How I Responded on Email Chain About Rewriting NCLB

I was recently on an email chain where very smart people were debating the NCLB rewrite.
The debate had to do with whether or not the retreat from federally mandated accountability was a  good thing.
See below for my exact response:
Some thoughts:
  1. The evidence on NCLB (annual testing, data transparency, etc.) is ok but not amazing. I think the upper bound I’ve seen is .2 effects over 6 year period.
  2. We don’t yet have rigorous data on teacher evals.
  3. We do have rigorous evidence on urban charter: ~.1 effects over a 3 year period (with the sector rapidly getting better each year – effects doubled over a couple year period).
  4. And now we have rigorous evidence on NOLA charter district reforms: ~.4 effects over a 5 year period; of course under unique circumstances.
All this leads me to believe (not with absolute confidence!):
  1. The federal charter program may end up being the most important federal education intervention. Tripling it from $250M to $750M will probably do more good for low-income kids than nearly every other federal program.
  2. The testing, accountability, eval movement will likely deliver real and modest gains. But it will never change the game. I am highly skeptical that mediocre school systems get excellent due to these backend levers.
  3. The 20-50 year game, I think, is about transitioning our public operated system to a publicly regulated but non-profit operated system + better teacher pipelines + tech.
  4. This is the .5-1 standard deviation game. It’s 75% supply and at most 25% accountability.
Just some thoughts. Obviously incredibly complicated. If there was a clear answer this many smart people wouldn’t be arguing about it.
You can hear clear undertones of the Allure of Order and the New Orleans theory of change.
I view it is as a near impossibility that accountability will ever deliver transformational results.
I wish our national policy conversation was 100x more about supply and 10x less about standards and accountability.

2 thoughts on “How I Responded on Email Chain About Rewriting NCLB

  1. Pam Kingsley

    I’d probably put the ratio at 10:1 –90% supply and, at most, 10% accountability.
    Teaching is not a career most bright-minded, ambitious folks with winning spirits gravitate towards (for openers, declining ACT scores for declared college majors). It has no-to-little status and it pays crap. For all the mission-types, a big “thank you”, but your number doesn’t dent the need. Teaching must become competitive with other professions if we are ever to correct this crisis in public education.

  2. Dai Ellis

    Totally agree on prioritizing quality of incoming teacher supply over accountability/teacher evals. Crazy how that’s inverted. Federal gov’t can play such a strong role on supply. Would love more insight into how Arne/John/etc. think about this

    I hope you’re right about tech being one of the major levers; very cautiously optimistic about getting blended learning right over many, many years.

    When you talk about standards/accountability being overemphasized — makes sense as regards teacher evals, school accountability; are you lumping in the Q of where we set the rigor bar (e.g. — but only e.g. — Common Core vs. other standards?) I think that matters much more than teacher eval / school accountability — setting out the right goalposts feels more “front end”. Obv. Federal role in that is tricky politically but in terms of what the right answer is …

    With a long enough time horizon I also wonder about integration as a lever (at least socioeconomic if not racial), if pursued thoughtfully


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