Some States are Serious about K-12 Reform, Others Shirley

June 19, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

John Chubb and Constance Clark have a very interesting new study out from Education Sector called The New State Achievement Gap: How NCLB Waivers Could Make it Worse or Better.

Chubb and Clark examine NAEP data and find that states are diverging into leaders and laggards. In the relative blink of an eye between 2003 and 2011 they found the gap between the performance of students in the best and worst performing states grew to 60 percent of the size of the White-Black achievement gap on the combined NAEP exams (4th/8th reading and math).

Note that part of what has happened here is that the White-Black gap shrank a bit. Note however that it is still sickeningly large-keep in mind that 10 points roughly equates to a grade level worth of average progress on NAEP- so 105 points across four tests is quite disgusting. The state achievement gap meanwhile grew steadily.

Chubb and Clark’s paper would have benefitted from examination of the gory details about how some states are playing fast and loose regarding NAEP inclusion standards for special needs and English language learners- especially in the case of Maryland and Kentucky. These details do not however take away the broad point- some states are improving and some are getting left behind.

The study gets even more interesting as the authors compare the NCLB waivers, accountability systems and standards choices of states with strong and weak NAEP gain performances. Included among these is a comparison between Florida and South Carolina. The referee needs to step in and wrap up Maryland before he pummels West Virginia to death. “Self-reflection” for teacher evaluation Mountaineers? Surely you can’t be serious…

In a not-quite-elliptical fashion, Chubb and Clark note a clustering of states with a recent history of weak NAEP gains with unconvincing NCLB waiver promises and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. I’m shocked…

Chubb and Clark have turned in a very interesting piece- go read it.

The Way of the Future Sighting in Yuma

August 13, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Charter School Association has calculated student learning gains in grades 3-8 for every district and charter school in the state and posted the results online. Interestingly the same school came top in both math and reading- Carpe Diem E-Learning in Yuma Arizona. They not only came in first, it was by a pretty wide margin.

So, what’s the secret sauce? They let you know right on the school webpage:

Our academic program is a “hybrid” program consisting of on-site teacher-facilitators (coaches) and computer-assisted instruction (CAI) utilizing a computer-based learning and management system. Our program offers an extensive online library of interactive instructional courseware, providing learners and teachers with access to thousands of hours of self-paced, mastery-based instruction.

Our program considers individual differences in ability, knowledge, interests, goals, contexts and learning styles. Our instructional resources and strategies give our “coaches” the power to effectively tailor their instructional practices, accommodating the individual needs of the learner with the goal of achieving student mastery.

In the Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School (CDCHS), we believe that all students should have a high quality experience and technology-based education designed to help them be successful today, tomorrow and in the future.  What is “success?” At Carpe Diem, success means the student must demonstrate appropriate character and content proficiency (learning mastery), not just course completion.

Hybrid model mixing classroom instruction and technology delivered content. Teacher really serving as a guide on the side rather than a sage on a stage, only in a context where is finally makes sense. Sound familar?

Clayton Christensen has predicted that as a disruptive technology the day would come, after of years of occupying niches here and there, steadily growing like the mice at the feet of the dinosaurs, when people would realize that online learning represents a superior technology to Jurassic schools.  After reaching this tipping point, Christensen sees a rapid rise in online learning.

Terry Moe and John Chubb also see a bright future for e-learning, albeit one a bit more constrained by politics. Moe and Chubb see a chance to substitute technology for labor, providing the opportunity to provide better education for less money. Needless to say, this leads to opposition from the education unions, but Moe and Chubb see technology subtly but surely eroding the power of the unions.

Two of the most obvious possible advantages of online learning: self-paced schooling and required mastery of content to advance, both of which are featured at Carpe Diem.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on Carpe Diem’s progress, but producing the state’s largest gains in a relatively low-income area certainly has my attention.

Liberating Learning

June 1, 2009

Liberating Learning by Terry M. Moe: Book Cover

Two decades after writing Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, Terry Moe and John Chubb have done it again.  With Liberating Learning they’ve written a a compelling account of what is blocking significant improvement in public education and provided strategies for overcoming those obstacles. 

The main obstacle has remained the same across the two books: teachers unions.  Organized special interests in education as in other sectors of public policy shape the policies that are made.  In the case of education the special interests are so large, well-organized, and well-funded that their influence has distorted policy significantly to the benefit of the adults working in schools and against the interests of students and their families.

In their earlier book the solution to union dominance was choice and competition.  Interest groups can control policy but they can’t easily control markets.  But in the new book Moe and Chubb (they flipped the order of the names) acknowledge that unions have been generally successful at using politics to block the creation of effective markets.  Something has to loosen the union stranglehold to allow the markets to develop and prosper.

In Liberating Learning they’ve found what they think will break that logjam: technology.  The increasing use of technology in education will transform the operation of schools and the role of teachers in education.  In general, it will reduce the need for teachers by replacing (at least to some extent) labor with capital.  It will generate tons of data, improving the transparency of schools to the public and policymakers.  And it will decentralize the education workplace, making it harder for unions to organize and control the workforce.

There are clear echoes of Clayton Christensen’s work on disruptive technologies in this new book.  But unlike Christensen, Moe and Chubb focus on the politics of public organizations rather than technology per se.  In fact, if you are looking for detailed descriptions of how technology should be used in education or hard proof of its effectiveness, you won’t find it in Moe and Chubb’s new book.  They are not trying to prove that these technologies are educationally effective or describe best practices, although it is clear that they have some ideas on these topics.  They are trying to describe the political logic of the current stagnation in education and how it might be altered.

The clear writing and tight argument will make Liberating Learning a pleasure to read for education reformers.  We might still wonder whether unions will be able to use politics to block the transformative effect of technology, but the book is sure to provoke a lot of productive discussion and thinking.

(edited for typos)