Panel Discussion with Mayors and Superintendents from Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York

The following guest blog post comes from Debbie Taub, TASH member and director of research services for Keystone Assessment, LLC.

On March 2, the mayors and superintendents of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, along with Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, held a panel discussion in Washington, DC. I was honored to attend on behalf of TASH and would like to share some of the information and concerns which we, as a group of concerned individuals, should be aware. A good portion of the conversation centered around the power of teachers to make significant differences in the lives of children, yet those present identified some potentially game-changing moves in their own locations that seem antithetical to that statement: 1) schools where corporations such as Walgreen’s create the curriculum; 2) teachers are held solely accountable for student progress based on a single measure; and 3) the tension between providing flexibility and maintaining high expectations. As a whole, though, the conversation was interesting, exciting and hopeful. It centered on education as a whole, rather than special education and that left me with a couple of questions:

1)     What is being done in these states to make all students, including those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, college and career ready? Is having a Walgreen’s curriculum going to create opportunities or a new version of sheltered workshops for all students? Schools where corporations, such as Microsoft and Walgreen’s, not only provide financial assistance and support but also create the curriculum need to be closely scrutinized by those in the education field who have years of specialized training and experience.

2)     If we start using large-scale assessment results as one measure of teacher effectiveness then we have to be very careful because many of those assessments were not designed for that purpose and may not provide valid information.

3)     That being said, as waivers and flexibility are given out to states and possibly even districts in the new competitions, we must remember that students who participate in the alternate assessments have made huge gains and we have learned so much about who they are, how they learn and how best to teach them, but we still have much to learn. The trend toward combining sub-groups into “super sub-groups” or a variation on that theme needs to be closely monitored or we are going to lose all of those gains and return to a time when these students are provided with a purely non-academic or way below grade-level curriculum.