Today, newly-formed education advocacy group TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) hosted a presentation by Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.
Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality. She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.
Later in the day, SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) released its annual State of Education in Tennessee Report.
Both reports indicate Tennessee has much work to do to improve educational outcomes. There were some similarities and some differences in the approaches presented, however.
The SCORE report outlined five specific priorities for Tennessee education policy in 2014. I’ll examine those and note where the Broader, Bolder Approach supported by Weiss matches up and where there are differences.
Here are the SCORE priorities:
- Maintaining a commitment to rigorous standards and assessments. The report says Tennessee must push forward with the continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards. It also points out that measuring student success with higher standards is needed for effective instruction, so Tennessee must continue its commitment to implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.
- Strengthening schools through effective leadership. As Tennessee continues to implement student-centered initiatives it is crucial to have strong instructional leadership in every school, the report concludes. To build a pipeline of strong leaders, the state focus should be on creating an aligned, rigorous system for recruiting, training, evaluating and providing ongoing support to school leaders.
- Expanding student access to great teaching. The report specifically calls for providing teachers with the tools and resources – including instructional coaching, collaborative planning time, and targeted professional learning – that will enable them to be experts in their profession. The report also calls for helping teacher preparation programs implement more selective admissions processes and rigorous curriculum requirements that prioritize the skills and knowledge teachers need to support students in the classroom.
- Investing in technology to enhance instruction. The report says that although the upcoming online PARCC assessments are a catalyst for increasing technological capabilities in schools and school districts, investing in technology must be an ongoing priority and not just a one-time purchase. Students and teachers need daily access to technology and must be trained on using it, the report says.
- Supporting students from kindergarten to career. The report points out that in today’s economy most careers require training after high school. It specifically calls for creating a data-rich environment that equips leaders, educators, and parents with the information and tools they need and a data-driven approach to making decisions about policy and practice that will advance student success. It also recommends expanded opportunities for more students to take AP, International Baccalaureate, dual-credit, and dual-enrollment courses and to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.
And here is some analysis in light of the Broader, Bolder presentation:
Standards/Assessment: Weiss suggests that higher standards alone do not improve student achievement. She points to persistent achievement gaps over time in spite of increasing standards, particularly in the NCLB era. She also notes the stress caused to students and parents due to increased testing. She notes that in some cases, as much as 30 instructional days are lost to testing and test prep. She suggests that raising student achievement over time must not simply be a function of high standards but also must include a commitment to supporting students and families outside of school.
Strengthening Schools Through Effective Leadership: Here, SCORE focuses on providing support for the development of effective school principals. Weiss also suggests the importance of providing support and development to teachers and school leaders. She would note that having an effective leader alone won’t close the gap, but that having supported leaders along with strong community supports can make a difference.
Expanding Student Access to Great Teaching: Weiss notes that Tennessee’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. SCORE does not specifically address teacher pay in its report. SCORE does call for improved professional development and additional collaboration with teachers going forward. SCORE also calls for continued use of TVAAS to identify quality teachers. Weiss is clear that value-added modeling is inconsistent and unreliable as a tool for evaluating teachers. At the same time, SCORE calls for adding growth measures to additional teachers (these may or may not be in the form of tests that feed into the TVAAS formula).
Access to Technology: While Weiss might also place value on technology, she’d also suggest that access to summer learning opportunities and enriching extended learning is important. She points to research suggesting that low-income students tend to proceed at a rate comparable to their peers but lose significant ground over the summer. That is, what teachers are doing is working, but outside supports are lacking. Adding meaningful time to the school calendar is one way to address this.
Supporting Kids from Kindergarten to Career: Weiss absolutely states that kids need a variety of supports throughout school to ensure their success. She’d likely expand this recommendation to include supporting kids from Pre-Kindergarten through career. In fact, Weiss notes that while Tennessee was once moving quickly to grow a high-quality Pre-K program, the state has not added a single Pre-K seat since winning Race to the Top. Weiss explicitly recommends continuing the growth of the state’s Pre-K program in order to provide a proven intervention that closes opportunity gaps.
With the exception of TVAAS, it seems the Broader, Bolder Approach outlined by Weiss would generally be in agreement with the SCORE recommendations. However, as the name indicates, the approach favored by Weiss would be broader and more expansive. It would include expanded access to Pre-K. It would provide both targeted support to teachers AND significantly better pay for teachers. It would examine ways to add valuable learning time to the school calendar. And it would seek a more balanced approach to administering tests in order to avoid an over-reliance on test-based assessments.
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TREE’s event was very well done. Likewise with SCORE. We have to sit down and talk and really look at what is happening. I appreciate Tennessee Education Report covering both events.
Weiss’ Broader, Bolder Approach is qualitatively different from SCORE. SCORE’s recommendations prioritize data, technology, and unreliable ranking systems to advance a narrow, standardized set of outcomes. Their curricular focus is STEM, technology and common standards. But SCORE fails to answer a broader, more important question. What skills will our children need to be prepared for the global economy in 20 years? The mere presence of technology cannot answer complex questions of future functionality. If we want children to be competitive they need to think creatively – we need to nurture our outliers not exclude them or force them into common standards in an endless pursuit of a metric. The US will never produce another Steve Jobs or Maya Angelou by following SCORE’s backward notion of strong leaders and obedient followers trained in lockstep. Education for the 21st century is about strength of character, creativity, citizenship, wise decisions,and learning to weigh evidence. Children condemned to repeatedly fail poorly designed tests and teachers treated as cheap temp labor is 17th century thought.
There is a grave mismatch between what SCORE endorses and the evidence. There is a greater danger that if we continue to follow SCORE’s misguided philosophy, we’ll become the country the early colonial settlers were trying to escape from in the 1600’s.