The Big Picture
Have High-Stakes Testing and Privatization Been Effective?

by Bill Honig

More and more educators, parents, and community, political, and opinion leaders are becoming aware of the failure of high-stakes accountability based on reading and math test scores (Test-and-Punish) and the failure of privatization hailed as “choice, charters, and competition.” As a result, people are increasingly open to alternative strategies. A viable replacement is staring us right in the face. It is found in our most successful public and charter schools, districts, and states that adopted the more positive, engaging Build-and-Support agenda. This article examines the problem of low student performance and the flawed approach used by conventional reformers who support Test-and-Punish and market-driven solutions. It will summarize the evidence that documents the reform policies’ lack of success and describe the considerable collateral damage these policies have caused.

The Problem of Low Performance: Real or Hype?

The conventional school reform movement began as a response to the perceived low performance of our students. While the reformers’ solutions have been unsound, the problem is very real. Although student performance is currently at its highest level in our history, there is widespread agreement in this country that the increasing educational demands of the job market, the impact of global competition, and the need to preserve our democracy require a substantial improvement in student achievement in our schools and colleges and the narrowing of the performance gap between affluent and low-income, minority, or second-language children. Indisputably, there are excellent classrooms, schools, and districts across the United States. Moreover, there are hundreds of thousands of dedicated teachers, including those teaching in difficult circumstances, who day by day do a superb job with their students. As a result of their efforts, graduation rates and student performance have risen substantially in the past 20 years, although student performance has stalled recently as the harsh policies of the reform movement took hold. At the same time, no one disputes the fact that far too many dysfunctional classrooms, schools, and districts must be improved if students in those settings are going to have any chance at leading a productive life.

In order for our country to stay competitive, virtually every school and district in the US must continually focus on improvement. Some states and districts shine. Massachusetts, for example, outperforms just about every other nation in the world, and Long Beach Unified School District is one of the 20 best districts on the planet. Yet most other states and districts are lagging.

Distressing International Results

Currently, our youngsters significantly underperform students in other industrialized countries—seriously jeopardizing our democratic and economic future. Nor is it just our lower achievers who are lagging. According to one recent international assessment, the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), recent US college graduates, students with some college, high school graduates, and high school dropouts are average compared to their global counterparts in terms of the practical applications of literacy, but they are near the bottom in numeracy and at the bottom in technical problem solving.

Similarly troubling are our low scores and declining growth on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), given to 15-year-olds worldwide, especially as these scores relate to students’ math skills. Comparable results were found in the 2011 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which tested eighth graders in math and science. In its 2015 review of international assessments, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found the US ranking 31st among 76 countries in basic math and science skills, with 23% of our students failing to reach rudimentary levels. The report foresaw a large economic payoff if we are able to improve these results. A recent summary by OECD found no improvement from 2003 to 2012 in the numbers of US students scoring as low performers in math and reading.

Do International Tests Fairly Reflect Socioeconomic Factors?

Analyzing international test results is complex. The failure to accurately account for higher levels of poverty in the US and lower family academic resources (FAR)—such as a mother’s educational level and books in the home—exaggerates our performance gap. In their October 2015 report, Bringing It Back Home, Carnoy, García, and Khavenson adjusted for FAR, which significantly narrowed the gap between the US and other nations, particularly at the lower socioeconomic levels. When our lowest FAR cohorts of students were compared to similar students, the gap closed substantially in both math and reading. However, such adjustments still left our students, on average, performing significantly below other comparable nations.

Overall, our students fared much better in reading than in math—scoring in the middle of other countries. In math, we considerably trailed many postindustrial countries, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, compared to similar FAR cohorts, our middle-range students fell further behind other nations, and our more advantaged levels plunged. Even so, adjusted US TIMSS math scores grew from 1995 to 2011 by a hefty 0.5 standard deviation (SD), or one-half to one year’s added instruction. This growth rate, however, is not sufficient to catch up to many other countries, as they experienced greater increases at the middle and higher socioeconomic levels.

It is important to note that the PISA and TIMSS scores vary widely among US states. Some of our states, when adjustments for FAR are made, surpass results in the highest-performing nations. For example, on the PISA 2012 test, Massachusetts nearly matches Canada and Finland, two of the top-scoring countries in mathematics; matches Germany; and actually surpasses France and the United Kingdom. In reading, the Bay State outscores all nations but one—Korea. For a nuanced view of US national and international rankings on school performance, see the report by the Horace Mann League and the National Superintendents Roundtable.

Are International Tests Useful Measures of Achievement?

Many experts in the field of education question the value of international tests on the grounds that the tests do not measure important aspects of education such as depth of knowledge, interpersonal skills, drive, character, perseverance, ambition, creative thinking, and willingness to challenge accepted orthodoxy. Others contend that the tests are methodologically flawed, although that view has been widely challenged. Some analysts also point to the fact that the United States has traditionally scored in the middle of the industrialized countries yet has consistently outperformed those countries in actual economic growth and scientific innovation.

It is interesting to note that some educational leaders in high-scoring countries are warning us not to place too much emphasis on high test scores. In a recent statement, the deputy minister of education and training in Vietnam, which now places 12th in the world in the cited OECD report, cautions that many Vietnamese students have learned by rote, are unable to solve unique problems, do not have the interpersonal skills needed for work, and subsequently perform poorly in college and careers. For additional comments from educators in that country, see M. I. Hanoi’s article on The Economist website. For a critique of China’s test-driven system, see Diane Ravitch’s review of Yong Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

It is worth noting that the previously mentioned PIAAC test, which shows US students underperforming, is primarily a problem-solving and application test and is thus arguably more predictive of adult performance. Also worrisome is the slowing growth in performance for our students in the middle and higher socioeconomic groups. Most troublesome is the large number of students failing to reach rudimentary levels. Given that jobs in the future will increasingly demand higher educational levels, it is essential that all students at least reach basic levels, which the international assessments do measure. Therefore, the results of these international assessments do matter, and they matter more now than ever.

Misguided Reform Policies

Consequently, today our country and its educators are faced with a major policy question: Which strategies have the best chance of rectifying our relatively low performance? Two different approaches are vying for acceptance—Test-and-Punish and Build-and-Support.

I can sympathize with the passion that drives reformers’ desire to crack down on low-performing schools and incompetent educators. There are certainly many distressing examples of malfunctioning or mediocre schools and classrooms. We should do everything in our power to address these problems. It is also true that there are individual teachers and entire school staffs who have given up striving for excellence and are merely marking time until retirement. Most are reacting to overwhelming problems: traumatized and alienated students, indifferent parents, a hostile political climate, inept leadership, and extremely high levels of stress. Many of these disaffected practitioners have become angry at their school conditions and constant public vilification. As a result, they resist improvement measures and urge their union representatives to be uncooperative and unyielding.

Unfortunately, many reformers have responded with a counterproductive solution—upping the ante by exerting more pressure on these disheartened, exhausted, or underperforming educators. There are much more effective ways to improve teacher and school performance, as exemplified by numerous schools that have managed to rekindle the professional energies of a demoralized staff and correct genuinely dreadful situations. These successful programs use a Build-and-Support approach that focuses on instruction, building trust, and creating effective teams.

I can also understand how anti-reformers fuel frustration when they downplay the idea that some schools are underperforming or the idea that many teachers and schools require substantial improvements. For an incisive rebuttal to those who assert that “schools are doing just fine,” see Grant Wiggins’s letter on the subject and Jai Mehta’s article. Reformers’ anger and frustration are understandable. But anger and frustration do not justify ill-advised approaches, especially when effective alternatives exist. To make matters worse, many reform measures have done little good and much harm.

Conventional reformers tend to base their improvement initiatives on a misguided belief in high-stakes testing and market-driven competition. For more than a decade, this two-pronged approach has produced only limited results. Yet these same reform measures have caused considerable collateral damage to schools and resulted in a disastrous drop in teacher morale and the appeal of teaching as a profession.

Reformers assume that schools will not improve by themselves and, therefore, will require external pressure in the form of high-stakes accountability based on standardized reading and mathematics test scores. Reform advocates assert that the best way to improve student performance is to fire the lowest-performing three to five percent of teachers; reward the superstars; encourage competition and disruption by expanding charter schools and choice; and close neighborhood schools with the lowest scores, or replace their staffs, or convert the schools into charter schools. In fact, many reformers promote wholesale privatization of public education by replacing public schools with charters or with private schools funded by vouchers. For a decade since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), these proposals have been put into practice on every level—nationally, in most states, and in many districts.

Until recently, the federal government and a multitude of states and school districts have heavily promulgated this reigning get-tough-on-teachers-and-schools dogma and the belief in the power of market-based competition, choice, and charters. In December 2015, Congress repealed NCLB and the Race to the Top expansion sponsored by the Obama administration. The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ameliorated some of the more extreme measures of the reform movement sponsored nationally and is a welcome course correction. ESSA shifts much decision making to the states and local levels, so that is where the debate on which way to improve our schools will now primarily occur. Although there is a growing shift away from the “reform” agenda, discredited proposals continue to be supported by far too many political and opinion leaders, wealthy individuals, editorial boards, think tanks, and well-funded organizations. This support persists in spite of the evidence from the most successful districts and states such as Massachusetts and now California, which have adopted an instructionally driven, supportive approach that is grounded in modern management techniques of engagement. For more about exemplary districts and states, see Exemplary Models of Build-and-Support.

Since a mainstay of reform policy is to hold schools accountable for improving test results, it is only fair to judge the reform movement by how well it improved student performance on tests—live by the scores, die by the scores. Admittedly, a once-a-year standardized test only offers a limited measure of student learning, but reformers have had no compunction about using those test results to fire teachers, close schools, and privatize entire districts. Thus, in fairness, they cannot reasonably object to using the same criteria to evaluate their reforms.

Meager National Results

Much to the reformers’ chagrin, their strategies have produced only meager results, though this lack of success has not tempered their advocacy. In the 1990s, the overall average scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our well-respected national score card, revealed a slow but steady rise in student performance. That was before the enactment of the national No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation in 2001, which established the primacy of high-stakes accountability.

After the passage of NCLB, the growth of NAEP scores slowed. During the past few years the adoption of punitive “reform” measures has intensified, fully supported and required by the Obama administration. Since 2009, as test-based teacher evaluations have spread and harsh consequences for failure to meet unattainable goals have been triggered, gains in NAEP scores have essentially halted. In contrast, our most successful districts and the highest-performing nations have continued to improve by adopting a more supportive strategy.

NAEP relies on student samples unconnected to individual teachers or particular schools. Thus, the test cannot be linked to accountability systems and carries no consequences for low performance. Consequently, NAEP is one of the most accurate tests of student achievement, albeit a limited measure. The test avoids artificially inflated results that are generally associated with high-stakes testing. In those cases, results are skewed by damaging behaviors such as spending excessive time on test preparation and outright gaming of the system. The NAEP processes of sampling and lack of consequences also minimize curriculum narrowing for test prep purposes and its deleterious effects on deeper learning and broader instruction. Here are the results from the most recent period. Nationwide, 12th-grade 2013 NAEP reading and mathematics scores were unchanged from 2009. Since 2009, fourth-grade scores were also flat for mathematics and increased only two points in reading; eighth-grade scores increased only one point in reading and declined one point in math.

Equally concerning is the fact that our students are performing significantly below students in industrial countries and are continuing their slide. In 2012, results from Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show declines from the already low 2007 levels: a six-point decrease in math, four points in reading, and five points in science. See also the Welner and Mathis policy memo for a recent summary of the lack of improvement in student achievement during the proliferation of the more severe reform measures. Similar disappointing results were documented worldwide for countries that pursued test-driven high-stakes accountability systems and competition strategies.

Finally, the gap between high-income and low-income students has substantially increased in the past 25 years due to rising income inequality and, according to one scholar, has widened 30–40%. Gary Sasso writes:

As the income disparity has increased, so has the educational achievement gap. According to Sean F. Reardon, professor of education and sociology at Stanford University, the gap for children from high- and low-income families is at an all-time high—roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier.

High school graduation rates are another measure used to gauge school effectiveness. From 2011 to 2014, these have inched up from 79% to 82%, although they are still falling further behind our competitors. This rise was most likely caused by a combination of efforts initiated by schools, credit recovery strategies for students not qualifying for graduation (some of which are questionable), changing attitudes of students stemming from the increasingly dismal outlook for high school nongraduates, and a more realistic assessment of the importance of educational attainment by low- income, minority, and immigrant families. California, which did not pursue a Test-and-Punish strategy, actually rose at a rate that was higher than the national increase. Furthermore, our country’s college graduation rates are also slipping behind those of many industrial nations.

Another disconcerting finding is that in many urban districts the gap is increasing between low-income, English-language learners, and minority students and other students. This is particularly the case in districts pursuing large-scale expansion of charter schools and “reform strategies.” Similarly, Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores, one of the two major college entrance exams, have tumbled in the past five years—dropping seven points in 2015 alone. ACT scores, the other major college entrance exam, were flat. The drop in SAT scores cannot be explained by changes in the composition of the test takers or the increasing numbers of students who are taking the test.

To be fair, primarily in the early millennial years, there were some positive changes in instruction due to increased pressure from accountability efforts and the availability of test results for neglected subgroups. These changes translated to increases in fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics scores. Also, contrary to conventional opinion, international tests showed our lowest-performing students catching up to but still significantly behind their FAR cohorts in the top-performing countries, while our top students had stalled. In the mid-2000s, we also saw a recovery from a severe dip in the number of students qualified for college, returning to a 40% level in math and reading—about where we were in 1998.

These increases in NAEP scores, however, were more sporadic than in the decade before high-stakes test-driven accountability became widespread. After NCLB, there were no NAEP score increases at 12th grade and no increases for reading, and overall they seem to have ceased during the recent era of more stringent reforms. Some growth was masked by the Simpson paradox where overall scores can be flat while each subgroup is improving due to a change in the mix of students—more lower-scoring minority or second-language students. Even taking this paradox into account, most of the growth statistics for each subgroup were minimal after 2009, except for the growth demonstrated by Hispanic students in reading.

In stark contrast to the disappointing national scores, during the same period many districts, states, and countries had significant gains in reaching higher average scores or increases in proficiency levels on NAEP. That is because they followed a broader, more supportive approach. For an in-depth discussion of this Build-and-Support approach in action, see the series of companion articles How Top Performers Build-and-Support.

Collateral Damage Caused by Reform

Whatever limited growth resulted from tough accountability measures, it has been overshadowed by the deleterious effects high-stakes test accountability has had on instruction, teacher efficacy, and morale. In addition to lackluster test scores, reform initiatives have led to a severe narrowing of the curriculum due to their focus on high-stakes math and reading tests. Superficial teaching to the test, at the expense of deeper learning, has proliferated. For a scholarly treatment of the concept of deeper learning, see the work of Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine Maggie Lampert, and Mike Amarillas’s blog post.

History, science, humanities, art, and other crucial subjects have been decimated. The Council of the Great City Schools report (2015) found that increases in testing time did not improve instruction but did cause significant collateral damage. For more on this topic, see the FairTest report and the excellent book The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing—But You Don’t Have to Be, written by Anya Kamenetz.

Perverse accountability incentives have encouraged teachers and administrators to game the system by devoting inordinate time to test preparation, concentrating only on students near cutoff points, and, in some tragic cases, outright cheating. In many states, reformers have promoted unfair, unproven reward-and-punishment tools, which have discouraged collaboration among teachers, thwarted the building of effective teams, and caused a severe drop in morale. Finally, reform nostrums have diverted attention from, de-emphasized, or belittled Build-and-Support policies that can actually produce substantial results.

Have Individual Components of Reform Worked?

Not only has the reform movement failed to produce results overall, but reputable evaluations of individual reform measures such as turnaround schools, charter schools, merit pay, or test-based school and teacher accountability have either found nonexistent or trivial effects. See the series of companion articles Why Conventional School “Reforms” Have Failed for a detailed discussion of the reasons these measures failed to produce results.

Even when small gains are detected, the gains are substantially below the improvements brought about by the initiatives at the heart of Build-and-Support. To put these findings in perspective, a full standard deviation (1.0 SD) difference in test performance translates to between one and two years of additional instruction. Analyses of reform efforts with increases reveal inconsequential effect sizes of 0.05 to 0.15 SD, which is substantially below programs that actually work. These meager results did not dissuade the reform community from trumpeting the reported increases as major breakthroughs.

In his meta-analysis of 150,000 research studies involving 250 million students, John Hattie lists the effect size of 150 of the most popular school improvement interventions. He found several programs near or above the 1.0 SD level, though it is important to note that 0.4 of that level was expected yearly growth. Among the effective practices were visible learning—making children’s thinking and understanding transparent and enlisting students in the educational process, 1.44 SD; formative evaluation—getting timely information on how well a student is progressing, 0.9 SD; response to instruction—early intervention after good first teaching, 1.07SD; and classroom discussion, 0.82 SD.

Many other measures were close to the 1.0 SD range, which is several times the minimal effect size of 0.04 to 0.05 SD found for urban charter schools compared to their public school counterparts according to a Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study. Perhaps most importantly, Hattie found that the largest gains were produced by improvement efforts that focused on developing collaboration, team building, and continuous improvement capacity. He calls this “The Power of Collaborative Expertise.”

Many of the high-scoring programs and ideas are integral to the Build-and-Support strategy and staples of the active classroom instructional approach called for in the Common Core State Standards. These measures offer a clear rebuttal to the claims that the only way to improve public education is through governance reforms such as charters and the competitive pressure they engender or high-stakes accountability based on tests. Of the 150 improvement strategies evaluated, charter schools were 114 on the list, in the bottom range of Hattie’s effect size with almost no advantage over expected normal growth.

Alyson Lavigne and Thomas Good conducted an extensive review of the efficacy of reform measures such as turnaround schools and merit pay. In their 2014 book, Teacher and Student Evaluation: Moving Beyond the Failure of School Reform, they report finding either insignificant gains or no effect at all. Likewise, Grover Whitehurst discovered small increases of between 0.05 and 0.15 SD gains for some reform strategies and no gains for many others. He compared these small improvements to the much larger boosts achieved by programs such as dropout prevention (1.0 SD) and excellent early reading phonics programs (0.8 SD). He also points to the What Works Clearinghouse, which lists a raft of programs with effect sizes many multiples of those found for charter schools, turnaround schools, or merit pay.

This article has supported the contention that while we have much to do to improve our schools, the “reform agenda” was not the right medicine and has not produced results. The series of companion articles Why Conventional School “Reforms” Have Failed explains why this agenda has been unsuccessful.

A Tale of Two Cities

Two New Jersey school districts provide powerful examples of the difference between Test-and-Punish and Build-and-Support. Union City, New Jersey, undertook extremely effective but low-key school improvement measures. The success of its Build-and-Support approach is chronicled in David L. Kirp’s recent book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools. Just seven miles away, the Newark, New Jersey, district implemented a “reform strategy” that was highly disruptive to schools and communities and had minimal positive outcomes for students. After five years of a very public and controversial school improvement effort, Newark’s experiment was unsuccessful. For a complete account of what went wrong, see The Prize: Who Is in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff, and for an illuminating contrast of the two approaches see an article by David L. Kirp, “How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools: And How Not To.”

School leaders in Union City, New Jersey, followed an incremental, basic approach concentrating on long-term improvement of instruction through strong content, team and trust building, collaboration, and continual reevaluation. Student achievement rose substantially as did teacher and community engagement. From being on the brink of a state takeover in 1989 due to low performance, by 2014, 89% of Union City students were graduating from high school in four years. Across the grades, test scores have nearly caught up to those of suburban New Jersey students, who are among the top performers in the US. A recent report by Stanford researchers Reardon, Kalogrides, and Shores found a strong correlation between socio-economics and student performance as well as connections between levels of segregation and opportunity gaps. A few districts substantially beat the odds. Union City was one.

An abstract of Kirp’s Improbable Scholars provides a cogent summary of the lessons learned from Union City:

No school district can be all charismatic leaders and super-teachers. It can’t start from scratch, and it can’t fire all its teachers and principals when students do poorly. Great charter schools can only serve a tiny minority of students. Whether we like it or not, most of our youngsters will continue to be educated in mainstream public schools.

The good news, as David L. Kirp reveals in Improbable Scholars, is that there’s a sensible way to rebuild public education and close the achievement gap for all students. Indeed, this is precisely what’s happening in a most unlikely place: Union City, New Jersey, a poor, crowded Latino community just across the Hudson from Manhattan. The school district–once one of the worst in the state–has ignored trendy reforms in favor of proven game-changers like quality early education, a word-soaked curriculum, and hands-on help for teachers. When beneficial new strategies have emerged, like using sophisticated data crunching to generate pinpoint assessments to help individual students, they have been folded into the mix.

The results demand that we take notice–from third grade through high school, Union City scores on the high-stakes state tests approximate the statewide average. In other words, these inner city kids are achieving just as much as their suburban cousins in reading, writing, and math. What’s even more impressive, nearly ninety percent of high school students are earning their diplomas and sixty percent of them are going to college. Top students are winning national science awards and full rides at Ivy League universities. These schools are not just good places for poor kids. They are good places for kids, period.

The experience in Newark is in stark contrast to the success in Union City. Current US senator Cory Booker, then the Democratic mayor of Newark, joined forces with New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie and persuaded Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million. Another $100 million of matching contributions were made. The reformers’ goal was to make Newark a national model of high-stakes accountability and the market-driven reform agenda—test-based teacher and school evaluation with rewards and punishments, large-scale expansion of charters, and the closure of underperforming public schools.

Newark had been taken over by the state previously. Booker and Christie, with advice from a small group of state reform leaders and donors, hired Cami Anderson as superintendent. At the time, Anderson had limited school management experience but was a staunch supporter of reform. Under her leadership, expensive consultants were hired and decisions were made with virtually no transparency. Test-and-Punish was ardently pursued. Anderson did hire some effective principals, and many dedicated educators in the district recommitted themselves to improving low-performing schools. However, fiscal mismanagement and a top-down management style frustrated their efforts.

Initially, Anderson opposed the wholesale conversion of public schools to charters, viewing that effort as detrimental. Her focus was on building up low-performing schools rather than closing them, albeit with a management style that excluded and alienated teachers and principals. Unfortunately, Anderson eventually succumbed to pressure from Christie, Zuckerberg, and her reform advisors, who believed that public schools would never perform, could not be improved, and therefore should be replaced by charters. The district closed large numbers of neighborhood schools, disrupting communities, children, and families and draining needed improvement resources from the remaining public schools. Anderson rightly complained that she was “expected to turn Newark’s public schools into a national model, yet as children left for charters—and state funds followed them—she would be continually closing schools and dismissing teachers, social workers, and guidance counselors.”

Some Newark charters performed well, but on the whole the majority of students wound up in worse schools farther from home. Christie did not help matters when he slashed public school funds and supported increased resources for charters. The project in Newark was a bust. Five years after it began, student gains were minimal but parents and an entire community were left seething. Educators in Newark were utterly demoralized. A chastened Zuckerberg then switched philosophies, investing $120 million in low-income Bay Area schools that were committed to pursuing a more collaborative and supportive approach.

BBS Companion Articles

Why Conventional School “Reforms” Have Failed
Reformers Target the Wrong Levers of Improvement
Teacher and School Evaluations Are Based on Students’ Test Scores
Charter Schools Are Not the Key to Improving Public Education
Four Nostrums of Conventional School Reform
Reformers Allowed Their Rhetoric to Be Hijacked
How Top Performers Build-and-Support
Ground Efforts in Unassailable Research
Provide Engaging Broad-Based Liberal Arts Curriculum
Provide High-Quality Instruction
Build Teams and Focus on Continuous Improvement
Provide Adequate School Funding
Lessons Learned from Successful Districts
Exemplary Models of Build-and-Support

Reference Notes

The Problem of Low Performance: Real or Hype?
Carnoy, M., García, E., & Khavenson, T. (2015, Oct 30). Bringing It Back Home: Why State Comparisons Are More Useful Than International Comparisons for Improving U.S. Education Policy. Economic Policy Institute. http://www.epi.org/publication/bringing-it-back-home-why-state-comparisons-are-more-useful-than-international-comparisons-for-improving-u-s-education-policy/

Distressing International Results
Goodman, M. J., Sands, A. M., & Coley, R. J. (2015). America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future. Educational Testing Service. http://www.ets.org/s/research/29836/

Barshay, J. (2013, Dec 3). Top US Students Fare Poorly in International PISA Test Scores, Shanghai Tops the World, Finland Slips. http://educationbythenumbers.org/content/top-us-students-fare-poorly-international-pisa-test-scores-shanghai-tops-world-finland-slips_693/

Hanushek, E.A., & Woessmann, L. (2015). Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain. OECD. http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/education/universal-basic-skills_9789264234833-en#page1

Sparks, S. D. (2016, Feb 10). OECD: U.S. Efforts Haven’t Helped Low Performers on Global Math, Reading Tests. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2016/02/OECD_American_efforts_low_performers.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2-RM

Do International Tests Fairly Reflect Socioeconomic Factors?
Carnoy, M., García, E., & Khavenson, T. (2015, Oct 30). Bringing It Back Home: Why State Comparisons Are More Useful Than International Comparisons for Improving U.S. Education Policy. Economic Policy Institute. http://www.epi.org/publication/bringing-it-back-home-why-state-comparisons-are-more-useful-than-international-comparisons-for-improving-u-s-education-policy/

The Horace Mann League and the National Superintendents Roundtable. (2015, Jan). School Performance in Context: Indicators of School Inputs and Outputs in Nine Similar Nations. The Horace Mann League and the National Superintendents Roundable. http://www.hmleague.org/fullreport/

Are International Tests Useful Measures of Achievement?
Strauss, R. (2013, Feb 1). Do International Test Scores Matter? Renewing America. http://blogs.cfr.org/renewing-america/2013/02/01/education-do-international-test-scores-matter/ See also Tucker, M. (2016, Nov 19). The Iceberg Effect: A Reply to James Harvey and Charles Fowler. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/top_performers/2015/11/the_iceberg_effect_a_reply_to_james_harvey_and_charles_fowler.html and Ravitch, D. (2013, Dec 3). My View of the PISA Scores. https://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/03/my-view-of-the-pisa-scores/ and Tucker, M. (2015, Nov 24). ESEA reauthorization and Standards: A Chance to Do It Right. Top Performers. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/top_performers/2015/11/

Thanhnien News. (2013, Dec 7). Vietnam Deputy Education Minister Not Convinced by Global Test. Thanhnien News. http://www.thanhniennews.com/education-youth/vietnam-deputy-education-minister-not-convinced-by-global-test-18276.html

Hanoi, M. I. (2013, Dec 12). Very Good on Paper: Education in Vietnam. http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2013/12/education-vietnam

Ravitch, D. (2014, Nov 20). The Myth of Chinese Super Schools. The New York Review of Books. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/20/myth-chinese-super-schools/

National Governors’ Association. (2013–2014). America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs: The Benefits of a More Educated Workforce to Individuals and the Economy. National Governors Association Chair’s Initiative. http://www.nga.org/cms/home/nga-center-for-best-practices/center-publications/page-other-publications/col2-content/main-content-list/america-works-the-benefit-of-a-m.html

Misguided Reform Policies
Hart, M. (2015, Jul 6). Research: Collaboration Is Key for Teacher Quality. The Journal. http://thejournal.com/articles/2015/07/06/research-collaboration-is-key-for-teacher-quality.aspx

Wiggins, G. (2013, Oct 23). Is Significant School Reform Needed or Not?: An Open Letter to Diane Ravitch (and Like-Minded Educators). https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/is-significant-school-reform-needed-or-not-an-open-letter-to-diane-ravitch-and-like-minded-educators/

Mehta, J. (2014, Jul 18). Five Inconvenient Truths for Traditionalists. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_deeply/2014/07/five_inconvenient_truths_for_traditionalists.html

Meager National Results
Ratner, G. M. (2015, Feb 11). Independent Test Results Show NCLB Fails. Fair Test. http://www.fairtest.org/independent-test-results-show-nclb-fails

The Nation’s Report Card. (2013). Are the Nation’s Twelfth-graders Making Progress in Mathematics and Reading? http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_g12_2013/#/

Burns, D., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2014, Dec 18). Teaching Around the World: What Can TALIS Tell Us? Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/publications/pubs/1295

Welner, K. G., & Mathis, W. J. (2015, Feb 12). Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies. National Education Policy Center. http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/esea

Masters, G. N. (2014, Dec). Is School Reform Working? Australian Council for Educational Research. http://research.acer.edu.au/policyinsights/1/

Reardon, S. F. (2013, Apr 27). No Rich Child Left Behind. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/no-rich-child-left-behind/?_r=1

Sasso, G. M. (2016, Jan 7). To the 1 Percent Pouring Millions into Charter Schools: How About Improving the Schools That the Vast Majority of Students Actually Attend? http://www.salon.com/2016/01/07/to_the_1_percent_pouring_millions_into_charter_schools_how_about_improving_the_schools_that_the_vast_majority_of_students_actually_attend/

Ujifusa, A. (2015, Dec 15). National Graduation Rate Increases to All-Time High of 82 Percent. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/12/national_graduation_rate_incre.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2-RM

Pondiscio, R. (2016, Jan 13). The Phoniest Statistic in Education. http://edexcellence.net/articles/the-phoniest-statistic-in-education?mc_cid=6794bd3d0d&mc_eid=ebbe04a807

Brounstein, K., & Yettick, H. (2015, Feb 24). Rising Graduation Rates: Trend or Blip? Education Week. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/02/25/rising-graduation-rates-trend-or-blip.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2

DeArmond, M., Denice, P., Gross, B., Hernandez, J., Jochim, A., & Lake, R. (2015, Oct). Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities. Center on Reinventing Public Education. http://www.crpe.org/publications/measuring-educational-improvement-and-opportunity-50-cities

Strauss, V. (2015, Sep 8). What the New SAT Scores Reveal About Modern School Reform. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/09/08/what-the-new-sat-scores-reveal-about-modern-school-reform/

DiCarlo, M. (2015, Dec 4). Evidence from a Teacher Evaluation Pilot Program in Chicago. http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/evidence-teacher-evaluation-pilot-program-chicago

Carnoy, M., & Rothstein, R. (2013, Jan 28). What Do International Tests Really Show about U.S. Student Performance? Economic Policy Institute. http://www.epi.org/publication/us-student-performance-testing/

Petrilli, M. J., & Finn, C. E., Jr. (2015, Apr 8). College Preparedness Over the Years, According to NAEP. http://edexcellence.net/articles/college-preparedness-over-the-years-according-to-naep

The Nation’s Report Card. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/

Masters, G. N. (2014, Dec). Is School Reform Working? Australian Council for Educational Research. http://research.acer.edu.au/policyinsights/1/

Collateral Damage Caused by Reform
Mehta, J., & Fine, S. (2015, Dec). The What, Where and How of Deeper Learning in American Secondary Schools. Jobs for the Future. http://www.jff.org/publications/why-what-where-and-how-deeper-learning-american-secondary-schools

Lampert, M. (2015, Dec). Deeper Teaching. Jobs for the Future. http://www.jff.org/publications/deeper-teaching

Amarillas, M. (2016, Feb 4). Deeper Learning, Metacognition, and Presentations of Learning. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_deeply/2016/02/deeper_learning_metacognition_and_presentations_of_learning.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=learningdeeply

Hart, R., Casserly, M., Uzzell, R., Palacios, M., Corcoran, A., & Spurgeon, L. (2015, Oct). Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools: An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis. Council of the Great City Schools. http://cgcs.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=312&ViewID=7B97F7ED-8E5E-4120-848F-A8B4987D588F&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=2146&PageID=257

Fair Test. (n.d.). Reports: High Stakes Testing Hurts Education. http://fairtest.org/reports-high-stakes-testing-hurts-education See also Švigelj-Smith, M. (2015, Feb 5). The High Cost of High-Stakes-Testing: (Spoiler Alert! It Hurts Students with Disadvantages the Most!) https://msvigeljsmith.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/the-high-cost-of-high-stakes-testing-spoiler-alert-it-hurts-students-with-disadvantages-the-most/

Kamenetz, A. (2015). The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing—But You Don’t Have to Be. New York: PublicAffairs/Perseus Book Group.

Have Individual Components of Reform Worked?
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York: Routledge.

Center for Research on Education Outcomes. (2015). Urban Charter School Study: Report on 41 Regions. Stanford University. http://urbancharters.stanford.edu/summary.php

Hattie, J. (2015, Jun 16). What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise. Australian Policy Online. http://apo.org.au/resource/what-works-best-education-politics-collaborative-expertise See also Hirsh, S. (2015, Nov 18). Leverage the Power of Collaborative Expertise. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_forwards_pd_watch/2015/11/leverage_the_power_of_collaborative_expertise.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=learningforwardspdwatch

Lavigne, A.L., & Good, T.L. (2014). Teacher and Student Evaluation: Moving Beyond the Failure of School Reform. New York and London: Routledge, See also three excellent books on the failure of the “reform” program: Ravitch, D. (2013). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopf; Ravitch, D. (2010). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books; and DuFour, R. (2015). In Praise of American Educators and How They Can Become Even Better. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Whitehurst, G. J. (2009, Oct). Don’t Forget Curriculum. Brookings. http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2009/10/14-curriculum-whitehurst

What Works Clearinghouse. U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/

A Tale of Two Cities
Kirp, D. L. (2013). Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Russakoff, D. (2015). The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Kirp, D. L. (2016, Jan 9). How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools: And How Not To. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/how-to-fix-the-countrys-failing-schools-and-how-not-to.html?ref=opinion&_r=1

Berwick, C. (2013, Apr 1). Can the Model for Urban School Reform Be Found in Union City, New Jersey? https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/can-the-model-for-urban-school-reform-be-found-in-union-city-nj

Rich, M., Cox, A., & Bloch, M. (2016, Apr 29). Money, Race, and Success: How Your School District Compares. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/29/upshot/money-race-and-success-how-your-school-district-compares.html?_r=3

Goldman School of Public Policy. (2013). Abstract of Kirp, D. Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools. https://gspp.berkeley.edu/research/selected-publications/improbable-scholars-the-rebirth-of-a-great-american-school-system-a-strateg

Cramer, P. (2015, Sep 10). When an Outsider Arrives to Shake Up a School System, a Tightrope Walk Follows. http://ny.chalkbeat.org/2015/09/10/when-an-outsider-arrives-to-shake-up-a-school-system-a-tightrope-walk-follows/#.VlFOETZdE2w

Nocera, J. (2015, Sep 8). Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/08/opinion/joe-nocera-zuckerbergs-expensive-lesson.html?ref=todayspaper See also Weber, M. (2015, Sep 8). Book Review: “The Prize” by Dale Russakoff. http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/09/book-review-prize-by-dale-russakoff.html?m=1. For another thoughtful analysis of Russakoff’s book, see Thompson, J. (2015, Oct 10). Will Reformers Learn a Lesson from Newark? Dale Russakoff’s “The Prize” Could Help. http://www.livingindialogue.com/will-reformers-learn-a-lesson-from-newark/

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