Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Education in America must be discussed at a higher level

 In part, public education was established to help Americans become better citizens one at a time. It is crucial to create responsible citizens who can make informed decisions to ensure a functioning government. Public education has lost the noble goal of helping young people understand who they are, their history, and what they stand for. Instead, public education has taken on the mission of making sure young people are competent in whatever field they choose. While competence is essential, it doesn't prepare the next generation to take on the task of shaping the nation's future.

Citizens must be citizens and not just consumers. Individual happiness cannot be attributed to the satisfaction of individual desires. Education in America needs to be discussed at a higher level. It must address the larger purposes that drive the nation. Dot-com democracy has brought with it a greater awareness of the importance and urgency of this discussion. It is now possible to be anywhere at any time. We can communicate with anyone around the globe. We can make decisions about holiday gifts and candidates by clicking a mouse. This allows us to build a mass democracy that is unlike anything in history. Ironically, because we have the technology to communicate more effectively than ever before, we risk becoming a nation made up of strangers. Each person is alone in front a computer screen and can talk in chat rooms, via e-mail, or through the Web.

We have the tools to change the nature of democracy, and make sure that it responds to the will of the people. Now the question is: Are we wise enough as people to look at this idea from a different perspective and decide if it's really a good idea?

Do we have the ability to discern between the need to please popular opinion and the long-term national interests?

These are the fundamental questions that have always occupied the American republic. These fundamental questions have been answered by educated citizens over generations - sometimes through deliberation and other times through dumb luck. These questions are being asked in a global context that is unprecedented in world history. This makes it all the more crucial to be able to find the right answers. This means that it will be even more important to ensure the future success of a democracy's education system.

Although accountability for results is a well-known slogan in education reform, it is becoming more common for schools across the country. The first problem policymakers have to face when creating accountability systems in states and districts is how to determine which schools and classrooms are doing well, which are struggling, and which are somewhere in the middle, possibly succeeding in some areas and failing in others. This is a complex task. This is a good way to start, although picking schools with high or low average test scores can be a straightforward approach. However, the strong correlation between test scores as well as student socioeconomic background makes it difficult. This approach tends to reward schools that have wealthy students and penalize those who have disadvantaged pupils.

Many states want to reward schools that produce the best student learning outcomes. This means that they will be willing to pay more for schools with the most outstanding teachers, regardless of where the students are from or their advantages and disadvantages. Value-added assessment, in its simplest form means that schools and teachers are judged on their student learning gains rather than the level of achievement they achieve. However, it turns out that students can gain at different levels of achievement. Sometimes, this is due to factors unrelated to the quality and quantity of instruction received. For example, middle-class-children may be more likely to have parents help them with their homework. The school's effect on student achievement must not be compared to the effects of poverty, race, or pupil mobility in order to determine how much value the school provides. Numerous states and school districts have begun to use sophisticated statistical models to accomplish this. There are two types of these "value-added models: ones that incorporate variables that represent student socioeconomic characteristics and a student’s test scores from the past years. Others that only use a student’s previous test scores to control for confounding factors.

It is difficult to decide whether to include student background measures into the model. The first type of analytic models (which includes measures of student poverty, race and other factors) are used because socioeconomic characteristics have a significant impact on where students start and how far they progress from year to year. Their research shows that students of low income and minority backgrounds will not make the same amount of progress over time if they receive the same quality instruction. The model could underestimate the value these schools offer students if the background variables aren't included. After taking into account the test scores of previous years, student background does not correlate strongly with the gains that a student will experience. Research suggests that socioeconomic status may influence student gains. This raises difficult policy questions regarding value-added assessments. Schools (or teachers) that have a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils are likely to feel unfair if these variables are not included in the model.

Reforms are underway in public education. Education's future depends on transforming the outdated industrial-age educational system into one that is able to capture the opportunities and diversity of the Information Age. Public education must reconnect to the people it was meant to serve.

Education isn't about the process and programs; it's all about your child's success. Districts may use both the achievement level and the value-added analysis results to determine which schools are effective. As an interim measure, you can use value-added analysis to determine if students are capable of meeting high standards. There are many other hybrids and variations that can be created and tested.

It is important to discuss the inclusion of student background characteristics into the model. It is important to study the performance of different models. We don't know if different analytic methods will distinguish between schools that are successful and those that fail. However, both approaches give us a better measure of the school's contribution to student learning than if we only looked at average test scores and simpler measures of gains.

However, it is not clear if the models can be confidently used to identify ineffective and effective teachers. Research has shown that teacher effectiveness, as measured by either model, can vary greatly from one year to the next. This could indicate that teachers are often able to make significant changes in their effectiveness, or that statistics on teacher effectiveness may not be accurate. It could also be possible that the model is not able to account for disruptive students.

Many believe that value-added assessment of individual teachers is flawed and should be used only as a diagnostic tool to help identify teachers who need the most assistance, not as a basis for punishments or rewards. Some argue that complex analytical methods that leave so many to statisticians should be abandoned for both schools and teachers and replaced by simpler calculations that are easier to understand for policymakers, educators, as well as citizens. Others are happy to let the market decide which schools are most effective. It remains to be seen if these different audiences prefer an analysis that is fairer or more transparent. Value-added analysis will become more attractive to districts and states as we improve our statistical methods and learn more about how different models work. These districts can begin to collect the data necessary to make these models work. This includes regular test scores for students in core subjects and longitudinal databases that link student test score over time.


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