Leave It to the Professionals

I intended to set aside the issue of local control today and watch presentations and panel discussions from the Iowa Teacher and Principal Leadership Symposium.  So, I started with Marc Tucker’s presentation and the panel discussion that followed it (find them here).

Marc Tucker tells us that the only thing that matters is matching the achievements of the top performing countries.  Our students need to be at least as well educated but more innovative and creative.  So we’ll need to apply the top standards to every student.  Oh, and we’ll have to supply this elite level education to all students for less money.  This will require a new system of public education, but Tucker has it all figured out.

All we need to do is (1) implement world class standards, curriculum, and assessments [whatever those might be, he doesn’t say except to disparage computer scored, multiple choice tests], (2) hire the highest quality teachers, (3) pay them and train them like we pay and train engineers, (4) end the blue collar system of employment to be replaced by professional pay and working conditions, (5) do the same for principals, (6) start out students right and keep them on trajectory, (7) spend more on learning and less on management [apparently professionals don’t need management], (8) create a coherent, aligned system [local control is so not world class], and (9) implement, implement, implement.

He also noted that there is no evidence from PISA that more money, smaller class sizes, IT, choice, or market forces contribute to world-class student performance.

There is certainly a lot to talk about here, but I think I will comment more generally that there seems to be a sentiment underlying the move toward centralizing decision making that state level decision makers are both more competent in some sense and that some sort of data-driven/scientific management approach is required.

So, perhaps there are two points that can’t be repeated too often.

The first is that state-level decision makers have no special or superhuman ability to resist slick promotional materials and too-good-to-be-true sales pitches.  [My favorite example is the ongoing obsession with virtual reality—see here and here.]

The second is that evidence and science can only take us so far.  The evidence may have convinced Tucker that matching the achievements of the top performing countries is the only thing that matters, but it doesn’t prove that we would be wrong to prefer other goals for Iowa’s public schools.