What Some Call Delay Is At Times Just Good Policy Making

Posted by on June 21, 2013

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced that states will be given the option to postpone using the results of their new teacher evaluations for high-stakes decisions during the phase-in of the new Common Core-aligned assessments. The reaction from some advocates was swift condemnation – calling the decision little more than a “delay” and a “victory for the status quo.”

We hear these kinds of arguments frequently in education. The idea is that change must be as rapid as possible, because “kids can’t wait.” I can understand and appreciate the urgency underlying these sentiments. Policy change in education (as in other arenas) can sometimes be painfully slow, and what seem likes small roadblocks can turn out to be massive, permanent obstacles.

I will not repeat my views regarding the substance of Secretary Duncan’s decision – see this op-ed by Morgan Polikoff and myself. I would, however, like to make one very quick point about these “we need change right now because students can’t wait” arguments: Sometimes, what is called “delay” is actually better described as good policy making, and kids can wait for good policy making.

In the 30 states that have thus far adopted new evaluation laws, the burden of working out the complex details has largely fallen on individual districts. These many hundreds of districts, a huge proportion of which are quite small and already rather pressed and understaffed, have had to design their own plans, train and prepare teachers and principals, and figure out how to implement their new systems – in some cases without so much as a pilot year.

Now, right in the middle of installing these new evaluations, not to mention running a school district, there is the Common Core – intended to spark massive change in the existing educational infrastructure – as well as brand new assessments. You don’t have to agree with these policies, but I for one don’t see much stagnation.

Moreover, little of this is changed by Secretary Duncan’s announcement, which pertains only to the stakes attached to teacher evaluations (and, by the way, is voluntary).

Advocates, in contrast, are striving to keep up the pressure for improvement, and their fear of rollback is understandable. Still, underlying the “the kids can’t wait” rhetoric is the assumption that almost anything would be better than the status quo. On the one hand, it’s certainly true that all policies must be examined compared to alternatives, including those presently in force.

At the same time, however, the idea that any policy can do no harm is often misguided, but it’s particularly salient when we’re talking about hiring, firing and paying teachers based on brand new evaluations that incorporate data from brand new assessments.

Even the best ideas can and will fail if not executed properly, and that often takes time and attention to detail. Not everything that’s worth doing ends up being done successfully, especially not all at once.

- Matt Di Carlo


2 Comments posted so far

  • [...] Matt DiCarlo: Kids can wait if it means they’re waiting for good policy making (Shanker Blog) [...]

    June 21, 2013 at 6:44 PM
  • Thanks Matt. There are three outcomes to change…things can stay the same, they can improve or they can get worse. I can tell you from being in a “cutting edge” reform state, things are getting worse. Those who think that anything is better than the status quo are dead wrong. And they are spending a fortune chasing the wrong policies.
    Delay makes sense. Then smart states can learn from NY mistakes.

    Comment by carolcorbettburris
    June 22, 2013 at 5:33 PM

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Disclaimer

This web site and the information contained herein are provided as a service to those who are interested in the work of the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI). ASI makes no warranties, either express or implied, concerning the information contained on or linked from shankerblog.org. The visitor uses the information provided herein at his/her own risk. ASI, its officers, board members, agents, and employees specifically disclaim any and all liability from damages which may result from the utilization of the information provided herein. The content in the shankerblog.org may not necessarily reflect the views or official policy positions of ASI or any related entity or organization.

Banner image adapted from 1975 photograph by Jennie Shanker, daughter of Albert Shanker.