Demonize data on teaching at our state’s peril

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The following Op-Ed by Jim Wunderman, Bay Area Council President & CEO, appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 13th. The article can be accessed here.

The facts are hard.

A generation ago, California had what was considered the best education system on the planet.

Today, our daughters and sons attend one of the worst-performing education systems in the industrialized world.

We are failing on the rock-bottom basics. California students’ ability to read is ranked 49th in the country by the U.S. Department of Education. Our kids’ ability to do math is ranked 47th and we are second to worst in science. Compared globally, the situation darkens further. Of the top 35 nations, the United States is ranked 29th in science and 35th in math. Your neighborhood school might be good by California standards, but that is a very low bar indeed. Our education crisis is a human tragedy and a looming economic disaster.

The Bay Area Council resolutely refuses to accept this crisis as our state’s fate. Let’s get past the political gridlock and get down to the real business of dramatically improving California schools. We know, as every honest study has shown, that it will take a combination of real dollars and major changes in the way we deliver education.

Several years ago, the Bay Area Council successfully fought to pass legislation creating a fully functioning statewide education data system. That system is now emerging and will be tied to a widely praised common national curriculum. We were inspired by Florida, which implemented the nation’s best data system, and now has far superior education outcomes. Florida’s student population is quite similar to California’s.

For students, the data system should be used throughout the year to help their teachers diagnose needs, guide instruction and monitor performance. It can guide program progress and help principals identify teachers who are getting results, and whose efforts and approaches can be modeled. Finally, considered with other factors, test scores must be a part of meaningful teacher evaluations to ensure our kids are getting the best teachers possible, not just the ones that have accumulated the most seniority.

What happens in a classroom is complex and the fix has multiple answers, but demonizing data throws out a critical flashlight we need to get out of this wilderness.

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