What Will Matter 50 Years From Now?

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Matt Barnum, who has been doing a good job over at The Seventy Four, just wrote a thoughtful piece on Arne Duncan’s legacy.

Matt argues that Duncan should have stuck to pushing for test based teacher evals for only those teachers covered by preexisitng annual tests. I’m sympathetic to Matt’s argument, but I also haven’t spent much time thinking about this specific issue.

What I do sometimes think about this: what policies will matter 50 years from now?

This is not to say that we should only focus on policies that will have 50 year staying power, but, in expending political capital, reform longevity should be a part of the calculation.

I am skeptical that government mandated teacher evaluations will still be a major issue in 50 years. My guess is that a combination of deregulation (charters not being a part of state evaluation systems) and technological advancement (less reliance on annual tests for measuring teacher performance) will render the issue mostly moot.

If I had created Race to the Top, I probably would have focused on the following:

1. Governance: incentivizing alternative forms of governance (RSDs, alternative authorizers, etc.).

2. School Operators: increasing supply of high-quality charters, contract, and vouchers schools.

3. Teacher pipelines: creating new pipelines and reforming existing institutions.

4. Standards and Assessments: incentivizing the raising of standards and the adoption of rigorous assessments.

I think the aforementioned initiatives would all have increased the probability of increasing student achievement. I also think these initiatives would have had some staying power.

I have no idea if they would have been politically feasible to push from the federal level in 2009.

Lastly, for whatever it’s worth, I have a lot of respect for Arne Duncan. Being a cabinet secretary for eight years takes a lot of grit and passion.

3 thoughts on “What Will Matter 50 Years From Now?

  1. Ed Jones

    Last week we attended two teacher events. One, in Columbus, was one of many parallel events nationwide, called #edcampLdr. That is, edcamp for educational leaders.

    The second was #ALSummit or the Active Learning Summit, in Pittsburgh. It was led my luminaries of the Design Thinking in K12 group, leaders from Maine, Seattle, San Diego, SF, and Dayton.

    What struck me was how few professors of education seem to be found at such events. Those participating really are the teacher-leaders who are hacking a way forward into next generation learning. Yet the teachers of the new teachers are doing…well, I don’t know exactly what. I don’t see them on Twitter much.

    By last spring, only 7 districts across Ohio (we have like 700) included teacher evalutation results in the contract language. Seven. Even those really would have little impact on any teacher.

    The larger truth is, union leaders get paid their $100,000 salaries only if they create pushback. If it wasn’t teacher evaluations, it would have been something else.

    In fact, the RTT/testing pushback may well have created breathing room for charters and other innovations.

    What do you think?

  2. Matt Barnum

    Neerav – Thanks for your thoughts on the piece. Thought I’d make two quick points:
    1) The thesis of my article was a pretty narrow one: that Duncan’s determination to evaluate every teacher by test scores was politically disastrous. I explicitly don’t express a view on whether this was wise from a policy perspective. (Except for evaluating teachers based on tests in subjects they don’t teach, which I think is self evidently crazy.)

    2) To comment on your idea, I think the 50-years-from-now measuring stick might not be a good one. Let’s say 50 years from now the vast majority of teachers are getting feedback on their pedagogy because of RTTT. That to me might not be something that people think is a particularly big deal, and perhaps no one remembers why this is the case. But it seems like it could have a profound impact on teaching and learning.


    1. nkingsl

      Matt, great to hear from you. I hear you on the thesis of your article, I tried to restate that accurately / sorry if that did not come through.

      I think if teachers are getting feedback because of RTTT, then RTTT would pass the 50 year test. So I think the test is fine the question is whether RTTT will have such an effect. I’m skeptical of the causal link. And, even if true, there were probably quicker ways to get there…



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