Friday, August 22, 2008

Centralize information, disperse control
   Helping schools get better

The discussion of NCLB over at New Talk had few surprises. The most interesting thing said might be this suggestion from Diane Ravitch:

My own preference would be for Congress to authorize national testing (à la NAEP), based on coherent curriculum standards, but without stakes or sanctions. The federal role should be to provide accurate information about student performance. It should be left to states and districts to devise sanctions and reforms. These jurisdictions are closer to the schools and likelier to come up with workable reforms. If states and localities don’t want to improve their schools, then we are in deeper trouble as a nation than any law passed by Congress can fix.

The principle Ravitch invokes here is correct: centralize information gathering and dissemination but disperse decision-making and control.

Both parents and teachers can benefit from seeing how their students compare with other students around their state and around the nation, and if basic demographic data from each school is also recorded, we could learn a tremendous amount about what is working and what isn’t working for various populations.  Some people would continue to argue that the tests measure the wrong things, but the existence of nationally standardized data for each school would nonetheless create powerful incentives to pay attention to research into what the successful schools are doing.

It could lead to a situation where the performance standards are set not by politicized bureaucracies but by the best actual performances in the field.

If this were linked to real local control of schools, so that people were free to adapt, I would expect to see many schools making rapid progress. I would also expect to see many schools dithering or slipping backwards. But others would also see it and know it. That’s a powerful thing.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 08/22 at 07:27 PM
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© 2008 Michael L. Umphrey
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