I think this entire exchange deserves a close look, so I'm planning to divide this up into several shorter posts. One thing before we get started: given all my previous problems with Moran's work on education, I was pleasantly surprised to find he does a good job asking Duncan questions. Like this one:
Moran is absolutely right here. Race To The Top (RTTT), Duncan's signature program, emphasizes:Q. The evidence on the effectiveness of the reforms you are pushing seems mixed and weak. Why?A. A lot of these things have never been done before. There isn’t a 50-year track record. But it’s hard to argue with the idea that great teachers and principals matter. It’s hard to argue that children, particularly in poor communities, need more time. Or that kids should have access to great content 24/7 with technology. All these things make a lot of sense. There is no magic bullet, but I’m convinced these things can change children’s lives.
- Standardized testing,
- Data collection based on that testing,
- The application of that data to teacher evaluation,
- Changing teacher compensation based on those evaluations,
- "Turning around failing schools," to the point of firing the faculties or closing them outright, and
- Expanding charter schools.
But the evidence is clear:
- Standardized tests are imprecise, unreliable, and constrain the curriculum.
- Using test scores to evaluate teachers is highly unreliable.
- Even using test scores as part of an evaluation will skew the evaluations to make them unreliable.
- School "turnaround" based on firings and closures didn't work when Duncan tried it in Chicago.
- Charter schools do no better than public schools when accounting for student characteristics.
And the rest of his answer is, frankly, ridiculous. No one is saying teachers don't matter. No one is saying we shouldn't look seriously at lengthening the school day or year (although the amount of instructional time United States students receive compares favorably to the rest of the world). Everyone likes good uses of technology in schools (but is 24/7 really necessary?). Yes, these things can change children's lives; that's not the issue.
The issue is whether Duncan and President Obama are pushing a series of policies that have evidence to show that they are effective. As Moran correctly points out, the evidence is quite weak, no matter how much Duncan has convinced himself to the contrary.
More on this interview to come.