About five years ago I published an article on educational assessment that started with reference to the blizzard of 2010. No, I wasn’t suggesting that our kids take a blizzard of exams or that the test items are flaky (although that would have been fun, I admit). Rather my point was that in observing how society manages events like a major snowstorm we may learn useful lessons about the costs and benefits of education reforms, including those that rely on test-based accountability. I’m taking the liberty of reproducing the opening paragraphs of that paper:¹
Now that the balmy days of early winter have temporarily (we hope? think?) faded into the chilly winds of January, it is nice to contemplate the new semester (and rejoice that it’s only 8 weeks until spring training!). It’s a good time to reflect on the developments in the world of education that were part of the context for our fall semester that just ended.
Recent findings from the well-regarded Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll elicited snappy interpretations and familiar laments about the public’s lack of confidence in public schools and dissatisfaction with teachers. But before we rush to yet more negative judgments about the condition of American education, we need to remember that while the results of opinion surveys in general are often tantalizing, it’s not always clear what to make of them.
The past few weeks have brought several more reminders of why it’s critical to develop fair and defensible ways to evaluate teachers—and the programs that prepare them. The first was a ruling by a California superior court judge in the Vergara case that the state’s teacher tenure system discriminates against minority and low-income students.
Friends and family have asked me how our commencement went. My short answer (OK, maybe not so short…) is that it was a glorious day on the National Mall—sunny, temperate, filled with moments reaffirming the cultural, linguistic, racial, and religious mosaic of our education system generally and GW specifically. Asked for details, I offer these vignettes:
On the bulletin board above my desk at home I have a faded photograph taken in 1960. It’s me on my dad’s shoulders, welcoming John F. Kennedy to a campaign stop in Queens, holding a sign that says “Kennedy is the remedy.” My dad’s lovely wit, an abridged version of the rush of emotion so many people were feeling about the young Kennedy. Sure, he made mistakes, and in retrospect did things that today would likely have gotten him in big trouble.
President Obama has nominated our colleague and friend, Ericka Miller, to be the next Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education. Ericka has been a member of our National Council of Education and Human Development (NCEHD), and has given us invaluable advice as we have worked on our vision and strategy for the future. I applaud the President for this superb choice.
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.