Education Week - January 8, 2014 - (Page 21)

Learning From a Test By Jack Dale W We have the same average scores as the Slovak Republic, Lithuania, and Hun- gary. (Hardly a group we want to be compared with.) And, like those countries, about a quarter of our students performed well below proficiency in math. In simplest terms, both top and bottom American students do poorly when compared with students in other industrialized countries. * Criticism Three: Other things, such as grit, determination, and teamwork skills, are more important than cognitive skills. While these noncognitive skills probably are important, the empirical evidence on economic outcomes remains thin. At the same time, we know that measured achievement has very high economic returns to individuals. Recent work shows that the United States rewards high-level skills (as measured by international math tests) with greater earnings in the labor market more than any of the 22 other countries surveyed by the OECD. And, there is no evidence that having higher cognitive skills detracts from noncognitive develPAGE 24 > ERIC A. HANUSHEK is the Paul and Jean Hanna senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He is the co-author, with Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann, of Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School (Brookings Institution Press, 2013). The implementation of your reforms is causing a significant loss of professional autonomy, the development of a test-prep culture that is anathema to real learning, and an uninspiring and unsafe professional culture for teachers and school leaders. It is no wonder that, according to the 2011 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, teacher morale was at its lowest point in two decades and many teachers said they planned to leave the profession. Our profession is at risk. We write to you representing hundreds of thousands of public school teachers and school leaders-in less-advantaged and more-advantaged communities-who view ourselves as schoolbased reformers every day and every year. We pay close attention to the academic and socialemotional well-being of our students, reflect upon and learn from our teaching and leading, and build inclusive organizational structures for change within which we define our problems, enhance our aspirations, and always work to make our schools better. We are the "owners" of our public schools; we live in them. Like responsible homeowners, we are always in the process of some renovation. Both of us have been part of important schoolbased, practice-driven organic school change. At Newton South High School in Massachusetts, the professional home to the younger author (David) for the past eight years, some of our recent schoolbased innovations include an improved "safety net" of services for struggling students that reflects the unique personality and needs of our school community. Teachers in our school also developed interdisciplinary team-led learning communities organized around contemporary global issues, with an emphasis on project-based collaborative skills (skills for the 21st-century workplace). The elder author (Robert) was the found- ing principal of a K-8 magnet school in Lowell, Mass.-the nation's first John Dewey-inspired micro-society school. Later, when that author was the long-term headmaster of Brookline High, that school established a mantra, "Local solutions to national education challenges"; Brookline High created the African-American Scholars Program and the Calculus Project to address the historical underachievement of students of color. Today, the achievement gaps at Brookline High have been dramatically narrowed. And, as a professor of practice at Teachers College, the elder writer is privileged to work with dynamic school leaders in New York City who transcend the demands of top-down school reform and, in some of our most impoverished communities, successfully provide the kind of academic support and enrichment in the arts and humanities that more-advantaged students receive in school, and at home. We are not napping, Mr. Duncan. Perhaps, instead of continuing your doomsday proclamations, you can honor Nelson Mandela in light of his recent passing by studying some of his lessons on leadership. For example, Mandela powerfully demonstrated that seeing and recognizing the good in others helps make them even better. We would appreciate that from you. We would also love to speak with you about our ideas for school reform in our nation. n ROBERT WEINTRAUB is a professor of practice in education leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a former headmaster of Brookline High School, in Brookline, Mass. DAVID WEINTRAUB is an English teacher at Newton South High School, in Newton, Mass. The two are father and son, respectively. e heard a lot last month a-bout global competitiveness, and learned that the United States is not faring as well as one would hope on the Program for International Student Assessment. Though it may be tempting to just focus on the PISA rankings, it is important to look beyond rankings and learn from our global counterparts to make informed changes in policy and practice in our states and schools. Schools are beginning to do just that by signing up for the Test for Schools, which is based on PISA and administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The test enables individual schools to understand how they stack up against other countries and to learn what they can do to further improve student outcomes. Last year, my district-the Fairfax County schools in northern Virginia-took advantage of an opportunity coordinated by the New York City- and Washingtonbased America Achieves to participate in the OECD Test for Schools pilot. The results were helpful in our understanding of where Fairfax County-the 11th-largest school system in the United States, with middle-income students from around the world-stood internationally, among other benchmarks. (After my retirement as superintendent this past summer, I became a consultant for America Achieves. I now help to guide districts and schools across the country who wish to take part in this test.) The benefits from the pilot test were significant, so much so that all 25 Fairfax high schools have voluntarily signed up to participate in the OECD Test for Schools in 2014. The OECD plans to make the school- based version of PISA available every year, with benchmarking based on the most recent PISA test, which is given every three years. For example, schools that take part in the OECD Test for Schools in the 2013-14 school year will see how they compare to the performance of other nations on the 2012 PISA exam. Why, at the very moment when peo- " ple are throwing out phrases like "test fatigue," would a school principal want to sign up for more testing? While the national dialogue around education reform tends to focus on lowincome inner-city and rural schools, middle-income suburban school systems like Fairfax County can face many of the same challenges: inadequate graduation rates, high remediation rates in college, and too many students who do not complete high school on time. These are challenges that we-my principals and I-and our peers across the country wanted to solve. Each high school that takes the OECD Test for Schools receives a detailed report, explaining the findings and sharing student-survey results. Each report compares performance with that of high schools from around the globe and highlights any lessons that may be relevant to that particular school. In Fairfax County, this report was immensely powerful in helping us understand the factors that have had an impact on our schools' performance. To that end, the OECD notes the importance of rigorous content, a supportive learning environment, and an equitable distribution of resources for enhanced learning opportunities, and the ability to apply content and skills in new situations. Many of the Fairfax high schools, some of which include significant low-income populations, performed above the international average and on par with some of the highest performers in the world. In both reading and math, those schools outperformed both Finland and South Korea and closely matched those high-performing nations' science scores, even as most of the United States did not fare as well. While we learned more about factors influencing the high-performing schools in our district, we also learned about factors that influenced lower performance in other schools. The results, and the reports from the OECD, gave us an opportunity to develop improvement strategies that my successor as Fairfax County's schools chief is implementing this school year. Based on clear results from the OECD Test for Schools, we saw a need to revise our Principals want to know how their students compare with those in topperforming countries, better understand international best practices, and improve the outcomes for their students." instructional approaches to include more interdisciplinary learning, starting in our middle schools. It's this kind of approach that can help to foster the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for success in the workplace. Fairfax PAGE 24 > JACK DALE is a former superintendent of the Fairfax County public schools in Virginia. He is now a consultant, working with organizations, including America Achieves, that are focused on improving students' global competence. EDUCATION WEEK | January 8, 2014 | | 21 marqs/iStockphoto

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 8, 2014

Education Week - January 8, 2014
State Legislators Fire Up Engines
Inspections Piloted for Teacher Prep
Student Views Shifting on Risks Of Marijuana
L.A. School Bridges Home-School Gap
InBloom Sputters as Data Privacy Hits the Spotlight
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Fariña to Lead N.Y.C. Public Schools
Judge Censures District’s Use of ‘Hess Report’
Los Angeles, D.C. Outshine Urban Peers in NAEP Gains
Blogs of the Week
Cloud Computing Expands, Raising Data-Privacy Concerns
Congressional Appropriators Turn To K-12 Spending Details
Rural Districts Win Big in Race To Top Awards
States Split Latest Pot of Early-Learning Aid
Blogs of the Week
ERIC A. HANUSHEK: Why the U.S. Results on PISA Matter
ROBERT WEINTRAUB & DAVID WEINTRAUB: Why Arne Duncan’s PISA Comments Miss the Mark
JACK DALE: Learning From a Test
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
PETER W. COOKSON JR.: Looking for Equity on the Yellow School Bus

Education Week - January 8, 2014