Fighting for equity, access, and excellence in our education system is hard enough; why would we ever want to do it with blindfolds on?

Today during a state committee meeting to discuss teacher evaluation policy, Representative Jacques shared draft legislation (See here/ Update 6/14 – HB 339 can be found here) that eliminates the use of student growth on the state assessment (unless a teacher opts-in) as one of teachers’ multiple measures of student improvement. It is likely that there will be an attempt to move this bill quickly through the legislature during the last few weeks of legislative session.

Delaware spends $1.4 billion a year on our education system, around $14,000 per student, and millions each year on professional development for those working in schools. Yet, for every attempt to increase information on quality and disparities within our schools it seems defenders of the orthodoxy are ready with pressure to return to the days of (with)old.

They lobby to make the education sector great again by removing the headache of uniformly tracking outcomes and reducing emphasis on accountability. Yet, they rarely elaborate on how the golden days of less measurement and accountability resulted in great outcomes for all students.

In their hands, legitimate considerations become stifling stall tactics and poison pills that kill progress. So measures of performance and quality are always not valid and reliable. Or they aren’t fair to all being measured. Or they aren’t ready yet and should be postponed. Or they are a distraction and a time suck. Or they are likely to be misinterpreted. Or they aren’t individualized enough…..

Instead of commonsense adjustments, the counter-proposal is always to do nothing or to create measures so individualized that they are useless for identifying system-level patterns and inequities.

That’s why I am not surprised by the legislation Representative Jacques shared today that will make it harder to compare high-quality teaching across schools.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising that the state released school scorecards quietly and with no clear rating system.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising that a child protection bill (HB350) praised by the News Journal editorial board— that would make more information available on which teachers have lost their license and why — has quietly been pulled.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising that higher education institutions that frequently highlight favorable rankings on billboards “strongly urged Mr. Godowsky and the [Delaware Department of Education] to either hold the scorecards’ publication or eliminate the numerical ‘tiers,‘” ahead of the release of new teacher preparation program scorecards.

This phenomenon is not unique to the education sector.

There are powerful players — with more to gain from information being less accessible or comparable — in most industries whose voices drown out those of consumers and advocates seeking more information. For example, in response to recent changes to nutrition labels the Sugar Association noted they were “disappointed” and that the new rules lacked “scientific justification.”  Different industry, same arguments. But in this case, believing the information was a step in the direction of a healthier society, the Food and Drug Administration moved forward with new regulations in the face of strong opposition.

And now we’ll know much more about what’s in our kid’s juice box then what’s going on in the classrooms and schools we send them to each day.

Many parents and concerned members of the community (even those who claim they are involved and in the know) lack highly-credible information about those working with kids each day, how much they are facilitating learning and growth among students, and how quality differs from classroom to classroom and school to school. Even school, district, and state education leaders lack the information needed to make key decisions.

Yet, insiders know the research is pretty clear that certain students are less likely to have access to great teaching. Let’s look at access to Nationally Board Certified Teachers as a proxy for quality, for example. Students at Red Clay School District’s North Star Elementary School have had access to 12 Nationally Board Certified Teachers over the past few years compared to a combined total of 2 in the district’s three priority schools (Highlands, Shortlidge, and Warner).

These types of gaps are pretty hard to detect without robust information on the quality of people working in schools. And these types of disparities are hard for teachers, school leaders, and district/state policymakers to address with a lack of information about which teachers are excelling in the classroom and which need support.

Over the past few years, Delaware has been able to open the black box of classrooms and schools a little bit more by sharing information about inequitable access to great teaching, the quality of school leaders, access to diverse teachers, the strengths and weaknesses of teacher preparation programs, retention rates of highly-effective educators, how educators feel about teaching conditions in their schools, and much more.

We should be leveraging this information on performance, quality, access, and impact on student learning in a manner that increases opportunity. Instead, there’s pressure to shutter the windows of insight into student learning and revert the system to the opaque days of old.

But we should be rather brazen in our opposition to blindfolds. It makes so much more sense to contend for equity, access, and excellence in our education system with our eyes wide open.

Atnre Alleyne is the executive director of DelawareCAN. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware.


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