Fordham Institute’s accountability design competition: A healthier mess

I will be in Washington early next week participating in the Fordham Institute’s design competition for state accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act. I will be one of ten submitters making (very short!) presentations late afternoon Tuesday, February 2 (3:30-5:30 EST). The complete list of design sketches is available now (whether or not the submitters are presenting next week), and mine is also copied at the end of this blog entry.

A few notes about my entry:

  1. This is an exercise to squeeze what I could into the structure of ESSA. It copies some ideas from recommendations at the end of Accountability Frankenstein (2007), but it is not a statement of my policy preferences. It is an “art of the possible” design (or sketch, more likely).
  2. It uses various transformations of scale scores, proficiency percentages, and the like. There are other entries who make (probably more publicly-palatable) use of transformations, in contrast with those who assert transparency of calculation as a high-minded goal in state accountability systems. I will probably say more about this next week, but I just want to note the clear contrast along this dimension. More generally, my sketch has a deliberate jury-rigged construction; that is a feature, not a bug. There is at least one point where I see another way to tinker with something, less than three weeks after my submission. I’ll certainly think of another one within a few hours.
  3. And yet, at the same time, it also tries to make use of some well-researched assessments in areas that ESSA requires (English language proficiency) and in one of the critical areas that ESSA leaves to states (the general category, “other indicators of student success or school quality”).
  4. Finally, I am quite sure that my use of a grand jury system to make judgments about equal opportunity is unique. I am not sure anyone will like it, because this idea of trusting citizen judgment on critical matters of what constitutes equal educational opportunity is … well, we will see what people think of that on Tuesday.

And now, my proposal… (where I have identified typographical errors, you will see copyediting notes as appropriate)

Continue reading “Fordham Institute’s accountability design competition: A healthier mess”

Interview season notes

We had dozens of candidates on campus last year for positions at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, by far the most busy search season I have experienced in my career at any place. Since our college is searching for a new dean, I thought I would make any comments about on-campus interviews for faculty and administrative positions long before we have any dean candidates on campus.1 These are not in any particular order, and they are entirely idiosyncratic to me as an individual faculty member.

  • It is sometimes hard to remember that the issue is not about hiring a candidate who will be repeating the interview performance as the job, but rather trying to make inferences about future performance from all the evidence, including the interview. After you are hired, your main job will not be talking to your new colleagues about your research, though the research-oriented job talk is a natural focus of preparation.2 This is true for whoever makes a hiring decision and everyone on campus who interacts with a candidates, and also inevitably for the candidate. “Be great on the interview!” is about performance. Yes, dress professionally and avoid unforced errors, but people who interact with a candidate can often smell the attributes of a performance. When I interviewed for my current position, I decided that my responsibility during the interview was to provide all the information I could about what I would be like as an academic administrator and colleague. If everyone with input decided I was the right candidate but I really was not, I had very little chance of being successful or satisfied.3
  • The higher the position, the more you need to do research about the place. Part of this is in comparison with candidates for other positions: Of course many candidates for assistant professors do every bit of research they can about the college/university because they need a full-time job and will scramble to do their best. So if for no other reason than because graduate students will have done the research, you need to as well. But there is another reason: the more responsibility the position entails, the less the interview is about your current job and much more about how you look at organizational and other contexts. My automatic question for external candidates for dean and provost positions (and if you are a candidate for the dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, you now know to expect it): What can you tell us about ourselves that we cannot see from the inside?
  • Some interview questions are about the past, and some are about the future — both your future and the institution’s. You do not need to have a pat answer for all questions, and you are almost always allowed to answer a question about the past with an answer to a closely-related question about the future instead. Especially if the question appears to be something like, “how will you weigh in on this internal conflict we’ve had for 15 years,” there is no good answer. So answer an appropriate, closely-related question about the future.
  • There is a difference between being flexible about job opportunities and not having an intellectual identity. On Friday morning, I spoke with ASU doctoral students from a number of programs, and one student applying for jobs asked about the tension between having an academic identity and applying for a range of jobs (especially the range of teaching workloads and research supports). Fortunately, I had opened up with a bad joke comparing academic identities with assembling IKEA furniture, so I could make the following point, I hope clearly: your identity is somewhat modular and will change across a career in response to where you are, your opportunities, and circumstances.4 So, yes, if you take a particular job, you will slowly change in response to wherever you are. But if you are finishing a doctoral program, or just starting a career, you have a current intellectual identity.
  • You will be judged by the questions you ask: they reveal how much you know about the position, about yourself, and about academic environments. So ask thoughtful questions.


  1. Disclosure: I am not on the search committee. []
  2. If you go for mostly-teaching gigs, remember to prepare for teaching-oriented slots in the interview! []
  3. I already had a tenured, full-professor position at the time. I did not need to be desperate for a full-time job. []
  4. Credit for the IKEA metaphor to Devoney Looser, who was the other speaker Friday. Any awkwardness in the “keep your Allen wrench with you forever” joke belongs to me. []

Scholarly impacts, brief notes

Today is the start of the semester at ASU, and short-term projects are following me around this month like lost puppies, so time to respond to Rick Hess’s list from last week has been short. A few brief notes:

  • In the “nice to be mentioned” category: For some reason, I have not yet dropped off the list, after almost two years where I have been moving, starting a new administrative job, and then taking on some extra duties. While I was interviewed last year a few times about Jeb Bush’s time as governor in Florida, I thought his remarkable run at president has essentially killed the chances for future interviews. Either Hess’s list has a lag time for changes or those few interviews (plus a column on Arne Duncan) were enough. But for now, I suppose I can say, “I’m Number One Hundred Eightysomething!”
  • At ASU, others on the list are David Berliner, Gene Glass, and David Garcia. I can point out a number of others who could and should be listed. Perhaps the most important aspect of this spottiness is that everyone from ASU who has been on the list in the last few years are in ed policy, roughly speaking. I don’t think this is a blind spot of the list, necessarily, but there a few quirks in how Hess’s team has classified people: Larry Cuban has written primarily as an historian of education, for example, though that’s not how he’s classified, and while David Berliner’s degree is in psychology, his public speaking and writing is far closer to policy.
  • I take lists like this with a grain of salt. Rick Hess does, too, from everything he says (including today’s column in Ed Week). There are organizations that try to help faculty reach out to the general public (Scholars Strategy Network and History News Network, to mention two), but that is not the same thing as acknowledgment of the work in this area that faculty do. Recognizing scholars who conduct outreach beyond their peer circles should be done. I don’t think that’s done best by a ranking using arbitrary measures, and I also know no one has a great way to do this.

Top education news stories of 2015, to an historian

This was a very busy year for education news: twenty major news stories follow, and I am restricting myself to the United States.

  1. The Every Student Succeeds Act passed at the end of the year, ending many of No Child Left Behind’s straightjacket rules and putting limits on the federal Department of Education. This is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that Lamar Alexander could have signed in 2000 or 2001 in the alternate universe where he became president in 1997, a logical bill for a Republican president and a Democratic Congress. That leads to the next question for some doctoral student: why was the No Child Left Behind Act signed instead, an outlier from the historical trajectory of federal education law since the 1950s?
  2. The opt-out movement had a measurable effect on the numbers of children taking state standardized tests in states from New York to Washington, with many New York school districts having more than half of students refusing to take state tests. While plenty of parents and teachers unions have been critical of high-stakes testing before 2015, and there were a few hints of action before this year (most notably in a 2013 boycott of a district-mandated test in one Seattle high school), the scale of the test boycotts this year was unprecedented. While states wonder what to do on the policy front, the deeper question is whether the opt-out successes in 2015 give license to additional test boycotts, or other parent/student revolts against schooling norms.
  3. Continue reading “Top education news stories of 2015, to an historian”

Gnostic utterings for academics

For a period of years, my friend Gwen Knighton had entries in her blog she called gnostic utterings, which were comments about the world prompted by some-distance-removed events, and to which she appended the warning, “If you think this is about you, you are probably wrong.” Each entry was a collection of statements she did not utter to the people who deserved them. In a different way, Matt Reed is especially good at describing higher-ed issues at some remove, either by time or circumstance, and discussing the general principles at heart. I am far less efficient in time management, and so I will be stealing the privacy-preserving distance of both Knighton and Reed, and the aphorism-length quality of Knighton’s entries.

Warning: If you think your own actions motivated my writing an item, you are probably wrong. But these are still true.

  • Find a time to celebrate before you charge up the next mountain.
  • You are fretting about a process that inevitably invites fretting. You’re normal.
  • You are struggling with what requires struggling.
  • Give yourself a night or two to sleep on the problem. Then move ahead, because you can’t build the rest of your life on facial tissue.
  • Most of your students did not follow your path to the classroom. They probably need something different from what helped you thrive.
  • You are exceeding my 10:1 reality:buzzword limit. Inject more reality or delete buzzwords.
  • Making more foolish decisions will not get you out of your current hole. You are not a small country, and foolish decisions are not a currency.
  • Yes, yes, your enemies are conspiring against you. So what did you do to bring you to this moment?
  • An effective group is not the same thing as an echo chamber.
  • If you successfully put that target on your enemy’s back, no one else competent may want the position.