These days, it is hard to tell which political faction is pushing for the different components of education reform, but it is clear that the unified-bipartisan effort has fractured. The parting of ways is mostly due to the nomination, and subsequent confirmation, of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. It has become increasingly more clear to me that the main objective of conservative reformers is to implement the free-market model in education, divert taxpayer dollars to private entities, including religious organizations and as a result, segregate school populations by race and/or socio-economic status; with no obligation to prevent it from happening. The liberal reformers, or Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) have their reasons for education reform rooted in civil rights and believe that by removing bureaucracy, eliminating unions and allowing charter schools to operate independently, they can somehow restore justice to children of color and/or child living in poverty and are under-served by failing schools because of where they live. Neither side of this education reform equation can achieve their goals without diminishing the public education system. We are talking about a finite set of students and a finite amount of financing. When a child leaves a public school for “choice,” the school loses money. The loss of money makes it even harder for that school to make progress. The choice movement is self-serving. By gradually reducing the resources of the public system, they will eventually eliminate the public system. In turn, this side of the equation will lead to segregation, as well.
Lately, the big argument among reformers is how to use growth vs achievement in determining the success of a school. Obviously, both the conservatives and the liberals agreed that both measures are important. If not, it wouldn’t have made it into the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The argument is over what the weight should be. On Thursday, February 23rd, The Advocate ran an opinion editorial by Michael Petrilli. Petrilli was singing the praises of Supt. John White for proposing a weight of 25% for growth under the new accountability system. Petrilli’s OpEd was promptly rebutted by Eva Kemp, Director of DFER-LA. Kemp opposes the 25% weight of growth stating that too much emphasis on growth would give parents (the stakeholders who are apparently most concerned) an inaccurate picture of their school’s performance. What neither of these commentators acknowledges is that the continued use of a single-weighted formula will always result in the performance of some schools being inaccurately reported. In addition, the results of these assessments are used to measure multiple outcomes. They are used to measure the student’s performance, the teacher’s effectiveness and the school’s performance. That is a prohibited practice in the statistical world.
Without a doubt, the goal for every child should be achievement of mastery, but should the emphasis on achievement overshadow progress made when a child walks into a classroom three grades behind, doesn’t exit on grade-level at the end of the year, but did make significant improvement? Absolutely, not! Under the same argument, a lack of growth shouldn’t overshadow achievement on the high end of the spectrum where the potential growth diminishes the closer you get to the top of the scale. The only possible way to fairly recognize the progress of the student and the effectiveness of the teacher, is to employ a variable scale that emphasizes growth where achievement is far from mastery, and emphasizes achievement where growth has diminished. There is nothing in ESSA preventing the use of a variable scale; as long as the same formula is applied across the board.
The main arguments against this are that low-achieving schools could be rated too high and teachers could be rated highly-effective although their students performed poorly. To that I would say that acknowledging a student’s impressive growth, and rewarding the teacher for their part in it, would encourage continued efforts to reach the ultimate goal of achievement. That would be far more effective than failing to recognize a student’s growth because they didn’t achieve mastery and punishing a teacher because they weren’t successful in the enormous task of raising a student to grade-level when they entered the class years behind. This teacher has a much higher mountain to climb than the teacher who teaches high-performing students. It is time to incorporate an accountability system that is fair to the people that are rated by it.