Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

Experience With Practical Evaluation (III): Today

September 23, 2007 2 min read

Today, most k-12 program evaluation is, at best. a single snapshot of what worked - or not - where and when. At worst it’s a political weapon employed in the charter, voucher, privatization, math or reading wars. Typically it’s a less than completely informative marketing tool. Rarely is it employed for the kind practical evaluation described earlier in this series of blog posts.As it happens, post-NAS, RAND’s high profile k-12 evaluation work, much of which has been led by Brian Gill (whose move to Mathematica prompted my thinking about practical evaluation), has offered examples of each. In only one case have I seen any real evidence of the programmatic course corrections “en route” that typified the RAND experience with NAS .

That case is the Pittsburgh study noted last week.

• Edison’s decision to hire RAND in 2000 was surely in part an effort to bolster the firms business credibility and educational legitimacy at a time when both were in doubt. The study itself showed Edison offered school districts roughly the same odds of turning around failing schools as the district itself, at a marginally higher cost. I have seen nothing to suggest how or if Edison used the RAND study to improve its school management services. In the absence of any serious explanation by the firm, I succumb to the temptation of reminding readers of Korean automotive manufacturer Hyndai’s new ad: “Are car companies committed to quality, or to the phrase ‘committed to quality.’”

• RAND’s work on Philadelphia school turn around efforts - also showing no huge difference between schools managed by outsider and those reorganized by the districts. That report became fodder for a methodology debate between RAND and Paul Peterson that simply obscured the bottom line - school management is no silver bullet, it’s just another tool we’re still honing. Whatever role the study may have played in the City of Brotherly Love’s decisions on school management contract, it surely was not the centerpiece of a dispassionate discussion among stakeholders on how to improve their joint enterprise.

Evaluation is a scorecard. Buyers need some means of sorting through their choices, and imperfect means are better than none. But it’s not merely a scorecard, and it’s not just the program that’s being scored - it’s also all the other stakeholders whose efforts make for success or failure. The “scorecard function is not even the most important. Practical evaluation is a means of continuous improvement for the entire system where the school improvement program is introduced. It’s basic purpose is to provide the fact base for ongoing conversations between buyers and sellers and every other group engaged in implementation.

I’m not singling out RAND or Gill for special treatment. They are just examples of a widespread unhelpful social phenomena in the use of evaluation - one the (not so) new (but slow to get started) Society for Research on Education Effectiveness should address as its first priority (but doesn’t).

For more on the related subject of adaptive management.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Arizona School Data Analyst - (AZVA)
Arizona, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Proposal Writer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion New Resource Tracks School System Reopening
The Return to Learn Tracker identifies the current instructional model of all regular public school districts with three or more schools.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management San Francisco School Board Pauses Renaming 44 Schools, Promises to Consult Historians
The renaming of 44 schools in the San Francisco Unified School District is apparently being put on hold after intense blowback.
Greg Keraghosian
1 min read
A pedestrian walks below a sign for Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco, on Dec. 17, 2020. The San Francisco Unified School District put the renaming of 44 schools, including Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, on hold after local and national blowback.
A pedestrian walks below a sign for Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco, on Dec. 17, 2020. The San Francisco Unified School District put the renaming of 44 schools, including Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, on hold after local and national blowback.<br/><br/>
Jeff Chiu/AP
School & District Management Superintendent Who Led During COVID-19 School Shutdowns Gets Top Honors
Michelle Reid of Washington state's Northshore district, one of the very first to close schools last March, was named National Superintendent of the Year.
3 min read
Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Northshore district in Washington
Michelle Reid, the superintendent of the Northshore district in Washington, was named National Superintendent of the Year.
courtesy of AASA, the School Superintendents Association
School & District Management Is Lunchtime the 'Weak Link' in School Reopening Plans?
It's risky when students are inside and unmasked, experts say. Here are five ways to mitigate that risk and make in-school meals safer.
11 min read
Elementary students in Brownsville, Texas, eat a socially distanced lunch in the school cafeteria. Experts say there are ways to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19 even when kids take their masks off to eat.
Elementary students in Brownsville, Texas, eat a socially distanced lunch in the school cafeteria. Experts say there are ways to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19 when kids take their masks off to eat.
Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP