DCPS, Interstate Tests, and Such

Although Eduflack is spending the week with the larger family of 11 (including three children under the age of three) at an undisclosed location about 120 miles from our nation’s capital, that doesn’t keep me from thinking education thoughts.  Tops, this morning, is the data release coming from NAGB and NCES.  This morning, NAGB released its NAEP scores on music and the visual arts.  For those who say that all we, as a nation, are assessing is math and reading achievement, it is worth checking out.  The eighth grade data on the arts, including the information and school data related to student achievement in the arts is worth checking out.  The full The Nation’s Report Card: Arts 2008 can be found here.

But there are other issues rattling around the Eduflack mind:
DCPS and Michelle Rhee
A good chunk of yesterday’s Washington Post was dedicated to Michelle Rhee.  The reason — her second anniversary at the helm of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).  The full story can be found here.  The piece definitely depicted a softer tone and rhetoric for Rhee, refocusing on her commitment to the kids and academic achievement, and softening her stance on getting rid of “bad” teachers and principals and the infamous Time magazine cover story, with the chancellor “sweeping up” schools in our nation’s capital.
Most recognize the power of charter schools in DC.  As part of her charge, Rhee was expected to slow the exodus to charter schools and keep DC’s students in the traditional public schools.  That’s why she’s been looking to close persistently struggling schools, giving students a better chance of attending a better public school.  But since Rhee’s takeover of DCPS, the school district has lost nearly 10 percent of its total students (a 4,000 drop of 49,000 original students).  We don’t need disaggregated data charts to tell us that those students are moving into charter schools, particularly with the transformation of the city’s Catholic schools into public charters.  Education is one of those few businesses where losing 10 percent of your customers in two years doesn’t seem to cause any concern.
Anniversaries are nice, but the true measure of Rhee’s reign will be the student achievement data to be released this summer.  This would be the second achievement report for Rhee.  Last year, scores were up, and the Rhee administration took full credit.  Fact of the matter, former superintendent Cliff Janey deserves some of the credit, as his programs, put in place years before, bear some of the responsibility for improvement.  Rhee does get some credit, simply because teachers and students embraced what was new and demonstrated a new enthusiasm for learning in the first year.
Personally, I don’t have similar hopes for year two.  The closing of schools, the removal of principals, the fights between DCPS and the teachers union, and the lack of “newness” don’t bode well for 2008-09 student data.  Reformers need to be prepared for the fact that there may be a dip in DCPS student achievement.  We’ve seen it time and time again, where years two and three are the struggle, and the true measure of reform is seen in the out years — years four, five, and beyond — once the reforms have truly taken hold and can have a longitudinal impact on a wide number of students.  Here’s hoping Rhee bucks the trend, but we need to be prepared for the fact that DCPS scores may not demonstrate the steady rise so many presume is a given.
Duncan and Interstate Testing
Speaking before many of the nation’s governors last night at an education summit hosted by the Hunt Institute, EdSec Arne Duncan spoke on his plans to obligate $350 million to go toward the development of interstate reading and math assessments.  This is step two to the common standards movement announced by NGA and CCSSO at the beginning of the month, the first step toward national education standards.  Without question, these commons standards are likely becoming the fifth pillar of Duncan’s priorities.  He is throwing his rhetorical weight behind the plan, using the bully pulpit to maximum effect.  The big question that many ask is whether he will just implement the standards through his executive authority or actually codify them in Elementary and Secondary Education reauthorization.
For Eduflack, it is a very different question.  Right now, the focus is on interstate assessments in reading and math.  How are these assessments going to differ from our current NAEP assessments, other than filling in the gaps between fourth and eighth grade and eight and 12th grade?  Will these common standards align with NAEP, or will NAEP need to be realigned to meet these new interstate standards?
To his credit, Duncan is already moving the ball before the other team has set their defense.  We’ve gone from standards to immediate talk about testing and assessment.  If he quickly pivots from assessment over to accountability, we may have a real national standards ballgame.

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