Bipartisan radicals offer recommendations for schools

Advance Illinois, the self-described bipartisan, objective education advocacy, came out with their preliminary report today on what needs to happen in our schools.

It’s actually not as bad as I had expected, based on the initial lackluster and biased set of research reports they had listed on their web site (now somewhat expanded and specifically labeled “unbiased”). 

But first, the outcome I was expecting from the first day that this “independent, objective” group announced their intentions to develop recommendations to address the shocking “crisis in our schools” using the same scare tactics that have preceded every other attack on public schools, their teachers and communities:

“The group’s proposed reforms correspond to criteria the federal government will use to award
additional education stimulus dollars on a competitive basis starting this fall.”
(from AI press release, not yet posted)

Yes, folks, their recommendations are just what Arne is threatening that districts must do in order to get federal funds. Get my smelling salts!

Will they listen to themselves? 

But the serious, positive surprise is the call for more meaningful assessment as described in the following sidebar on page 12 of the report:

    “The Challenge of Defining Teacher Effectiveness:  Defining teacher effectiveness is no simple matter. Educators disagree on how (or even whether) to measure a teacher’s impact on student achievement, and the use of standardized test scores is complicated at best, given that many students are in untested grades, and growth can be hard to measure at the high school level where students move from biology to chemistry, from World History to U.S. History. However, the need to examine teacher effectiveness is clear, and a growing number of districts and states are finding ways to measure teacher impact by relying on multiple measures of student achievement, observation, samples of assignments, student work and more. Moreover, the use of value-added data for the purposes of evaluating teacher preparation programs is more straightforward. Because programs produce teachers across a range of grades and subject areas, looking at the overall and average student growth achieved by graduates provides meaningful insight into program quality and should anchor the accreditation process.” (emphasis added)

Devil’s in the use of measurements

While it’s encouraging to see a somewhat thoughtful analysis of the need for broader measures beyond standardized tests, it’s hard not to be afraid, very afraid, that the key concept in this sidebar will not permeate the report’s call for:

  • raising state test cut scores for students,
  • tying teacher salaries, principal evaluations, and university preparation programs to “student performance,” and
  • creating standard end-of-course high school exams.

Yet the quality of the assessments will completely determine the quality of the outcomes.

In fact, the need for broader (and, hey- why not? bolder) assessments is not mentioned in the press release.

Two last thoughts and an action alert 

1) “Unbiased”???

It’s hard to take a group seriously that claims it in unbiased and then continues to promote charter schools as the solution for school failure. The fact that AI director Robin Steans and her family founded the North Lawndale College Prep Charter School, which has the distinction of being one of the first Chicago charter schools to be placed on the NCLB “failure to make AYP list,” suggests she ought to know better. Everyone else ought to read the new Stanford report.

2) “Bipartisan”?

Does anyone in Illinois find this term meaningful? Except, of course, when referring to our record of incarcerated governors?   

Join CORE tomorrow at the Hyatt Regency

You may remember that AI will host a breakfast with Arne Duncan tomorrow, outside of which several dozen CORE members and other folks will protest his Chicago policies and his plans for the nation. It should be an interesting morning.

When? Begin gathering at 6:30 am

Where? Hyatt Regency, 151 E. Wacker Drive (corner of Michigan).  

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.