Don’t blame feds if schools struggle
After months of mixed signals, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appears poised to do what the Every Student Succeeds Act expects of her and approve state-developed school accountability plans.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
After months of mixed signals, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appears poised to do what the Every Student Succeeds Act expects of her and approve state-developed school accountability plans. “My criteria for approval is clear,” she said recently. “Does the state’s plan adhere to the law?” If so, she is “happy to approve it.”
That’s a pretty low bar, but it’s also faithful to the spirit of the statute, which pushed key decisions to the states. It means that, unlike the finger-pointing that occurred in many places under the previous law, known as No Child Left Behind, Hawaii officials will no longer be able to blame micromanagement from Washington for unfortunate policies, practices, and outcomes in their states.
In Hawaii, Gov. David Ige and the state Department of Education therefore have full responsibility to finalize an education plan that is good for children in the Aloha State. Hawaii’s current draft has some bright spots — like clear and intuitive summative school ratings called school performance unit scores — but it also has room for improvement. The good news is that the final plan isn’t due to the U.S. Department of Education until Sept. 18, so policymakers have time to add two key components to the final version of the plan.
First, Hawaii should encourage schools to focus on all its students, not just its low performers, by both looking beyond proficiency rates rate when measuring student achievement. A preoccupation with proficiency — another legacy of No Child Left Behind — leads schools to prioritize students just below or above the cutoff, to the detriment of high achievers, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances.
Hawaii should instead measure achievement and academic progress in ways that gives schools credit for helping students along the entire performance spectrum. The state might, for example, employ an index that gives schools partial credit for students at a basic level of achievement, full credit for students at proficient, and additional credit for students at an advanced level.
Second, Hawaii should fairly measure and judge all schools, including those with high rates of poverty. When evaluating schools, we should stress what is under their control — how much they help students grow academically while under their care. Schools can’t do much about the poverty that leads some children to arrive in kindergarten far behind their peers. What they can and must do is help those kids to catch up.
When it comes to education policy, states including Hawaii have been asking for the football for years now. It’s time for Gov. Ige to lead his team to a touchdown.
Brandon L. Wright and Michael J. Petrilli are editorial director and president, respectively, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative nonprofit education-policy think thank based in Washington, D.C.