Saturday, July 04, 2009



Deborah Meier writes in EdWeek (7/2):  I think it would be fair to argue that an institution that is funded by public monies must defend itself on the grounds that it serves, first and foremost, a public purpose—one which by its nature is held in common by all citizens, voters, and their offspring.

Here’s my suggestion. They must serve to prepare future voters to be knowledgeable and skilled citizens by the time they reach voting age—smart enough to preserve, protect, and improve the democracy of which they now are full members. We need a national “bar mitzvah” ceremony that seriously stops and takes stock of how well it has used children’s time (12-13 years of involuntary schooling) and the public’s money.

There is no reason the young can’t be offered “more,” or that we will all agree on precisely what “habits of mind” a voter needs to decide on matters of enormous complexity! But I’d have to connect the dots if I wanted to make it mandatory, not just accessible. There’s a difference, for example, between preparing future citizens to understand “the economy,” and preparing them for a specific job in it.

We cannot abandon democracy just because we are a long way from where we need to be, not to mention a long way from ever having discussed what it is, much less what it takes to nourish it. But that’s the direction—first and foremost—I want us to head in. That’s the argument I want us to engage in—school by school, community by community, state by state. Hopefully, we will come up with interesting and different answers. Meanwhile, we can also consider how we could go about assessing it down the road.

Here’s a shocking idea along such lines: It’s not mathematicians who need to decide how much and what kind of math we need! We need citizens with many different forms of expertise to weigh in on the kind/level of mathematical problems 18-year-olds should be able to make sense of. Then mathematicians can help us lay out ways to get there. If calculus is more important than statistics, let’s hear the argument.

If we give up on democracy every time it seems inefficient or even absurd (as Churchill put it), there would be no trace of it left on earth.

The Broader, Bolder proposal is a huge step in the right direction.

It’s not only in schooling policy that we face a dangerous fork in the road. Our disrespect for genuine expertise (the absence of any school people in the current policy debates) is mirrored in every field (even in the appointment of a financier to head GM!). So, too, the range of expertise. We confuse the role of citizen vs. expert, but even more dangerously we confuse the role of both in our capitulation to fiscally powerful private interest groups. This goes for policy discourse in many fields—not just education, but health, energy, and on and on.

The emperor wears no clothes—more charters, teachers paid for test results, and a national test are solutions that distract us. Not one of these is backed by “evidence”—even if we agreed that test scores were the purpose of education.



For Immediate Release
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Contact: Jessica Schwartz Hahn/703-478-0658
Patrick Riccards/703-237-2554

WASHINGTON, DC (June 25, 2009) –Test scores in reading and math alone cannot describe a school’s contributions to the full range of desired student outcomes. Instead, a new accountability system that combines testing with qualitative evaluation is needed to replace the discredited No Child Left Behind Act.

This recommendation is the centerpiece of a new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) Campaign. The full report is available at

“We must employ multiple measures to effectively assess the quality of public education we offer,” said BBA leader Susan B. Neuman, professor at the University of Michigan and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. “Otherwise, we can’t ensure that all children are gaining all the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.”

Specifically, BBA recommends that:

  • The federal government should collect state-level data – mostly from an expanded National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) – on how students of different backgrounds perform in a broad range of academic subjects, as well as in the arts, physical health and fitness, citizenship habits, and other necessary knowledge and skills;
  • State accountability systems should supplement higher quality standardized tests with qualitative evaluation of districts and schools to ensure the presence of a supportive school climate, high-quality classroom instruction and other resources and practices needed for student success.

The BBA Accountability Report follows recent remarks made by President Barack Obama calling for multiple measures of school achievement to replace existing narrow accountability policies. At a town hall meeting in Green Bay earlier this month Obama reiterated his call from last year’s campaign:

“If all we're doing is testing and then teaching to the test, that doesn't assure that we're actually improving educational outcomes. We do need to have accountability, however. We do need to measure progress with our kids. Maybe it's just one standardized test, plus portfolios of work that kids are doing, plus observing the classroom.”

The BBA Accountability Report provides a roadmap showing how these principles, articulated by the president, can be implemented in practice.

The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Campaign’s Accountability Committee released its report this morning. The committee was led by BBA co-chair Thomas Payzant and committee co-chairs Christopher Cross, Susan Neuman and Richard Rothstein. Payzant, Cross, and Neuman are all former assistant secretaries of education, Payzant in a Democratic and Cross and Neuman in Republican administrations.

“We must not lose sight of the larger, more important picture that educating our youth is a coordinated effort,” said Cross. “We must insist upon coordination between schools and other community institutions that provide early childhood care and education, parent education and support, physical and mental health care, and high-quality out-of-school time programs.”

During the two weeks leading up to the release of today’s report, BBA leaders met with Obama administration officials and Congressional education committee staffs from both parties to present the BBA accountability principles. Based on these meetings, Payzant said “we are confident that there is deep support for our insistence that a combination of qualitative evaluation and standardized testing must replace the overly narrow accountability policies of the past, as the administration and Congress consider re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). We will continue to provide these officials with whatever expertise we can offer as they implement these principles.”

About A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign issued its founding policy statement ( in June 2008, urging that school improvement be combined with the social, economic, family, and community supports that prepare children to benefit from high-quality instruction in schools.

A full list of the charter signatories of the original BBA statement, of a newly formed BBA Advisory Council, and of BBA Accountability Committee members that prepared the new report, is available at The BBA campaign is bi-partisan and includes prominent policy experts from the fields of education, health, welfare and community development.

The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign and its accountability statement have been generously supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.


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