Replacing NCLB

So, I never did a post on the replacement for No Child Left Behind that passed a few weeks ago.  As always, you can count on Vox for a thorough explainer of the new law.  Easily the best thing about it is that it places less emphasis on standardized tests:

2) But it could make standardized tests less important — and maybe even less frequent

Parents, teachers, and policymakers agree: students in the US are tested too much. And that’s not just because No Child Left Behind required annual tests. It’s partly because the law defined what it meant for schools to make progress, as measured by tests, toward a goal of getting every student to read and do math by 2014.

Under NCLB, schools with a high percentage of students in poverty that weren’t making progress had to take a series of steps, beginning with allowing students to transfer and offering tutoring. Schools that failed year after year could be taken over by the state, or their staff could be fired and rehired.

That meant a lot was riding on the year-end tests, and so states and districts began requiring additional tests to prepare students for them. Now that states can come up with their own consequences or support systems for schools that aren’t performing well on tests, it’s possible that schools and teachers won’t be under so much pressure to perform well.

So, tests are going away (and they shouldn’t, there is actually some value in them), but the very damaging over-emphasis on tests will hopefully go away.  There’s a good argument that too much power now devolves to the states:

6) The state where you live is about to really matter

Educational quality has always varied tremendously by state. Students in Massachusetts do much better on tests than students in Mississippi. But the general structure of how schools are judged has been roughly the same for the past 15 years. So has what happens to schools that are falling short.

Even the newer pieces of the education policy puzzle, such as teacher evaluation systems based on test scores and the Common Core standards, were relatively uniform, thanks to the Obama administration’s success at getting most states to adopt them.

That’s about to change. Many of the decisions about what to do with standardized test scores, and thus the importance of standardized tests to policy, are now up to states.

And I don’t trust a lot of states to handle accountability well.  That said, if this is the cost to be paid for the benefit of not overly-using standardized tests, I’ll take it.  Furthermore, as long as Common Core survives, we’ve got an (almost) nationally agreed upon set of higher standards.

I do think there is a role for standardized tests to play in American education, but overly harsh sanctions and accountability leading to unhealthy obsessiveness with the tests throughout American education has clearly been a genuine problem. While the new law is far from perfect, getting away from the test obsessiveness should hopefully be a good thing.

Zero sum Chipotle

I still love Chipotle (though I have not eaten there for lunch since my local pizza place re-opened), but I really love this Vox post critiquing their food safety choices:

The run of bad news is ironic because Chipotle has actually spent a lot of time this year thinking about where its ingredients come from. Back in April, Chipotle became the first major restaurant chain to announce that all of its food was free of genetically modified organisms. Many customers saw that as a sign of progress — though others complainedthat some of its “GMO-free” meat came from animals fed GMO grains.

Yet study after study has found that GMO foods are perfectly safe. While genetically modified food sounds scary to a lot of people, it’s been widely available in the United States for about two decades with no apparent ill effects.

So rather than pandering to groundless fears about GMO safety, Chipotle would have served its customers better by focusing on the very real dangers of food tainted with E. coli, norovirus, or salmonella. Theoretically, it should be able to do both, of course, but like any organization Chipotle has limited resources. A dollar it spends guarding against the overblown threat of GMOs is a dollar it can’t devote to preventing actual health problems.

I’m not sure it’s quite that zero-sum, but there is a basic truth to it– Chipotle clearly spent too much resources worrying about a non-threat and not enough worrying about a real threat.

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