Federal education standards (Part 2) — interview with Peter Shulman | VIEWPOINT

Andy: Hey, everyone. This is part two of our discussion with Pete
Shulman. It picks up right where we left off in part
one. Welcome back. Okay, I think a lot of people would agree,
a special look at data from years back that a number of our test scores, they were stagnant,
other countries were passing us by, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that because things
are not going in the direction, we would want that the federal government should cast a
bigger shadow. So, someone could say, “Listen, we want greater
standards or tougher standards.” But when the federal government got involved
in Common Core, it set off a war in a bunch of states. When the federal government pushed so hard
on tests, we had this massive opt out thing happening in a lot of states where parents
didn’t want their kids taking tests. We have all this money spent on tests and
that states aren’t using them. So, it’s one thing to push, but sometimes
it’s prudent not to push. Peter: Yeah. No, I think you’re right. I mean, I think that if you or I had the perfect
answer of what the federal role on education is, right, we’d bottle it, we’d sell it and
everyone would be like, “Yeah, hey, let’s buy it.” Right? Andy: So, in hindsight, so like if you’re
a federal policymaker right now, based on these lessons you’ve learned, what is like
the right answer? Where should they push and where shouldn’t
they push? Peter: Well, so I think defining the word
push, right? So, I mean, let’s look at educator evaluation
and that probably is as contentious as an initiative from the federal state to the local
level on down something that, you know, you and I worked on a little bit together and,
you know, I had the privilege of leading the next phases of. Andy: So, why don’t you talk about this? So back up and explain what it is that the
federal government was asking states to do and what did New Jersey do? Peter: Sure. So, there was again some philosophical agreement
between Governor Christie and the Obama Administration on a number of issues. So, we in New Jersey, and this has even started
when you were there before I got in there, there had been a push, there had been a test
score that say, “Let’s look at educator evaluation in and tenure and tenure reform, and what’s
some recommendations would look like, and let’s initiate a pilot to understand what
this might look like in practice with a handful of districts, and let’s sort of start greasing
the skids for some potentially significant changes.” Andy: Okay, so but why? So, why did the Obama Administration, why
did Governor Christie, why did other states think that educator evaluations needed to
be reformed? Peter: So, I would say is that certainly,
I would say two-fold. I mean, I think, you know, nationally the
Widget Effect which was a publication that came out from TNTP said, “You know what? As we look at educator evaluation across the
country, we’re seeing that 99.5% or something number, some astronomically… in a binary
system all were really rated excellent or satisfactory and there isn’t differentiation,
teachers aren’t getting appropriate feedback to enhance their practice, and that educator
evaluation has become something that is, you know, more of a compliance exercise one rather
than it supports teachers and where needed it actually can exit, you know,
low perform. Andy: And since we know because of data that
teachers are the most important school level factor, the thinking was, “Okay, since teacher
evaluation isn’t currently working, we need a national effort to overhaul it to make sure
that all kids have access to a great teacher.” Peter: Well, this is where I said, when you
say national efforts, and this is where I…I mean, I think you’re making a good point. Looking at New Jersey and then we look at
our data in New Jersey and say, “You know what? That data in terms of the Widget Effect, in
terms of what we’re seeing and our system and the way that educator evaluation looked
in regulatory…sort of the regulatory environment, the way that the tenure law was written, you
know what? These are unwielding tools right? These are not tools that help educators learn
from one another, that helps the principal go in to a classroom and give constructive
feedback, helps them differentiate their best teachers from their weakest teachers, and
make informed human capital decisions.” So, I would say… And this is where I think it’s interesting,
so we recognized that in New Jersey, we want to move forward on it. And currently the federal government is saying,
“You know what? We’re seeing this across a multitude of states
and we want a push in this, right?” This is where the word “push” is interesting
because I would say it wasn’t required. So, it wasn’t something that we said that
you have to do. Now, certainly there were some level through
the ESEA waiver, through Raise to the Top that said, “You know what? These are the right set of incentives or the
right set of behaviors that would push one into thinking that.” I don’t like to use the word “push” there
it’s because I think it was a nudge, a push, I don’t think that it was a mandate. I know you didn’t say that. Was it too hard a push? Maybe, and I think that’s where you’re going. And also as we think about the sequencing
of this work, as you think about the idea of educator evaluation especially in the use
of test scores as part of the evaluation, was it prudent to put that piece of the sort
of policy puzzle in place before you had time to fully adapt the standards, before you had
time to fully adapt the new assessments? And I think in a theoretical sort of utopia,
right, you could sequence these in a way and there would be…but I do think that, you
know, the reality of working in these state agencies or even the federal agency is that,
you know, you’re up against a lot of challenges to navigate. You know, time is a challenge, you have, you
know, changing doors of politicians, you have people who are vehemently against no matter
what you do and, you know, you don’t always have the luxury of sequencing things in a
way that it’s perfect. So I would say, you know, in hindsight, was
that the right move at the right time by the federal government? Maybe not. Maybe it wasn’t. Was it right for New Jersey? Yes, because we’re moving in that direction
anyway. Andy: Yeah. So, let’s talk about that. So, the federal government did…let’s call
it incentivize states to go down this path with Race to the Top and the ESEA waivers,
but what New Jersey did was decided, and correct me when I get some of this wrong, were going
to pass a law to reform teacher evaluation, were going to try to change some of these
tenure policies. So, this passed bipartisan in the New Jersey
Legislature and then it was up to you and your colleagues at the New Jersey of Department
of Education to actually make it work out. Now, in other states, the biggest criticism
is states passed laws, they did all this work, but after a year’s worth of teacher evaluation
and reform, it never solved the problem, that in a lot of these places, despite all the
money, despite all the years, the same number of teachers are being rated as effective,
it’s not… Is the New Jersey experience different? Peter: So, first is I would say is the answer
is yes, but yes…the answer is yes, it’s different in New Jersey, but let me make two
points. First is, educator evaluation in a vacuum
is never a lever that is going to drive student improvement. Andy: Right. Well, why not? Peter: Well, as we think about this idea of,
“You know what? We are going to go in there and we are going
to evaluate teachers, we are going to give them better feedback.” Well, if you’re standards are not high, if
you do not have an assessment that is actually measuring what college and career readiness
looks like, if you don’t have actually ways to follow up and say, “Here is how you can
improve.” You don’t have a pipeline of new teachers
ready to go, so the confluence of policies have to work together. And I think that, you know, certainly and
this, you know, I think there’s blame to go around here is it was framed a little bit
as a cure-all, that we are going to go in and we are going to change tenure or we might
even play around with last in, first out, the LIFO SERE rules, we are going to modify
educator evaluation and we are going to see sort of this, you know, this efficacy curve
of instruction, you know, moving in on itself. I think that’s misguided, right? And secondarily is the measure of whether
it’s working or not is not simply in the distribution of highly effective teachers down to the ones
that are ineffective and how many are getting fired. So certainly, as we look at this, do we still
have some level in New Jersey of some…you know, a little bit of Lake Wobegon, moving
forward towards everyone being average or better? Absolutely. And do I think it’s purely indicative of where
actual ratings are? No, but I think it’s going to take some time. Conversely, is it better than what we had
before? Are teachers saying they’re having better
dialogue about instruction? Is there a common lexicon about instruction? The answer that we’re hearing is yes. Then you add on top of that, now you’re getting
data about your assessments. So as we’re thinking about it, how are you
infusing that in your lesson? So, all of these pieces are starting to work
together and certainly moving away from this idea that educator evaluation is a cleaver,
and I’m going to come in and we are just going to chop off the bottom 5% or 10% of staff
every year like Toyota or something, that’s just not going to happen. And, you know, most industries, and having
come from the private sector, they’re not firing people left and right. You know, the vast majority of New Jersey
teachers wake up every day, come in there, give their best effort which is quite good. And, you know, can they improve? Sure, we’re all lifelong learners and hopefully
educator evaluation has helped that. Andy: Okay, so, let’s try to pivot that towards
the results. So, just start to put some of these pieces
together, I think you would make the case. New Jersey decided, going on a decade ago,
we are going to have higher standards, we are going to have tougher tests, we are going
to have meaningful accountability, we are going to reform teacher evaluation, and if
we stick with this stuff, we are going to have a higher quality teaching force, so have
more information, our schools will be more accountable, there would be more transparency,
it will set high standards. So, that’s the theory of action. Has that actually worked out? Are kids better off in New Jersey? Peter: So, I believe so, right? And I’m someone who is going to call balls
and strikes. So, first is, we’re only in the early innings
of this. We’ve only had three years on the assessment,
we’ve only had a couple of years of the new…four or five years of the new standards. As we think about this, and this speaks to
the revolving door we talked about earlier, is I believe the idea of fidelity of implementation,
the fidelity of staying in the path of learning, we need to continue to study this. So, as we think about the confluence of our
policies, and I’ll say that there is no doubt the data shows that our kids are learning. I believe in looking at data from SBAC and
PARCC, I think the improvement over the last three years in New Jersey I think is tops
in the country, perhaps. So, as we think… And across every subgroup, or across every
race, ethnicity, grade level, what have you. Andy: It’s a good news story. Peter: Yeah, this is a great story. It’s a great story. We’re extremely excited and certainly, you
know, test scores are what like I say essential, not exhaustive, and math and ELA are not,
you know, the whole child, no one would ever say that they are, but it’s a nice lagging
indicator after 6 or 7 years of work to say this is some improvement you’re seeing. A lot more analysis needs to be done. I think that in education, because of that
revolving door partly, there’s not real R and D, research and development, okay? Are we studying this? I can’t tell you that I have a multivariate
regression analysis that says, “You know what? Of all the policies we did, this one in and
of itself was the driver, right? And I’m not sure that is actually the right
study because what we’ve been doing, I think, conversely is you go down to the district
level, you go down to the classroom level, having qualitative conversations like we have
been and saying, “Why are you seeing the gains that you’re seeing? What are you doing?” There’s actually seeing that student performance
in Algebra 1, you know, leaps so far, or third grade reading and where districts
are able actually, and they are, articulate what they’re doing, it gives you a real sense
of how those policies have played out in practice. And I think that in New Jersey, we’ve moved
past the fighting period. You know, we had this opt out movement and
we had people beating the drum against the standards. Now, it’s this idea of… You know, one of our old colleagues, Carl
Blanchard, has this idea of saying if you think about, you know, initiative, and originally
people were a little bit kicking and screaming, then they move to a sort of a compliant stage,
then as they were saying, “You know what? I’m going to do three observations, maybe
quality, move to the quality stage.” Then you move to where we are now, it’s called
ownership. And when I walk in to a district, they are
saying, “This is our PARCC data, this is our evaluation system, this is how we’ve tweaked
it, how we’re using it locally and it’s got to look different in Haddonfield than it does
in Trenton and here’s why.” And I get that and I think that’s the right
approach. You know, we…as the federal level, and the
new one in the state level, we’re not teaching kids. Our goal is certainly, you know, accountability
and transparency has got to be a part of it, but we have got to set the conditions for
success and I think that’s what the policies have done. Andy: So one of the big reasons I wanted to
have this conversation with you, not only because I think you have done extraordinary
work and that New Jersey has a lot to teach us, to the nation, but we are at this point
where a lot of states could do the opposite essentially of what you are arguing for right
now. So, you worked at the state department for
quite some time. The state kept up on the same reforms, call
it six, seven, eight years, but now Governor Christie is leaving office and there are other
governors who are leaving office. We also had a new federal law, the Every Student
Succeeds Act which gives…all states they will need to radically change directions in
a lot of different domains if they want to. So given that there is an opportunity for
states to no longer stick with the game plan, to change directions, what would you tell
states about that? Peter: I’m certainly not in the position to
tell 49 other states what to do, right? As much as I might like to sometimes, but
I’m certainly not in the decision. First is know your role, right? I think that, you know… You’ve even written the policy paper with
our friend, Julie Squire, “At the Helm,
Not the Oar”, which I think gives a good depiction
of what is the state’s role, right? It’s something that we wrestle with all the
time. And I wanna clear, that role is going to look
different. So you know, how do you work in Florida when
you have county-wide districts that are some of these huge districts and they have their
own infrastructure and analytic engines within them. The states could play a different role. In a state like New Jersey with about 600
small, fragmented, segregated districts, we could play a different role. So, as we think about it, know the role and
the context of your state. Number two is equity. And when I say equity, it means high expectations
for all kids. Let me say that again, high expectations for
all kids. This idea that college is only for certain
kids and other kids can go to middle skill jobs or other kids could go to CTE, it’s unbelievable
how pervasive that still is and, you know, it is something that the state has the unique
ability to say, “That’s not going to happen. This is the bar and we are going to hold a
high-level bar for all kids.” And then number three is transparency and
accountability. So as we think about it, and when I’m talking
about high bar, it means high standards, high expectations, good assessments, but then transparency
and accountability. For the most part, without the enterprise
view that in this case New Jersey has, we would not know about the differences in our
kids, we would not know about the education they are receiving. They certainly do not know because we have
very insular districts in New Jersey. I mean the story of New Jersey in home rule is every small district has their own school district, police, fire, library,
and they don’t know a lot of what they’re neighbors are doing. So, you know, we like to say in an ideal world,
we could be that match.com and having, you know, best practices, but certainly we need
to understand what is going on because they don’t necessarily understand what’s going
on and parents don’t know what is available in the neighborhood next to them. So those are the three roles where I think
the state, you know, really needs to maintain a presence. Andy: Okay, last question. There is one narrative that is developing
as the history books are going to be written on this era. Some people are even calling it the Bush-Obama
era from 2001 until the end of President Obama’s term. So, 16 years. The narrative is being written that the federal
government was too intrusive, did too much, actually got in the way of state level reforms
just through so many strict rules and regulations that it inhibited creativity in the role of
advancement that states and districts and schools would have made otherwise. How would you write a different narrative,
if you don’t think that one is right? What did it look like at the state level? Peter: Yeah, first, you know, my narrative
would be different, right? And my narrative would first start with there
is no one size fits all narrative. And, you know, yes, the federal government,
you know, bipartisan. When you think about President Bush, Ted Kennedy,
I mean, if you think about it, this has been a bipartisan, 16 years of education reform
at the state level. And I think that in and of itself speaks a
lot, especially in the world we are now where we feel like there’s such partisan politics
on every issue. This were somewhat agreed upon. So as we think about this, and not by every
flank of every aisle per se, but as we think about this, you know, I think the role had
been one of action. I think the way to define it is that we had
a very proactive federal government. For everyone who was driven to saying, “You
know what? We are going to push high expectations, we
are going to push high levels of accountability and we are going to be nonnegotiable on how
we do it.” To the extent stagnate creativity and innovation? We don’t know. There is no crystal ball of what the world
would have looked like. I think it’s a fair assertion, right? I left that as an assertion rather than a
fact, and I think those two get mixed up in this day and age quite a lot. I would say that for states that have had
success, and you think about states like Massachusetts and, you know, even Tennessee in recent years,
it’s about, you know, taking from the federal government what you need, and that certain
things are required, but the way you shape them at your local level, you have a lot more
discretion than folks realize. You know, the federal government is not as
heavy-handed as some folks might think it to be, and then staying in the course. Again, I have reiterated that at a couple
of places. So, you know, I would frame it as you would
have a very active federal government, really centered, for the most part, around equity
and accountability, equity excellence and accountability. And to the extent that they were heavy-handed
in a couple of avenues, I think that’s a fair criticism. Andy: That’s great. Well, thank you for your service to education
in general in New Jersey and other places. You have done a whole lot and I know you are
going to do a lot in the future. So thank you for that and thanks for being
my guest today. Peter: Thanks so much, Andy. Great seeing you, I appreciate it. Andy: Great seeing you too. Hey, everyone, that’s the end of our discussion
with Pete Shulman. Thanks so much for watching. If you enjoyed what you saw, remember to like
the video or leave us a comment and be sure to check out the rest of our videos and research
from AEI.

2 thoughts on “Federal education standards (Part 2) — interview with Peter Shulman | VIEWPOINT”

  1. I really disliked the interview because you estentially allowed someone to say whatever they want without any challenge. It allows for dishonesty and avoidance of problems in the system introduced.
    I don't know how "no child left behind" is high standards or leads to high standards. The program is meant to allow children who would otherwise not qualifiy to appear better than they actually are and allow them to get out unqualified for higher levels of education.

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