Tag Archives: evaluation

Reflecting on a New Challenge

I was honored by my colleagues to be inducted as the President of the National Academy of Education at a ceremony last Friday.  My wonderful family was at my side as I accepted this honor – and though I don’t get to tell them often enough, they deserve great thanks for their abiding support.

It will be a great pleasure to work with my GW colleagues, NAEd members and leaders, and other friends in the broad education research and policy community as we continue to advance the cause of improved education and increased opportunity. A challenge, no doubt, but one that I feel privileged to take on.

President Knapp (and Diane Knapp), as well as Provost Lerman (and Lori Lerman), were kind enough to attend the ceremony, as were a number of our senior leadership faculty and staff.  I’m grateful for President Knapp’s most generous introduction and welcome.  GW Trustee Titulola Williams-Davies and former trustee Bob Perry also joined us, and it was again a joy to see their enthusiasm for what’s happening in GSEHD.   And it was a special treat to have Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter in our company.  Let me add my very special thanks to members of the GSEHD National Council who were present:  Laura Taddeucci Downs, Ericka Miller, Elizabeth Lodal, Kathy Manatt, Dorothy Moore, and Ed Vest continue to grace us with their wisdom and support.  My heartfelt thanks to all.

Following a memorable and moving introduction by my dear friend and mentor, Carl Kaestle (whom many of you will remember of course from his masterful “master class” earlier this year), I offered some reflections about the Academy, the world of education research and policy, and my hopes for the future.  As I contemplate this new role, I am glad to share a slightly edited version of my remarks from Friday’s induction ceremony.

October 29, 2013

[Abridged remarks from NAEd ceremony on October 25, 2013]
I have been thinking about the name of our organization.  Although I was an English major I am not really a big fan of deconstruction; but it is interesting to think about the words in our name, especially in the current policy environment.

The word “national” evokes, for some people, and maybe for more people today than in previous times, an anxiety about the excesses of federal involvement in those sacred rights of states and localities and individuals to keep doing their own thing.  It’s gotten to the point where one wonders, listening to the shrill rhetoric, if anyone was in class on the day when the principles of individual choice and social well-being were taught.  What can we do to remind ourselves that education is essentially a “public good?”

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Bringing Teacher Rights Into Question

With increasing evidence about the importance of teacher quality as a correlate of student learning, it is not surprising that there is concern about the ways teachers are evaluated. Some researchers and policy analysts argue that teacher-evaluation systems across the country are inconsistent and often poorly conceived and implemented. Perhaps most significantly, there is seemingly little awareness surrounding the consequences of an evaluation process that holds the potential to unfairly dismiss a qualified educator. What rights — if any — do teachers have to stand up to unsound teacher evaluation systems?

In collaboration with Dr. W. James Popham (professor emeritus at the University of Calfornia, Los Angeles) GSEHD’s Dr. Marguerita K. Desander offers an enlightening examination of this issue in the Education Week commentary “Unfairly Fired Teachers Deserve Court Protection.” I encourage you to read the full commentary here.

For related reading, a recent series of reports by GSEHD’s Center on Education Policy offers detailed information regarding states’ efforts to implement new Common Core standards, as well as states’ efforts to prepare teachers and principals for Common Core standards.

Let me also note that on October 25 the National Academy of Education will release a report on the current and future of teacher preparation program evaluation. Watch this space for more details about a public seminar, which we will host here at GW.

Welcome to academic year 2013-14!

September 24, 2013

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Proceed with Caution: New Report Falls Short in Complex Task of Evaluating Teacher Education

A report by the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ), released today, raises questions and offers judgments about selected teacher education programs in the US.  Although perhaps intended as a tool to guide program improvement and, ultimately, the quality of teaching in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, the report is deeply flawed and its findings need to be viewed with caution.

A few examples of the report’s errors are enough to cause concern.  First, the results are based on reviews of course requirements and course syllabi, which are not necessarily an accurate reflection of what is taught in teacher preparation programs; available literature on differences between intended and enacted curricula seems to have escaped NCTQ’s attention.  Furthermore, NCTQ does not link these proxy variables to observations of actual performance by teachers in elementary and secondary schools.   The NCTQ report relies heavily on intuition about these issues, but our children’s education deserves better:  we would not want to rate medical education based on a review of published course requirements in medical schools and without examining the actual content that was delivered in university classrooms and without including evidence of practice in clinical settings.

Second, only about 10% of the programs that were rated actually provided NCTQ with the requested data, and there is no explanation of how institutions that did not provide data were treated.  At GW, for example, we chose to not participate in the project, largely because we were uncertain about whether the methodology was attuned to the subtle differences between teacher preparation at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  One question, then, is what data did NCTQ use to rate our programs and how did they obtain those data?   On the other hand, NCTQ didn’t acknowledge the existence of one of our biggest programs, in Special Education.  Until these mysteries of commission and omission are solved, it is difficult for us to decide whether and how the report’s findings might contribute to our program improvement efforts.

Third, there are many errors of fact and interpretation.  For example, on the “selectivity” standard, NCTQ gives GW’s programs two stars (out of four), stating that “the program … does not require a grade point average of 3.0 or higher overall or in the last two years of undergraduate coursework that provides assurance that candidates have the requisite academic talent.”  There is little evidence that a 3.0 GPA is a proxy for such talent and sufficient to predict performance either in graduate school or, more importantly, in the workplace after graduation.  Still, at GW, 22 of the 24 students in our incoming 2013 cohort in secondary education (English, mathematics, physics, social studies, English Language Learners) had an average of 3.4.  For students who do not meet the 3.0, we offer provisional status but then require them to earn a 3.0 or better during the first nine credit hours of course work.  NCTQ obviously did not have this data, and apparently either did not read our bulletin or chose to ignore these subtleties.  As Linda Darling-Hammond has noted, Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia got low marks on this standard too, because they don’t require either a minimum GPA or a minimum GRE. Reports of other errors are starting to come in.  Teachers College (Columbia), for example, was rated poorly for two programs they don’t offer.

At GW we have much to be proud of in our teacher preparation programs: our alumni have been named “teacher of the year” in a number of school systems and have received many other awards and honors, our faculty are widely recognized for their dedication and skill, and our accreditors routinely praise us for the quality of our instructional programs based on assessments that include considerable attention to actual performance.

Evaluation of teacher education is at least as complex as the evaluation of teaching, and is worthy of the best and most rigorous methods.  Reports like this one ultimately trivialize the task and undermine efforts to ensure that our future teachers acquire the skills and knowledge needed for their lives in classrooms.  There is surely room for improvement in the world of teacher preparation – as there is in all professions – but the NCTQ report provides an inadequate basis upon which to design and implement positive reforms.

June 18, 2013


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EdWeek Commentary Condemns Misdirected Blame in Atlanta Cheating Scandal; Garners Mixed Reaction from Readers

Reactions to my recent Education Week commentary on the Atlanta cheating scandal have been interesting (see also this Washington Post blog post by Valerie Strauss that highlights my commentary). They mostly relate to the question I raised, whether the system is to blame or whether individuals, even when faced with strong pressure and incentives for opportunistic behavior, should act morally and legally.  And, of course, several of the commentaries rehearse the somewhat well known criticisms of testing.

As best I can tell though, readers didn’t take up the issue I mentioned regarding the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, which apparently improved during Beverly Hall’s tenure in Atlanta.  If student performance was really getting better, then there was arguably less reason to engage in the alleged tampering.  We won’t know whether the people accused of the cheating considered any of this, or indeed if most of them knew about the NAEP results in the first place.  Meanwhile, suspicions have been raised about whether there had also been mischief in the NAEP sampling and scoring. For an especially lucid analysis of the NAEP results and how they relate to the Atlanta situation, I refer you to this excellent article by our friend Marshall (Mike) Smith, former Under Secretary of Education and Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

April 15, 2013

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