Saying ‘Good Bye’ to Grades

Harold Kwalwasser, December 11, 2015

[From School Administrator, December 2015, co-authored with Barbara Nemko]

It is time to say “good bye” to students’ grades. We really should forget about all those A’s and F’s, just as we should discard the idea of 5th grade. That’s because “grade,” however we use the word, comes from the era of mass-produced education. It reflects an inflexibility about how we assess students and a rigidity about how and why we expose them to new material. None of it helps students learn.

Grades were the product of their times, which were distinguished by two things. First, instruction generally meant one teacher, teaching one way, from one textbook, standing at the front of the class. Second, we did not feel troubled if some children left high school with a weak mastery of even basic math and reading skills. Before 1980, they still could have a good life, earning decent wages in factories that did not require much numeracy or literacy.

Obviously, the latter has changed. Every child needs a real education. The good news is we have alternative ways to instruct children, and when we adopt those methods properly, our old grading system just gets in the way…

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Standardized tests don’t help us evaluate teachers

Harold Kwalwasser, September 16, 2015

[From my Op-Ed published in the Los Angeles Times September 10, 2015]

When I was the general counsel of the Los Angeles Unified School District, it was extraordinarily difficult to dismiss underperforming teachers who had tenure. One major problem was that we lacked objective measures of teacher effectiveness. So when the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act brought the nation annual standardized testing for math and reading, I applauded.

Congress is now seriously considering new legislation, the Every Child Achieves Act, which would continue the same testing program. But 14 years on, I think that’s a mistake. I believe our exam system is deeply flawed, especially when it comes to teacher evaluation…

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Why Teachers Colleges get a Flunking Grade

Harold Kwalwasser, October 25, 2013

Wall St. Journal, Oct. 24, 2013, with Barbara Nemko, Napa Co., California Superintendent of Schools: Education gurus in recent years have taken to lamenting the sorry state of teacher training in the United States. Arthur Levine, the former president of the Teachers College at Columbia University, wrote a scathing report in 2006 on its deficiencies. […]

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School elections: What do we do about low voter turnout?

Harold Kwalwasser, September 16, 2013

Notwithstanding the millions of dollars spent in Los Angeles’ recent school board election, turnout was well below 20%, just as it was in the primary election in March.

It is part of a long-term decline that should leave us wondering what is going on. In the last fifty years, turnout has declined precipitously in Los Angeles. In the 1959 municipal election, for example, about 50% of registered voters cast a ballot for Mayor, and 40% participated in the school board election.

However, the problem, at least for school boards, is not just a Los Angeles phenomenon. The week before the election in LA, there were hundreds of votes for school boards and budgets in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. In almost every one of these elections, voter turnout was below 20%. In fact, even in wealthy Bergen County, New Jersey, the turnout averaged only about 10%.

The lesson here is profound — and discomfiting. Elections are how we hold our public institutions accountable. Ten percent turnouts don’t do that…

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Mooresville’s Recipe for Great Schools

Harold Kwalwasser, September 16, 2013

This week, I listened to a remarkable educator, Mark Edwards, the Superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District in Iredell County, explain how he had propelled his sleepy district to be one of the hottest showcases for high-quality K-12 education in America.

His talk focused on something he called “digital conversion,” the most obvious part of which is that every student in the district now has his or her own laptop. Indeed, the casual observer might draw the conclusion that by simply giving every student a computer and hooking them up to the Internet, a district can improve student achievement over night.

However, Superintendent Edwards’ message made clear that the visible part of the process, the laptop, really played only a secondary role in the strategy that was at the heart of his success. He spent most of his time talking about how he had worked hard to establish a culture of caring at his schools, as well as a set of high expectations. In fact, in his new book, Every Child, Every Day, which we all received during the talk, his chapter on the culture of caring precedes his chapter on digital resources and infrastructure.

Edwards’ and Mooresville’s success offers several lessons to anyone interested in improving schools…

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Kwalwasser Speaks to the American Constitution Society

Harold Kwalwasser, February 7, 2013

RenewingOurSchools’ principal consultant, Hal Kwalwasser, recently spoke to the American Constitution Society in Washington, DC about school reform.  He subsequently summarized his talk in the Society’s Book Talk blog.  His views on the limitations of legislative fixes for school reform, and the importance of parent and community involvement in the schools reflect the main themes […]

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