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Jeff Meadors: Will we have a Kelley Blue Book of school choice?

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

Do free market choices line the Common Core playbook?

As government torchbearers of the national curriculum seek meaningful alignment with common assessments, will the result be easier ways to grade U.S. schools, thus allowing federal and state vouchers to flow to students seeking the best alma mater possible?

Not unlike league tables created under Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Education Reform Act, archives of national school statistics may generate a Kelley Blue Book of school choice.

Voucher debates heat up just as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan doubled back last month on linking teacher performance to test scores, giving 37 states and D.C. an extra year to implement teacher evaluations linked to assessments aligned to Common Core.

The streets to more testing are lined with taxpayer cash, but states don’t have it — grant money isn’t free after all — and seed money means taxpayers will fund operating costs. States including Oklahoma, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan are walking away from or scaling back participation in PARCC, Smarter Balance, and Common Core. Is Florida next?

While not federally developed, Common Core looks and feels like federal intrusion. Duncan used 2009 anti-recession stimulus money to fund state and local school grant programs. Schools now wallow in unaffordable testing, chopping days from school calendars to keep the lights on.

Thatcher’s reform legislated school choice in assignment of schools for children, allowing choice based on measured ability to teach the National Curriculum.

As top U.S. schools become identifiable, will students have the right to choose? It will be tough to settle for failure when intergovernmental agreements could pave the way for choice across county and state lines.

But can states even link Common Core to assessments to create genuine comparisons of U.S. schools? Results of initial efforts call into question Georgia’s ability to do so. Fifty-nine percent of Georgia test-takers failed to meet standards on the CCGPS Coordinate Algebra EOCT, one of many tests which some seek to tie to teacher effectiveness, evaluations, and pay beginning fiscal year 2016.

Low performance on the newly aligned math test, argue state leaders, was anticipated, creating doubt about the state’s ability to eat this elephant even one bite at a time; the initial taste test failed.

Teachers retire early and flee the field faster than states can spin assessment results. Thousands left Georgia classrooms last December, facing a 3 percent rule.

Efforts to link teacher pay and performance to student testing will drive more good teachers from the field, leaving bureaucrats to add more layers of directors and deputy superintendents, people who rarely touch the lives of students in any meaningful way. School systems must stop falling in love with unaffordable dreams and return the focus to supporting teachers.

If there’s any silver lining here, it may be added choice for students seeking top schools as they face fierce competition from international counterparts who offer no apologies for beating American kids in math and science and make no excuses for taking top jobs out from under them.

Jeff Meadors holds two advanced degrees in education from Emory University and has served in elected and appointed positions in the field. He may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.