Hitting a Performance Plateau in American Education

Mark Schnieder, a vice president for the American Institutes for Research, has posted a very interesting article at Education Next.  The article share the impressive math gains experience by the country over the past 10 years.  Since Texas was the early adopter {and largest)of the high stakes approach that led to NCLB, it started the growth curve before the rest of the nation.  By plotting out various subgroups (some not NCLB subgroups), Schnieder suggest that American public education has  hit a plateau with the current NCLB – high accountability approach.

Despite impressive growth curves in math over the past two years, he feels that we may become stuck at the current performance levels.  His hope is Common Core or better assessments will function as exogeneous shocks (using Baumgartner and Jones) to the educational system to ensure continued systems change in education.  His premise comes from Gould and Eldridge whose thinking led to the notion that systems live in a state of punctuated equilibrium.  In this equilibrium, systems changes occur when there is some sort of external force (exogeneous shock) that scrambles the equilibrium and causes it to be reset at a different level.

I don’t want to point education in a ghastly light with another dire metaphor, but in medicine a heart attack patient is only shocked so many times with an AED before they try something else.  NCLB, Common Core, performance evaluations are all here and being widely implemented.  It might be prudent to let the dust settle before we devise the next shock.

Gould and Eldridge use the analogy of a meteor strike causing the extinction of dinosaurs.  We have to remember that this exongeneous shock destroyed an entire global  ecosystem.  It wasn’t just the dinosaur that was impacted in the end, although we tend to fixate there.  So, two points.  Has the entire ecosystem around student learning experienced a shock and do we really understand and accept the possible consequences?

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