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Marc Tucker on how we should gauge student success: trust teachers

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In a recent blog post, Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, marches straight at the question at the center of today’s debate about the direction of American education: what role should testing play?

…I was asked how I would define success [of a public education system]….

…I would be happy if the average student achievement in the state as measured by a state score on the OECD PISA tests of reading, mathematics, problem-solving and science was as high as the average performance of the students in the top ten countries on the PISA league tables and if the difference in performance between the bottom tenth of scorers and the top tenth was no larger than in the top ten performers on that metric.

…I would want to be sure that attendance rates and completion rates in high school were at least as high for our students as for those in the top-performing countries.  And I would want the cost per student to get these outcomes to be competitive, too.

Then he went on to a long list of ambitions he feels we should have for American students, starting with creating

…graduates who have a good command of the great sweep of history, who not only know what happened at critical junctures in history but who understand the interplay of factors that produced those turning points and can draw from that understanding of history the implications for the conflicts and choices the United States must now deal with.

and going on from there.  He offers this graphical picture:

Dr. Tucker goes on to make the same point we have frequently made here: Trust teachers.

…we evidently don’t trust our teachers.  If we did, we would not have one of the very few national accountability systems in the world that places high stakes on the teachers, not the students.

…The nations that exhibit the greatest trust in their teachers are the nations that have made the greatest effort to improve the quality of their teachers.  Those first-rate teachers have—predictably—produced the highest student achievement in the world.

No one is going to trust their teachers because they are exhorted to trust their teachers.  They trust their teachers because they see that they are worthy of their trust.  They are worthy of that trust because they are highly competent.  They are highly competent because, in those countries, teachers are paid well, their hard work and competence is rewarded by access to career ladders in which hard work and competence is rewarded, they are recruited from among the top high school graduates in their country, they are very well educated and trained and they are provided with professional conditions of work once they are in the teaching profession.  The acid test: teachers in the top-performing countries stay in teaching three to four times longer than teachers in the United States.

The United States has responded to poor student performance by instituting draconian high-stakes accountability systems that create very strong incentives for teachers to teach only a small portion of what they should be teaching and, indeed, want to teach.  The great irony here is that, since these high-stakes accountability systems were introduced, there has been no improvement in student performance at the high school level in the things the high-stakes tests measure, while, at the same time, there is every reason to believe that our students are doing far worse on the important things we should be measuring but are not measuring.

That is a terrible deal for our children and our country.

Read the whole thing here: How Should We Gauge Student Success? The Accountability Dilemma


1 Comment

  1. Joe Miller says:

    The title seems to imply that Mark Tucker is advocating to “trust teachers” to gauge student success. However, when I read Tucker’s post I didn’t come to the conclusion that Tucker is advocating we “trust teachers” to gauge student success. It appears to me that he clearly argues for use if standardized tests (he used PISA as his example), but not to stop there because there are so many other skills, knowledge, attributes that matter. What he does not make clear is how those might be measured. He notes that for teachers to make those judgments we would need to trust that they make honest and accurate judgments. He contends we do not trust them as evidenced by current accountability systems that place emphasis on teachers, not students. Then the blog post goes on to list some of the policy initiatives regarding teacher preparation found in countries that perform well on PISA.

    I think Tucker’s post makes two points and tries to connect them, but is a bit clumsy. First, accountability should include more than test scores in math, reading, and science. There are other interesting attributes that students should be developing. Second, teachers are trusted because they are highly competent (not just because we exhort the public to trust them). To have highly competent teachers we need to change some policies (e.g. be more selective, reward competence). However, it does not seem to me that Tucker’s proposed fix to the “accountability dilemma” is “trust teachers to gauge student performance.

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