Tag Archives: common core

What Is A Diploma Worth?

Much has been made recently of the nation’s dropout crisis, especially in our cities. In Philadelphia, for instance, only 61% of students entering 9th grade in 2007 graduated in four years. The failure of so many of our students to complete high school is a shocking indictment of the state of public education in this country. (RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation does as good of a job as anyone documenting and analyzing this issue.)

What is scarier than the dropout numbers, however, is the fact that they make our education system look better than it is. The reality is that a high school diploma doesn’t necessarily signify a quality education. Especially in struggling districts, there is so much pressure to keep down dropout rates that graduation has little to do with actual academic accomplishment: Though I don’t teach high school, multiple high school teachers in Philadelphia have told me that coming to class and completing most work–regardless of whether it is correct–is enough to earn a diploma. Is it any wonder, then, that two-thirds of African-American and Latino students who enter college need remediation? Indeed, I would argue that, while around 60% of students earn a high school diploma in Philadelphia, the percentage that are actually prepared to continue their education in some capacity is much lower.

That is one of the main reasons why I support increasing the rigor of our education system through faithful implementation of the Common Core. An education system focused on graduation only works if a high school diploma is actually meaningful. It is a disservice to our kids to attach such gravity to an accomplishment that has, at best, inconsistent value. But by standardizing the meaning and implications of a K-12 education in this country, we can more accurately identify where we are coming up short and–most importantly–better prepare our kids for life after graduation. Though this transition will almost certainly make the failings of public education even more apparent, education leaders in our country will need to accept the political wounds and move forward. Our nation’s students deserve nothing less.

Performance Assessments and Certification

Today’s NYT features a piece by Michael Winerip on Ed students at UMass protesting a pilot program for an outsourced performance assessment to be used for teacher certification. Developed by Stanford University and Pearson, the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) would require teachers to submit a portfolio of their teaching experience, including lesson plans, student work, personal reflections, and a video of their teaching. The UMass students are concerned about the corporatization and standardization of what is traditionally a personalized process of evaluation; as Winerip quotes Barbara Madeloni, “This is something complex and we don’t like seeing it taken out of human hands. We are putting a stick in the gears.”

The TPA, which New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington have already committed to adopt, fits with a growing trend of standardizing education nationally. If we want common core standards nationally, isn’t it logical to have a national certification process as well? The TPA also seems to prioritize teacher practice and development over the mere theoretical and content knowledge required by tests like the PRAXIS, which remains a pillar of the certification process in most states. In that sense, performance-based certification assessments seem to be another example of progressive reform.

But the practical implications are more complicated. States that implement the TPA and similar systems for certification will actually create a hurdle for “fast-track” and alternative certification programs.

The TPA features the Teaching Event, focusing on student-teaching experiences over a 3–5 day learning segment with a class of students. Throughout the learning segment candidates organize and submit evidence of their teaching (e.g., video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, teacher assignments, daily reflections) to create their own personal Teaching Event portfolio.

All teachers, then, would need to be in a position where they can have a 3-5 day “learning segment” with the same group of students. That is not difficult if a teacher has a traditional student teaching placement. But it is not something that can be easily set up independently, without the help of a college or university program. Where does that leave the increasingly popular alternative/fast-track certification programs such as Teach for America? Though the TPA is presented as a progressive, forward-thinking reform, I fear that it will have the effect of further insulating the teaching profession and blocking smart, motivated people from entering the classroom.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly advocate using multiple metrics for evaluating teachers, and I really like the idea of using multiple sources of data–particularly student work–as part of that evaluation. But any step that further closes off the teaching profession is the wrong one. I would rather see the TPA used as a way to evaluate current teachers instead of as a further hindrance to certification.