I’ve argued many times that a good start for real education reform, instead of reinventing a square wheel, would be for other states to clone Massachusetts’ educational system (in the spirit of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, I would call my program ‘Put Your Right Foot In, Put Your Right Foot Out, Do the Hokey-Pokey and Shake It All About.’ Not really).
In a related vein, Michael Petrilli wants to set realistic educational goals (boldface mine):
I put this challenge to Matt Chingos, a fellow at the Brookings Institution: Could we find an empirical way to set goals? Could we figure out how big a distance there is between our current results and what’s reasonably (but aggressively) possible or if all schools were providing a consistently strong education to their students? What if all states, for instance, were doing well as Massachusetts (though with their own demographics)? Here was his back-of-the-envelope solution:
I took 2011 eighth-grade math NAEP scores. The national average is 284. If I take a weighted average of NAEP scores by race (using each group’s share of the public school population as weights), I get 283.
If I take Massachusetts NAEP data by race and average them using the national racial breakdowns, I get 292. What this tells you is that if black kids in the U.S. did as well as black kids in Massachusetts, white kids in the U.S. did as well as white kids in Massachusetts, etc., then the U.S. would have a NAEP score for eighth-grade math that was nine points higher than it is (the difference between 283 and 292).
So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s aim to get to 292 within six years. That would be an incredible accomplishment—reaching Massachusetts-level math achievement for the country as a whole. Still, let’s be clear: Just half of the Bay State’s eighth graders are proficient in math; the numbers for minority and low-income students are much, much lower. Even big gains leave us far from “universal proficiency”—much less “universal college and career readiness.”
While I disagree with Petrilli about his concerns about proficiency (given how Massachusetts does on the TIMSS, this means most European countries produce vanishingly few ‘proficient’ students. Do you really believe that?), he’s absolutely right: if Massachusetts can do it, so can other states.