Annual Measurable Objections

Posted by on November 5, 2012

As states’ continue to finalize their applications for ESEA/NCLB “flexibility” (or “waivers”), controversy has arisen in some places over how these plans set proficiency goals, both overall and for demographic subgroups (see our previous post about the situation in Virginia).

One of the underlying rationales for allowing states to establish new targets (called “annual measurable objectives,” or AMOs) is that the “100 percent” proficiency goals of NCLB were unrealistic. Accordingly, some (but not all) of the new plans have set 2017-18 absolute proficiency goals that are considerably below 100 percent, and/or lower for some subgroups relative to others. This shift has generated pushback from advocates, most recently in Florida, who believe that lowering state targets is tantamount to encouraging or accepting failure.

I acknowledge the central role of goals in any accountability system, but I would like to humbly suggest that this controversy, over where and how states set proficiency targets for 2017-18, may be misguided. There are four reasons why I think this is the case (and one silver lining if it is). Read More »

Who’s Afraid of Virginia’s Proficiency Targets?

Posted by on September 5, 2012

The accountability provisions in Virginia’s original application for “ESEA flexibility” (or “waiver”) have received a great deal of criticism (see here, here, here and here). Most of this criticism focused on the Commonwealth’s expectation levels, as described in “annual measurable objectives” (AMOs) – i.e., the statewide proficiency rates that its students are expected to achieve at the completion of each of the next five years, with separate targets established for subgroups such as those defined by race (black, Hispanic, Asian, white), income (subsidized lunch eligibility), limited English proficiency (LEP), and special education.

Last week, in response to the criticism, Virginia agreed to amend its application, and it’s not yet clear how specifically they will calculate the new rates (only that lower-performing subgroups will be expected to make faster progress).

In the meantime, I think it’s useful to review a few of the main criticisms that have been made over the past week or two and what they mean. The actual table containing the AMOs is pasted below (for math only; reading AMOs will be released after this year, since there’s a new test).

Read More »

Senate’s Harkin-Enzi ESEA Plan Is A Step Sideways

Posted by on July 31, 2012

Our guest authors today are Morgan Polikoff and Andrew McEachin. Morgan is Assistant Professor in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. Andrew is an Institute of Education Science postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia.

By now, it is painfully clear that Congress will not be revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) before the November elections. And with the new ESEA waivers, who knows when the revision will happen? Congress, however, seems to have some ideas about what next-generation accountability should look like, so we thought it might be useful to examine one leading proposal and see what the likely results would be.

The proposal we refer to is the Harkin-Enzi plan, available here for review. Briefly, the plan identifies 15 percent of schools as targets of intervention, classified in three groups. First are the persistently low-achieving schools (PLAS); these are the 5 percent of schools that are the lowest performers, based on achievement level or a combination of level and growth. Next are the achievement gap schools (AGS); these are the 5 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between any two subgroups. Last are the lowest subgroup achievement schools (LSAS); these are the 5 percent of schools with the lowest achievement for any significant subgroup.

The goal of this proposal is both to reduce the number of schools that are identified as low-performing and to create a new operational definition of consistently low-performing schools. To that end, we wanted to know what kinds of schools these groups would target and how stable the classifications would be over time. Read More »

A Few Other Principles Worth Stating

Posted by on October 12, 2011

Last week, a group of around 25 education advocacy organizations, including influential players such as Democrats for Education Reform and The Education Trust, released a “statement of principles” on the role of teacher quality in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The statement, which is addressed to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House committees handling the reauthorization, lays out some guidelines for teacher-focused policy in ESEA (a draft of the full legislation was released this week; summary here).

Most of the statement is the standard fare from proponents of market-based reform, some of which I agree with in theory if not practice. What struck me as remarkable was the framing argument presented in the statement’s second sentence:

Research shows overwhelmingly that the only way to close achievement gaps – both gaps between U.S. students and those in higher-achieving countries and gaps within the U.S. between poor and minority students and those more advantaged – and transform public education is to recruit, develop and retain great teachers and principals.

This assertion is false. Read More »

Lyndon Johnson: Education Reformer

Posted by on December 9, 2010

Underlying virtually all contemporary education policy debates is the question of poverty. Certainly, high poverty and inequality do not mean we shouldn’t improve schools. On the other hand, the standpoint of some in the debate today evolved from an inarguable, commendable notion (poor kids can learn too) to an ideological brick wall, behind which those who dare speak poverty’s name are accused of “making excuses.”

Anyone who reads history (or who has lived through it) knows that the tension between poverty and equality of educational opportunity is nothing new, nor is the debate about how to address them.  For example, these same issues arose during the campaign to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, as President Lyndon Johnson cajoled everyone he could to push the bill through Congress.

Unlike most of the political leaders who are the self-proclaimed education reformers of today, Johnson had been a teacher. His teaching experience, at a small segregated school for Mexican Americans in the impoverished town of Cotulla, Texas, convinced him that poverty and educational inequality must be tackled in tandem.

Full disclosure: I have a minor obsession with Lyndon Johnson (it feels good to say that out loud), and I have read all of the released transcripts of the phone calls and White House meetings that LBJ recorded. In one of these conversations—on March 6, 1965—Johnson is speaking with Hubert Humphrey, his newly-inaugurated Vice-President, who spent much of his term serving as LBJ’s liaison to Congress. Johnson’s deep belief in quality public education as a key to reducing poverty comes across in this conversation. Read More »

Teachers Matter, But So Do Words

Posted by on July 14, 2010

The following quote comes from the Obama Administration’s education “blueprint,” which is its plan for reauthorizing ESEA, placing a heavy emphasis, among many other things, on overhauling teacher human capital policies:

Of all the work that occurs at every level of our education system, the interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.

Specific wordings vary, but if you follow education even casually, you hear some version of this argument with incredible frequency. In fact, most Americans are hearing it – I’d be surprised if many days pass when some approximation of it isn’t made in a newspaper, magazine, or high-traffic blog. It is the shorthand justification – the talking point, if you will – for the current efforts to base teachers’ hiring, firing, evaluation, and compensation on students’ test scores and other “performance” measures. Read More »


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