Las Vegas Sun

January 22, 2018

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Education report criticized

A recently released state-by-state report on the condition of public education gave Nevada a C grade, but another Washington, D.C.-based education council says the grade should be "incomplete."

The Education Leaders Council is rebutting Education Week's state-by-state education report, "Quality Counts," claiming most states' grades are skewed because inappropriate criteria were used to calculate performance.

"Our refutation is to their whole approach," said Gary Huggins of the Education Leaders Council. "The biggest problem is they focused unduly on inputs -- like how much money was spent on education and teacher certification -- rather than on any accountability for results."

As for Nevada, Huggins said, "In our opinion, the proper grade would be 'incomplete,' because there really hasn't been any serious effort at coming up with serious standards."

"We know that (state Superintendent of Public Instruction) Mary Peterson has good intentions," he added.

In a letter to be published in the Wednesday edition of Education Week magazine, the council says the yearlong project that culminated in "Quality Counts" was "a massive, and much needed" endeavor.

However, the letter lambasts Education Week for returning to "an antiquated way of measuring the status of education. Ed Week has reinstated the 1970s definition of progress in assessing reform of our public schools for its state-by-state report card, 'Quality Counts.'"

The letter takes issue with Education Week's state ranking in a number of categories, including standards and assessments, claiming member-states were "surprised by their rankings in the report."

It contends that placing states with already-implemented standards behind Pennsylvania, which will not announce standards commission recommendations until March, is unfair.

Craig Jerald, project director for "Quality Counts," said just having standards in place is not enough.

"No organization has currently conducted an analysis in whether the standards (of individual states) are truly rigorous," he said.

He said the American Federation of Teachers "acknowledges that it will require more time and more expense and a substantial commitment to really compare states against one another."

Jerald also noted the importance of following through once the standards are in place.

"A state can adopt rigorous standards, but if that's all it does, it might never make it into the classroom," he said.

"We noted (in the report) that what happens to the standards and how they're used is at least as important as the quality of the standards."

For instance, Jerald said, "States that expect more from their students also need to be expecting more out of their teachers."

Jerald said the "Quality Counts" criteria in improving the quality of America's teaching force is "closely related to the needs of a standards-driven system."

"In some ways they (the Education Leaders Council) seem to miss the point that we make in the report that the state can and should enact policies that support a standards-driven system where everything comes back to the content standard and what students are supposed to be learning and what teachers are supposed to be teaching."

The Education Leaders Council letter also criticizes "Quality Counts" for a lack of attention to efforts among some schools such as encouraging ineffective teachers to leave the classroom, providing performance contracts to teachers, offering scholarships to the brightest college students, establishing alternative routes to certification and providing higher salaries for teachers who do perform.

The council "categorically refutes" Education Week's stance that, "Strong traditions of local control dilute the effectiveness of state policy in changing the way schools are organized and operated."

Jerald, however, said the report did not say "local control per se is a bad thing."

According to Jerald, the report "simply makes the observation that education reform is difficult in the United States because we do have a more fragmented education system than other countries."

"However, we give credit to states that enact policies to encourage site-based management and permit site-based management of schools, the percentage of schools that have a decision-making body that includes teachers," Jerald said.

"We give credit to schools that have open enrollment where parents can choose public schools anywhere in the state."

Jerald said criticism of the report is welcome because "we think those (criticisms) will help us to improve the report in the years ahead."

"If the recommendations of the Education Leaders Council begin to be backed up by research and if there's a growing movement to enact them and a consensus of a positive effect on student achievement, of course we will" incorporate those suggestions in future reports.