I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2020

Education Policies We Should Stop Right Now: An Incomplete List

ADDING: Here's another one for the list: I am against school vouchers, especially the way they are (not) regulated these days. However, in a time of crisis, children need stability. If a family has received a voucher in the past and the school is legitimate, OK, continue the voucher (unless they didn't need it in the first place). We can revisit this after the crisis is over -- and we're going to need to, because given the upcoming recession (or worse), we're not going to be able to waste money on "choice" policies that are inefficienct and ineffective.

But as for the immediate future: no voucher program should be expanded this year, and no voucher should be used at a school that does not meet basic educational standards or discriminates against students based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.



I mentioned last time that there are no good reasons to have annual, standardized state tests this year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But that got me thinking... there are a whole bunch of things in the K-12 sphere we ought to stop immediately. In some cases, they are pointless in the wake of massive school closures; in others, keeping them going this year may cause actual harm to our schools.

In no particular order, and with the understanding that this list is far from complete:

- Statewide Standardized Tests. Again, they're just pointless right now: it's impossible to get even a minimal level of "standardization" in the tests' administration, and students' opportunity to learn, already inequitable, is now even worse. Plus, putting pressure on teachers, students, administrators, and families is the last thing we need to be doing. We're not going to learn anything useful from this year's tests -- scrap 'em.

- Graduation Exams. Most states don't have a graduation exam exit requirement, but some do. I've never understood what good could come of denying a kid a diploma when they've done all the work and passed all their courses but can't pass some noisy standardized test that has dubious validity to begin with. But it makes even less sense now: are policymakers really prepared to make a student jump through all kinds of alternative assessment hoops when they get back to school -- if they get back this year at all? Or do they think it's a good idea, with a looming recession (at least), to make those students pay extra for alternative tests, or to pursue a GED?

If a kid didn't do the work, no diploma: most people will agree on that. But skip the test, at least this year.

- Student Growth Percentiles/Value-Added Model Outcomes. I've spent a lot of time on this blog over the years explaining why SGPs and VAMs are poor measures of teacher or school quality. In many cases, these measures have inherent properties that penalize schools or teachers whose students may show growth but remain low-achieving. And the premise that a teacher or school is solely responsible for a students' growth is wrong to begin with.

But even if you set all that aside: growth measures require a valid and reliable measure of student achievement both before and after the period when growth is being measured. Even if you think the pre-test is valid for use in a growth measure, there's no way the post-test is during a pandemic, given the wild differences in opportunity to learn and test administration -- even within the same classroom-- that are due to our response to Covid-19.

The whole point of using SGPs/VAMs in teacher evaluation was that teachers are so important to student learning that we need multiple sources of evidence about their effectiveness. Again, growth measures really aren't good sources of evidence -- but even if they were, why would we employ them at a time when student learning is less impacted by teachers than if schools were open?

- Student Growth Objectives/Student Learning Objectives. These are the "non-tested" growth measures, generally thought up by districts or individual teachers. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that these are valid and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness. It's clear to me the only reason states use them is to make teacher evaluations that employ growth measures in tested subjects seem more "fair": if the gym teacher has to do an SGO, maybe the math teacher won't complain as much about their SGP...

We should have ended these a long time ago. Now, they are just a waste of limited time and resources at precisely the time we should be judicious about both.

- edTPA. Another education policy based mostly on nothing. edTPA is a series of hurdles put in front of student teachers that is supposed to measure their abilities in the classroom. But the program's reliability and validity is highly questionable (Pearson, of course, denies this). And it's onerous; I say this having watched, first-hand, student teachers struggle with its detailed requirements.

Are we really going to insist that student teachers spend their time trying to meet edTPA's demands while simultaneously figuring our how to implement distance learning? Are we going to delay allowing these prospective teachers the opportunity to go into the job market when the need for qualified teachers is growing? (More on this later in the year...)

Pearson, the company behind edTPA, seems to think it's perfectly reasonable to force student teachers to wait up to 18 months to submit their portfolios. When will those prospective teachers know if they passed? Pearson isn't saying...

This is a no-brainer: suspend edTPA requirements, at least for this year. Afterward, states should take a hard look at whether forcing student teachers to go through this program, even without a pandemic, is worth it.

- Mandatory Grade-Level Retentions. I know I'm opening up a can of worms here, because there are plenty of folks completely entrenched on either side of this. For what it's worth: in my opinion, there is little evidence supporting mandatory retention policies in K-12 schools, and recent limited evidence from one state is not enough to change my mind.

That said, I've been working in schools long enough to know that some students may benefit from retention. But the decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis, with plenty of evidence collected and analyzed. I'd argue no single year's test outcomes are enough evidence to trigger a mandatory retention -- but that's especially true this year, when there isn't time to create student portfolios or pursue alternative pathways to promotion.

Individual student retention decisions, with parental consultation and based on multiple sources of evidence -- OK. Mandatory retention based on state test outcomes? Bad idea, especially now.

- Charter School Expansions/New Charters. Look, I know there are schools that were looking forward to opening and expanding -- but this is the wrong time. The state-level DOEs are going to have their hands full this fall, assuming schools are open; if they aren't, those DOEs will probably be even more busy. Charters should not be opening and/or expanding without adequate oversight, and the last thing host districts need is the uncertainty charters bring to their budgeting process.

You can wait a year.

- AP/IB Exams. This one is tough and I am very much open to being persuaded I'm wrong. But the inequities in how schooling is being delivered make it very likely some students will be at a relative disadvantage to others when it comes to preparing for and taking these exams. It just strikes me as fundamentally unfair to many students who were studying hard before Covid-19 hit to force them to take these exams when the most important preparation time for these courses has been stripped away.

I don't know what the answer is here. It's a big hit to a student to have to pay for a college course they could have received AP/IB credit for. Some sort of alternative testing schedule over the summer? Portfolio submissions directly to the colleges that would accept the credits?


This is a chaotic time for K-12 schools, the students who attend them, and the staff who work in them. Policymakers need to ramp down requirements, especially if those requirements were of questionable value to begin with. Let's make things easier for schools and do away with policies and programs that make things more difficult, at least for the remainder of the school year. It's the least we can do.

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