Academic journal article Education Next

Information Fuels Support for Salool Reform

Academic journal article Education Next

Information Fuels Support for Salool Reform

Article excerpt

The Common Core State Standards initiative (CCSS) seeks to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn" at various grade levels. For some education observers, CCSS will finally clarify for students, parents, and educators what students need to know and be able to do if they are to be prepared for college or a career. For others, CCSS interferes with local control of schools, limits teacher creativity, and diverts classroom time and energy away from instruction to test preparation. But as pundits and practitioners thrust and parry over these issues, they may be overlooking the potential impact of CCSS on public perceptions of school quality and public support for school reforms.

If CCSS is fully implemented as proposed by its most ardent adherents, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, it can be expected to alter the information Americans have about student performance at their local schools. Currently, the public has no national metric to guide its assessments of local school performance. At best, one can find out the percentage of students deemed proficient by state standards, which are known to vary widely in their definitions of proficiency. Were a common metric used to assess student performance, as CCSS promises, each school district could be ranked nationally as well as within its state.

Recently, the state of New York embraced CCSS, and in the process adopted a much higher definition of proficiency. When the new test results were released, the percentage of students identified as proficient in math dropped from 65 to 31, and in English from 55 to 31. The gap between white and minority students remained wide, as only 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students were deemed proficient in English. Asked for his opinion, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan replied that "the only way you improve is to tell the truth. And sometimes that's a brutal truth."

The results ignited debate in New York City's mayoral campaign, where candidates searched for ways to differentiate themselves from the Bloomberg administration's education agenda.

Are the developments in New York unique to that state? Or is there reason to think that rigorous national standards, with accompanying measures of student performance, have the power to generate the political attention needed to refocus public opinion? To shed light on this topic, we report here experimental results from the 2013 Education Next poll, which consists of a representative sample of the American public, and which was conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance.

Our findings reveal that when respondents learn how their local schools rank in comparison to the performance of schools elsewhere in the state or in the nation as a whole, they become more supportive of school choice proposals, such as making school vouchers available to all families, expanding charter schools, and giving parents the power to trigger changes in their local school. Upon learning the rankings of their local public schools, Americans also give lower evaluations to these institutions, just as they express less confidence in and support for teachers. A majority remain supportive of federal accoutnability provisions, however, whether or not they are informed of their district's rankings.

Survey Methodology Experiments generating these results were conducted as part of a 2013 Internet survey of several thousand members of the U.S. public, including oversamples of teachers, parents, African Americans, and Hispanic respondents. To carry out the experiments, we divided respondents randomly into groups of roughly 1,000. One representative group was left uninformed as to the performance of students at its local schools. (We realize, of course, that some within this group may have acquired knowledge about student performance independently from sources other than our survey questionnaire. …

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