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What DC Can Teach Us About New Teacher Policies

This weekend, an article in my local paper crystallized three things we need to stop doing if we want to transform American public education for the long haul – and three things we should start doing instead.

1. STOP having a national debate about labor law; START having a national conversation about how people learn.

The article I’m referring to was written in response to the July 15, 2011 announcement that 206 teachers in the D.C. public school system had been fired for poor performance, “a rarity in a big city school system and an extension of former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s aggressive drive to upgrade classroom instruction in the nation’s capital.”

Indeed. For the past four years, ever since Ms. Rhee first took the helm of the D.C. public school system (DCPS), the tenor of our national conversation (and my local one) has been squarely fixed on teachers, on teacher evaluations, and on the role teachers unions have played in our ongoing efforts to guarantee each child an equal opportunity to a high-quality public education.

On one level, this makes sense: teachers are clearly the most significant in-school factor to a healthy learning environment for kids; teacher evaluations are clearly in need of an extreme makeover; and teacher unions have clearly been occasional obstacles to some of the larger efforts to remake our public schools. In that regard, any and all efforts to “upgrade classroom instruction” are exactly what the doctor ordered.

And yet, the reality is that the past four years have been more of a national debate about labor law – and less of a national investigation about how people learn. And the problem is not that labor law doesn’t need fixing; it does. But when things like “last in, first out” (LIFO) firing policies, collective bargaining rights, and teacher pensions crowd out our capacity to identify what highly effective teaching and learning really looks like – and requires – what we get are cover stories about personnel dismissals and litmus tests on national personalities, not evaluation tools that are designed to help the vast majority of teachers get better. Which leads to the second thing . . .

2. STOP spending so much time talking about the best and worst teachers; START focusing on everyone else.

Although mass firings of the sort DCPS reported last week are rare, the number of personnel affected was still quite small – just 5% of the total workforce. In fact, very few teachers were rated as either great or horrible; the vast majority – nearly 70% — were simply rated “effective.”

This underscores a rather obvious point: the only way to transform the teaching profession is by crafting policies that help the vast majority of educators improve the quality of their practice over time – not by lionizing the master teachers or demonizing the ones that should find a new line of work.

Is that what’s happening in DC? I believe our new schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, when she says that IMPACT, the city’s new teacher evaluation system, is designed to build capacity, not just weed out the unwanted. Perhaps over time IMPACT will even become a useful national model for a different sort of evaluation tool that can provide feedback, reinforce high standards, and help ensure a high-quality teacher in every classroom. However, based on a recent in-depth review of IMPACT, we’re not there yet – and we’re still way too focused in our public rhetoric on the best and the worst teachers. It would be nice to see the rhetoric and the reality get more in line with each other. And it would be nice to imagine that some worthy educators won’t recklessly lose their jobs along the way.

3. STOP viewing poverty and education as an either/or; START viewing them as a both/and.

Anyone who lives and works in education knows that an ongoing argument has been occurring between some who feel you can’t fix education until you fix poverty, and others who feel you can’t fix poverty until you fix education.

The reality is that both sides – and neither side – are right. Poverty and education are inextricably linked, and the ecosystem each child inhabits – from his home and community to his health and his school – has a massive, complicated impact on that child’s capacity to learn and grow. Therefore, any new policies that fail to account for that complexity aren’t just poorly designed; they’re patently unfair.

This point was reinforced in the article about the DC firings and the IMPACT evaluation system. As Washington Post reporter Bill Turque wrote, “a breakdown by ward confirms, as it did last year, that the overwhelming majority of highly effective teachers work in schools with lower rates of poverty and other social problems.”

This news shouldn’t surprise anyone – how could it be otherwise? – and yet too many of us are still suggesting the path forward must be lit by signs saying either “It’s The Poverty, Stupid,” or “No Excuses Means No Excuses.”

We can do better. We have the capacity for greater nuance in our understanding of something as complex as teaching and learning. And as we spend the summer months preparing for a new school year, we would be wise to be more mindful of what we must stop, start and keep doing in the months and years ahead.

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“Data Craziness” (aka The Other Education: Part Deux)

Earlier this week, I responded to a column by New York Times columnist David Brooks, who constructed an artificial divide between our “formal education” (aka school) — which he indifferently described as linear, objective and ordinary — and our “emotional curriculum” (aka life) — which he approvingly described as nonlinear, subjective and transformational.

In fairness to Brooks, he’s hardly alone in this misconception — in fact, it’s probably inaccurate to call it a misconception, since this is how it works for too many of us: formal schooling is what you endure, and informal schooling is what helps you discover what really matters to you, what your personal strengths and weaknesses are, etc. But just because that’s the way things have been doesn’t mean that’s the way they should continue to be — a particularly relevant point for folks like Brooks, who are supposed to help light a better path, and for reform-minded cities like Washington, DC, where I now live. And yesterday I read something that gives me hope our city may be slowly adjusting its course to a more fruitful strategy for school improvement.

The event was a radio appearance by interim schools chancellor Kaya Henderson, a former deputy to Michelle Rhee, and a person who, depending on whom you ask, is either a constructive bridge between the Rhee era and the Gray administration, or a destructive reminder of the past four years. In the interview, Henderson artfully addressed the source of this artificial divide between formal and informal schooling, and suggested, to me at least, a nuanced understanding of what needs to happen going forward — in short, exactly what I want to hear from the top education official of my city.

“I think we’ve gotten something wrong,” she began. “Previously there was no measure of student achievement. We just sent kids to school and hoped for the best. And then the standards and accountability movement came along and said what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done, so we have to test. And I think testing is incredibly important. But I also think that we have to help people understand that tests are a benchmark, not the goal. The goal is to educate children. And I think the swing of the pendulum from absolutely no accountability to what I might call data craziness is starting to hurt.”

Henderson ceded that, currently, test scores remain the most objective available indicator of academic growth across the school system. “But I feel like we have to make people understand that test scores are not the only thing happening in our classrooms,” she said.

Imagine if more of our education policies were being constructed to address this vital insight? Imagine if more of our public leaders urged us all to end our obsession with either side of the pendulum extreme  — and charted a course to let that pendulum settle in the middle, where we value both measures and meaning, and where our schools are incentivized to create environments that nurture the academic, emotional and spiritual needs of our children (and communities)? And imagine if the Gray administration, under Kaya Henderson’s leadership, set out to establish three conditions that are not being met today:

  1. To measure all things worth measuring in the context of providing children the most meaningful education possible (aka Brooks’s “informal curriculum”).
  2. To ensure we know how to measure what we set out to measure.
  3. To attach no more importance to measurable things than we attach to things equally or more valuable that elude our instruments.

I like what I’m hearing.

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Questions for the Next Schools Chancellor

Today, presumptive-next-mayor Vincent Gray will meet with presumptive-ex- chancellor Michelle Rhee to discuss the future of DC public schools.

In a way, this is a lose-lose meeting for both. As Rhee has made clear in her typically tin-eared style, she is skeptical Gray shares her commitment to a particular set of reforms. Meanwhile, Gray’s ultimate decision about Rhee is guaranteed to disappoint a significant percentage of his electorate – either those who voted for him to register their disapproval of Fenty’s and Rhee’s style of leadership, or those who voted against him to see her reign continue.

This puts Mr. Gray in a bit of a pickle, but he might as well use the opportunity to think about the essential questions he would want to ask any potential candidate to be the next Schools Chancellor. Here are five he might want to consider:

  1. Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon. Clearly, this most recent election was in part a referendum on leadership in general, and on the different approaches people take to decision-making, community engagement, and working with the forces of change. With that in mind, tell me about your personal philosophy of leadership, about what you believe are the central characteristics a leader must possess, and about how you intend to leverage those characteristics in your work with the many stakeholders of our public school system?
  2. IMPACT, the new teacher evaluation system in DC has received national attention – and both praise and scrutiny – for its increased emphasis on a diverse set of data points to determine teacher effectiveness, a more frequent use of third-party observations, and a commitment to link student test scores to individual teacher evaluations. Tell me, when you imagine your ideal system for evaluating teacher effectiveness, which aspects of IMPACT would you stop using, which would you keep using, and which new features would you want to start using, and why?
  3. In any system, a leader has to identify in which areas of the system s/he wants to seek traditional changes, transitional changes, and transformational changes. Based on what we know about systems change, it’s often wise to pursue all three types of change at the same time, and in different parts of the system, so that the pace of change is neither too slow nor too fast, and so people will experience both the up-close significance of short-term wins and the galvanizing power of a long-term vision. Knowing that, in which aspects of the system would you pursue the most traditional changes, and why? Where do you think the opportunities exist for a transitional set of reforms in DCPS, and why? And how do you feel those changes will help prepare our city for a more transformational set of changes that will help our current 19th and 20th century modes of schooling start preparing children for the unique set of challenges and opportunities posed by the 21st century world they will enter when they graduate?
  4. The past four years have seen DCPS focus relentlessly on improving student results on 3rd and 8th grade standardized exams in reading and math. Banners have been hung in front of schools trumpeting these scores, and for the average parent or community member, schools are still deemed successful or unsuccessful based on these scores alone. When it comes to evaluating the extent to which children are learning, what is your ideal balanced scorecard of indicators, and how would you revise the city’s assessment and accountability system to ensure that future performance data reveal not just who isn’t learning and what isn’t being learned, but also why students are struggling and how DCPS teachers can address their needs?
  5. My final question to you has less to do with any specific changes you hope to make, and more to do with how well you understand the equally important role of communicating those changes to the residents of this city. Let’s imagine it’s four years from now, and we’re looking back to see which central words, ideas and messages the average citizen associates with your tenure as Schools Chancellor. What do you want them to say, why do you want them to say it, and how will you go about executing an outreach strategy that helps ensure the residents of our city feel an alignment between the actions and the aspirations of your administration?
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Why Adrian Fenty Lost The City – and How Vincent Gray Can Win It Back

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from the DC mayoral race, it’s worth examining what outgoing mayor Adrian Fenty failed to understand about leadership and systems change, and what Vincent Gray will need to understand – and do – if he wants a different result.

This is an issue I explore in my most recent book, in which I argue that any organizational leader, whether s/he is an elementary school principal, a Fortune 500 executive, or the mayor of an urban city, needs to develop three foundational skills: self-awareness, systems thinking, and strategically-deployed collaborative decision-making. I also explain, in greater detail than I can here, how each skill is necessary and insufficient by itself, and how, in an organizational context, each functions in a nonlinear fashion. It is only through the combination of these abilities that leaders become more effective, and there is no strict and surefire order one should follow in order to cultivate these skills in himself and in others. As with everything else, human beings refuse to behave so predictably.

There is, however, a general continuum of which we should be aware. At the personal level, we begin by reflecting on who we are, what we value and where we are most likely to thrive and struggle as leaders. At the relational level, we start to become more aware of how our behaviors contribute to the culture around us; gradually we develop the capacity, with the help of others, to “see the whole (chess) board.” And at the organizational (or city-wide) level, we resist the urge to sell “our” ideas, opting instead to consistently invite others to co-construct the ideas – and the responsibilities – we will share.

When these three skills start to take root in individuals and the organizational culture of which they’re a part, a palpable shift takes place. Transformational change, and the collective will and clarity needed to achieve it, becomes possible. This doesn’t mean transformational change will necessarily occur, only that the proper conditions will have been created. At this point, we need a fourth leadership skill: ensuring that people have the understanding, motivation and skills they need to continually work with the forces of change.

Working with the natural forces of change is very different from “managing change,” just as co-creating a common vision is distinct from getting people to “buy in.” In one approach, organizational systems and the individuals who inhabit them are managed like machines, and people are given pre-packaged “solutions” that supersede community input; in the other, people and organizations are seen as complex, living systems, and the inherent creativity and commitment of the people being asked to change is what drives all decisions.

The fact that so many initiatives struggle to change core behaviors or processes is particularly troubling when one considers that, in essence, learning itself is change. But the greater truth is less that people resist change (though they do), and more that they resist being changed.

Knowing what will be easy and what will be difficult when it comes to systems renewal is essential for working with the natural forces of systemic change. And although there is no single way to be successful, there are different stages of the change process that can guide Mr. Gray in his work with us.

The Three Stages of Change – Mind, Heart & Voice

In everything the new mayor does, he should be mindful of how his constituents will experience the changes in three areas – their minds, their hearts and their voices.

Here’s what I mean by that: Before we are willing to change anything about our work or our behavior, we must first understand why the change is necessary and what it will require of us (mind). To actively participate in a major change initiative, we must feel intrinsically motivated in some way to contribute (heart). And to follow through on our individual and shared visions of our future community, we must have the skills and capabilities to not only demonstrate new behaviors, but also ensure greater alignment between our internal passions and our external actions (voice).

Often, what happens in massive change initiatives is we pay attention to some, but not all, of these stages. Teachers are asked to adopt a new teaching style before they fully understand why they should do so. Schools in search of more parent participation fail to explicitly consider what it will take to motivate greater numbers of adults to get involved. And students are invited to play a more active role in school governance before they’ve been equipped with the skills they need to do so effectively and responsibly.

Implicit in all of these scenarios is the recognition that implementing systems-wide change requires an approach that encompasses individual, group, and organizational learning needs. Some of these needs will be simple, visible and straightforward, such as providing basic information; others will be intangible, invisible and elusive, such as addressing basic human emotions.

To me, the most accurate (and damning) criticism of Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee was that they failed to understand, or even value, the importance of addressing the human elements of change. Some might say that such a statement is too soft-hearted, old-school and quixotically progressive to have any currency in the modern world. Yet this is what I learned in business school, not education school. For example, in Big Change at Best Buy, their book chronicling a major restructuring initiative at the consumer electronic retailer, authors Elizabeth Gibson and Andy Billings underscore the universality of these distinctly human elements of change. “Getting merchandise out on the shelves at the right time, staffing the service counter with the right number of people and within the labor budgets – these are the ‘hard’ or concrete issues,” they write, “and they are the easiest to assess and change.

“By contrast, the ‘soft’ issues are more difficult  . . . and they are the heart of transformational change. The tangible features may represent the face of change, but the human factors – dealing with uncertainty, motivating and energizing people, and creating behavioral change – are critical to success. When soft issues are not addressed, the organization and its people appear resistant to change. As with any large system, organizations have their own inertia. Resistance, though an inevitable feature of change, becomes the convenient term for failure to address the soft side of change.”

Understanding the forces of change in this way places a unique set of challenges on a mayor, or a schools chancellor, or an organizational leader, because it means they must balance the community’s attention to both hard (visible) and soft (invisible) issues.

Other insights from the private sector underscore this point, and help clarify the optimal role for leaders to play in systemic improvement work. Harvard Business School professors Michael Beer and Russell Eisenstat explain: “The most effective managers [in a multiyear study] recognized their limited power to mandate corporate renewal from the top. Instead, they defined their roles as creating a climate for change, then spreading the lessons of both successes and failures.” Management consultant Jim Collins puts it another way: “True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to.”

Because systems change is such a nonlinear experience, and because it requires leaders both to engender a sense of order (as opposed to control) and give people the freedom to co-author the process, it’s easy to imagine Mr. Gray feeling overwhelmed about what to do. I believe the three-stage framework of mind, heart and voice can help him for two reasons: first, it will provide a guide for him and his staff that helps explain human, group and organizational behavior in any major change initiative; and second, it can be used as a framework for outlining a specific set of knowledge, skills and dispositions that our schools and community agencies should strive to cultivate throughout their student, faculty and parent communities.

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The (DC) Odyssey

(NOTE: This article also appeared in the Washington Post.)

A decade ago this month, I taught The Odyssey to a 9th grade classroom for the last time.  Today, I’m reminded of Homer’s central lessons – now nearly 3,000 years old – as I watch Adrian Fenty’s tenure as DC mayor speed towards a potentially spectacular, and tragic, end.

I mean ‘tragic’ the ways the Greeks did – as a form of art based on human suffering in which some people find pleasure, but all people find wisdom and insight. And although the election is still a week away, no doubt political scientists are already scrambling to understand why a young leader who, just four years ago, began a presumptively-lengthy reign of the nation’s capitol by winning every single precinct, may now soon be out of work.

“He would have evaded his doom if in his blind folly he had not talked so arrogantly.”

As befits a Greek tragedy, most of the mayor’s wounds are self-inflicted – chief among them his decision, in a multiracial city, to replace black leaders with non-black replacements in four of the city’s highest-profile jobs within the first six months of taking office. Of those replacements, only one is known both locally and nationally – DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. And of those replacements, only one has chosen to hitch her fate so directly to the mayor’s, and to next week’s primary election.

“Only a fool would challenge the friend who is entertaining him in a strange country.”

From the start, Fenty and Rhee have behaved as strangers in a strange land. In Fenty’s case, it was by turning a tin ear to many of the core supporters who had been most essential to his victory in 2006. With Rhee, it was by repeatedly making public comments that demonized the group most essential to her efforts – the city’s teachers.

“We came to grief through our own senseless stupidity.”

The lesson here – both today and in Homer’s day – is not that conciliation and collaboration are all that is needed to change a calcified system filled with entrenched interests, habits and resistance. Real change is complex and evasive, and part of the tragedy in DC stems from Fenty’s and Rhee’s potential to succeed where so many others have failed. There is still hope that they will, and that a dramatic victory coupled with deep reflection on past missteps will awaken in them a greater awareness of the long-term promise of collective capacity, as opposed to the short-term power of individual glory. But time is running out.

It may also be, as Andy Rotherham wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post, that the very system thought to be so essential to their success – mayoral control – helped assure their undoing. “It decreases the political demands on the leader of the schools,” Rotherham writes, “but it does not decrease the political challenges of running a school system . . . As we’re seeing now, with or without mayoral control, urban education reform is as much about politics as it is about technical expertise or results.”

“I have learnt to use my brains by now and to know right from wrong: my childhood is a thing of the past.”

The Odyssey survives in our collective memory because Odysseus’s long and difficult journey home mirrors the universal journey of life itself. Along each of our respective paths, there will be temptation, suffering, missteps and misfortune. Our only hope is to reflect on what happens and learn as we go.

Win or lose, the mayor and the schools chancellor have given us all an opportunity to learn from the journey that has led to this point. They have brought about massive changes to a system desperately in need of a new way of operating. And they have done so in a way that has likely, in typical Greek fashion, sealed their own fate. There is a third way, but to take it we would be wise to remember the advice the aging warrior Menelaus gives to the young and impressionable Telemachus: “There should be moderation in all things.”

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Should She Stay or Should She Go? Michelle Rhee and the Upcoming DC Election

(NOTE: This article also appeared in the Washington Post.)

It’s almost election season in DC, which means I need to decide once and for all if Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee – and, by extension, Mayor Adrian Fenty – deserve another four years at the helm.

Here are the arguments as I see them:

On one hand, it’s incontrovertible that Rhee has sparked both local and national conversations that were long overdue. Her decision to show up at a DCPS warehouse, with cameras, and shine a light on a system so dysfunctional and disorganized that it allowed seemingly scarce resources to remain unused was both brilliant and galvanizing. Her determination to confront the fecklessness of our current teacher evaluation system placed the issue front and center in discussions of systemic reform, where it belongs. And her millennial focus on eradicating the generational injustices of our school system has turned the issue into a mainstream conversation-starter. Those are major accomplishments for which she is largely responsible. Shame on the rest of us for not figuring out, much earlier, how to inject this work with a similar, undeniable sense of urgency. And woe is we if she leaves after just four years and the city returns to square one, denying us all the chance to make a more detailed judgment on the viability of her strategies for lasting change.

On the other hand, Rhee’s primary weapon – a fierce, uncompromising rhetoric – has also been her Achilles heel. She has recklessly alienated a majority of the very people she most needs for lasting reform to occur: DC’s public school teachers. Her unwavering reliance on “data” – and a limited definition of data at that – is leading us toward a system where schools and educators are incentivized to relentlessly, and with great discipline, move the needle on a single measure of basic-skills proficiency in math and reading. This is an extremely effective political strategy for it locates a nebulous and Sisyphean effort in a single, easily trackable number. It’s also, I believe, a largely illusory effort that hinders our ability to identify truly aspirational standards for children, and apply the same level of discipline and determination toward the establishment of a school system that is aligned around what young people really need in order to be successful in college, throughout their chosen careers, and as active and responsible citizens in our democracy.

In sum, my chief concern is that Rhee will be unable to generate what noted school reform expert Michael Fullan has described as the single most important resource for bringing about systemic change – collective capacity, or the ability to “generat[e] the emotional commitment and the technical expertise that no amount of individual capacity working alone can come close to matching.”

As I’ve written previously, this does NOT mean Ms. Rhee is merely required to give people more opportunities to collaborate. What is required, though, is disciplined, strategically employed collaboration that fosters a shared vision of how to create the optimal learning environment for children (as opposed to the optimal testing environment). As Fullan writes: “The gist of the strategy is to mobilize and engage large numbers of people who are individually and collectively committed and effective at getting results relative to core outcomes that society values. It works because it is focused, relentless (i.e., stays the course), operates as a partnership between and across layers, and above all uses the collective energy of the whole group. There is no way of achieving whole-system reform if the vast majority of the people are not working on it together.

There are many people I respect who believe this is exactly what Michelle Rhee is bringing about. I have just as many friends and colleagues who are equally convinced that Rhee will be unable to move the city any further on its overall reform efforts.

It may be clear which way I’m leaning, but what do you think? Does Rhee deserve four more years to make a true go of it and see if DC can achieve the impossible? Or is her relentless focus on test score data and an oppositional rhetoric a guarantee that any lasting change that comes about will not be the true change we seek?

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The Inspired Mindset — Starting a School, Part III

This morning, over orange juice, coffee and red grapes in the theater room of the Capital City Public Charter School, a small group of interested educators, scholars and citizens listened as Center for Inspired Teaching’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Julie Sweetland, explained what makes the Center’s work so powerful.

Inspired Teaching is the entity most responsible for the new charter school (scheduled opening Fall 2011) for which I currently serve as Board Chair. And the event allowed Sweetland, an articulate and charismatic spokesperson, to clarify what distinguishes her organization from other alternative certification programs in the city, and nationwide. “Over the past 15 years,” she explained, “our work with thousands of educators has helped us learn more about what it takes to be an inspired teacher. That works begins with our search for people with an inspired mindset — we want builders, and people who are excited by confronting new challenges in their work, not blockers, or people who would rather do what they’ve always done.”

Sweetland went on to define the three central tensions Inspired Teaching wants its teachers, and staff, to be aware of. “The first is balancing the tension between radical creativity and structured execution,” she said. “The second is balancing the need to be both nurturing and impact-driven. And the third is maintaining an approach that allows for both decentralization and integration.”

One of the participants asked her to elaborate. “We believe that a healthy learning environment must have all of the following: Autonomy (for both the teachers and, occasionally, the students as well); Belonging; Connectedness; Developmentally-appropriate activities; and Engaging learning opportunities. And all of our work is geared towards helping teachers do each of those things at the highest level.”

I urge all of you to learn more about Center for Inspired Teaching. Check out their web site, and let me know what you think of their philosophy. Our hope is that, beginning in 2011, the Inspired Teaching School can begin serving as a catalytic force of change in the city, and spur other schools to invest in the capacity of teachers to keep placing a high priority on student achievement and mastery of challenging material — and stop doing so at the expense of sharpening students’ creativity and intellectual curiosity.

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More Tests on the Way in DC?

In yesterday’s Washington Post, reporter Bill Turque wrote that Michelle Rhee is seeking an outside contractor to help dramatically expand DCPS’ use of standardized tests, so that every grade from K through 12 will have some form of assessment to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness.

Is this what happens when we pray too long at the altar of “data-driven decision making?”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for what that concept actually means — using information to guide all decisions about how to help children learn more effectively — but the faulty logic here is that adding more standardized tests at the end of every school year will achieve that worthy goal. Wouldn’t it be better to start exploring how to strategically bundle other existing measures that tell us a lot about a school’s overall health (such as attendance, graduation rates, faculty absenteeism, and, yes, attitudinal surveys of the students themselves)? Wouldn’t it be better to start experimenting with ways to have other schools in the District implement student portfolio assessments as effectively as the good people at Thurgood Marshall Academyrecently profiled on CBS News — have done?And wouldn’t it be better to stop pretending that systemic reform, and the impact those changes will have on individual students, can be as easily monitored and measured as these tests suggest?

Bring on the information revolution, I say — and this ain’t it.

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Why Send My Son to Public School?

Earlier this week, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced the latest hopeful sign for D.C.’s public schools – a spike in citywide student reading and math scores. “We’re thrilled at the progress we’ve made this year,” said Rhee. “We still have an incredibly long way to go.”

I’m grateful for the early improvements in the D.C. schools – and I share Chancellor Rhee’s caution. We all know standardized test scores offer just one window into the health of a school system. Any business school student also knows it’s foolish to judge an organization’s overall health based on a single measure of success. And yet the United States is the only nation with an accountability system based solely on standardized test scores.

We can do better. That’s why local leaders like Michelle Rhee, and national leaders like Arne Duncan, should lead the charge in demanding a better accountability system for our schools.

Here are four things we could do that would make a difference:

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