Robust Data Gives Us The Roadmap to Reform

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Good morning, and thank you, Stuart (Kerachsky of the Institute of Education Sciences [IES]), so much for that nice introduction.

I also want to say thank you to Sue Betka for herleadership at IES as well as to the entire career staff.Sue has been so helpful during this transition. I knowthat she'll continue to be a great, great resource for ournew director, and let's give John Easton a big round ofapplause. Let's hear it for John.

As everyone knows, John Easton is a colleague forwhom I have tremendous respect. I feel so fortunatethat we're going to be able to continue to worktogether. The Chicago Consortium on School Researchenjoys an independent relationship with the ChicagoPublic Schools similar to that of IES with theDepartment of Education.

John always told us the cold, hard truth without regard to ideology or politics. And so many of our most important reforms in Chicago were a direct result ofwork and data produced by the Consortium—the ideaof ending social promotions, keeping our freshmen ontrack and trying to dramatically raise graduation rates,tracking college enrollment, developing growth models and thinking very differently about how we turn around underperforming schools.

The common denominator for all of these policydecisions was that they were informed by data. I am adeep believer in the power of data to drive our decisions.Data gives us the roadmap to reform. It tells us wherewe are, where we need to go, and who is most at risk.

There's a lot I don't like about No Child Left Behind(NCLB) , but I will always give it credit for exposingour nation's dreadful achievement gaps. It changedAmerican education forever and forced us to takeresponsibility for every single child, regardless of race,background, or ability. And this is just one example ofhow data affects policy and there are many, many more.

I'm actually thrilled to have a leader like John workingwith us here in Washington and I'm absolutelycommitted to relying on high-quality, independentresearch funded by IES to inform our thinking.

So thank you, John, for coming to Washington andagreeing to serve, and thank you, Sue, as well as theentire career staff, for your extraordinary service.

I want to begin this morning by talking about thehistoric opportunity we have today. We will never have a chance like this again. We have a president who ispassionate about public education. He and his wife werenot born with silver spoons in their mouths. They arewho they are because they worked so hard and becausethey got a great education.

We have absolute bipartisan leadership on the Hillthat sees the need and the opportunity for us to getdramatically better. We have more proven strategiesout in school districts around the country–rich, poor,rural, urban, suburban. We have had this flourishing ofinnovation and entrepreneurial ideas over the past 10,15 years. We've never had so many examples of successbefore.

And thanks to the Recovery Act, we also have somemoney, and money does matter. Over $100 billion innew resources is coming to education. It would havebeen unimaginable just a few months ago to thinkabout that.

And the Recovery Act focuses on four broad areas ofreform. We're convinced that with unprecedentedresources must come unprecedented reform. Just simplyinvesting in the status quo isn't going to get us where weneed to go.

We're focused on college– and career–readyinternationally benchmarked standards. We have manystates, as you know, voluntarily moving in that direction.We're thinking a lot about teacher quality–great talentmatters tremendously, as does how we attract and attainthe best and brightest teachers and principals in ourbusiness and how we get them to work in some of ourtoughest schools.

We're thinking about turning around schools. If wewere to take–we have about 100,000 schools in ourcountry–if we were to take the bottom 1 percent eachyear, the bottom thousand, and year after year turn themaround, over the next four or five or six years, we couldbasically eliminate those drop–out factories from ournation.

And finally, we need robust data systems to trackstudent achievement and teacher effectiveness.

Today's speech is the first in a series of policy speechesaround those four assurances, leading up to the Race tothe Top and the Invest in What Works and Innovationgrants that will be coming soon.

Race to the Top and Invest in What Works andInnovation funding provides $5 billion in discretionarymoney. I was talking to Secretary Paige recently. I thinkhe had $17 million. We have $5 billion. Think about theopportunity we have to make a difference.

The time frame now, the rough time frame is to havedraft applications out in July, final applications outby October, and then to get grants out to states anddistricts by February.

Today, of course, I want to focus on data and I'mblessed to have an audience that knows what I meanwhen I use words like regression models and effect sizeindicators. While these words may have meaning forall of you, as you know, they have very little meaning tothe general public. And one of our collective challengesis to talk about data and research in ways that peopleunderstand. That's one of John's tremendous gifts–totake complicated ideas and make them understandable.That is the only way that good ideas can lead to actionand not just remain on a shelf somewhere.

People need to get it and they needto be part of the cause of publiceducation. And that means they need tounderstand data.

When we did our first turnaround schools in Chicago,in which we closed and reopened the schools with thesame children but with new adults, the saddest part ofit was that so many parents had no idea how far behindtheir schools were. They didn't know that they were theworst schools in the city and, in fact, had been like thatfor years. They thought they were just like everyone else.

And part of the problem is that people don't know howto read data, how to sift through it or understand itand that's really a challenge for all of us. This is just aninsider conversation, but it affects everyone outside ofthis club: parents, children, taxpayers, and employers.And the stakes have never been higher. We musttell the truth and we must tell it clearly. We cannotcommunicate an undecipherable code.

In the months and years ahead, we will ask thousandsof communities across America to close andreopen schools based on data showing that they are underperforming. That has never happened beforeand it will be as difficult as it is important. It willchange and improve the life chances of children fromunderserved communities forever.

We will ask millions of teachers to use studentachievement and annual growth to drive instructionand evaluation. Parents need to understand that. Weask elected officials in states across America to embracehigher standards even though the initial data for theirstates may reflect badly on them and their schools. Thiswill take real political courage with short–term painleading to long–term gain.

Clearly, this is a lot to ask of people. It is ourresponsibility to make this experience as safe andcomfortable for people as possible. People need toget it and they need to be part of the cause of publiceducation. And that means they need to understanddata.

Data may not tell us the whole truth, but it certainlydoesn't lie. So what is the data telling us today? It tellsus that something like 30 percent of our children, ourstudents are not finishing high school. It tells us thatmany adults who do graduate go on to college butneed remedial education. They're receiving high schooldiplomas, but they are not ready for college.

I saw a figure in the paper the other day that talkedabout a million students a year spending their PellGrants on courses that don't give them college credit.This is why we need higher standards. When stateslower standards, they are lying to children and theyare lying to parents. Those standards don't prepare ourstudents for the world of college or the world of work.

When we match NAEP (National Assessment ofEducational Progress, also known as the Nation'sReport Card) scores and state tests, we see thedifference. Some states, like Massachusetts, comparevery well. Unfortunately, the disparities between moststate tests and NAEP results are staggeringly large.

This is one of the significant problems of NCLB. It letevery state set its own bar and we now have 50 states,50 different states all measuring success differently,and that's starting to change. We want to flip that. Wewant to set a high bar for the entire country againststates' and districts' ability to create and hit that higherbar, give them the chance to innovate and hold themaccountable for results.

Through the Council of Chief State School Officers,46 states and three territories have agreed to workon a common core of internationally benchmarkedstandards. This is just a first step, but it is a huge step inthe right direction.

We absolutely support that work because we knowfrom the data that the Trends in InternationalMathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and theProgram for International Student Assessment (PISA)study that America has stagnated educationally as therest of the world has progressed and in too many placespassed us by.

We're competing with children from around the globefor jobs of the future. It's no longer the next state or thenext region. It's India, China, South Korea, and Finland.

I was on Capitol Hill the other day and faced questionsover how much recovery money was going to save jobsand how much was going to advance reform. I toldthem that in the long run reform is all about jobs. Wehave to educate our way to a better economy.

Yes, we have to keep teachers in the classroom and wehave distributed enough money through recovery tosave literally hundreds of thousands of teaching jobsaround the country. But if that's all we do, then we'llmiss an opportunity. The status quo today is simply notgood enough. No one should be satisfied.

Now, we know the news isn't all bad, of course. We alsoknow that children of all age groups across the countryhave improved their performance in reading and thatyounger students are posting strong gains in math.We know that achievement gaps are narrowing at theelementary school level.

We also know that college enrollment has increased forstudents at all income levels. And that the enrollmentgap between students from low– and high–incomefamilies has shrunk by almost half. That means thatmore disadvantaged students have access to college,which is extremely encouraging as more and more oftoday's jobs in a competitive, global economy requirepostsecondary education.

With enrollment in our K–to–12 public schools risingto all–time highs, we know challenges remain ineducating a population that is growing, as we all know,but becoming increasingly diverse. The results fromthe long–term NAEP show that we have a lot of workleft to do, particularly in raising the achievement of ourstudents at the secondary school level, whose test scoreshave barely moved over the past three decades.

This is what we mean by transparency and absolutecommitment to exposing the good, the bad, and the uglyabout our current state of education.

I need your collective help to drive a nationalconversation that is above partisan policy disputes,beyond wars on math and reading, and instead focuseson the facts. We need to reach some agreements. Wecan't keep studying things without arriving at somecommonly accepted conclusions.

President Truman once lamented the fact that everyeconomist he spoke to would always say, “On the onehand things might get better, and on the other hand,things might not.” Truman finally concluded that ifhe wanted to find definitive advice on the economy, hewas going to have to start finding some one–handedeconomists.

To some extent, the education community suffersfrom that same dynamic. For every study showingthe benefits of the policy, there's another one with adifferent conclusion. Quite often people draw differentconclusions from the same study and that's where weneed to separate ideology from analysis.

I recently spoke to education writers about the search fortruth in education. I challenged them to go beyond theideological statements and the surface conclusions andfind out what is really happening for our children in ourclassrooms.

It's kind of like the debate around charter schools.Advocates say they outperform traditional schools.Opponents say they don't. The plain facts show thatsome charter schools do, and some of them don't. Butrather than acknowledge the obvious, we devolve into anideology debate and somehow forget that this is aboutchildren and learning. If something helps children, let'sdo it.

That's where all of you come in with the research andthe facts. Education reform is not about sweepingmandates or grand gestures. It's about systematicallyexamining and learning and building on what we'redoing right and scrapping what hasn't worked for ourchildren.

IES and its grantees are uniquely able to contribute tothis effort. You are staffed with world–class researchersand skilled statisticians. You have high standardsboth for evaluating program effectiveness and for thepublications you produce. I want to tell you what we'redoing to support data–driven instruction and research.

In addition to $250 million in the Recovery Act forstatewide data systems, we have requested nearly $690million for IES' activities, an increase of more than $70million from last year's budget.

Among other things, that money will pay for alongitudinal study of teachers and an internationalassessment of adult competencies. We will also launcha national survey to examine the participation of ouryoungest learners in preschool as well as the levels ofparent and family involvement in education.

We will also focus on data in our Race to the Top andInvest in What Works and Innovation applications.While the applications are still under construction, weare developing questions around how teachers are usingdata to drive instruction. Many teachers are hungeringfor data to inform what they do.

Our best teachers today are using real–time data in waysthat would have been unimaginable just five years ago.

They need to know how well their students areperforming. They want to know exactly what they needto do to teach and how to teach. It makes their jobeasier and ultimately much more rewarding. They aren'tguessing or talking in generalities anymore. They feel asif they're starting to crack the code.

We will also ask whether the data around studentachievement is linked to teacher effectiveness. Believe itor not, several states, including New York, Wisconsin,and California, have laws that create a firewall betweenstudents and teacher data. Think about that: Laws thatprohibit us from connecting children to the adults whoteach them.

Usually, firewalls are set up for our protection. Theyprevent hackers from getting into our computers andthey block our children from visiting inappropriateWeb sites. But these state firewalls don't help us. Theyhurt all of us. They impede our ability to serve studentsand better understand how we can improve Americaneducation.

I brought this up in a meeting in California two weeksago and a local union leader said the following: “Gatherdata so you can decide who the good teachers are?Wrong. We need more data, but not to use it as a basisfor teachers' pay.”

Now I absolutely respect the concerns of teachersthat test scores alone should never be used solelyto determine salaries. I absolutely agree with thatsentiment. I also appreciate that growth models as theyexist today are far less than perfect. We have a lot ofwork still ahead of us.

But to somehow suggest that we should not link studentachievement and teacher effectiveness is like suggestingwe judge a sports team without looking at the box score.

It's like saying, since standardized tests are not perfect,eliminate testing until they are. I think that's simplyridiculous. We need to monitor progress. We need toknow what is and is not working and why.

Hopefully, some day, we can trackchildren from preschool to high schooland from high school to college andcollege to career. We must track highgrowthchildren in classrooms to theirgreat teachers and great teachers totheir schools of education.

In California, they have 300,000 teachers. If you tookthe top 10 percent, they have 30,000 of the best teachersin the world. If you took the bottom 10 percent, theyhave 30,000 teachers that should probably find anotherprofession, yet no one in California can tell you whichteacher is in which category. Something is wrong withthat picture.

I know that many forward-thinking educators sharethis view and I am confident that, with your help andyour thoughtful work, we can overcome the legitimateconcerns of teachers that they are being judged merelyon test scores.

We began a pay-for-performance program in Chicagothat was designed by 25 of our city's best teachers. Itrewards not just individual teachers but entire schoolsand includes several factors well beyond test scores.

It's too early to see real results about pay-forperformanceinitiatives. There aren't a lot of studiesshowing it boosts student achievement, but there isplenty of evidence that it boosts worker productivity inother industries, so why shouldn't we try it? Over time,you collectively will tell us whether it's working.

We will also push states to make data available toresearchers. Of course, we realize student privacyis a real concern. But there are solutions. We canassign student identifiers to connect databases inschool systems. Universities, researchers and othernongovernmental third parties can strip out personallyidentifiable information from those databases.

And, hopefully, some day, we can track children frompreschool to high school and from high school tocollege and college to career. We must track highgrowthchildren in classrooms to their great teachersand great teachers to their schools of education.

Which schools of education are producing the teachersthat produce the students that improve the most yearafter year? We need to know that answer.

We can one day do a better job of understanding whatmakes great teachers tick, why they succeed, why theystay in the classroom and how others can be like them.Hopefully, we can track good programs to higher testscores to higher graduation rates. Hopefully, one day wecan look a child in the eye at the age of eight or nineor 10 and say, “You are on track to be accepted and tosucceed in a competitive university and, if you keepworking hard, you will absolutely get there.”

Today, many states are well along the path to havinggood data systems. Today, nearly every district has aninformation system that stores data about students, andmore teachers have access to these systems than everbefore.

In Garden Grove, California, teachers administerquarterly assessments aligned with California statestandards. Results are available the next day.

In Long Beach, teachers see benchmarked assessments,attendance and behavior. They meet regularly togetherto review data, monitor student progress, and planstrategies for at-risk students. In addition, the highschool students monitor their own progress. How is thatfor motivation? We need more and more districts usingthis kind of technology to help them improve.

The Data Quality Campaign, DQC, lists 10 elementsof a good data system. Six states, Alabama, Arizona,Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah, have all10 elements. Other states are also making progress.For example, Arkansas has a data warehouse thatintegrates school fiscal information, teacher credentials,and student coursework, assessments, and evenextracurricular activities.

The system has allowed for better student tracking toenable the state to identify double-count enrollmentsand is saving it more than $2 million in its first year.

We want to see more states build comprehensivesystems that track students from pre-K through collegeand then link school data to workforce data. We want toknow whether Johnny participated in an early learningprogram and completed college on time and whetherthose things have any bearing on his earnings as anadult.

Hopefully, one day we can look achild in the eye at the age of eight ornine or 10 and say, “You are on trackto be accepted and to succeed in acompetitive university and, if you keepworking hard, you will absolutelyget there.”

There's so much opportunity for growth and progressin this area. We have the money and we have thetechnology. The biggest barrier, the only remainingbarrier in my mind is whether we have the courage. Ittakes courage to expose our weaknesses with a trulytransparent data system. It takes courage to admit ourflaws and take steps to address them.

It takes courage to always do the right thing by ourchildren, but ultimately we all answer to the truth. Youcan dance around it for only so long. America's childrenneed your help. America's educators need your help,and the president and I need your help. We don't have aminute to waste.

Reforming public education is not just a moralobligation. It is absolutely an economic imperative. It isthe foundation for a strong future and a strong society.Education is the civil rights issue of our generation. Thefight for quality education is about so much more thaneducation. It's a fight for social justice. It is the only wayto achieve the quality that inspired our democracy, thatinspired women to stand up for their rights, and theninspired minorities to demand their fair share of theAmerican promise, and it inspires every child to dream.

Those dreams are shaped in America's classrooms. Theyare nurtured by the dedicated teachers and principals allacross America who do the hard work every single dayof educating our children. And they are counting on allof you to help them get better, help them see how theycan improve, and help them turn their students' dreamsinto reality.

So I thank you for all that you have done. I thank you inadvance for all that you will do. And thank you, aboveall, for telling us the truth, for keeping us honest andfor showing us the path forward. We may never have anopportunity like this again to transform the quality ofeducation in our country. Together, let's make the mostof it.

Thank you so much. Thanks so much.

U.S. Department of Education

Arne Duncan

August 2009