Transforming Education: Quality Standards

As bad as the current results are from our entire k-12 education system, I’m optimistic that we can get big gains in student achievement. My optimism is based on a decade of progress made by schools here and around the country in student achievement – primarily in new high quality urban schools.

These are the students many thought high education achievement was not possible. Think again! We now know that all students can meet high standards. There simply are too many schools around the country getting high graduation rates, high college attendance rates and test scores that look like all but high income suburban high schools to ever believe again that some kids can’t learn.

This innovation has been made possible here by a combination of state policy that provides parents and students the choice of attending schools (both charter and public outside of their home district) and Michigan foundations’ substantial and growing funding for creating more high quality schools.

Its not all peaches and cream. Greatly expanded choice has a mixed record. Most charter schools and schools in traditional districts who are taking students from other districts are low quality schools. Not much better, if at all, in terms of academic achievement than the schools students come from. But there are terrific schools that have been created because of expanded choice – both charters and schools operated by traditional districts.

The challenge going forward is how do you design a system that get far more students across the state (not just urban) enrolled in high quality schools. Getting the standards right is the first step. What is the level of student achievement we want to hold all schools accountable for?

My answer: students leaving a school able to move to the next level without remediation. So leaving preschool/early childhood programming ready for kindergarten, leaving elementary ready for middle, leaving middle ready for high and leaving high school ready for college.

Its a tough standard that most schools cannot meet today. But without remediation is probably the single best predictor at all levels of a student’s ability to ultimately develop the skills she will need to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-driven economy.

Once we build a consensus on the standard and a reliable, real time, data system that allows us to measure compliance with the standard we can then begin to build policy and accountability systems that allow us to better meet that standard.

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