Why National Standards Won’t Fix American Education: Misalignment of Power and Incentives

By: Lindsey Burke and Jennifer Marshall

Abstract: American education needs to be fixed, but national standards and testing are not the way to do it. The problems that need fixing are too deeply ingrained in the power and incentive structure of the public education system, and the renewed focus on national standards threatens to distract from the fundamental issues. Besides, federal control over education has been growing since the 1960s as both standards and achievement have deteriorated. Heritage Foundation education policy experts Lindsey Burke and Jennifer Marshall explain why centralized standard-setting will likely result in the standardization of mediocrity, not excellence.


1- National standards and testing are unlikely to overcome the deficiencies of American elementary and secondary schooling, which are rooted in the public education system’s power and incentive structure.

2- National standards would strengthen federal power over education while weakening schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers.

3- Centralized standard-setting will likely result in the standardization of mediocrity rather than establishing standards of excellence.

4- While proponents of national standards point to the variation in state standards, the rigor and content of national standards will face pressure to scale down toward the mean among states, undercutting states with high quality standards.

5- Federal policymakers should provide states with increased flexibility and freedom from red tape to make state leaders more accountable to parents and taxpayers. States should also strengthen standards, increase transparency about school performance, and allow parents to act on that information by choosing their children’s schools.

This report discusses:

Department of Education
Education Performance
K-12 Education
Standardized Testing

To read complete report, go to: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/05/why-national-standards-won-t-fix-american-education-misalignment-of-power-and-incentives

How to fix American Education

Fareed Zakaria, Gates and Khan Explore How to Fix America’s Education System
Did you know that the U.S students ranked 15th in the world reading and 31st in math?

That’s what CNN and Time magazine’s Fareed Zakaria tweeted on Nov. 6 as he was interviewing leaders who are working to fix our education system.

His prime time special titled “ Restoring the American Dream – FIXING EDUCATION” featured four guests including Bill Gates, whose foundation has donated $5 billion to schools and libraries. The prime time also featured Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, an educational organization that provides free self-paced tutorials and students assessment online. He also spoke with education reformer Michelle Rhee.

If you missed the program you can watch it when it airs again on Nov. 12 at 8 pm EST. In the meantime, we have curated some videos from the program for you.

Here is the video of Zakaria, where he explains how education impacts social mobility in the U.S.

Sources: http://www.wiredacademic.com/2011/11/fareed-zakaria-explores-how-to-fix-americas-education-system-with-gates-khan/

Why Innovation Can't Fix America's Classrooms

BY Marc Tucker. Marc Tucker is president of the National Center on Education and the Economy and editor of the book Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems.

Most Atlantic readers know that, although the U.S. spends more per student on K-12 education than any other nation except Luxembourg, students in a growing number of nations outperform our own. But think about this: Among the consistent top performers are not only developed nations (Japan, Finland, Canada), but developing countries and mega-cities such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Even if we find a way to educate our future work force to the same standards as this latter group -- and we are a very long way from that now -- wages in the United States will continue to decline unless we outperform those countries enough to justify our higher wages. That is a very tall order.

You would think that, being far behind our competitors, we would be looking hard at how they are managing to outperform us. But many policymakers, business leaders, educators and advocates are not interested. Instead, they are confidently barreling down a path of American exceptionalism, insisting that America is so different from these other nations that we are better off embracing unique, unproven solutions that our foreign competitors find bizarre.

Some of these uniquely American solutions -- charter schools, private school vouchers, entrepreneurial innovations, grade-by-grade testing, diminished teachers' unions, and basing teachers' pay on how their students do on standardized tests -- may be appealing on their surface. To many in the financial community, these market-inspired reform ideas are very appealing.

Yet, these proposed solutions are nowhere to be found in the arsenal of strategies used by the top-performing nations. And almost everything these countries are doing to redesign their education systems, we're not doing.

The top-performing nations have followed paths that are remarkably similar and straightforward. Most start by putting more money behind their hardest-to-educate students than those who are easier to educate. In the U.S., we do the opposite.

They develop world-class academic standards for their students, a curriculum to match the standards, and high-quality exams and instructional materials based on that curriculum. In the U.S., most states have recently adopted Common Core State Standards in English and math, which is a good start. But we still have a long way to go to build a coherent, powerful instructional system that all teachers can use throughout the whole curriculum.

The top-performing nations boost the quality of their teaching forces by greatly raising entry standards for teacher education programs. They insist that all teachers have in-depth knowledge of the subjects they will teach, apprenticing new teachers to master teachers and raising teacher pay to that of other high-status professions. They then encourage these highly trained teachers to take the lead in improving classroom practices.

The result is a virtuous cycle: teaching ranks as one of the most attractive professions, which means no teacher shortages and no need to waive high licensing standards. That translates into top-notch teaching forces and the world's highest student achievement. All of this makes the teaching profession even more attractive, leading to higher salaries, even greater prestige, and even more professional autonomy. The end results are even better teachers and even higher student performance.

In the U.S., on the other hand, teaching remains a low-status profession. Our teacher colleges have minimal admission standards, and most teachers are educated in professional schools with very little prestige. Once they start working, they are paid substantially less than other professionals.

Many of our teachers also have a very weak background in the subjects they are assigned to teach, and increasingly, they're allowed to become teachers after only weeks of training. When we are short on teachers, we waive our already-low standards, something the high-performing countries would never dream of doing.

All this leads to poor student achievement, which leads to even shriller attacks on the profession and more calls for stricter accountability -- and that makes it even less likely that our best and brightest will become teachers. And that leads to low student achievement.

Thirty years ago, Japan was eating the lunch of some of America's greatest corporations. Those U.S. companies who survived figured out how the Japanese were doing it--and did it even better. The most effective way to greatly improve student performance in the U.S. is to figure out what the top-performing countries are doing and then, by capitalizing on our unique strengths, develop a strategy to do it even better.

The apostles of exceptionalism say we need more innovation. But our problem is not lack of innovation. Our problem is that we lack what the most successful countries have: coherent, well-designed state systems of education that would allow us to scale up our many pockets of innovation and deliver a high-quality education to all our students.

Playing to our strengths makes sense. Ignoring what works, simply because it was invented elsewhere, does not.

How to fix USA schools

By Marty Nemko

In the last 35 years alone, we have bet $3 trillion in tax dollars that we can improve the schools. Unfortunately, we’ve lost the bet. According to educational assessment’s gold standard—the National Assessment of Educational Progress—student achievement has barely budged since NAEP began measuring the impacts of the school reform movement in 1969. In international comparisons, American students score near the bottom among industrialized nations. Even our top students are now sinking compared with other countries’ best students.
As disheartening, the definitive study of the effectiveness of Title I, the expensive linchpin of the federal government’s efforts to help low-performing schools, finds that Title I hasn’t even made a dent into the differences between society’s have and have-nots—and since 1989, the achievement gap has actually increased.

Why Are the Schools So Bad?
Why have we lost our $3 trillion bet on school reform?
Some people believe that it’s because the schools need still more money. This is a view promulgated mainly by self-serving educators. Fact is, study after study has found that increasing school spending has not improved student achievement.For example, a truly massive spending increase in the Kansas City schools resulted in no improvement whatsoever.And the states that spend the most (New York and New Jersey spend over $10,000 per year per student) report among the lowest school achievement while the states spending the least (Utah and New Hampshire which spend just $3,000) report top achievement.
We blithely accept that millions of children consider school boring. We cannot accept that. Kids will not learn if they are bored. School cannot always be fun, but it cannot regularly be soporific if we expect kids to learn, let alone to remember what they learned more than a day after the exam. Another part of the problem is the unfortunate truth that educational research is still in its infancy. Although politicians and educators won’t publicly admit it, we still don’t know what works—especially with kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds. In designing school program and policy, we still rely largely on conjecture and on flimsy research data.
Another reason why school reform has been so unsuccessful is that most education policy is made by elected officials: school board members, state superintendents, and state and federal legislators. As a result, the decision to support an education policy is heavily made on whether, as a sound bite, it’s appealing to voters, especially to vocal special-interest groups. Too often, politics take precedence over pedagogy. As a result, many school reforms not only don’t improve education, as this paper will assert, they actually hurt kids.


Better Teachers
I walk into classrooms, even in supposed “good’ schools, and I routinely see things that sadden me. For example, I walked into a room in a suburban school and saw “grammer” and “calender” on the chalkboard. “What’s the big deal,?” you ask. Kids are expected to make such errors. The problem is that those words were written by the teacher.

Reinventing Teacher Training
It is difficult to imagine why university professors rather than K-12 master teachers are the designated trainers of K-12 teachers. Most university professors are researchers, rarely master K-12 teachers. Many have never taught K-12 at all. And because so many professors are hyperintellectual, enjoy esoterica, and are more comfortable with data than with children, there’s particular reason to doubt that they are the best people to train K-12 teachers.

Better Curriculum
Think back to the last class or workshop you attended. How much do you remember? If you’re like most people, not much. And that was when you were an adult, you chose the class, and perhaps paid for it. We must ask ourselves: What are the most important things kids need to learn? We must teach those first. Reading, sure. Number sense, yes. Writing, of course. How to use a computer. Sure. Appreciating the complexity of major life dilemmas, yes. Interpersonal communication skills, absolutely.

Create a National Curriculum
Imagine what would be possible with a national curriculum. For every major concept, K-12, there could be a superlative lesson plan. Take the classic frog dissection lesson. Instead of killing millions of frogs, a high-quality interactive video-based course (too expensive to develop locally, but affordable nationally), distributed on the internet, would allow students to simulate the frog dissection. Click on an icon and you get a mini-lecture or demonstration by a nationally renowned teacher. A lesson plan would be included for the in-classroom teacher, including stimulating questions, group activities, and homework assignments. Why should 70,000 biology teachers each have to try to figure out a wonderful way to teach the frog dissection lesson, not to mention bring in and then kill 30 frogs per period?

An Obvious Idea: Increase Time on Task
The research shows, and it’s only common sense, that the more time spent learning, the more that students will learn. Yet the average school year in the US remains at 179 days. Compare that with England: 192 days. Canada: 195. Russia: 208. Germany: 240. Japan: 243. China: 248. That means that American kids spend 26 weeks a year in school compared, for example, with 35 weeks in Japan. With a difference like that, it would be a miracle if Japanese kids didn’t outscore US kids. There’s no miracle.
Now let's look at the length of the school day. The average US student spends only 5.6 hours a day in school. That comes to 1,000 hours a year or a total over 13 years of 13,000 hours. Only 70% of that time is devoted to instruction: there’s homeroom, lunch, PE, recess, etc. That brings us down to 9,000 hours of designated instruction time. Even some of that isn’t used on instruction. Too many teachers don’t consider time to be the valuable commodity it is. They may routinely start class late (“We’re waiting for a few students.”) and end early (“Well, there are only five minutes left in the period, so you can start on your homework.”) Or they use activities such as “sustained silent reading” to kill time. So our kids get perhaps 8,000 hours of instruction over their entire K-12 school career to learn the ever-growing amount of material that we throw at them. That’s just 77 eight-hour days per year!
Students should spend 220 eight-hour days in school. With the involving curriculum described above, most kids, even Jeremy, won’t mind the longer school year. That must be our goal: to make school pleasurable enough that kids are glad it’s a school day. We must think big.

Restore Achievement-Grouped Classes
Imagine that you wanted to learn Spanish. Would you sign up for a class that had beginners, intermediates, and fluent Spanish speakers in the same class? Of course not. Yet, that’s how we increasingly group classes K-8 and even in high school. High achievers fare even worse in mixed-achievement classes. In the past, there were classes for gifted children so they didn't need to be held back while waiting for slower children to learn. Today, however, able students are now usually relegated to mixed-achievement classes, where they too often are bored, and spend much time helping that student who is—figuratively or literally-- still struggling to read Dr. Seuss. Learning to help others is beneficial, but too often denies able students of their right to learn. How short-sighted: a student has more ability so let's not teach her more, let's have her help the weak students. That’s a path likely to reduce everyone to a lower common denominator.

To read complete article: http://www.martynemko.com/articles/how-to-fix-the-schools_id1495

Dr. Nemko was senior author of California's procedures for high school
accreditation and program review. He has taught at UC Berkeley and been a consultant to 15 college presidents and to such organizations as the Educational Testing Service and Consumer Reports. He is the author of four books and 300 articles. His book, “How to Get Your Child a Private School Education in a Public School” was named one of the year’s Ten Must books by the American School Board Association.