09/11/2013 10:49 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Can the Education Trust and Teachers Work Together?

When drafting a response to Joy Resmovits' "Dream Deferred," which drew on the work of the Education Trust, I reread publications issued by that pro-reform organization. The Ed Trust has long pushed test-driven policies that I see as destructive; in my experience, their rushed "reforms" have inflicted the most damage on schools serving low-income students. Not only has the Trust been a prime advocate for No Child Left Behind, but as early as 2004 it praised value-added teacher evaluations as complementary to NCLB. Moreover, the Trust suggested that districts should use value-added when assigning teachers to high-poverty schools. As recently as 2011, it still praised value-added teacher evaluations.

My response agreed with the thrust of Resmovits's post and agreed that bad teachers should be efficiently terminated. I argued, however, that test-driven accountability punished all teachers and their students. If anything, value-added evaluations would drive teaching talent out of high-poverty schools, and result in more bubble-in malpractice. I expressed my regret that the Education Trust and teachers could not be partners in improving schools. Perhaps grasping at straws, I sensed that the Trust's teacher-bashing seemed to be abating.

In the meantime, a couple of professionals at the Trust and I communicated. They sent a link to Kati Haycock's "Slowing Down to Speed Up" in the Huffington Post. It endorsed the call of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten for a moratorium on stakes being attached to standardized testing during the transition to Common Core. Frankly, I had missed this constructive statement.

Haycock explained that the Education Trust is an "organization created to press for vastly improved education for the nation's large and growing population of low-income students and students of color." She wrote, "nobody has been in a bigger hurry for change than we have" but "we need to do these things right, not just as fast as we can." During the past year, experience taught the Trust that "the ambitions of national and state leaders to get all of our students 'college and career ready' have raced far ahead of our ability to support the simultaneous transformation of multiple parts of the system."

Readers can follow Haycock's link to the Trust report "Getting It Right," which advocated for NCLB-type accountability on steroids. I read the paper as an example of the overreach that exemplifies how the Trust and NCLB have gotten accountability wrong. It showed that in 2011, at least, the Trust still sought to double-down on the micromanaging school systems, while scapegoating teachers for failing schools. For instance, it proposed accountability targets such as "cut in half the difference between starting proficiency rates and the overall proficiency rate at the top 10 percent of schools in the state over the next six years, overall and by subgroup." It would also enable the principals of the bottom 10 percent of schools "to replace staff as necessary to swiftly improve student learning."

But, and this is a big "but," Haycock also made some very constructive recommendations. Haycock did not use Arne Duncan's name but she criticized the pressure he has placed on states to use value-added evaluations during the transition to Common Core. "At a time when we are trying to convince teachers to shift over to new standards," she commented, "including a value-added or growth measure based on old tests is just plain nuts."

Even better, Haycock recounts the "same timeline problems" will "also undercut the power of our school accountability systems." She thus opposes the rating of schools on "growth" metrics with old tests while they should be teaching new standards. And, while urging Duncan and other reformers to give schools a little breathing space while they adjust to Common Core, Haycock makes an argument that we teachers have long made against value-added evaluations, "just because we can do these things, doesn't mean we should."

Regardless of whether we are discussing test-driven accountability, the closing of comparability loopholes or whatever metric de jour that captures the fancy of policy wonks, the Education Trust has long argued that systems can work to meet data-driven mandates without narrowing the curriculum, imposing nonstop test prep, moving teachers around like we are chess pieces and driving the joy of learning out of schools. That statement, however, is meaningless. The question is what will continue to be the predictable result of test-driven accountability.

But, I do not want to end on a divisive note. I very much appreciate the Trust's sensible approach to giving teachers and schools relief from high-stakes testing, even if it is only temporary. I hope for a continuing dialogue.

In that spirit, I ask the Education Trust to also consider a moratorium on high-stakes testing for students during the transition to Common Core. Graduation examinations were designed to be minimum competency tests. Can we not join together and oppose the denial of high school diplomas to students who fail college readiness tests ?

Then, will the Education Trust join with teachers and file amicus briefs in support of teachers and principals who are dismissed using the value-added metrics in a way that the Trust now condemns? Could we also join together in class action suits in defense of students damaged by high stakes Common Core-type tests?

Finally, if we can make the transition to higher standards without the omnipresent testing stick, perhaps we can discuss the proposition that the sky won't fall if educators and students are not constantly controlled by test-driven micromanaging. Perhaps the Education Trust and teachers could then bury the hatchet, build on our areas of agreement and focus on better ways of achieving equity and offering engaging and authentic instruction to all.