debts to the World Bank, lenders insist Colombia (and other debtor nations) privatize all sectors of the economy, open all sectors to foreign investment, and cut social spending. It's not surprising this report suggests that adding "more resources" doesn't solve the problem of illiteracy. Instead, it relies on dubious (to say the least) claims that vouchers and privatization schemes improve literacy rates around the globe (using Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Wash. D.C. as examples? Come on, there is no data to support this claim), then suggesting this is what developing nations should do, rather than increase spending on schools. This report, unfortunately, is long on neoliberal ideology and very short on data that tells us anything we don't already know. Actually, it's worse than that. It misleads the reader to believe that social spending is not good for education, for improving schools, and educating more people. I don't buy it. I can't think of a better way of improving education than to spend on hiring and training quality teachers, lowering class sizes, building more schools, and providing high quality resources for those schools. Privatization will not do it (although it may line the pockets of foreign investors, the World Bank's real clients).


Not so sure about your diatribe on the World Bank but the two authors of the paper are not World Bank employees but rather respected professors at Stanford and the University of Munich.

The conclusions from the paper are:

1. What people know matters. (That is what they learn in school matters more than seat time.)

2. Developing countries are much worse off than commonly perceived from common data about enrollments and school attainment. (Again, seat time is not a good measure of the effects schooling can have on economic growth.)

3. The road to improvement will involve major structural changes and will not follow from simple additions to resources.

Would you disagree with these conclusions? And if so, why?

Erin Johnson


It's hard to argue with a phrase like "what people know matters," isn't it? But does it follow that "developing" countries are poor because of their illiteracy rates (or low test scores)? That is actually what this paper assumes. Showing a correlation between economic growth and test scores does not persuade me that lack of economic growth comes from low test scores.

Nevertheless, the paper moves from this assumption to argue, using scant evidence in selected countries, that one of the main problems in educational attainment in "developing" countries is the lack of incentives and motivation, not lack of resources. So, the authors propose merit pay for teachers, strong nationalized testing schemes tied to high stakes, school choice for parents, and autonomy for those schools (p. 16). These are the "major structural changes" that the authors think will solve the problem (of illiteracy and low GDP growth)! The evidence they use as "successful" examples include voucher schemes and the No Child Left Behind act in the US and League Tables in the UK (pp. 17-18). It's hard not to get sarcastic here about how dubious these examples, and proposals, are. The paper also goes out of its way, on p. 20, as I mentioned in an earlier post, to suggest economic reforms: "strong property rights," "open labor and product markets," and "participation in international markets." Hmmmmm, what do you mean by "open labor markets?" Smashing unions, perhaps? And what about open product markets? National tests produced by American test making companies, perhaps? Don't think this isn't part of the agenda.

This paper, and this discussion, actually ties in with Deborah's post quite well. She has posted an eloquent proposal for an infusion of resources for higher quality teaching and school leadership--NOT by spending on merit pay (which research does not support, by the way--for raising test scores, and because of the serious problems of equity that emerge) but by spending on recruitment, salaries, professional development, and developing career ladders. This sounds much more promising, for the US, and probably for other countries, than the neoliberal proposals of this World Bank publication.


You have greatly mischaracterized their thoughtful, historical analysis on the connection between education and a country's economic growth.

Their analyses focus primarily on determining (if any) a correlation between economic growth and education. Clearly past analyses that focused on "seat time" in schools found no correlation at all.

What this paper has done differently is use the international testing data as a proxy for student learning. With this new analysis the authors show a clear correlation between economic growth and student learning. What they also found was no correlation between spending on education and economic growth, thus their cautionary note on just dumping more money into a very ineffective school system.

The suggestions that you have objected to are conclusions from multiple other papers and authors.

The poor implementation of NCLB on top of our rather ineffective school structure has soured many on the idea of testing, accountability and school reform. Certainly, it would be hard to imagine a more poorly thought out "accountability" system.

But the international evidence is clear (from multiple other papers) that students learn more in school systems that use external evaluations. This holds true for locall exams as well as national exams, as long as the evaluations were done external to the classroom.

Most importantly the use of external exams allows:

1. Students to enjoy a richer, more rewarding relationship with a teacher who does not grade them.

2. Eases the teachers workload by not overburdening them by being required to both teach and assess.

3. Students complete clarity about what they need to do to be successful

4. Students to own their own learning processes more than in teacher graded systems.

5. Classroom interactions between students that are more collaborative by allowing students to see each other as resources and not competition.

Our poor school structure severely limits any/all school improvements because our schools focus too much on "seat time" and not student learning. The international evidence is compeling: school structure greatly affects student learning. We are not the only country with a poorly designed school system that suffers from poor student learning despite high monetary investment.

How can any of Deborah and Diane's very thoughtful educational improvement proposals actually improve student learning when our school structure is set up with little/no vested interest in student learning?

Erin Johnson

"...seed 100 top-quality urban teacher education programs..."

That would be a great development. What would such programs look like? Here's my dream proposal.

Prospective teachers would attend a first-rate teacher education program full-time for two years, followed by a five-year teaching commitment. Or they could attend a Ph.D. program, followed by a ten-year teaching commitment combined with a role in curriculum development, administration, or policy making. These programs would be fully funded, but only if the teacher followed through with the commitment.

The teacher preparation program would include:

  • 1. at least two courses in the history of education;
  • 2. at least one intensive course in the philosophy of education, in which students would read entire works, not snippets, of education philosophers;
  • 3. demonstrated mastery of a foreign language;
  • 4. demonstrated mastery of the teacher's subject area, at a level deemed appropriate (of course, mastery is infinite, but we can set certain standards);
  • 5. at least 2 required seminars in which ed students teach each other a subject: for instance, prospective history teachers would rotate lessons on U.S. history, and then critique each other's presentation in a collegiate and challenging manner, with the help of a professor;
  • 6. a course in a subject well outside of the teacher's specialty--for instance, a prospective history teacher might take a chemistry course, or an English teacher might take calculus;
  • 7. courses in child psychology and pedagogy;
  • 8. a rigorous, ongoing teaching and observation practicum, with mentoring;
  • 9. a seminar in which each ed student would write a substantial thesis;
  • 10. a course in statistical analysis, enabling teachers to analyze education research;
  • 11. a course in the language of education, enabling teachers to take apart educational jargon and speak clearly about educational issues;
  • 12. several electives.
  • This kind of program would draw aspiring teachers with a zest for challenge, a passion for a particular subject or subjects, a general love of learning, and a commitment to working with children. It could be expanded in all sorts of ways; but this seems like a good start.


    Your proposals could possibly increase teacher content knowledge, but how would this increase student learning?

    How does this change curricula? Textbook adoption? Communication of successful teaching techniques? The "sit and listen" model of learning? The adversarial relationship between students and teacher? etc...

    Certainly teacher knowledge is very important but our teachers have so little time for improving their practice and our school system makes it almost impossible even for highly educated teachers to enable quality student learning.

    Without quality improvements in how our schools are structured, all these and other thoughtful proposals will not make it through our disfunctional educational system to actually enable our children to learn well.

    Erin Johnson

    Hi Erin,

    Thanks for the questions. I agree with you: a teacher preparation program like this would have limited effect on its own. It would have to be combined with structural and curricular changes.

    We would need to restore the integrity of subject matter, make excellent textbooks available, get rid of fad-driven policies, and transform the school environment.

    To do this, we need teachers who know their subject matter, recognize excellent textbooks and know how to supplement them, eschew fads, and enjoy working with children. Those teachers cannot change the system on their own, but any systemic change of this sort depends on them.


    Clearly, having teachers that possess a strong subject matter background is a critical element to quality teaching. Unfortunately our schools need so much more.

    The international data on school structure and student learning strongly suggest that the school structure needs to be operational first, and then and only then can high quality teaching flourish.

    Asking our teachers to organically change the school structure on top of all their other duties is not a strategy for success.

    Erin Johnson


    I'm not sure we disagree. I was offering ideas for a teacher preparation program, not a plan of action for comprehensive school improvement. I don't know what should happen first. I only propose a part of what should happen.

    But since you bring up "success," what on earth do we mean by that? That word dissembles, to say the least; it's used to mean so many things and nothing. Teachers and administrators should specify what they mean by "success." If they don't, how on earth will they help the kids succeed, or prevent measures that dam up the success stream?

    That brings us to the school mission statement that Deborah quoted a few posts ago: "To succeed in today’s global and knowledge-based economy." I agree with Diane that the mission statement is "inoffensive, non-controversial, and vapid"; I'm not sure that it is therefore harmless.

    Speaking of "a few posts ago," I asked you a question in comment #18 to Diane's post of April 15. I look forward to your reply!




    Thank you and thank the Forum for great work.

    The study and your recommendations were excellent.


    I'm not sure I've mischaracterized the report's authors, as I'm quoting from their recommendations. Obviously, I find them problematic in several ways. It's not the suggestion that "seat time" is different from test scores that I find problematic. That's not surprising. Imagine teaching in a public school in Colombia, for example, where the class sizes are large, students travel long distances to get to school--often amidst civil unrest-- attendance is inconsistent, and the school has scant resources such as textbooks, food, and other essential materials. It's not surprising that "seat time" (years spent enrolled in school) doesn't match up with high test scores (or economic growth). What does surprise me is that these authors suggest that the problem with situations like this is teacher motivation and lack of incentives and competition, not lack of resources.

    You and I can perhaps agree that structural changes are needed, but the changes that seem more promising to me are the ones Diana and Deborah suggest--investment in teacher knowledge and training, school leadership, etc. The high stakes testing scheme that you propose seems problematic as well. The features you list for such a reform describe a Kaplan test prep course quite well (it sounds exactly like a Kaplan course I once took, actually). It might work in sorting students into higher and lower test score groups but is that what we want for public education? Education in a democracy should be much more than that, it seems to me--including education for democratic citizenship, as well as learning to think, ask, and explore critical questions in various disciplines. This kind of education requires teachers and school communities to know children well, using lots of informal and formal assessments, and helping students make personal and intellectual connections, and setting them up for public successes. But the high stakes tests, and the competition, ranking, and sorting that go along with them, get in the way of building a respectful and democratic community, where democratic citizenship is more likely to be practiced and learned.

    One additional problem that I see with this issue is that the tests are self-referencing. You mention that international data "strongly suggests" a national testing scheme helps students perform better on international tests. Well, that may be, but is that what public education is for? I think (hope) not.

    Wow! Seems I started something and then missed the fireworks! Sorry I missed it--but happy I spent the time with my young daughter!

    Thanks to Erin for pointing out what the study says and does not say vs. what somebody thinks that it said.

    Neoliberal?? Professor Hanushek (and forum co-host Diane) are fellows at the Hoover Institution. Try telling the Hoover folks that they are "neoliberals"--whatever that is! Hah!

    Hanushek is not, I think, unalterably opposed to more spending on education. I am certainly not. But I no longer believe that it is the major impediment.
    PISA 2006 study has good data on ed. spending vs. achievement. US spends more than all but a few in the world and has achievement scores lower than some nations that spend half of what we do. I don't think that simply spending more will get us where we need to go. Erin describes some of the reasons why.

    >It's hard to argue with a phrase like "what people know matters," isn't it?

    You would think so, yes. But the work is important because a number of people have argued just this.

    >Showing a correlation between economic growth and test scores does not persuade me that lack of economic growth comes from low test scores.

    Aggh!! I will give you the benefit here and assume that you are not a troll--but simply misunderstand. Human capital is only one of the things that could be in short supply--capital, infrastructure, transport, legal protections, transparent securities system, etc.--many, many things are important. The Ed. system, it seems, is one of those.

    For decades India graduated a small number of "rocket scientists" from the IIT's into an economy that was a basket case. Many of them did the rational thing--and emigrated. Today things are changing there.

    Today, I believe, that the US suffers, not from a shortage of "rocket scientists"--we can still produce, and import, a sufficient number of those. Rather, below that cohort, we have a large percentage of our population without the quantitative, analytic, and communications skills needed to compete for the many of better jobs that our economy is creating today. These are not "rocket scientist" jobs but they are jobs that pay strong middle class wages with benefits for people who can think, work on teams, solve problems, get along with people from various racial, ethnic, and national groups, analyze simple charts and tables, construct coherent sentences, paragraphs, and ideas.

    We need more of our citizens to attain this level of cognitive and "people" skills. It will pay real benefits--to them and to the economy at large.


    We do agree quite a bit on teacher preparation.


    Investment in teacher training is not a structural change in schooling. It is perhaps, doing what we currently are doing only a little better.

    There are many flavors to external examinations. Certainly, we could set up external exams to resemble Kaplan tests, but I can not see this as a great improvement over our current system.

    The goals that you have stated for education:

    "education for democratic citizenship, as well as learning to think, ask, and explore critical questions in various disciplines"

    are admirable.

    But the crux of the problem is in the how. That is: What is the path forward that would get us there? Our current school system is doing a rather mediocre/horrible job at developing these skills in our students.

    The experience from international comparisons suggests that minor tweaks on a school system saddled with a poor structure will not succeed at enabling their children to learn more/better.

    Additionally, those countries that use external exams have a dramatically smaller acheivement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

    Would you support external examinations if it enabled our disadvantaged students to learn at similar levels seen in advantaged kids?

    But even more important that the type of external evaluation, we need to nuture the relationship between teacher and student. Forcing teachers to grade undermines the trust that students have in their teachers and fosters an adversarial relationship detrimental to the student's education.

    External evaluations need not be harsh nor exclusionary.

    They would however allow the critical trusting relationship to develop between teacher and student that engenders those critical educational goals that blossom in the best schools around the world.

    Erin Johnson


    Thanks for pointing out your questions in the other post.

    To clarify my response:

    External exams/requirements/evaluations are to be used for evaluation of the student. That is any type of "grade" or ranking needs to come from an external source.

    That being said, there can be a great learning experience from using practice tests inside the classroom. With the key element of this being that students and teachers see/use these practice sessions as a learning experience not a grading experience.

    As for your other question regarding a path toward success.

    As success can be a rather broadly defined word, a few items that I would count in success;

    1. Narrowing the achievement gap
    2. Reducing our absymal high school drop out rate
    3. Changing the school environment to respect/admire academic acheivement
    4. Develop in our children a better perspective on how our country fits into the rest of the world, both geographically and historically
    5. Preparing our children to maximize their participation and engagement in both the workplace and society
    6. Increase positive feelings that students have toward schools
    7. Having students recognize that learning ultimately needs to be self-directed and that they control their own learning processes
    8. Develop a positive working enviroment for teachers to allow them to improve their teaching skills and feel less blame for every ill that affects our society

    Erin Johnson

    Please be careful citing the results of the Hanushek piece. The international score data were highly manipulated in his analysis and the correlation to economic growth is moderate at best. His study is interesting and should prompt others to do a more thorough analysis with better data. Control for the factors that impact student achievement-demographics, restriction of education to higher performing/higher economic class students, etc.

    But please, do not start citing the results as definitive. They are not.


    Correlation data is (by definition) never considered definitive.

    But good correlation data can give us guidance about what areas we should be/ should not be looking into.

    The most interesting part of this paper was the dramatic difference seen between considering education as "seat time" or considering education as scoring well on international tests. Clearly, scoring well on international tests did show a marked difference in economic growth, while "seat time" did not.

    This difference provides great support to the idea that actual student learning is more important to economic growth than "seat time."

    If you think that the authors have made technical errors in their analysis, please post a link to your detailed critique as I have not yet seen an errata statement for this article.

    Erin Johnson

    To all the above! Thanks for getting excited by the subject. On the connection between jobs, the quality of life and education there is much that I want to say. But I'll have a chance soon to devote a column to it--and I'll take up some these arguments in my way at that time!

    "Seat time" vs. text scores! When Ted Sizer's seminal "Horace's Compromise" came out over 20 years ago, the core of it was an critique of "seat time". He didn't bother as much with the issue of standardized tests, in fact, because they were at that time suffering from a "consensus"--in opposition to them! (What a difference a few decades make.) What he was concerned about was "credit hours" as the basis for a diploma. He noted that if you learned a second language fluently out of school you got no--zero-- "credit", but if you passed 4 years and still couldn't read, write or speak it fluently you got four years worth of credit. It was a great example. He argued for real life standards--like a driver's road tests vs. a written driver's test. I refer readers to his books for more on this idea. He reintroduced the word "standards" into our schooling language, but it quickly took the route of referring to "standardized" tests: mostly multiple-choice, short answer, or "essays" scored in less than a minute each by a formula that was a disguised multiple choice test.

    I agree with Erin and the report she refers to by the conservatie? (vs neoliberal? or neoconservative?) Hoover institute, that seat time was always a very rough measure. But so are test scores. The latter may show a higher correlation but neither describes "achievement" . The schools that most interest me are those that have sought to develop ways to assess "achievement" that combine some forms of standardization, plus performances in real situation and to real audiences, plus judgments by experts. Whether we need sophisticated thinkers for the economy or not, we surely need them for democracy.

    I enjoy reading these comments, and also urge you to order the report, Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Policy in Education, by the forumforeducation.org which my Marshall Plan letter to Diane was part of.



    Yes it is interesting, but be careful quoting it. Read the article. I did not say there were technical errors, I said they heavily manipulated the data. Everyone already knew seat time was not a factor in achievement.

    And yes, correlation is not causation, nor definitive, and most good "research" articles would have printed the correlation or rsquared numbers. Having just re-read the article, the authors did not print the data, only snippets of the highly manipulated data. And then they had to scramble to explain why, since our failing system of education, as pointed out, quite incorrectly, in "Nation" should have kept our GDP from doing as well as it has. And most researchers would not have described the US and Germany as "slipping" as the authors did in figure 2.

    My point, read educational research with care, make sure it is found in quality, peer-reviewed journals, and make yourself familiar with the limitations of the study. Most often, the conclusions of the research stretch the limitations of the study well past the breaking point. But that never stops the speechmakers and opinion writers from using the results as hammers to forge policy. IMHO


    The version that you read is a policy paper summarizing their research. If you are interested in statistical data for their analysis you may want to look at the full paper at:


    Erin Johnson


    "... those countries that use external exams have a dramatically smaller achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students."

    Do these same countries have a heterogeneous population comparable to that in the US? Or are they made up of two or three primary sects? Do any of these countries even come close to the language parameters confronted by many of our urban districts (over 200 languages spoken by NYC students)?

    I read the article you suggested on countries that employ external exams to strengthen the student/teacher bond but was not totally convinced with its findings. Could you please recommend something else.

    As a retired teacher I always spent a great deal of time convincing my students that I was there to help them. I was their teacher, their tutor, their coach and that I always did everything within my power to get them as far along academically as possible. I also stressed that they were the ones ultimately responsible for their grades and I was merely the record keeper of their progress, the score keeper. They were told not to blame me if they didn’t progress as far as they wanted because I put in the maximum effort every day. Then the rhetorical question - did they put in their best effort? Almost always, they got the message.

    I am certainly not going to argue that the Hanushek study, or any other I have seen to date in education research, is "definitive." I will argue that it is "compelling."

    The model that incorporated education attainment (years of school) and an adjustment for starting GDP size was able to explain about 25% of the observed variation in GDP growth. Incorporating performance on international science and math tests the model accounted for ~73% of the observed variation.

    That's a lot! Especially for social science research.

    I have probably had 5000 teachers tell me over the years that these international tests do not matter. A few are professional naysayers. I think that the "Does-not-matter" hypothesis is in some trouble.

    Like all good research this study raises a number of new questions as well.

    I am especially intrigued by those things that cut against one's comfortable political bias. (That is why I visit Bridging Differences.) If we don't figure a way past this Left-Right impasse-- I see little hope of us solving our major education problems.

    (The 2007 median wages for a full time employed male in this country are nearly 5% lower than they were in 1973! Some, but not all, of this is explained by the premium that accrues to skills in our current economy. It will likely get worse before it gets better.)

    Hanushek is a, I think, a natural conservative. But he is also pragmatic and takes positions that sometimes seem to be at odds with that bias --and a few even begin to seem progressive!

    I am trying to do the same thing. I have my natural political biases. But I also work to try to keep myself "susceptible to data." I hope that everyone else here is trying to do likewise.

    As for anyone who thinks that they have the silver bullet--you are wrong! This is a complicated problem and we ought to be discussing a different 100 things, many of which will gore favorite oxen of both the political left and right.

    So be it!



    Is it more likely that rich countries invest in schooling and their students perform well on international tests, or that poor countries invest "efficiently" in particular kinds of ("open market"~neoliberal) schooling and these reforms pay off to somehow increase the national GDP? I would think the former is what is most likely happening, to the extent there is a correlation (a strong one, as you point out), but the authors of this study seem to assume the latter.

    This may be a "goring oxen" case for me, as I seem to be arguing against the importance of schooling, something I care deeply about. But what I also know is that GDP is much too complex to be so easily reduced (I prefer Jared Diamond's analysis in _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ that countries become rich due to the natural resources at their disposal). It so happens that the World Bank has actively made countries poorer, not richer, so I find it ironic the authors of this study now have the "answer" (one I find highly unlikely to work).

    Erin, I wonder how you arrived at the idea that high stakes testing reduces drop out rates? I have read just the opposite (see Angela Valenzuela's work, for example).

    We produce plenty of "rocket scientists" here. Geez, look at the number of computer science majors? I worked in a department where a large minority were hb1 visas - yet it was a university of 20k with a huge computer science program.

    The problem is that our math and science are weak at a very early level so we lose lots of potential bright students by high school. By college, they are either weak in the sciences or drop out to do business or psychology (in my case, criminal justice).

    I'm not talking about the science of the paper above but I do realize that Columbia is a hot bed. I mean, it's a harvard graduate that is the head of the country. Huh, I wonder if sometimes the US puts people into spots like that because it is close to, say, Venezuela - oil anyone? Just sayin.

    And like the politics in Columbia, maybe the US is in a good spot to keep people stupid. We know how to teach reading (remember one billion in research called Project Follow Through?) - but do we use it? No. And that fact makes me wonder if the government, close with corporations that want cheaper labor, want to keep us too stupid to rebel and ask for universal health care. Because if we had universal health care, we would be cost effective. Instead our jobs go to Canada, Mexico, etc. Plus voters actually are stupid enough to believe politicians because our education has done such a stand up job.


    I would hesitate to proxy language spoken at home with advantaged/disadvantaged.

    But if you are looking for a good comparison to NYC vis-à-vis the language/school acheivement situation, you may consider Singapore. In Singapore, schooling is offered only in English, which is a second language for 75% of the students, substantially higher than seen in NYC schools.

    Certainly, the success that Singapore has had in math is well known. What is less known is their success in dramatically raising reading scores (more recently) and dramatically reducing the high school drop out rate from ~19% in the early 80’s to less than 3% today.


    If you look at the PIRLS results for 4th grade reading, Singapore made a statistically significant increase from 2001 to 2006 while the US stayed the same.


    The Ministry of Education in Singapore attributes their success to their national curriculum, external exams, high quality of teacher training and streaming.

    Compare the success that Singapore has had with raising both inclusion and learning with the mess that Joel Klein et al., have done with NYC schools.

    Regarding your question on student/teacher relationship, I would say that your description of what you did in the classroom would persuade more people regarding the need for trust and external examinations than any correlation or international study!

    Clearly, you went above and beyond what your school structure allowed for due to your own personal integrity. But even still you said that you had to work hard at developing trust. Why was that? You said that you had to convince them not to “blame” you. Why would they “blame” you if they trusted you?

    Didn’t the students walk in the room with an inherent trust that their teacher would support them in their learning? I would suspect not as this is the US and our schools are not set up to encourage that student perspective.

    Would your experience not have been better if the school structure (and not just individual principals/teachers) not only allowed that trusting relationship to develop but encouraged it?

    If you are looking for more to read, I will say this is not a well studied phenomenon, because it is such an implicit part of schooling. That is: how many teachers in the US would ever say that grading erodes trust between themselves and their students? I would suspect very few, as it is such an integral part of what Americans think of what a teacher does.

    On the other hand, those countries that use little/no teacher grading also take that situation for granted, unless there is a call to take that relationship away as was the case in Ireland. So why would the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland reject so soundly a proposal to move away from external evaluations and toward a teacher graded system? They did so in 1990 because they feared;

    “The introduction of school-based assessment by the pupil's own teacher for certification purposes would undermine those two roles (1. teacher as a learning support and 2. teacher as an advocate), to the detriment of all (teacher and student) concerned....”

    It is only with the advent of international comparisons that some of these implicit, school structural issues have come to light and only a few researchers have touched on them. The few researchers have been Woessman at the University of Munich and Bishop at Cornell.

    Erin Johnson


    I could easily see that it is possible tha adding poorly designed exit exams on top of an even more dysfunctional school system (as we have with NCLB in the US) would result causing increased high school drop out.

    But our peculiar situation does not necessarily imply that every exit exam/school structure would cause increased high school drop outs.

    Certainly, Singapore was able to reduce their high school drop out rate from ~19% in the 80's to less than 3% currently, while increasing student acheivement!

    There is a substantial body of work that demonstrates that those countries that do better in the US are also better at enabling their disadvantaged students to learn at comparable rates to that seen in their advantaged students.

    See the PISA, PIRLS and TIMSS studies for more detailed information.

    Erin Johnson


    I followed the link you posted above, to the speech about Singaporean educational achievement. I can begin to see how you arrived at the surprising idea that high stakes testing results in a lower drop out rate. In discussing the drop-out rate, Mr. Daipi says, "With ability-based streaming, students are able to follow a curriculum and pace of teaching that matches their abilities and aptitudes. In this way, we ensure that all students acquire at least basic literacy and numeracy skills and do not drop out prematurely."

    Ability-based streaming? Does that mean the Singaporean schools divide students based on test scores and give them a substantially separate curriculum (school setting)?

    There are many questions I would raise about this approach, if true. What if this system separated students by race or culture? Might that be a political problem? It certainly would be here. Perhaps Singapore doesn't have this problem--it is a country with just over four million people, extremely high GDP per capita, high paying jobs for everyone (manufacturing and white-collar), no rural areas, and a strong national identity.

    It seems to me one of the central purposes of public schools in the US is to bring people of different backgrounds and abilities together. It's part of the democratic experiment. Serious tensions exist among groups here, and segregation persists, a major problem in my view. Would borrowing this aspect from Singapore make segregation official?


    From a cultural standpoint, Singapore is known for having extensive ethnic tension. There are 4 major ethnic groups that speak different languages. Thus the government's decision to teach only in English. (They were a former British colony.)

    All kids take a test at the end of 6th grade. The scores on that test place them into one of 3 categories, Normal - Academic, Normal - Technical, Express.

    Streaming has been quite controversial in Singapore but the MOE has maintained that this allows different pacing for different ability levels. The material covered is very similiar with the Express stream covering the material with more depth. There are also additional classes for the Express stream (Mother Tongue, etc...)

    Historically there has been little cross-over between the streams, but the MOE has developed an alternative path for the Normal stream students to take their "O" level exams that allow admission into college.

    What is most interesting to me is that the curricula used by the Normal streams are of higher quality than most of the "college prep" classes in high school here.

    While this particular version of external evaluations may not work seamlessly in the US, how different is this really from our high schools now?

    We try and fool ourselves into believing that we are treating everyone equally, but look how we self segregate into "suburban schools" and "urban schools." People move so that their children will be in schools that they like.

    In practice our education system allows an enormous acheivement gap between advantaged and disadvantage students.

    Do you think our education system is so superior that we should not consider these other elements (external exams, streaming, etc...) that have worked well in other school systems?

    Erin Johnson


    "Streaming" only "works well" if you believe that the international tests are the end all, be all of education. The segregation we find in the US is deplorable, in my view, and not inevitable. I happen to believe that diversity in education--people learning from each other, perhaps crossing deep cultural chasms to know each other well, learning to appreciate differences, is not merely an obstacle to be avoided in order to raise test scores, but is essential if the young and fragile experiment of democracy is to survive. We can all think of countries (Israel, Iraq, Kosovo jump to mind) where the inability of cultural groups to share space has encouraged/demanded strong military and authoritarian states. Our form of democracy demands peaceful cultural exchange. And it's hard work. You've correctly pointed out that it's not, and never has been perfect, but rather than giving up, it is the project that is far more worth doing than the artificial success of raising international test scores.


    That type of cultural exchange is very helpful, but I am not seeing how that applies to our education system.

    Are you suggesting that we send all of our children overseas for their education?

    Erin Johnson

    Language spoken at home (200 different languages in NYCity schools) correlates to advantaged/disadvantage only because so many of these immigrant youngsters are first generation and many of these families are not financially stable.

    Countries like Singapore, Japan, Finland, South Korea, etc., are essentially homogeneous relative to our e pluribus unum society. I can't help but believe this variable has a lot to do with the success of their schools (although Japan's system is looked upon today as failing by many of its citizens). They're dealing primarily with one culture as opposed to our many. I also believe their national curriculum contributes greatly to their success. Look at what goes on here. Fifty different sets of standards, fifty different sets of assessments, and fifty different definitions of "proficient". And prior to education reform we were not even that organized. There were NO standards and NO impartial external assessments. Our "system" was so bad it was an embarrassment.

    I worked hard at developing the trust of my students (primarily through humor) because of what they were used to in previous years. Unfortunately, many teachers create their classrooms in an adversarial climate. It took a bit of time to convince my kids I was on their side, and the trust was genuine.

    One additional point on something you said to Matt: "In practice our education system allows an enormous acheivement gap between advantaged and disadvantage students." Is it really our education system or our socio-economics? It could well be a combination of the two but it would probably be very challenging for a poor family from the Bronx to afford a typical home in Scarsdale (through no apparent fault of their own). I believe our school systems today do a good job given the kids who enter their classes.


    Your idea of "reverse causation" (rich countries invest heavily in schools and get better scores) is a good one. Hanushek and Woessmann specifically test the idea in their study and are able to reject it. (Look at the version of the study that Erin cited-- it has more technical detail.)

    Jared Diamond's thesis appeals to me as well. But don't take it too far. He explains why natural factors gave some societies great advantages that were not shared by others. But none of this rules out other factors. He does not say that political systems, competition, education, etc. are not acting as well.

    I don't know enough to render an opinion on the World Bank. You clearly have some bone to pick...
    But don't discount this interesting study just because the World Bank wrote the check. The Medici's were not all the nicest people--but the Sistine Chapel is still beautiful.

    And again, no one here is arguing that education is all it takes to have a great economy. The great students that the IIT's turned out for decades could not fix the incompetence, corruption, and inefficiencies in the rest of the Indian economy. Now that they are starting to fix some of those things these students are a huge asset. (They still have their work cut out though. On a recent trip I was told that on any given day 25% of the nation's primary school teachers don't go to work! Some even have second jobs that they go to. In some locations, teaching jobs are treated as political patronage and incumbents feel little need to do a good job, or apparently, even go to work.)


    I'm saying that cultural exchanges should be a central part of the curriculum in the United States, whether that improves our scores on the international tests or not. Sending students overseas might be a great way for students to learn about other cultures, but how about sending students to their neighborhood school for cultural exchanges first, rather than move to a neighborhood across town to be with a more homogeneous population, for example? In other words, cultural exchange is not just an intellectual exercise, it's about building capacity for democratic citizenship, here, in the United States, if that's possible.


    It really is our education system.

    As much as we feel we are unique in the number of immigrants to our country, we are not that much different than many other peer countries. If you toured the suburbs of Paris, or Amsterdam or Vancouver or Toronto or Sydney etc... you would see very similar immigrant populations to what we see in the US.

    www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/30/17/39703267.pdf pg 177

    When socio-economic data was examined in the PISA study, the US was found to have a lower than average expectation for acheivement and a higher distribution between disadvantaged and advantaged students.

    Canada (and many other countries), with a higher percent of immigrants had a much lower spread between advantanged and disadvantaged students.

    www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/30/17/39703267.pdf pg 191

    So yes teasing out these differences can be difficult but the evidence suggests that the US is far behind other countries in minimizing the achievement levels between advantaged and disadvantaged students as well as between immigrant and native students.


    Cultural exchanges are wonderful. But are you saying that this should be the primary mission of our schools?

    Erin Johnson


    Horace Mann and other leaders who fought for common schools in the US were propelled by the argument that in a democracy, such as ours, citizens must be educated in order to self govern. Those reasons haven't disappeared. Today, self government means governing not only for people that share you exact same cultural values, but are quite different. How can democratic self-government survive without people having understanding and appreciation for cultural differences? "Majority rules" only works for some of the population, often against the interest of others. Eventually, those "others" will not take it anymore. You mention some of the cultural diversity in Paris and other cities. Do you remember some of the riots that broke out in the suburbs of Paris not too long ago? If education can provide opportunities for understanding between different people, for the sake of promoting democracy and equity, then yes, I would consider that a critical part of the purpose of schools--for largely the same reasons Mann and others first argued. Lots of questions and problems of equity emerge along the way, of course, including the fact US schools forced Native Americans to attend harsh assimilationist schools, for example.
    But I don't believe giving up on equity and cultural understanding--the actual forging of shared democratic principles--is wise. It doesn't surprise me that Singapore, as you wrote, has seen controversy around the "streaming" of ability groups. In countries that have even more tension among cultural groups I would imagine that controversy around such a project would be even worse (with the problem not going away), probably making it politically untenable, or perhaps accompanied by harsh measures of enforcement.

    Is it worth all of that to raise international test scores? I don't think so. I would rather hold on to the hope of a peaceful and functional democracy. This should be a central focus of public schooling.


    I think you may have misread Jared Diamond's work. As he reiterates in the interview linked below, it is not the "intelligence" of a nation's people that lead a country to wealth, that is precisely what he is arguing against. He says, "the answers depend critically on biogeography, crop cytogenetics, microbial evolution, animal behavior, and other fields remote from historians' training."

    See: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1132




    Respectfully, I don't think so. I have never talked about intelligence here. I assume, as does Diamond, that it is distributed equally across the nations of the world and explains nothing relevant to his thesis.

    Respectfully, I think that you misunderstand what he believes.

    ... the distinguished historian William H. McNeill identifies two contrasting approaches to history: the traditional emphasis on autonomous cultural developments that he favors, versus my book's emphasis on environmental factors. Without disputing the value of McNeill's approach, I believe that our differences arise from the different historical scales that we consider. My focus is on trends over whole continents since the last Ice Age; his, on much smaller areas for shorter times...

    ...To understand the tragedy of World War II, you must understand the contrasting cultures of Germany, France, and other European countries in preceding decades. That is the traditional approach to history, and its value needs no defense...

    Diamond helps us understand why Europeans conquered the new world and not visa versa. He does not help us understand why Finland, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Macao, are doing so well on PISA. I do not think that the answer has anything at all to do with intelligence (or post-Ice Age environmental factors!) I think that it has a lot to do with the efficacy or our respective educational systems and other contemporary cultural factors.



    Respectfully, what does it matter to you that Finland, Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Macao are doing "so well" on PISA? The argument in the paper you linked was that PISA results are correlated (and supposedly causal) to GDP! If the question is not about the wealth of countries, It's hardly clear why international test scores matter at all (I have made the case that education is important for other reasons--democratic government among them).


    And I believe that relationship exists. For many nations around the world developed, and developing, GDP is related to human capital formation.

    I do not deny the other reasons why education is important. Indeed, I want more of our citizens to enjoy them. Where we (may) differ is that I think that people first need a level of economic stability before they spend much time thinking about the finer things. Every Saturday I take my daughter to her music class at the beautiful new arts center in our neighborhood. Now ask that tired looking woman stocking shelves at Walmart the last time she took in a concert there or enrolled her daughter for lessons. The lessons that "cost" me about 6 hours of work, would probably cost her 80! Not going to happen.

    Now, if we can, through education, get that woman and millions of others like her a set of skills that match the needs of today's economy instead of the industrial one that existed in this nation 40 years ago we will have done her a great service. What she chooses to do with her added income concerns me not one bit--invest in more education, buy a house, patronize the arts, utilize her "leisure" time to become more politically active, go camping, be a Civil War re-enactor--I don't care. Her life and that of her family will be markedly improved, in both economic and non-economic terms.

    To what part of my vision do you object?



    I don't object to your vision at all! It's not clear how to do what you describe, however. I'm not sure restructuring our education system will restructure the economy, or make Wal-mart jobs disappear, or pay higher wages and benefits. (If Wal-mart employees could somehow unionize, that might be a start, on the other hand). Erin recommends following Singapore's lead and "Stream" students based on test scores. Will those students who are "streamed" to the lower tracks ever escape lower paying jobs, such as the one you describe? I am perhaps more skeptical about this, along with the notion that higher test scores will create better jobs. So in this way, the problem is not one of PISA test scores, it is political and economic--poor paying jobs with wretched working conditions exist in the US, higher paying jobs, in real dollars, are fewer than they once were, and are concentrated in particular locations. I can imagine how it is possible that higher paying jobs "potentially" exist, and people are not trained to fill them, but it is not obvious to me how many of these jobs there might be and whether public schools can/should reach their "demand," or whether it is more reasonable to expect such prospective employers to do on the job training (employers have complained for as long as there have been schools that they don't graduate capable enough students--perhaps these employers are trying to avoid the cost of specialized training, a more than fair expectation, in many cases). As previous posters have stated, our colleges and universities graduate many quite skilled people, not only US born, but students from around the globe, many of whom stay.


    You have greatly mischaracterized my position.

    Our educational system is very ineffective at teaching our children. The gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students in our country is absurdly high and is greater than what other more successful countries see.

    This is due in large part to our poor school structure. International studies are great at teasing out all those implict aspects of our schools that we take for granted.

    Should we take one school system and try and replicate it here? I can't see how that would work.

    Should we use the international data to guide us? Absolutely.

    There are multiple solutions that we could use in improving our schools , but first we need to define the problem.


    Excellent point regarding the purpose of education!

    Erin Johnson


    In what way have I mischaracterized your position? I find the high stakes testing scheme that you advocate problematic on several levels and don't think that it would help us reach the goals I think are important for US schools, including addressing issues of segregation. Have I mischaracterized your position because I disagree?

    You advocate learning from "higher scoring" countries on the PISA, I understand that.

    But if that means borrowing a high stakes testing scheme or further streaming students into ability groupings (which they never "stream" out of in the Singaporean case)--I question that approach--as I think it conflicts with the more important goal of educating for democratic citizenship.

    If there are other approaches we can learn from "higher scoring" countries--such as investing in teacher knowledge, career ladders, school leadership based on knowledge of excellent teaching--which don't conflict with deeper democratic principles (in my view), then they sound much less objectionable and more promising to me!

    Tell me what I've mischaracterized. In response to the idea that our schools are not preparing highly-enough skilled graduates to obtain high-paying jobs, I wonder: with more college graduates and a higher percentage of the US population now college educated than ever before, how can we argue the problem with low incomes is lack of education? Unfortunately, even college educated people cannot acquire middle class jobs as they once could.


    Giving more people more skills will not make Wal-Mart jobs go away. It will make that employee go away and find a better job. I have been convinced that there are lots of good jobs out there that employers struggle to find people competent to perform. Then eventually Wal-Mart will have to pay more. I am also not opposed to unions or to minimum wages-- but that is why I fall where I do on the political spectrum. (And again, I am trying to make sure that my political inclinations do no make me "immune to data.")

    I am also not opposed if the other countries of the world want to send us their best students! Many have been doing this for decades and it is part of the explanation for why the nation has not suffered more, economically, than we have from the state of our schools. Problem is, that more of those "best student" are deciding that their best opportunities are back home. We need to be able to grow our own talent too.

    As for your point about schools (not) doing narrow vocational training for business--I agree. I want schools to give kids general skills that are broadly applicable throughout the economy. That will put great power and freedom in their hands.

    And the skills that I am talking about are not rocket science! They are the skills that you need to make "middle class" wages in this economy. I think that they are worth articulating. My favorite formulation comes from Teaching the New Basic Skills by labor economists Dick Murnane and Frank Levy

    From memory (check the book for the exact phrasing), these are...

    1) Read at a 9th grade level or better
    2) Do math at a 9th grade level or better
    3) Solve semistructured problems that require the formation of a hypothesis and a way to test it.
    4) Be able to work on problem solving teams with people not like you (different race, gender, nationality, etc.)
    5) Be able to communicate ideas both orally and in writing.
    6) Be able to use a PC for simple tasks (write a letter, send email, etc.)

    Their estimate is that more than 50% of kids leave school without those skills.

    Getting more kids these skills will not cure every social ill. But it would make lot's of their lives far better and more enjoyable--maybe even get them health insurance.

    Erin makes a good point about how to think about international data and comparisons. Are we ever going to be Finland, Japan, or China? No. Do they have any good ideas that might work here? Duuh!

    I was in Tokyo for a conference a few years ago. My unofficial host from the Ministry of Education was a woman whose job was to study the US education system--she was married to the man who studies the U.K.'s system! They did not say "the US is too diverse--they could never have any ideas that we could use here". They were scouring the world for the best ideas that they could find, and adapt, for their own use. It is simply American hubris to assume that no other country in the world could ever have a good idea that might help us.

    And as for diverse--not all of these countries are as homogenous as Americans imagine. Someone in Shanghai who drives a three hours to Nanjing will find that they are speaking a language that they don't understand. The Chinese have essentially had to invent an education system that teachs most of the children in the nation a second (common) language--Putonghua or "peoples language." We have nothing in this nation that compares.


    These goals for public schooling I think are admirable, both for the purpose you mention--for the possibility of obtaining a professional position--as well as for democratic citizenship, it seems to me. I wonder if tests such as PISA touch on any of them beyond Nos. 1 and 2 (another problem with putting too much emphasis on these tests-narrowing the curriculum to easily testable items). How does one get at no. 4 without spending a good deal of time learning about people different from oneself?

    Your theory about how to pressure Wal-mart to pay higher wages is an interesting one. It assumes there are millions of higher paying jobs available for people, if they only had the skills on the list! What are these jobs that you are thinking of?

    I cannot find the place in the Hanuchek piece where they reject the possibility countries are rich before they achieve high scores on international tests, rather than vice versa. Can you point out where that is?


    Agreed about the China example and cultural diversity. They also don't do too well on international tests, do they?


    See interesting general discussions of endogeneity in Section 4.2 here...


    See Section III. Causality PartA: The Determinants of Schooling Quality here...




    China is a big issue that I don't have time to go into in detail right now. Briefly, the autonomous regions of China that do participate in PISA (Hong Kong and Macao) do very well--much better than the USA. However, they have not, until recently, allowed testing on the mainland. (The testing that is going on now will not have results that are publicly released.)

    A person I know in the MOE in Beijing explained to me that they think that they can benchmark their better coastal school systems, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing to these autonomous regions without suffering the embarrassment of reporting on the poor condition of many of their rural schools. Whether they can or not is really an open question. They do have strong national exams Zhongcao and Gaocao so maybe they can.

    The important point to me is that they are beginning to create large numbers of students will "world class" skills capable of directly competing with similarly trained US students.

    China also has the problem of hundreds of millions of impoverished peasants currently living on $1-2 dollars per day. The education that they get is poor.

    Gotta run--we could talk about this more later...



    The international comparisons strongly suggest that external evaluations increases student learning and greatly reduces the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

    From that statement how did you derive a complete support of high stakes tests? Would you characterize grades as *high stakes*? Grades certainly matter when students are trying to earn a high school diploma or applying to college. So what is better in your mind, the teacher evaluating the student (and thus undermining teacher-student trust) or an external system for evaluation?

    As for streaming, it is hypocritical to denigrate streaming in other countries when our school structure does in fact track kids. And our tracking system is less than egalitarian in process or outcome, as our disadvantaged students suffer greatly from our poor implementation.

    Your suggestions to “investing in teacher knowledge, career ladders, school leadership based on knowledge of excellent teaching” are admirable. But without a school structure focused on student learning, how will any of these initiatives change our students’ actual experience?

    Our school structure is not set up to improve or implement any quality measures. Without substantial changes in our school structure, your (or anybody else’s) ideas about improving our schools will have little chance of affecting our students’ education.

    As for our school system developing enough talent/interest in our students to pursue high paying jobs, you may consider Bill Gates’ call to Congress to increase the number of visas for highly skilled foreign workers to fill high tech jobs. Many high tech companies (including Microsoft) have publicly stated that they do not have enough skilled Americans to fill their jobs.


    Lest you think that this is a ploy by Gates et al., to undermine high paying jobs here, you might want to consider that the actual number of engineers graduating from our universities has substantially decreased since the mid 80’s.

    Total Engineers graduating in 1985: 77,572
    Total Engineers graduating in 2004: 64,675

    nsf.gov/statistics/nsf07307/pdf/nsf07307.pdf pg8

    So really, Matt, why are you so supportive of a school system that perpetuates the enormous gap between disadvantaged and advantage students and implicitly tracks our kids without great benefit in their learning?

    Erin Johnson


    I'm not sure what is hypocritical about viewing tracking--both here, and elsewhere, as a problem. You are defending it, not I. Where do you get the idea that I think our current system is perfect? What I believe is that "external evaluation" (how is that not high stakes testing?) will exacerbate segregation (which is different than "achievement gap") rather than improve it. Do you disagree? I hear you saying it is inevitable so why worry about it?

    Are we to radically restructure our education system because our universities have graduated fewer engineers than in years past? That doesn't seem to merit restructuring, in my view. People don't necessarily choose other majors in college because they don't have the skills (perhaps universities should require engineering credits, for example, or allow fewer students to major in English--sounds a lot more aimed at this particular issue than restructuring the entire public education system).

    In terms of the "achievement gaps" among countries--I wonder what kind of correlation there is between countries with large achievement gaps on test scores and large stratification between rich and poor? (looking at the Gini index, for example) Have you looked into this? Your favorite countries appear to have much less stratification than the US (or China, or Brazil, or many other "lower achieving" countries).

    Teachers should and must evaluate their students every day, and must find a way to still build trust. The evaluation should be constructive, build students up, and be specific. That does not mean that teachers should rank, sort, and create competition between students (and yes, I think the fact many US teachers/schools do this anyway is problematic). That is what "external evaluation" does, and it has questionable merit, in my view. It is certainly not the "answer" to our most difficult educational problems.


    Why do you equate external evaluations with "high stakes testing"?

    Certainly external evaluations can be exclusionary, but I don't see how that would be a benefit to our children.

    Externalizing the evaluations only means that teachers are not primarily responsible for "grading" their students. That is providing the outside world with a summary judgment of the student's work.

    As for teachers, professional judgement is always necessary to match their teaching with their students' understanding. This in no way equates with the procedure that produces a "grade" that is posted to the public world.

    How is having teachers "grade" their students any different than your "high stakes testing"?

    Erin Johnson


    If external evaluations determine a "track" for students and/or retention, I would consider those "high stakes."

    If not by testing, how do "external evaluators" get to know and evaluate children?

    "High stakes" decisions about students' education should be made by adults who know the child best, in my view--teachers, (using multiple forms of assessment), parents, special educators if necessary, principals. And hopefully they can come to consensus.

    I don't see the purpose of "external evaluation" except to track students into different ability levels, something I've argued against. Why should a "grade" be posted to the external world?

    Are you saying that public schools should determine who goes to college and who doesn't? If so, I don't believe that is the public schools' role; colleges and universities make decisions in this country about who they will admit and who the will not, using multiple forms of information that arguably give a much fuller picture than any one "external evaluator" could. Is this where we disagree?


    Is the teacher there to teach the student or to provide an "assessment" for people outside the classroom?

    Even if the teacher knows the student best, why would we strain that teacher-student relationship just to provide "accurate" data to external people?

    For the most part, colleges use two measures in admitting students, the SAT and their high school grades. Colleges do not "know" any of the students and yet they need to determine to whom they should offer admission. In reality, colleges overweight the SAT because of their concerns that grades (internal evaluation) are over-inflated.

    So can the SAT be considered a high stakes test. Yes it could be. Is this what you mean by high stakes test? Are you suggesting that colleges and high schools stop giving grades and SATs?

    External evaluations take on multiple forms in countries around the world. Which type would work best for our culture is hard to say a priori.

    But given the benefits (especially for disadvantaged students) seen in school systems that use external evaluations, how could we not consider it.

    Erin Johnson


    Some colleges require SAT's, others do not. Some weight those scores much higher than others. Many require application essays, short answer questions, resumes, letters of recommendation and interviews. Some accept or require pieces of artwork, and/or other creations. Some universities require ACTs, TOEFLs, and even accept narrative assessments.

    Why should public schools have to bear the burden of streamlining this process for universities (at the expense of other important goals)? Isn't this process like many other applications in life, such as for jobs and graduate school?

    The teacher's role in educating can be trusting (as Paul eloquently wrote earlier). Assessment of students, largely conducted by teachers, is important for teachers to know the needs of students, as well as for communicating with parents and others who also play important roles in the education of students. Standardized testing also has a place, but the system that you describe--practiced in Singapore and elsewhere--places far too much emphasis on the exam, in my view, and is a serious obstacle to the other important goals education should be concerned with.


    You underestimate the importance of grades to children. And more importantly you dismiss the needs of children to learn in a trusting environment.

    "Assessment of students, largely conducted by teachers, is important for teachers to know the needs of students, as well as for communicating with parents and others who also play important roles in the education of students"

    But if the child is the beneficiary of the learning environment, should he/she not be the primary/only focus of the teacher? Again, professional judgment by the teacher about how to match the material to the student is *not* equivalent to issuing grades to the external world!

    How can you so easily dismiss the harm that grading has on children and yet vehemently blast "high stakes tests"?

    Erin Johnson


    I can see your point that grades matter to students. I have taught in (and attended) schools that give students grades, and others that do not. The schools that Deborah has been involved with (CPESS, Mission Hill, CPE I & II), as well as has advocated in her columns, such as the MET and the Big Picture schools, do not give grades to students (as grades are traditionally thought of), but rely heavily on narrative assessments and other forms of communication. That is why I have argued that using assessments as tools of ranking, sorting, and competition gets in the way of an education that builds students up. I know that most schools do this sort of thing, but I think it is a big problem. I do not underestimate how much this may lead to student frustration, and perhaps drop out rates. There are many other ways of assessing, and communicating with students and parents without pitting students against each other.

    However, turning evaluation to a centralized exam system, tied to extremely high stakes (college entrance) is a mistake, in my view. In the US there are many colleges that except students with relatively low SAT scores--since these students can demonstrate strengths in other areas through the various parts of the application. In countries like Singapore, students MUST score high on the exams or they are not accepted into college. I have known dozens of foreign-born students at colleges in the US who came to the US for precisely this reason--their scores weren't high enough to attend university in their own countries. That, in my view, is a major benefit of US institutions' decision to look at things other than test scores. It also speaks loudly to questions of equity.

    Matt, Erin,

    This is why I think we need a national (in Erin's terms, external) test. I would also want that new test to be (nominally) "No Stakes".

    See Mapping State Proficiency Standards onto NAEP Scales...


    For 4th grade reading proficiency...

    State State Test NAEP

    Mississippi 88% 18%
    Maryland 82% 32%
    Massachusetts 48% 44%

    [Darn! I cannot get the table tags to work so this lines up OK!]

    The first column is state name, the second this the % of kids who were proficient readers as reported by the state, and the third is the % proficient on the NAEP.

    I would propose that for a three year interim period the result of the NAEP (or other putative, no stakes/national/ external, test not be reported.

    After that each parent would get an individualized report on their child . The report would contain an easy-to-understand line chart with "National Average", "State Average", and "Your Child" clearly marked. It will be quite a shock for some parents who have been told that 4.5 out 5 are reading well to learn that the real number may less than 1 out of 5.

    I call this test "nominally" no stakes because once Americans learn that they are not living in Lake Woebegon where every child is "above average"-- there will, in fact, be some "stakes" for those who have perpetrated this fraud.

    But this is just the information we need to be discussing in this nation.

    I attended a lecture once where a doctor said that one of the real breakthroughs in medical history was learning to measure the right things--blood sugar for diabetes, blood pressure for hypertension--that before that breakthrough medicine was making little progress.

    Most of people in the nation who need information about the functioning of their schools (parents) do not have access to reliable information


    Matt, Erin,

    I want to hasten to add that teachers need access to reliable information as much as doctors.

    4.5 out of 5 proficient--"steady as she goes"

    1 out 5 proficient- code red (or blue, or whatever it is)



    Your suggestion makes a lot of sense, I think. I like how it's no stakes, focused on reading, informative, comparative, and leaves the decision making to those closest to the child.

    I'm not sure about how "shocking" it would be. As Kappan reports each year, people are always more appalled by schools "over there" than by the school to which they send their own child.


    Well, I was actually thinking reading, math, and science-- probably.

    When I was a little kid--long ago-- my mom used to get my results reported out as 5th grade 9th month for reading, 6th grade sixth month for math, etc. She could tell where I was "behind" and where "advanced"--and in my case tutorials followed!

    Look at Teaching the New Basic Skills that I mentioned above. (Give me your address and I will mail you one--honest.) There is a great story there about a primary school where the parents are all upset because their kids are never getting selected for the magnet middle schools. They are sure that it is racism. Then they learn that their "A" and "B" students were actually scoring below the 20th percentile. You can imagine the ugly scene at the next PTA meeting. The really incredible part is what happened next.

    Everybody needs the best information available to use to make good decisions. Parents always like "their" school because they like the teachers who love their kids and they have nothing else to go on but the "Don't worry, be happy" data that is provided them by the state.

    This test data that I would like to see distributed is not going to work a miracle by itself. But I think that it would start a thousand conversations, on standards, resources, length of school day & year, textbooks, teacher qualifications, etc., etc. that might start to work miracles.


    How is a gross characterization of a student 4.5/5 or 1/5 helpful to the teacher at all?

    This gives no information about what the student is or is not capable of doing?

    Additionally, the no-stakes test that you describe completely gives ownership for learning still to the teacher. Which is perhaps appropriate for young elementary school children.

    But for our middle/high school students, when would the students become responsible for their own learning?

    Erin Johnson


    It seems to me that your story about the middle school magnet program is a pretty good demonstration of the consequences of "ability based streaming." Are you saying that the problem is that there was no test--since if there was, then the (African-American?) parents would have KNOWN that their children didn't belong in the higher track (thus taking the accountability for racial bias off of the school)?

    Your post, I think, brings us back to Deborah's original post here. The problem of low achievement is best addressed with teacher knowledge--about how to teach a wide range of learners (it is possible! and desirable, for lots of reasons) how to assess and communicate effectively and accurately, how to learn from, and build trust with parents. That is the main gap. It is not a gap of motivation ('we must use draconian measures to force teachers/schools to be more motivated by a test scores--to more efficiently track and sort students based on perceived ability!')


    Do we not already have the NAEP; a national no stakes test? Are you suggesting that everyone take it and students get individual reports? (One more set of tests that tell us that our children are learning very little!)

    If we did give all children the NAEP (or something similar), how would this improve our schools or our children's learning.

    Accurate information is only as valuable as the the path forward that it enables.

    Erin Johnson


    The gross characterization of a state or even of a school does not provide the kind of data that teachers need for "formative assessments" at the student level.

    It does provide information to parents in the community however. I think that the main reason we have trouble getting a real consensus around improving our schools in this nation is that most parents are getting data that is impossible to interpret. As Matt says everyone assumes that their school is OK and that the problem schools are elsewhere. And I can't really blame most parents given the story that their states are giving them.

    I want parents to have the information that they need to determine 1) How well their child is performing and if their are any substantial deficits, and 2) How well their school and system is performing. Is it doing pretty well for most kids or failing for most of them?

    Students bear an increasing responsibility with age as you suggest. But teachers, schools, and systems can still fail these kids. Most kids, even motivated ones, will probably not do well in AP Calculus, Physics or other subjects in the absence of a knowledgeable and motivated teacher.

    And teachers, as you suggest, need much more detailed information about where their students are succeeding and failing so that they can make informed choices about their instruction.



    There was a test. The school system had the information--the parents did not. Once the parents had the information--their students were years behind others in the district--they could act on that information.

    Go read the story and see what it is possible to accomplish when the parents have the same information as do the teachers and administrators.



    NAEP is the best model we have now. Definitely not perfect, but a big step up from what many of the states are doing. Some denigrate the comparisons between NAEP and their state tests because "not everyone takes the NAEP."

    OK. So here is my "thought experiment-fantasy" with a theory of action.

    1) A "no-stakes" national* test in reading, math, and science given to essentially all students. The test contains the level of detail for teachers to understand where their classes, and individual students, are succeeding or struggling.

    2) No public reporting of this data (except maybe at the most aggregated levels) for a blackout period of 3-5 years. During this time teachers, principals, and other administrators are given intensive summer P.D. on how to interpret and use the test data. Schools are given increased local autonomy** to select curricular materials, reapportion resources, modify school days, fire low-performing teachers, etc. (I said this was a fantasy.)

    3) After the blackout period parents receive an easy to understand report with information about the performance of their student, their school, and their system and state.

    4) Local newspapers will be able to easily benchmark this data against other nations.

    5) The scales fall from the eyes of parents across the nation. Discussions ensue. Why are we scoring near the bottom of the first-world nations in math? So we are 29th in the world in science, my kid is not going to be a scientist, so no problem--right? Wait just a minute, you mean jobs are moving to country "X" because they outperform my kids in school? Why do they outperform my kids in school? They aren't any smarter than we are?

    6) Voters begin to take out their anger on politicians. Politicians begin to pay attention.

    7) The hard work starts.

    * Alternative version of this "national testing" fantasy. A number of state governors get together, and recognizing the paralysis and lack of leadership at the national level*** begin to discuss "common state standards" (CSS). States confer with business leaders on the skills that students need to be employable and make certain that they align the CSS with these skills. More states join in the discussions and begin to formulate a common test--the list of participating states approaches two dozen. A major international employer cancel its plans to build a major new plant employing 15,000 people in a non-CSS state-- and begins construction in a CSS state. Fifteen more states announce their plans to join the CSS colalition.

    ** Maybe this does not happen until Step 7.

    *** And you wonder why I prefer to remain anonymous

    OK--time to wake up!!!

    Alternative visions--complete with a theory of action-- are welcome!! (Mine does not even sound that feasible to me--but I have to believe in something--I am an eternal optimist.)



    A thoughtful optimist at that.

    The problem with our schools is not that we don't have enough information. We do. Some of us just don't want to believe it. And the rest of us don't know how to act on it.

    The problem is not the lack of testing. Our children are perhaps the most tested students in the world. We have tremendous data regarding their performance (or lack thereof!).

    The problem with our schools is not the lack standards. Most schools in the US have them. And yet standards have not been able to translate into the classroom enough to change actual practice. Currently, we have no systems in place to either translate ideas into the classroom or give feedback about whether the ideas were worthwhile.

    Really, the solutions to our school problems are rather simple. What is complicated is changing the scope of the discussion to make it obvious what the solutions should be.

    Erin Johnson


    If we followed your set of proposals I think we would find ourselves in much the same situation we are now--a discussion about what to do. I don't think it would provide any evidence that would contribute to the argument that we need a set of national standards tied to a national exam system. Rather, I think it would lead to the conclusion that what is missing (as you point out in a later post, tied to Diane's column from last Tuesday) is lack of teacher knowledge. National standards and exams will not give teachers and schools the capability to teach more effectively. Thoughtful professional development perhaps could.

    Erin, it's hard to follow your last post. First you say we don't need more information, then you say we need "systems in place to either translate ideas into the classroom or give feedback about whether the ideas were worthwhile." Isn't that information?

    I think the solutions are far from simple, actually. I think part of what's hard is that many teachers, policy makers, and others cannot imagine what quality professional development for teachers looks like and what it takes to make it work. Teaching teachers is just as hard, if not harder, than teaching students, and currently there is very little institutional support for such a project--and many people don't even think it's important, and disagree on what it should look like.

    I also, by the way, don't think that suggesting professional development is important is "teacher bashing." And that is part of what is so difficult about this suggestion. Teachers cannot learn everything they need to know in Ed. Schools, but most schools do not have the capability, or arrangement, to offer compelling and effective professional development.


    We don't need additional tests to tell us that our children are learning very little. Tests are not a system, they are a tool.

    So if our children are not learning very much (as shown over and over again by pretty much every test that we have given our kids), what do we do with that information.

    Our current strategy is/has been to pressure schools or teachers to "just do a better job". This strategy completely assumes that schools have just been slacking off and schools/teacher just need to try harder.

    What we lack is systemic support for classroom improvement. Current forms of "professional development" rarely qualify. Just telling teachers that they need to do a better job is not a system.

    Erin Johnson


    I agree with you. Current forms of professional development rarely qualify, and just telling teachers they need to do a better job doesn't help.

    But Deborah's proposal is not that. It is a step toward providing the institutional support that is necessary to improve teaching and learning. There are forms of professional development that are very powerful, and we need to be looking into those, and building capacity for them. Linda Darling-Hammond, a member of the Forum for Education and Democracy that Deborah is also a part of and writes about here, is one of the people who has most eloquently articulated how and why professional development for teachers is currently lacking and must be taken seriously.

    However, you and I might disagree on what kinds of professional development "work." For example, I don't think it's a sort of "test prep." It is a complicated process that involves teacher reflection, peer coaching, collaboration, and enough "human capital," or experts in every school building, that can lead teachers to the "next step" in their development. That is one of the reasons why career ladders are important. Let's not let our best teachers leave the schools to get higher paying jobs elsewhere, let's create opportunities for sharing knowledge with colleagues, for example. But even that is not enough. Deb's proposal includes many other features, but there is no doubt it is a serious investment.


    Even if we did professional development in a manner that you see fit, what would happen?

    Say we cloned you and had you give extensive development to every teacher in the US. What percent of them would look at you (after you've talked yourself blue) and say to themselves, "Well that was interesting, but it really has no place in my classroom."

    I suspect that that number would be very high.

    Professional development has no meaning to teachers (for the most part) with the exception that it is part of their contract and they are obligated to go.

    Structurally, professional development has no meaning in our schools. For the most part, teachers can take it or leave it as they please. Schools feel like they are covered because they offer so many hours of "professional development" and thus they must have quality teachers. (Talk about CYA!)

    Some "progressive" districts try to force teachers into teaching as they see fit. That is if the teacher is not doing exactly as told, the teachers are reprimanded. This is a largely unsuccessful effort as quality teaching needs an engaged teacher. Forcing a teacher to do something that he/she does not believe in is rarely a path toward success.

    So, we currently have NO structures in place to encourage quality teaching.

    All of the proposals that Deborah has made, while very admirable, have very little chance of changing actual teaching practice without a change in school structure.

    The great benefit of the international studies is illustrating how school structure can affect quality teaching and thus student learning.

    Erin Johnson


    For the most part, I agree with you. That's why I said it is at least as hard as teaching students. And no, I am not the "expert" who can teach all teachers (although I may have one or two expertises that may be interesting to others, as I would imagine you do). Individual teachers DO have particular expertises in schools--that are not being used to their fullest extent for professional development.

    And I couldn't agree more that teachers need to want it and see a value in it. But imagine, for example, if teachers sat down with their principal or coach or someone they respect, and they made a professional development plan that really fit (and could convince others it was appropriate, etc.) articulating where they were heading, and that could benefit the school. Let's say they were biology teachers, and they perhaps chose to attend a workshop at the College of the Atlantic with a colleague, with the caveat that they would both use this experience to enhance/develop curriculum (they were given a budget by the school to do that). Each teacher would have much more say over what their prof. dev. looked like, and chose someone they respected to lead the way.

    Then, perhaps there would be a teaching coach at the school who was jointly hired by the principal, district, and the staff. In other words, the coach must be someone who wins over the respect of the staff. That person probably has particular strengths and weaknesses, so it would likely be beneficial for them to have a limited stay at a school (five years, perhaps). They may likely be senior teachers, perhaps National Board Certified teachers, perhaps PhD's in a field the school wanted to get better at---perhaps your favorite Singaporean teacher who can show the staff how it's done better in Singapore!

    Needless to say, it costs money to attract someone like this to the school. Hopefully, this process could dovetail with a teacher career ladder--some teachers may aim for this kind of position somewhere down the line.

    Lastly, and critically, teachers need to be paid for the time they spend doing professional development. If it is going to be quality time--of reflection, critiquing and being critiqued, being part of reflective sessions using a protocol, carrying on research projects in the school, presenting and learning curricular strategies, learning better assessment strategies, working on how to better communicate and build trust with parents, etc., this takes substantial amounts of time, and teachers should be paid.

    My understanding, from my own experience and speaking with others, is that teachers currently spend very little time doing things like this and the required meetings they attend are often about their legal and district responsibilities, and the other "business" of managing a school, not truly challenging prof. dev. about teaching and learning.


    International studies of school systems that work well at developing quality teacher support your idea that teacher development is absolutely necessary for quality teaching and thus student learning. The studies do not however support *how* you describe that teacher development should occur.

    The reason that quality teacher development does not happen in our country is not due to a lack of interest by teachers but a distinct lack of structural support.

    That is, even if we spent the money to hire experts in the field and allowed those experts time to "win over" the teachers, nothing would happen. Teaching would not change because the school structure/administration puts no value in improving teaching. It is implict in our culture that good teachers just exist and that it is not an art/skill to be cultivated. Thus, our schools are set up to evaluate teachers, not develop them.

    You are correct regarding the overloading of teachers with responsibilites unrelated to teaching. Our schools rely too heavily on teachers for doing things that should be done externally to the classroom (student evaluations, school management, meetings, etc...)

    For students to learn well, teachers must focus on teaching well. This will only happen with a structural change in schooling.

    Erin Johnson


    I agree that it is important to develop a culture of focusing on teaching and learning. But I do not think national standards and national testing is the best way to do this.

    Deborah's proposal includes investment in improving school leadership--a critical component that addresses exactly the problem that you raise (about "putting no value in improving teaching"--although this is an overstatement, I think, because administrators also don't have the resources they need). In other words, effective school leadership is essential to helping develop that school culture focused on teaching and learning.

    The national test/standards idea does not address the issue of institutional support--it addresses a perceived (misconception, in my view) lack of motivation among teachers and administrators.

    Just to clarify, the proposal to hire teacher leaders is not so they can "win over" teachers. Rather, I think it makes sense that teaching staffs should have the ability to "hire" and "fire" these teacher leaders. In other words, you hire someone you respect and has something to teach you.

    School cultures may differ from one to another. One school may choose to spend time focusing intently on building trust with a culturally diverse community. I don't think this kind of decision would be made if the incentives were always about the narrow constraints of preparing for a high stakes test. Again, the national exam proposal gets in the way.


    Several questions for you:

    1. What is the difference between preparing for a "high stakes exam" and preparing to get an "A" in class?

    2. Keeping the structure of our schools the same, what changes in school leadership would make a difference in either teaching quality or student learning?

    That is: connect the dots for me. If principal A does X,Y, and Z, this will result in an increase in teaching quality and an increase in student learning. Just getting "good people" greatly underestimates how much our current school structure hampers any improvements in teaching or learning.

    3. For hiring teacher leaders, what criteria would you use to either hire or fire them? If you use respect as your only requirement, I would pretty much hire everybody I know. Should I be allowed to hire all my friends?

    4. What do you have against national standards? If for example: if the national standard stated (and only stated) that all children need to learn to read at 3rd grade level and do arithmetic (add, subtract, multiply and divide), would you object?

    Erin Johnson


    Good questions. One difference between giving students grades (or other evaluations) as opposed to only preparing them for high-stakes tests is that you can plan your curriculum, and their evaluations, around what you have assessed as their particular academic needs, as well as the goals you have for that class, which may be (are likely to be) different from that of the test makers, and allow students to demonstrate strengths in multiple ways.

    School leadership is a huge question and I don't think I can give a good, brief answer. But you can start by not having leaders who, as you say, place "no value in improving teaching." It is as complicated, or more so, as facilitating a class of students, I think. That is, it requires a well developed theory about how adults learn, you need to listen to teachers, support their attempts at improving, plan time and offer expertise to allow that to happen, encourage collaboration, recognize the expertise that exists on the staff and allow space and structure for it to be shared, stand up for the staff when they are being attacked from any direction, and develop as a staff a mission statement, set of goals, and tools for whole school reflection and evaluation (some of the stuff Deborah touched on in her most recent post), to name a few.

    In terms of hiring teacher leaders, you and I might have different criteria. I would probably not want to hire your friends, for example. The staff would have to decide that. My criteria would likely be--does this person's references say she/he is "amazing?" (if no, don't hire) If yes, why? Is it because she/he is your spouse? Call more references. What does she/he do with staffs? What does he/she bring? How do you know it's effective? It's a job interview with an unusually large hiring committee.

    National standards don't offer much. The example you gave is so minimal it doesn't help. What school would oppose that standard? On the other hand, standards could name every skill necessary for multiple PhD's. Schools can name and defend their own standards, and should, to "external reviewers"--a team of outside experts who can evaluate entire schools in depth on a regular basis.


    So it sounds like you oppose national standards because you are concerned that they will "name every skill for multiple PhDs."

    But what if they didn't. What if national standards allowed for a common core with substantial flexibility. Diane suggests 50% of the curriculum be delineated and 50% be left up to the teachers/schools.

    Would you support that?

    Erin Johnson.

    From an OpEd in the NYT last Friday...

    David Brooks... The Cognitive Age...

    “The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information.”



    National standards are a set of priorities, they are not a quality resource for better teaching and learning. Are the people who would decide national standards that much smarter than every school district and community that they should impose their wisdom on them? I don't think so. National standards are followed by punishments and rewards which continually emphasize the point that school communities are too stupid to know what's good for them (among other consequences). That is the wrong direction to go. We should be supporting schools and districts with actual resources that can assist teaching and learning.

    G.B., interesting article from Brooks. He's right that that discourse of globalization is pervasive, and it is surprising to me (if true) that the US has actually increased manufacturing (in dollars? widgets?), and that China has lost manufacturing jobs. I'm not sure he's right about that last paragraph, however. Is he saying Republicans are the ones investing in the cognitive revolution? I sure don't see it.


    We don't have national standards now. Why the gross generalization about what would happen if we adopted them?


    I concur. Our schools are premised upon an early 1900s technology and societal structure that doesn't exist now and is unlikely is exist in the coming years.

    Certainly, other school systems have recognized that to be effective (and it shows in their improving test scores), the schools themselves need to have systems in place to constantly learn and adapt.

    Erin Johnson


    Gross generalization??? Describe for me the rationale for having national standards without testing and consequences, and where you've seen that take place.


    "National standards are followed by punishments and rewards which continually emphasize the point that school communities are too stupid to know what's good for them (among other consequences)."

    How are national standards a referendum on the stupidity of school communities?

    Erin Johnson


    National standards are a form of top-down management. If not, why not allow school communities to develop their own standards?


    Commonality does not equate to stupidity.

    Just becasue we want our children to experience a common education does not mean that anyone thinks that local governments are stupid.

    Erin Johnson


    Reaching a consensus on national standards is impossible, or at least far more effort than it is worth. Without consensus, national standards amount to imposing on school communities a set of priorities they did not agree to. Don't forget that standards and curricula change over time, so the governing body must be far more flexible than a process of national consensus.

    I believe the framers of our Constitution and government were wise to divide the powers of government, both within the national level, as well as among the state, county, and municipal levels. Running a representative democracy from Washington, D.C. alone is not inclusive nor responsive enough to the needs and interests of local communities. Perhaps it is more responsive and inclusive in places like Finland and Singapore--but not here!

    We have a far more common culture and common education than we give credit, that is not a strong rationale for national standards. Further, everyone has a pet "knowledge set" they believe should be included in a set of standards. It's not worth it!!! We need real resources for teaching and learning, not more control from above.

    Comments are now closed for this post.


    Most Viewed on Education Week



    Recent Comments