For decades, education pundits have predicted that technology would radically alter and improve the delivery of educational services. Radio, Ed TV, and computers in classrooms were all examples that were highly touted in their time. And, while none of these has really had much impact on student learning, a cottage industry has also developed to explain why. Now, with widespread digital access and technologies, we may well be on the cusp of a technological change in education that will be meaningful.
As our Colorado State Board of Education takes on detailed rules about teacher evaluation (SB 191), it is worth taking note of Monday’s New York Times article by Michael Winerip that finds that early implementation of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation program is going spectacularly badly. The title suggests the content – “In Tennessee, Following the Rules for Evaluations Off a Cliff.”
And, Tennessee has a distinguished history of tracking teacher data in their state, in the STAR program and other analyses, and the state won $500 million in Round 1 of Race to the Top, partly to move this forward. But, they seem to be doing a very poor job of evaluating teachers, if this article is at all accurate.
The article notes:
A recent article in Education Week said essentially that things were so bad in Tennessee, there was a danger that overhauls would be undermined elsewhere… The state is micromanaging principals to a degree never seen before here, and perhaps anywhere.
A lot of this seems like just poor, and perhaps overly rushed, implementation. Principals are faced with doing more evaluations than they are trained to manage and teachers without student achievement data from tests seem to get assigned almost randomly to data that they don’t even influence.
Great Education Colorado had a wonderful lunch event last Wednesday, honoring Cary Kennedy (disclosure – I am a board member of Great Ed).
In his introductory remarks at the event, State Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, noted that Colorado is spending nearly $2,000 less per pupil than the national average. And, having been on the recent leadership exchange (LEX) visit to Boston, he noted that school districts in tMassachusetts, the highest performer on the NAEP tests, spend about $7,000 more per pupil than we do in Colorado. Johnston also reported that this amounts to about $175,000 more per class room (!) that Massachusetts spends than we do in Colorado.
Since our K-12 and higher education funding problems in Colorado have been with us for nearly 20 years, I think people lose sight of how large they are, and even many people in favor of more funding shrink at the political prospect of trying to generate more resources (or they have a version of Stockholm syndrome, not to be confused with Finland syndrome).
In K-12 funding, by the most conservative estimates, Colorado is at least $1,500 per student below the national average in spending. And, in higher education, the state support is about $3,000 per pupil below the national average.
It was nice to see former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, one of the bright lights in the George W. Bush administration, penning a cheerleading op-ed in the Denver Post for Colorado education reforms.
I’m not sure exactly what the political push was behind writing this now (I assume it was associated with her talk and visit to the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce last week), but it is always good to see national analysts paying attention to Colorado reforms.
I was, however, a bit surprised by the entirely fact- and trend-free nature of the commentary.
If Colorado is doing a great job with reforms, shouldn’t there be some strong evidence of student achievement, to back that up? Especially from a key developer and implementer of No Child Left Behind, for which measurement was critical?
When Colorado failed in both rounds of the federal Race to the Top competition, there was much discussion and gnashing of teeth about why we didn’t win. Ultimately, the raters scored us lower than several other states, and we didn’t make the cut.
As painful as that was, and damaging for funding the implementation of our Colorado reform efforts, the much-discussed new book by Steven Brill, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, apparently highlights some interesting insider discussions in DC.
This comes from the Politics K12 blog from Ed Week’s Michele McNeil and Alyson Klein. (see their August 23 and August 18 posts).
They read the book and also interviewed Steven Brill. McNeil writes:
Our state just keeps coming up with amazing things to talk about. Take the cost of new state tests. Some people are freaked out about the potential $50 million price tag in 2012-13, the last year of the old tests and the year for gearing up the new ones.
But if you think about how little that costs per state resident, it may be a small price to pay for something so vital to the state’s education reform efforts.
There are lots of opinions about how much money is needed for a good education. But do we really want to charge students to pay for their books to take an AP class? We seem to have entered the era of pay-for-it yourself education. We are losing the notion that K-12 and higher education are at least partially public goods, where all other taxpayers benefit from the education of someone else’s child.
Several recent intersecting conversations lead me to this post: The North “credit recovery” issue, increasing discussions about using performance funding for Colorado higher ed and/or K12, evaluations of ProComp and other teacher incentive pay programs and Alex Oom’s valuable recent post.
If we want to incentivize or reward educational performance in some form (and we do), we need to pay careful attention to how we do that. Nearly any output or outcome measure can potentially be “gamed” or cheated. We see this with No Child Left Behind, where state tests are the key to school evaluation. As a result, states have produced considerable improvement on those tests, while not showing much improvement on NAEP, the national test that was not “dumbed down” to show greater proficiency of students.
It is also true that no single measure comes near being perfect. In addition to cheating or gaming, reliance upon a single measure (and test scores are the one that most of us would lean towards), makes the assumption that this measure is capturing appropriately what we want to capture. Currently, for state tests like CSAP, this is not the case, and we clearly need to find more, better tests.
In some ways, this is an obvious point – who can oppose multiple measures of evaluation?
Paul Teske is Dean and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.
(These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system).
As we start summer – the real, post-Memorial Day, school is out, summer – it is worth reflecting on the near-term future of education funding in Colorado.
The legislature recently finished its session, which focused mainly upon budget cuts. Both higher ed and K-12 took cuts, but in the end, these cuts were somewhat less than some feared (higher ed), or less than the original level of cuts (for K-12). Remarkably, as the session ended, the fact that that cuts could have been worse seems to have been spun as mainly good news.
EdNews recently linked to new U.S. Census data that ranks Colorado’s per pupil K-12 spending (all revenues divided by number of students) as 40th among the 51 states (including DC). That 2008-9 data is now two academic years behind – two years, by the way, full of deeper cuts in Colorado (and some cuts in some other states, too, to be sure). Consistent with other data on this subject, the Census Bureau shows Colorado spending about $2,000 per pupil below the national average.
I will leave it to others to figure out more precisely what $2,000 per pupil could buy. It would seem, in a single class of 25 students, even if only two-thirds of funds were spent in the classroom, it would buy $33,000 worth of extra instruction for the students in that single classroom – a para-professional, lots of useful technological aides, or whatever students need most.
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