Search results for: "collaboration"

I earned my Ph.D. in the history of American education from Columbia University in 1975. It is a fascinating field of study, because the early history continues to be relevant to contemporary debates. At present, the nation is led by people who disparage public schools. They know nothing of the struggles to establish public schools that are open to all, supported by taxes, and tuition-free. I was fortunate in that my mentor was the great historian of education, Lawrence A. Cremin. I can’t help but wonder what he would say if he saw what is happening today, with the rise of a movement to undermine public education and turn it over to corporate chains, religious schools with uncertified teachers, home schooling, computer-based instruction, and all manner of substitutes for public schools staffed by qualified and certified professionals. The fact that this destructive strategy is supported by the federal government is simply bizarre.

This report is a useful overview of the early establishment of public education, even before the adoption of the Constitution. The report was written by Alexandra Usher for the Center for Education Policy.

Read the report here.

Politico reports on a panel discussion that takes place today. As you will see from the line-up, there are no high-level representatives of public schools. Only charter schools count, and public schools are supposed to learn from them.

NO CANDIDATE LEFT BEHIND: Last week, Hillary Clinton earned boos from some NEA delegates when she suggested that traditional schools and charter schools should share ideas to figure out what works. [ ] Today, on Capitol Hill, a panel will be addressing this very issue during a discussion on “efforts to foster collaboration,” which was announced by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Panelists include Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, the deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, Chris Pencikowski, head of Lee Montessori, Cassandra Pinkney, founder of Eagle Academy, and Kaila Ramsey, a teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary. The moderator is Nancy Waymack of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The event starts at 2 p.m. in Cannon House Office Building, room 121.

Georgia is a little late to the Mad-Hatters’ Reform Tea Party, but its Governor Nathan Deal is rushing to catch up. At the last election, he changed the Constitution so that the decisions of local boards could be overturned, to authorize a charter school where it was neither wanted nor needed. That is an assault on local control, engineered by the corporate minds at ALEC.

Now Governor Deal is pushing a constitutional amendment to create a Georgia Opportunity School District, akin to Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, which did not meet its goals of raising low performing schools into the top 25% in the state by turning them into charters.

Fortunately there are wiser heads in the state. One is Phil Lanoue, the superintendent of schools in Athens, who was chosen as national superintendent of the year by his colleagues in the American Association of School Administrators. Phil Lanoue will be one of the keynote speakers at the national conference of the Network for Public Schools in Raleigh, NC, from April 15-17, 2016.

Without mentioning the looming battles and conflicts that reformers dearly love, Lanoue writes about what really works to improve schools.

He calls for an end to “the blame game” and advises:

The Georgia Vision Project ( was developed by researchers and educational experts, with the support of the Georgia School Superintendents Association and the Georgia School Boards Association. The impetus for this work is one we must all rally behind – to “offer recommendations which will transform the current system into one that is relevant for today’s children and youth.”

The alignment of our work with Georgia’s Vision must continue with fidelity to be shared across our state, with communities and agencies on board as well. We have a solid framework for improving our schools. For this to occur, we must stop the blame game. This is not an effective strategy, and needs to end if we are truly going to see the shifts we all hope will happen.

The metric for which we assess our students and school performance must change as well. In schools today, we should show success by demonstrating collaboration, innovation, creativity, communication and helping ensure the health of our children. However, the end game today for our students is simply a number from a score on standardized tests. These tests mostly evaluate someone else, like a teacher or administrator, or something else. We know this, but the conversations do not change and that is a major disservice to our children.

We can be much more effective if we build collaboration with multiple agencies to stabilize the often turbulent lives of our students. It can be done, and we have many examples of success across this state and country. However, building the supports we need across all aspects of our community can only succeed with a laser focus on children’s needs from birth to postsecondary education. To improve public education we must share and overlap resources. No single agency can do the work alone in supporting and educating our children. We must work together with a common focus on learning at high levels for all children.

We have a framework, as well as many examples of success. The major obstacle at this point is our decision to do this work together as Georgians. We are stronger than the sum of our parts, and together is the only way we can enact the changes that are needed to propel our state to the next level.

This is an important article in the Shanker Blog by two scholars at the University of Pittsburgh. They are Carrie R. Leana, George H. Love Professor of Organizations and Management, Professor of Business Administration, Medicine, and Public and International Affairs, and Director of the Center for Health and Care Work, at the University of Pittsburgh, and Frits K. Pil, Professor of Business Administration at the Katz Graduate School of Business and research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center, at the University of Pittsburgh.

Leanna and Pil write:

“Most current models of school reform focus on teacher accountability for student performance measured via standardized tests, “improved” curricula, and what economists label “human capital” – e.g., factors such as teacher experience, subject knowledge and pedagogical skills. But our research over many years in several large school districts suggests that if students are to show real and sustained learning, schools must also foster what sociologists label “social capital” – the value embedded in relations among teachers, and between teachers and school administrators. Social capital is the glue that holds a school together. It complements teacher skill, it enhances teachers’ individual classroom efforts, and it enables collective commitment to bring about school-wide change.

“We are professors at a leading Business School who have conducted research in a broad array of settings, ranging from steel mills and auto plants to insurance offices, banks, and even nursing homes. We examine how formal and informal work practices enhance organizational learning and performance. What we have found over and over again is that, regardless of context, organizational success rarely stems from the latest technology or a few exemplary individuals.

“Rather, it is derived from: systematic practices aimed at enhancing trust among employees; information sharing and openness about both problems and opportunities for improvement; and a collective sense of purpose. Over a decade ago, we were asked by a colleague in the School of Education about how our research might be applied to improving public schools. Since then, we’ve spent a good deal of time trying to answer that question through several large-scale research studies.

“One thing we noticed immediately in our work with schools was the intense focus on the individual educator. This is prevalent not just among school reformers but in the larger culture as well, as evidenced in popular movies ranging from “To Sir with Love” in the 1960s to “Waiting for Superman” nearly fifty years later. And every self-respecting school district has a version of the “Teacher of the Year” award, which has now risen to state and even national levels of competition. In recent years, however, we have also witnessed a darker side to accountability, as districts around the country publicly shame teachers who do not fare well on the accountability scorecards.

“Accountability models find their roots in the discipline of economics rather than education, and are exemplified in the value-added metrics used to evaluate teacher performance. These metrics assess annual increments in each student’s learning derived from standardized tests in subject areas like math and reading. These are then aggregated to arrive at a score for each teacher – her “value added” to students’ learning. Anyone with access to the internet can find teacher rankings based on these scores in many districts across the country.

“Needless to say, many teachers, and the unions that represent them, argue that value-added measures of student performance fail to capture the complex factors that go into teaching and learning. At the same time, reliance on such metrics may undermine the collaboration, trust, and information exchange that make up social capital and, in this regard, do far more harm than good.”

They go on to explain why current “reforms” actually are counter to the coloration and trust that are most needed and most successful.

They add:

“What do these findings tell us about effective education policy? Foremost, they suggest that the current focus on teacher human capital – and the paper credentials and accountability metrics often associated with it – will not yield the qualified teaching staff so desperately needed in urban districts. Instead, policy makers must also invest in efforts that enhance collaboration and information sharing among teachers. In many schools, such social capital is assumed to be an unaffordable luxury or, worse, a sign of teacher weakness or inefficiency. Yet our research suggests that when teachers talk to and substantively engage their peers regarding the complex task of instructing students — what works and what doesn’t — student achievement rises significantly.

“Building social capital in schools is not easy or costless. It requires time and, typically, the infusion of additional teaching staff into the school. It requires a reorientation away from a “Teacher of the Year” model and toward a system that rewards mentoring and collaboration among teachers. It also asks school principals and district administrators to spend less time monitoring teachers and more time encouraging a climate of trust and information sharing among them. The benefits of social capital are unequivocal, and unlike many other policy efforts, initiatives that foster it offer far more promise in terms of measurable gains for students.”

They conclude by asking you to give them feedback. Their email addresses are on the Shanker Blog. Contact them and let them know what you think. Here is their survey. Take a moment and respond.

Andrea Gabor has a valuable post about industrial history.

The lesson from the past is clear, she says: Everyone benefits when there is trust and collaboration.

Gabor thinks it is necessary to get beyond the punitive tactics of the present–the idea that lots of teachers must be fired–and to identify evaluation models that seek to support the ongoing development of teachers.

There are important issues of tone that affect–and that erode–trust.

Some years back, Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider wrote an important book called Trust in Schools, in which they concluded that no school reform could take place without trust. Trust, they said, is the glue that makes reform work and stick.

It is not up to the teachers to build trust; their work is crucial but they are at the bottom of a very sharp pyramid. Building trust is the task of leadership.

It is also a test of true leadership.

Following Tim Schwab’s investigation of financial conflicts of interest at the New York Times, Leonie Haimson describes her efforts to persuade editors at the Newspaper of Record to address a serious ethics issue at the New York Times.

Timothy Schwab has written a series of must-read pieces about the overriding influence of the Gates Foundation on public policy, and how the Foundation influences the reporting of the issues they are involved in, in part by helping to bankroll the media .

His latest analysis, published in Columbia Journalism Review, recounts how in 2016, I emailed the NY Times twice to ask why several “Fixes” columns written by their reporters Tina Rosenberg and David Bornstein hyping various Gates Foundation education projects and investments had no acknowledgements that they themselves received salaries from the non-profit they co-founded called Solutions Journalism Network, which is heavily subsidized by the Foundation.

My second email to the Times, quoted by Schwab, pointed out how “Having a NYT columnist who is funded by Gates who regularly hypes controversial Gates-funded projects without any disclosure of conflict of interest could be compared to running columns on the environment by someone who runs an organization funded by Exxon/Mobil.”

Yet I received no response of any kind. The 2016 blog post that I linked to in my emails pointed out how the columns by Rosenberg and Bornstein on Gates grantees were biased, with few if any quotes from critics, nor any mention of readily available studies showing that the Gates-funded programs they were promoting had been shown to be ineffective or had a negative impact on educational quality.  

The Gates Foundation provides millions of dollars to many journalistic enterprises, which Schwab argued in an earlier 2020 piece helps to explain the kid glove treatment the Foundation has received over the last twenty years. The media outlets that get funding from Gates and regularly cover his education projects and investments include Chalkbeat, Hechinger Report, The 74, and Education Post, as well as K12 school reporting by NPR, Seattle Times, and others. The Foundation also helps to fund the Education Writers Association, which frequently features speakers friendly to various policies favored by Gates.

Gates’ support of Solutions Journalism Network started in 2011, when Bornstein and Rosenberg  won a $100,000 Gates Foundation “challenge” competition  “to build the first Wiki-style platform that packages solutions-journalism (specifically NYTimes Fixes columns) into mini-case-studies for educators around the world to embed in, and across, the curriculum,” in collaboration with Marquette University. 

In 2012, Tom Paulson, a former Seattle Times reporter with called Humanosphere questioned this arrangement.  As explained by a colleague, “Paulson’s fear was that Solutions Journalism was just a fancy way to disguise the desire (by donors, NGOs and others) for success stories, for promoting particular products or agendas.” 

In response, Bornstein insisted to Paulson that neither he nor Rosenberg had received any financial benefit from this grant, as “NY Times prohibits them from accepting grant money (for work done at NYTimes) and they are unpaid collaborators with Marquette, allowing them to repurpose their columns and to help them think through the process.” 

Yet whatever reservations the NY Times may have had about allowing them to receive money from Gates seems to have quickly disappeared. In 2013, Bornstein and Rosenberg incorporated Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), and the next year, the organization received $600,000 from the Gates Foundation, from which they paid themselves  salaries of $75,000 each.  At the same time, they continued their regular “Fixes” columns for the NY Times/ 

The SJN 990 for that year reports that Bornstein worked 55 hours per week for the organization as its Chair, Treasurer and CEO, and Rosenberg 40 hours a week as its Vice President, which one would think left them little time to work as  NY Times reporters, though together they published at least twelve NY Times “Fixes” columns that year. 

Since that time, the organization has raised $7.3 million in total from Gates Foundation. Their most recent Gates grant was $1.7 million in August 2020, and Bornstein and Rosenberg now receive six-figure salaries from the organization,according to its latest 990.

Haimson goes on to describe the indifference of editors at The New York Times, which has been quick, in other cases, to require its writers to disclose financial conflicts and/or terminate them.

We have seen for many years that celebrities and billionaires love charter schools, though it is not apparent why since they are typically no better–and often much worse–than district public schools.

But there are a few signs of change.

The legendary singer Tony Bennett created the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts as part of the New York City school system. He and his wife Susan Crow Benedetto have established arts partnerships in nearly 40 more public schools, located in New York City and Los Angeles. They created an organization called “Exploring the Arts,” which promotes the arts in public schools and encourages youngsters to develop their creative talents. They began their mission in 1999, and it continues to grow.

In Los Angeles, two well-known figures in the entertainment industry asked Superintendent Austin Beutner if they could sponsor a public high school modeled on a successful program that they had created at the University of Southern California. He gave his consent.

This account appeared in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog:

“It can take years for a public school district to conceive, design and build a new school — but here’s a story about the incredibly fast creation of what could be America’s coolest new high school.

“It started a few months ago, when a friend asked Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, if he wanted to open a new public high school. He wasn’t asking for himself but, rather, on behalf of Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre, and Jimmy Iovine.

“Young and Iovine, both successful producers and entrepreneurs, had, nearly a decade earlier, helped found a namesake school at the University of Southern California. It combines art, design, technology and entrepreneurship in a multidisciplinary academy that has about 120 to 130 undergraduates and at least 200 graduate students.

“The two men, along with Erica Muhl, dean of USC’s Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy, wanted to introduce younger students to the same ideas being taught in the academy, so they investigated the best way to bring their program to the high school level. They decided they wanted to do it in a public district school — not a private or charter school — and that’s where Beutner and Los Angeles Unified came in.

“After a difficult year leading the country’s second-largest school district through the coronavirus pandemic, Beutner is ending his three-year tenure as superintendent on June 30, turning down an offer from the school board to stay. He could have dismissed the idea as too difficult to get through the bureaucracy in the short amount of time he had left in the district, whose student body is 84 percent Black and Latino.

“He didn’t. Instead, he jumped in.”

George Clooney and a bevy of other entertainment industry figures recently announced that they are also underwriting a new high school in the Los Angeles public school system. Clooney is a graduate of Augusta High School in Augusta, Kentucky.

“For the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, the phrase “giving back to the schools” has often meant a cameo appearance on career day or, perhaps more typically, a fat check made out to your own child’s elite private academy.

“But on Monday, the nation’s second-largest district unveiled the latest in a string of star-studded collaborations: a new high school underwritten by, among others, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Eva Longoria and principals at Creative Artists Agency.

“The magnet school is intended to diversify the pipeline of cinematographers, engineers, visual effects artists and other technical workers in the city’s signature job sector, and is one of at least three joint initiatives started in the past two months between the Los Angeles schools and entertainment industry benefactors.

“Last week, the music producers Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine announced they were starting their own specialized high school in South Los Angeles. In May, a few hundred middle schoolers performed on free guitars with the pop artist H.E.R., signaling the expansion of a yearlong partnership with the Fender Play Foundation. And more high-profile initiatives involving robotics and music are in the works with major entertainment figures, district officials said.”

The chair of the California State Board of Education, Linda Darling-Hammond, disparaged these efforts as “charity,” when what is need is justice.

Since so many media stars like John Legend and a bevy of billionaires from the Walton family to the Broad Foundation to the DeVos family to Charles Koch, and billionaire hedge funders with less familiar names have spent hundreds of millions to support alternatives to public schools, I salute those celebrities who put their money into public schools, not charter schools.

“The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, founded by the singer Tony Bennett, has operated for decades within New York’s public school system, for example. And LeBron James has opened a highly successful public school with wraparound social services in Ohio. But a group of Texas charter schools founded in 2012 by Deion Sanders, the former N.F.L. player, closed in insolvency after three scandal-plagued years.”

It seems unfair to criticize private philanthropy to public schools while remaining silent about the billionaires (and the federal government with its Charter Schools Program, funded at $440 million annually) pouring hundreds of millions every year into the aggressive expansion of corporate charter chains that defund public schools.

Jeff Bryant reports here on the inspiring example of a so-called “failing school” in North Carolina that not only succeeded in blocking a state takeover, but then heightened community collaboration to turn the school into a community school.

North Carolina passed a state takeover plan based on Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District. The state listed several schools that were targets for takeover and charterization. Community outrage slowed the state’s plan, and only one school was taken over.

This is the success story of one that got away from the clutches of the state and the privatizers.

Bryant writes:

As soon as Anna Grant’s busy workday at Forest View Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina, ended, she would head toward the next school where she was needed. “I would get off work and immediately drive to meetings, press events, whatever we had organized [for the school],” she recalls. 

Her second school of concern was Lakewood Elementary, where Grant now works. In 2017, Lakewood was a flashpoint of grassroots protest due to a threat by the state to take over the school.

“Roughly 200 protesters, parents and neighborhood residents” rallied at Lakewood Elementary to keep the school out of the state’s new Innovative School District (ISD), reported NC Policy Watch, a media project of the North Carolina Justice Center. The ISD was created by the state legislature to take over low-performing schools and transfer governance from the local school board to charter school management companies. Lakewood, along with Glenn Elementary in Durham and three other schools in the state, was on the shortlist of schools at risk of being transferred into the ISD.

“It’s a takeover,” NC Policy Watch quoted Bryan Proffitt, then-president of the Durham Association of Educators. “I don’t intend to allow a terrible legislative idea to ruin our neighborhood school,” Durham school board member Matt Sears told a reporter for the Herald-Sun.

Durham school system doesn’t fall into the traditional media narrative of schools as places with heroic individuals but rather as institutions with systems and problem-solving processes.

Grant now calls the protests “a community effort” that united teachers with parents, community activists, and the Durham school board in an effort to stave off a transfer of school governance from the community to a private organization. The activists formed the group Defend Durham Schools to share research and talking points on state takeovers and started a Facebook page to recruit more community support.

“Our zoned school was Lakewood,” recalls Durham parent and current school board member Jovonia Lewis, “and when the state threatened to take over the school using the ISD, I joined a committee that was raising the alarm.”

The resistance was successful, as state officials dropped the Durham schools from their list of takeover targets and eventually took over only one school in Robeson County. But today Lakewood remains a much-talked-about school not for resisting the state takeover but for what happened after.

Keep reading to learn how parents and the community saved their school

and improved it.

Kathleen Cashin has been a teacher, a principal, and a superintendent in New York City in high-needs districts. She is currently a member of the New York State Board of Regents, which sets policy for the state.

In this article, which appeared in the New York Daily News, she explains her hope that school district will use their new money to invest in most successful school reform that works: reduced class size. (Mayor de Blasio, by contrast, says he wants to pour $500 million of the city’s windfall into more testing and tutoring.)

Cashin writes:

In 1999, when I was superintendent of the city’s District 23 in Ocean Hill Brownsville, fourth graders had to take a multi-faceted standardized state test for the first time, which included reading, writing and listening. The first thing I did was to reduce class size as much as possible.

The results were astounding. Not only were there significant gains in test scores the following year, but I noticed a stunning development: Students were able to forge closer relationships with their teachers, and their teachers had their morale lifted because no longer did they have an overwhelming number of students with high needs to address.

Most disciplinary problems vanished overnight, even among students who were most prone to act up. Teachers were now keeping their doors open, and welcoming administrators and other teachers to visit, because their classes were running smoothly, and it was evident how much learning was going on. They were no longer fearful that someone would notice chaotic classrooms and blame it on them. They began to enthusiastically collaborate with each other, and this collaboration helped to further sharpen their skills and fostered a strong sense of professionalism.

In 2003, I was appointed Superintendent of Region Five, encompassing Districts 19 and 23 in Brooklyn and District 27 in Queens, including some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Aided by a state program that helped fund class size reduction, I lowered class sizes in as many schools as I could. Over the next three years, our elementary and middle schools achieved the greatest test score gains of any region in the city.

It was a revelation. And now for the first time, NYC has the opportunity to transform all our schools and classrooms in a similar fashion.

New York City will receive about $7 billion from the federal government over the next three years to help our schools reopen to in-person learning safely, with additional support students will need to recover from more than a year of disrupted learning and the losses that so many suffered due to the pandemic. President Biden has also proposed to more than double Title I funding, which could mean an additional $700 million annually to the city’s schools.

In addition, after many years of reneging on their promise, the state has now pledged to provide the city with full Foundation Aid, starting at $530 million and increasing over three years to about $1.3 billion in annual funding. This is the result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, in which the excessive class sizes in our schools were central to the judgment of the state’s highest court that students were deprived of an equitable opportunity to learn. In 2003, the New York Court of Appeals wrote: “[T]ens of thousands of students are placed in overcrowded classrooms…and provided with inadequate facilities and equipment. The number of children in these straits is large enough to represent a systemic failure.”

Unfortunately, class sizes have only increased since then, particularly in the early grades. More than 300,000 students were in classes of 30 or more last year, with average class sizes 15% to 30% larger than those in the rest of the state.

Research shows that while all children benefit from smaller classes, those who make the greatest gainsare students of color, those who are economically disadvantaged, English Language Learners and those with special needs. These students collectively make up the majority of students in the NYC public schools.

The City Council has now proposed that $250 millionbe spent on a targeted program to lower class size next year. This is a good beginning. I hope Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Meisha Porter will enthusiastically accept this proposal, so that class size reduction can begin to be phased citywide over the next three to four years.

We have a crisis in teaching, with high teacher attrition rates, particularly in those schools with the most disadvantaged students. This emanates in part from these teachers having class sizes too large. Educators are not being provided with the opportunity they need to succeed in their jobs.

It’s simply too difficult for one person to handle 30 young students and know all their abilities and disabilities, no less be able to address them effectively. But if you have 20 students or fewer, and in the upper grades 25 or fewer, suddenly what was impossible before becomes possible.

Poverty drains everyone it comes in contact with. But when children are provided the chance to have the close personal attention and connection with their teachers, made possible by a small class, it can change their lives. We believe they deserve that chance.

Cashin represents the borough of Brooklyn on the state Board of Regents.

Two friends got together to address an important topic for readers of the blog. Yong Zhao is a much-published international scholar based at the University of Kansas. Bill McDiarmid is Dean Emeritus of the College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

They write:

COVID-19 has disrupted schooling in its traditional sense. It has also disrupted other school related activities such as state standardized testing. As schools return to “normal” thanks to vaccination, many states are already pushing to resume standardized testing as part of the “normal” operations of formal education and to assess the so-called “learning loss” (Zhao, 2021). Resuming standardized testing is perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to children, especially after more than a year of social isolation and unprecedented disruption.

Standardized testing in schools has been criticized repeatedly for multiple reasons. A decade and a half ago, Sharon Nichols and David Berliner clearly articulate the damage to American education caused by standardized tests in their book, Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools (Nichols & Berliner, 2007). Dan Koretz has cited mounting evidence to show that test-based accountability has failed to significantly improve student performance in his recent book The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better(Koretz, 2017). State-mandated high-stakes testing has led educators and educational authorities to cheat, reduced education to a narrow band of the knowledge spectrum, demoralized educators, and failed to significantly close the opportunity and results gaps that marginalized students and their families continue to endure (Emler, Zhao, Deng, Yin, & Wang, 2019; Tienken & Zhao, 2013).

The negative impact of standardized testing on students cannot be overstated. First, testing discourages many students, especially historically marginalized students who may not do well on the tests for reasons outside their control. These students, primarily because of where they happen to live, have performed worse on standardized tests than their counterparts from wealthier, suburban, and mostly white neighborhoods. The results, then, are often used to hold them back or relegate them to remediation. Consequently, they miss opportunities to participate in more meaningful activities that could nurture their talents, interests, and, thus, their engagement with school.

Second, standardized testing for each grade is designed to measure students learning for that year in school. The learning thought to be measured for a given year, however, may be less important than other knowledge, skills, and dispositions students may have developed that will serve them better in their lives.  For example, although students may have not mastered certain mathematical formulae measured on the state test, they may have improved their talents, curiosity, confidence, or collaborative skills which are valuable in life (Zhao, 2018). Opportunities to build these essential skills may be rare. Mathematical formulae, on the other hand, can be retrieved online as needed. Assessment in education has been heavily focused on short-term instructional outcomes and knowledge while largely ignoring non-cognitive skills and skills needed to be life-long learners. In a world in which workers will be changing jobs four or five times and established industries will die out and new ones arise, students will need the skills suited to frequent self-reinvention.

Third, standardized testing has typically focused on two subjects: literacy and numeracy. Other subjects and domains of knowledge have been slighted or ignored. Equally important it fails to offer students opportunities to demonstrate their learning in activities and domains that are of greatest importance to them and in which they may excel. As a result, although testing results show students’ talent in taking tests in mathematics and language, it says nothing about students’ strengths and their potential to be not only good but, potentially, excellent at whatever are their innate talents and interests (Zhao, 2016). Many examples exist in multiple areas of human achievement of people who tested poorly in school but made extraordinary contributions to our world. Testing does nothing to further educators’ efforts to deploy strength-based practices that encourage and support interest-driven learners. 

After years of criticism from many students, families, and educators, and exposure of the corrupting and distorting effects of high-stakes testing, many policymakers, educational authorities, and members of the public cling to test-based accountability. Although ESEA has reduced testing requirements, the change is minimal. U.S. students may face fewer tests than a decade ago but, except for the pandemic period, students are still over-tested.  

Some argue that testing is necessary to figure out if school systems are addressing the persistent failure to justly serve marginalized students and communities. This could be accomplished, however, without high-stakes consequences for schools, educators, students, and families. We can also imagine assessments that place as much emphasis on the skills needed for the rapidly evolving world of work as on the legacy curriculum subjects. According to the World Bank, McKinsey, the OECD, and other crystal-ball-gazingorganizations, if students are to succeed in the future, these include creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, as well as non-cognitive skills such as persistence, teamwork, and conscientiousness.  Some researchers are currently testing surveys that provide reliable data on these skills (STEP, 2014).  

In line with “never waste a crisis,” the current moment of disruption is the time for us to radically rethink our addiction to high-stakes assessments. It won’t be easy. Many are heavily invested in the testing status quo. At the very least, we need a conversation that includes the voices of all concerned – students, educators, families, communities, and policymakers.  


Emler, T. E., Zhao, Y., Deng, J., Yin, D., & Wang, Y. (2019). Side Effects of Large-Scale Assessments in Education. ECNU Review of Education, 2(3), 279-296. 

Koretz, D. (2017). The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Manyika, J., Lund, S., Chui, M., Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., . . . Sanghvi, S. (2017, November 28). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. McKinsey Global Institute.Retrieved 03/25/21 from:

Nichols, S. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2007). Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

STEP skills measurement surveys : innovative tools for assessing skills (English). Social protection and labor discussion paper, no. 1421. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group. Retrieved 03/25/21 from:

Tienken, C. H., & Zhao, Y. (2013). How Common Standards and Standardized Testing Widen the Opportunity Gap. In P. L. Carter & K. G. Welner (Eds.), Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance (pp. 113-122). New York: Oxford University Press.

Zhao, Y. (2016). From Deficiency to Strength: Shifting the Mindset about Education Inequality. Journal of Social Issues, 72(4), 716-735. 

Zhao, Y. (2018). What Works May Hurt: Side Effects in Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Zhao, Y. (2021). Build back better: Avoid the learning loss trap. Prospects, 1-5.

Yong Zhao

Foundation Distinguished Professor

School of Education and Human Sciences

University of Kansas

Professor in Educational Leadership

Melbourne Graduate School of Education

University of Melbourne


G. Williamson McDiarmid

Dean Emeritus

College of Education

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil