A way to dramatically increase the quality of education in
- Today, by the time they graduate from high school, American children are performing at the bottom end on the
international scale. Even our brightest children are testing only on par
with the lowest performing children in other countries. Yet, when our kids
enter our school system, they are among the most capable in the world. The
inescapable conclusion is that every
child in America is currently being "left behind" children in
other countries by our public K-12 educational system.
- Give every child in the US the best K-12 education in the world. For
example, in TIMSS, we should be gaining each year on other countries and end
up at grade 12 as the best in the world, not in virtually the dead last
position (see this graph of the TIMSS scores).
- Increase accountability and choice in a responsible manner.
Our fundamental premise
Our approach is: "the best way to get US schools to
be comparable to the best schools in the world is to copy what works best,
i.e., adopt the core best
practices of top performing schools and school systems." If a school adopts world-wide best
practices in a few certain key areas (such as standards, assessments,
principal and teacher hiring, training, accountability, and authority), there is an
excellent probability that the school can perform at a level comparable to
the best schools in the world.
Our basic approach
Create a relatively short checklist of requirements
that must be present to achieve education excellence and provide cash
incentives to those schools which agree to meet and implement the
checklist, and continue that funding as long as the school is
performing at a superior level.
Only programs and policies which exemplify international best practices
should qualify (adapted, if needed, to work in the
US). For example, "an assessment system aligned with standards"
might be a requirement and the assessment methodology developed at Cambridge
University (which is used in over 100 countries, including the top
performing countries) would be an eligible approach to satisfy the
requirement. Similarly, a requirement for "principal
training" could be satisfied if the principal attended the National
Institute for School Leadership (to be launched in 2002 by NCEE, New Schools
Venture Fund, Carnegie Corporation, and Broad Foundation) since this
Institute draws from best practice leadership development practices in a
variety of fields.
Programs and policies which meet these requirements exist
today in the US. We need not invent anything new. A school need only
select from a mix of programs and policies which have already been proven
to work in the US or require little modification to be able to be used
successfully in the US.
Justifying the premise and approach
Independent test results from schools which adopt one or two
key requirements are on our checklist are an excellent indicator that our fundamental premise
is both sound and replicable on a large scale.
Schools using NCEE's
America's Choice comprehensive school reform design model (which is based on
best practices) have achieved astounding results within a very short amount of time.
Within 12 months of adoption in 3 different states, the pass rate on
official state tests improved by more than 50% at all schools, and over 100%
at one school.
- The Accelerated School (K-8), a public charter school in South Central Los
Angeles, CA, which uses the Accelerated Schools Project comprehensive school
reform design model, was selected by Time Magazine as the top
elementary school of the year after the magazine began a search last fall to
determine "the most accomplished" schools in the country. Time
carried a two-page
article about The Accelerated School, pointing out that the school
"outperformed the community's other public schools by 270 percent on
last year's standardized tests.
- Just properly implementing a single requirement, such as giving a
qualified principal freedom and authority, can have dramatic results as
shown at Fox
Tech where the school went from being the worst school in Texas to being
the top school in its district.
- Since CSRD passed and continues to be supported by Congress, this
approach, which is a more "accountable" version of CSRD (because
it has higher standards of proof), should be legislatively viable.
- Pass legislation that provides substantial cash incentives to schools that
adopt a set of certified programs and policies that ensure educational
success. The funds are provided to enable schools to adopt, implement, and
maintain new programs. Funds continue as long as the school meets milestones
and checklists on adoption, implementation, and expected performance gains.
This is similar to Obey-Porter (CSRD), but with the following differences:
- the money is available to all schools (not just Title 1),
- the funding is on-going as long as milestones and gains are achieved and
maintained (rather than only for 3 years),
- the incentives are large: $1K per pupil minimum and over $2K per pupil
for low-performing schools
- the incentives are tied to achievement of milestones and results
(adoption, implementation, and demonstration of performance gains)
- only qualified programs are eligible (schools must adopt programs
that have been independently shown to have substantial, statistically significant
efficacy over a range of schools, i.e., both the program is effective
and the results are replicable), and
- for non-Title 1 schools, there is a much longer checklist of reforms
which must be adopted to qualify (not just a whole school design program,
but other factors that ensure success). Example of such checklist items
are: teachers are paid based on performance (rather than degrees
and credentials), ability to fire teachers including tenured teachers
without a costly and time consuming process (in California, for example,
the number of tenured teachers that have been fired is virtually zero over
the past 10 years), principals must be accountable for school
performance, but must also have the power to decide things such as
textbooks, class size, staffing decisions, etc (i.e., the same autonomy
that that principals in most Catholic schools have), differential pay for
teachers based on subject (some subjects are harder to find teachers for)
or location (harder to get teachers to teach at low-performing schools), all teachers are certified/qualified to teach the material they
teach, maximum class sizes, higher teacher
and principal pay, PreK program, mandatory
Kindergarten, stable funding guaranteed by the state, etc. Hopefully, this
checklist will also encourage states and local school districts to change
their policies in order to make it possible for schools in their areas to
qualify for the program.
- Pass legislation that establishes national standards and a methodology for
assessments. These standards and assessments can
be used as one of the optional or mandatory checklist items in the first
- Try to get something into S.1 conference report (the BEST Bill) that moves closer to what we
want to do. Unclear at this time how much we can do on this, but there is an
amendment to expand and reform the comprehensive school reform program.
- Pass a bill that would amend Obey-Porter to add "accountability"
to the whole school design programs to ensure that all programs that are
being incentivized are actually producing significant positive results (for
example, NAS only certifies 10 whole school design programs, yet Obey-Porter
allows many more).
Extend the bill to allow non-Title I schools to participate if they meet all
the requirements of the original CSRD bill as well as an additional
checklist of components necessary for educational success.
- Pass legislation that would either set national
standards and assessments or get NAEP to issue a set of national standards
that are aligned with the NAEP test. These would be non-mandatory standards.
One option is to create/use these standards in schools for the children of
military personnel. This would be a good reason to create national
standards. The important point is to officially adopt a set of standards and
eligibility requirements over time.
If, for example, a school consistently fails to achieve certain
performance standards, it would be required to adopt additional checklist
items (such as national standards) in order to continue to receive incentive
- The program is a monetary incentive program. It does not force
anyone to do anything.
- Schools are not required to adopt the national standards and assessments
to obtain the incentive. However, if they are not
performing to a set national level of accomplishment (i.e., not passing the
national standard), they will be required to adopt
the national standards if they want to continue to receive the incentive
funding associated with this particular bill.
- Choosing a set of national standards and assessments actually increases
choice (over the de facto 3 choices we have now).
- The monetary incentives are more to enable schools to meet the standards
of educational excellence, rather than to "incentivize"
compliance. The true incentive to adopt this program will be the superior
academic performance of schools that have chosen to adopt the programs and
policies and thus qualify for the incentives compared with the academic
performance of those who have not.
How it works
Schools agree to adopt a whole schools reform
approach (and must adopt one that has shown statistical efficacy in other
schools), and meet a chinese-menu checklist of qualifying requirements
Schools get incentive dollars that allow them
to make the necessary changes,
Schools start improving under the new program,
meeting milestones for implementation of committed programs as well as
demonstrating superior performance
Schools continue to get $$ incentives in
succeeding years so long as enhanced performance standards are maintained
(e.g., a threshold average pass rate for the school on national assessments)
Obey-Porter (CSRD) w/accountability
- Amend CSRD to ensure that it is actually funding "effective"
programs and extend the funding to continue so long as the school continues
to perform at a superior level
- Extend CSRD to all schools, not just Title 1, if the school adopts items
from a checklist of requirements necessary for superior academic performance
- Add accountability to CSRD: Amend CSRD to add a provision that ensures that the programs being
incentivized are effective in producing a successful outcome, i.e., to
qualify for funding, a school program must provide some amount of
independent test data (such as from state test data from other schools) showing a high level of statistically significant
efficacy. If a particular program is already being incentivized by CSRD at over 50
schools, funding shall be provided to allow for
independent testing of the efficacy of the chosen program according to a more rigorous
standard set by a panel (see below).
- Extend beyond Title I schools: Extend CSRD to non-title
I schools if those schools meet a more stringent
checklist of components such as necessary for success (see above). This
checklist will initially be flexible and, after showing proof of success,
can be tightened up over time through subsequent legislation.
- The legislation should create an "FDA-like" panel to ensure that
the reform programs being incentivized are effective in producing a positive
outcome, e.g., use Dept of Education’s OERI to certify which programs will
are eligible. OERI would be asked to come up with a metric and all programs
that meet the metric should be allowable.
- A tighter metric would be required once a program is adopted at over 50
schools. If this rigorous standard is not achieved, the program will not be
eligible for incentive funding for adoption by any new schools (funding to
schools who already use the ineffective program will not be disrupted and
they would have 3 years to switch to an approved program or risk having
their funding discontinued)
- The checklist should be a "chinese-menu" type of checklist, e.g.,
meet 3 from column A, meet 2 from column B, etc. This can be easily tightened up
over time, e.g., meet all 5 from column A, meet any 4 of 6 from column B, etc. This also
makes it much easier to pass the initial bill since you can negotiate on the
number of required elements in each category, rather than what they are.
- It should be hard for a program which fails the more rigorous test to just
slightly modify the program to pass the lower standard and get into the program again as a "new"
- The higher standards for programs in use at 50 schools should set a
performance bar based on the top-performing program. Any program that is not
at the level of at least half the effectiveness of the top program should
not be allowed. In other words, we allow a factor of 2 variation between the
worst program we’ll incentivize relative to the best program. Another
approach is to require that in order to qualify, a whole school program must be able to show
at least a 50% improvement in pass rates in at least 50% of the schools
using the program whose pass rate before the program was under 50%.
- To qualify for the higher standards, the panel might only require
submission of state test result data from at least 3 different states and at
least 30 randomly selected schools. This makes the cost of testing extremely
low (virtually zero) for a CSRD program developer.
- require that the curriculum to be used must either be aligned with the
official standard set approved by the State (which we hope nobody does) or
with a standard set accepted by at least 20 states (provided that the state
does not explicitly prohibit this).
the above are strong provisions. In
legislation they each would be represented by one sentence and then further
explained in the report language that accompanies the bill.
National standards and assessments
- Select a single complete set of standards from the many good standards
available and adopt those as the national standards.
- Repeat this process for an assessment methodology (e.g., NAEP, Cambridge
- These national standards can later be amended improved/modified over time
by a collaborative process, but the important goal here is to expeditiously
choose a viable standard rather than wait 10 years to develop "yet another
standard" that completely lacks a real-world test over a long period of
Why adopt national standards?
- No country has achieved education excellence without a single set of
national standards. The US has over 50 national standards and is virtually
in last place internationally.
- An official set of national standards allows
us to calibrate how states are doing relative to each other, and can provide
useful guidelines for states modifying their standards.
- The NAEP exam should be based on the national standard. To not have a
national standard means that NAEP is based on some national standard that we
- We can use these national standards for a variety of purposes,
e.g., NAEP should use them for calibrating its exam, states can use them for benchmarking their standards,
schools can use them as specified in the legislation above if the school is
not performing to minimal national standards. Lastly, because textbooks and
instructional materials are only created to be aligned with the state
standards of the top 3 most populous states, the creation of a national
standard will create a fourth standard that textbooks and instructional
materials can be aligned with.
- In other words, creation of a national
standard does not decrease choice in any way. It actually increases choice
for states. Having clear national standards increases accountability because
states can be matched up against these standards. Without standards to
measure the states against, there can be no accountability.
- There are two approaches to create a national standard: (a) get NAEP to
create them since these are needed to create the NAEP exam or (b) legislate
them by creating legislation that describes a non-partisan 100% inclusive process for selecting a set
national standards from the many existing sets. My preference is to try (b)
since that will lead to more buy-in using the process below. Failing that,
we could try (a).
- Legislation might look more like this (with detail
and process left for report language, definitions or the floor debate and
record): “The President (or
his designee) shall appoint a commission on national educational standards
and assessments. The Commission
shall be composed of one representative (Superintendent of Public Instruction or
equivalent) of each of the fifty states.
Each representative shall submit no more than two complete national
standards for consideration by the whole commission, and no more than 2
assessment methodologies. The Commission shall also consider the national
standards and assessment methodologies adopted by the ten countries with the
best scores on the TIMSS test as well as any complete
standard that is both used in at least 4 states in the US and in at least 50
schools (e.g., NCEE’s America’s Choice).
- A possible process: In the first round, each
standard will have their creator or a person selected by the creator present
the benefits of that standard in front of the group including test data,
etc. For the 100+ standards to be considered in the first round of voting,
delegates will have 5 votes (you cannot vote more than once for a standard)
and the 10 standards with the most votes will continue onto the second round
where there will be another round of discussion. Second round: Each delegate
has 3 votes will narrow the list to the top 3. Another round of discussion.
Third round: Each delegate will have 2 votes and the system with the largest
number of votes is declared to be the national standard.
- A more complex approach would be to "pick and choose" standards
components at the subject level, e.g., the math standard from California and
the reading standard from Connecticut. This would require a lot more work by
the committee since the standards need to interplay correctly. It’s much
easier to adopt the best standard set "whole hog" and then tune it
later. With all the standards available today in the US, plus the standards from
other countries, we can do a lot worse than picking the single best
standard/assessment set available.
- Need to be careful about selecting committee members, sticking to the
rules, and giving clear guidance on what and how to accomplish the goal.
- An alternative to this is just to allow the programs in the amended
Obey-Porter the ability to use any standard that is approved by the state
(e.g., the New Standards Performance Standards). This will allow the states
themselves to create (or adopt) standards that transcend state boundaries.
- States will be encouraged to adopt the national standards and assessments, and perhaps
adding to the standards. This allows a base level of standardization over
- Teachers can be much more effective since they can focus on how to teach,
and not what to teach.
"Fast track" approach
There is an alternative to two bill approach outlined above. This approach is
simpler and the benefits are compelling. The basic concept is to create a
"fast track" program for the BEST bill, i.e., if you meet the chinese
menu checklist of requirements, your application will be approved and the
funding amount is pre-determined. Here are the details.
The purpose of this bill is to improve the quality of public K-12 education
in the US. More specifically, it is to make it easier for schools to obtain
funds under BEST by "pre-authorizing" certain configurations that have
already been proven to be both replicable and effective.
This has the following benefits beyond the benefits already in BEST:
- Decrease bureaucracy and cost
The application form is much simpler. This benefits both the school and
government agencies who are evaluating the application.
- Increase speed of implementation
Because there is less work involved in creating and approving the
applications, applications for funds can be created faster, and approved
faster. In addition, the elements eligible for "fast track" are
the most effective. Bottom line is that the impact on students happens much
- Increase choice
The "fast track" program doesn't take away anything. It
creates more choice, not less. It introduces the concept of "national
standards" and allows alignment with national standards. It also allows
alignment with "multi-state approved standards". This increases
the number of whole school design programs available for incentives in each
state (e.g., America's Choice would be enabled under this provision). A
second way that national standards increases choice is that it makes it more
economically feasible for more whole school design programs to be created
since the costs can be amortized over a larger customer base (rather than
being state specific). As long as a state permits its local school district
to make a choice, the options for local school districts are increased by
- Increase local control
The increase in choices described in the previous bullet means that
schools have greater control over a student's education because they have
more options to choose from.
- Increase standards
Because only the most effective combinations of elements will be
available through the fast-track program, the program will have the net
effect of increasing standards.
- Increase accountability
Because only the most effective and easy to measure combinations of
elements will be available through the fast-track program, the program will
have the net effect of increasing accountability.
- Increase predictability
Because only elements that produce repeatable results will be available
through the program, the program will have the net effect of increasing
- Better performance/outcomes
Because only elements that produce superior results will be available
through the program, the program will have the net effect of increasing
The "fast track" program
This is a simplified version to illustrate the form...the actual version
will have more elements.
- If a school complies with the following 5 requirements, the government
will provide $1K per pupil per year in funding to be used by the school in
support of meeting the requirements:
- Required components
- A "certified" whole school design (OERI shall certify
any whole school design in use at at least 20 schools in at least 3
states which can show clear and convincing evidence of at least a
25% improvement in state tests within 12 months after launch in at
least 50% of the schools using the program)
- Kindergarten is funded by the state and is mandatory
- Curriculum and assessments must be aligned to either the state
standards, an approved multi-state standard (OERI shall certify any
standard approved for use in at least 5 states), or the official
national standards. If a standard other than the state standard
is used, it can only be used if the state permits its use (i.e.,
the federal government will not over-ride the states on whether
alignment to state standards is advisory or mandatory).
- Optional components group I (choose 5)
- School facilities meet state code
- Principals are authorized to fire teachers (including tenured
teachers) without going through a cumbersome process
- School funding is guaranteed by the state/local governments to be
at least $x per pupil each year
- Principal and teacher pay meets minimum guidelines set annually by
- Principals and teachers are compensated based on teaching
effectiveness using any one of a number of OERI approved
"pay for performance" compensation plans
- Teachers are free to determine how they teach, e.g., materials,
curricula and to be innovative and imaginative in their methods
- Optional components group II (choose 1)
- Maximum class size is 30
- Average class size is under 25
- California ballot initiative to fix the teacher
effectiveness issue (as articulated in the PRI report
"Unsatisfactory Performance" by Dawson and Billingsley) and a
second initiative that provides incentive funding for schools that meet a
- Approach Annenberg Foundation for whether they are interested in this
They could single-handedly make this happen right, without going through
extra steps and could serve as a demonstration model for federal
legislation. This could save 5 to 10 years of time.
- the end i am try to get to is something like:
- goal: graduate students from HS that are top in the world within 20
- strategies: set national standards so that cirrculum etc can be
aligned certification and training for principals more autonomy/power
for principals teacher pay based on performance stable funding for
- tactics: create pilot project in calif that embodies these principles
to prove it works and can scale implement nationally
A PowerPoint presentation of the concepts presented above is available at http://www.skirsch.com/presentations/education.ppt.