the middle way to education reform

This proposal makes a lot of sense and should appeal to those who favor standardized variables to measure student performance as well as those who favor local control of all school activities.

Provide flexible dollars targeted at disadvantaged children. Principals and superintendents, facing the sunshine of transparency around their schools’ results, should be free to spend Washington’s dollars as they see fit.

Foster common standards and tests. While asking federal bureaucrats or politicians themselves to set standards and create tests would be perilous, the President could bring governors together and task them with agreeing on what students should know and be able to do in core subjects at various stages of their K-12 schooling.

Offer cash incentives to states or districts to embark upon promising but politically treacherous reforms. The cleanest way to do this is to enhance the Title I payments to jurisdictions that are pushing hard on important innovations such as performance-linked pay for teachers and quality school choices for families.

Produce high-quality data and solid research on what does and doesn’t work. Today, education research and statistics is the caboose of federal education policy when it should be the engine.

Protect the civil rights of individual students and educators. This is a traditional and needed element of the federal role, both at the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and in other agencies.

It offers reward incentive for good teaching and good student progress as well as removes federal mandates for failed projects like No Child Left Behind which will only be a glutton for more spending to make it even plausible.

This also looks like something that newly named, soon to be appointed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan might buy as an alternative to rigid local control versus rigid federal oversight. Moreover, Lisa Snell gives us a couple of good reasons to think Duncan will consider this strategy moving forward.

Chicago’s model does not distinguish between the type of school: charter, contract, traditional public, instead this pilot project attaches dollars to students and lets students vote with their feet by choosing a school. This is the vision of school finance we need to make school funding more transparent and attached to the backs of kids. We need the funding to follow the child and not fund programs, staff, or certain types of schools.

For the purposes of the discussion as it pertains here, what do you judge as a plausible liberaltarian management of education reform? If the liberal idea is to find ways to “bring up the bottom” does this kind of proposal seem to offer a fair way to do it?

Originally posted at Notes From Off Center.

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About Drew Tatusko

Andrew Tatusko is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (1999, 2000) from which he earned an M.Div. and Th.M. There he focused on philosophical theology, philosophy of education, and postmodern theory. From there he was a senior instructional designer at Seton Hall University where he worked on initiatives to integrate technology into teaching and learning. Currently he is the program activity director for a Title III grant to integrate technology into teaching, learning, retention and advising at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA. He currently lives in Duncansville, PA with wife Brenna, sons Alexander and Evan, Stella (Rhodesian Ridgeback mix) and Sophie (Rhodesian Ridgeback) and two cats Digit and Kit Kat. Drew has published articles on postmodern theory, theology, and education. He is working on his dissertation in an effort to complete the Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership, Management and Policy at Seton Hall University. The focus of the dissertation in on the influence of theological tradition on policy development in religiously-affiliated higher education since the 1970’s. He also played drums with a band called Green Marie which put out its first CD before Drew left in the summer of 2006. Drew is now taking a break from playing music to work on healing from Lyme disease which he contracted from a tick while planting trees in the backyard in July 2007. He also needs to finish that dreaded dissertation project at some point while still eligible. Drew went to Colonel Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, MD and went to Westiminster College in New Wilimington PA with B.A. in Religious Studies.

2 thoughts on “the middle way to education reform

  1. This plan sounds like a great idea. Here are a few thoughts I had:

    On the one hand, you want to reward schools that do well with extra money as an incentive, but on the other hand schools that are doing poorly might need extra money to do better.

    I think what this plan is saying is to attach the “help the poor performers” money to students who can move to a different school, and attach the “reward the good performers” money to schools. Sounds like a good solution the the problem.

    I think the emphasis on measurable standards, data, and research is great, but we have to be careful to measure what’s important, and not just what’s easy to measure. That’s the main problem with multiple choice standardized testing today. Increasing research dollars, and putting standards in the hands of academics and working teachers instead of politicians would be a good change.

    I think the liberaltarian point of view about this is that equal opportunity is a precondition for our society to be fair, and education is a big part of equal opportunity. So the federal government definitely has a role to play in ensuring quality education. But big government mandates don’t usually produce the best results, so lets have the government use it’s money as leverage to motivate and help out the small local programs that work well.

  2. In education, as with so many other things, I’m all about programmatic competition.

    Here’s what I mean. The federal government sets up a broad, overarching framework for measuring the success of schools. The measurement must be broad, including both specific student testing and other, harder to quantify aspects (writing, college admission, long term success (i.e., measure how many people from each state are getting awards, making certain amounts of money, etc.). Not only that, but you need to also keep tabs on cost-effectiveness…how well each state is doing in relation to how much they’re spending.

    These measures must ABSOLUTELY be as rationally, scientifically based as possible (again,I recognize that this is a difficult problem that we’re ill-equipped to quantify, but we need to do our best), and the measurements should be reviewed and updated on a set, predictable schedule. (For our system of schools, every two years seems reasonable. That way, as kids go through high school, they have a chance for students in poorly performing schools to improve.)

    Here’s where the competitive part comes in. On a regular basis, rack and stack the states according to your measures. Give the top 5 or 10 states’ employees CASH BONUSES. Tell the bottom 5 or 10 states that either than can fire their current educational management, or the feds will withhold funding and they risk congress passing a one-off law to mandate they review their educational system. Offer incentives for volunteers from top states to move to bottom states to help them improve.

    A few other caveats about making this work.
    1) Part of the federal framework must be a mechanism for pursuing total communication – horizontal and vertical. The states need to actively make recommendations about the framework to the feds, and the feds should take those recommendations seriously. Also, the states should be talking to each other, working together to find out what works.

    2) It must be advertised, continuously, that the federal program is about continuous improvement, and NOT about mandating how you do things. A system like this purposefully leaves room for massive flexibility that allows each state the leeway to find the best, most local way to provide education, while still providing standards and incentive to make the education as good as possible. The only people who should worry that “they’re out to get me” should be the top management of the poorest performing states (the bureaucrats), and that is the price of responsibility.

    3) The tests should be variable enough that you cannot “teach the test”. The federal measurements should attempt to avoid this type of attitude, and encourage states to seek true EDUCATIONAL, not test taking, solutions.

    4) We should seek solutions to the problem of fundamentalists and anti-education nut bags overrunning our school boards.

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