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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, or, Under the Heels of Midgets?

The annual Mid-Winter conference of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, which concluded today, provided attendees with an interesting contrast in directions and substance.

Marc Tucker, President and CEO for the National Center for Education and the Economy, delivered a thought provoking presentation entitled, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. (see PowerPoint below). After divulging the indicators that revealed test data on international benchmarks demonstrating that the United States is sinking lower in achievement compared to many other industrialized nations, (14th in Literacy, 25th in Math, 17th in Science) Tucker shared the results of an extensive study that examined the policies and practices of the top ten countries on the international assessments. In other words, let's look at what the high performing countries are doing. He then supplied a snapshot of current practices and policies in the U.S. and compared them to what the exemplars were exercising in policy and practice. The differences were startling. Of special note, Tucker effectively explained away the myths and excuses that are typically constructed by those who defend our depressed national statistics and seek to deflect criticism.

Now, contrast Tucker's points with the message that Dr. John King, Commissioner of Education for the State of New York, conveyed in the latest iteration of the not-ready-for-prime time template for the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). The PowerPoint below is not the exact one King used. I could not find it on the department's website, but I did discover the hot off the press APPR updated document this afternoon. This contains the thrust of his efforts to describe how "we're going to get there." The document actually remains unfinished as the politicians in Albany continue to wrestle with the details of the plan.  (see PowerPoint below).

You will note that King's presentation plots a course of action that shows we are moving further away from what the successful countries are doing according to Tucker's presentation. Among other distinguishing characteristics separating us from the higher performing countries, we have more regulation, laws and programs (often at odds with one another), we display less emphasis on diagnosis and prescription, and we link teacher pay and retention to scores on standardized achievement tests - all opposed to common methods and designs of the educational programs of the more successful countries.

Now, if the striking differences between these two strategies wasn't enough to puzzle you, the last speech offered at the conference was by Charlotte Danielson.

Although her model of teacher evaluation is one of several approved by the state education department for use in the 700 school districts throughout the state that are tasked with implementing the APPR, Danielson emphasizes challenges inherent in using teacher practices and results of teaching in high stakes personnel decisions with several cautionary notes in her summary (slide 28 of the PowerPoint) where she advises that
both elements must be highly evolved before they are used for high-stakes personnel decisions.

There you have it. Draw your own conclusions.

1 comment:

  1. Michael - Interesting blog post here. We're considering inviting Marc Tucker to write for a fall issue of School Administrator that will focus on global issues and such. Do you think his speech is the good basis of an article or should we ask him to consider something else? I have a copy of his latest book on my desk. ... jay goldman