Two Steps Forward? 2002, a Year Full of Promise in Education Reform. (from the Editors)

Article excerpt

Although September 11 briefly arrested the nation's work on domestic issues, 2002 is still shaping up as a significant year for education reformers.

When President Bush affixed his signature to the No Child Left Behind Act on January 8, 2002, he arguably brought to life the most important piece of federal education legislation since 1965. For the first time, Washington would now require all states, in exchange for federal dollars, to demonstrate measurable progress in student learning. As Siobhan Gorman shows, in a domestic version of "Nixon goes to Beijing," it was a Republican administration that decisively expanded the federal role. Congress and the president have placed a new and only partially funded mandate on state and local governments--the kind of measure that congressional Republicans, just a few years ago, were swearing never to do again. Resistance to this new mandate came mainly from those on the Democratic side of the aisle. These one-time proponents of a strong national role in education managed to water down the law's accountability provisions to the point where it remains unclear whether the legislation's promise will be realized. Michae l Kirst's essay on the ups and downs of California's accountability efforts should give pause to any who take for granted that the new federal law will be implemented.

Many of those implementation issues involve the arcane matter of measuring progress. Ordinarily, yardstick questions are left for discussion in the halls of statistics departments, but the topic has become so pressing that we have devoted this issue's Forum to "value-added" measurement. theory seems straightforward: determine how much a student learned in a given year by subtracting from his or her most recent test scores the results of the previous year's tests. Would that it were so simple. Measuring a student's performance twice is an invitation to make two mistakes. Classroom noise, illness, confusing instructions by an inexperienced teacher, too much help from the teacher-coach-- these and many other elements can confound the measurement. All the forum participants acknowledge the problem, though they disagree about its implications for testing policy. …