Category Voices

David Steiner, executive director and founder of the Institute for Education Policy at the School of Education, briefed members of the House Ways and Means Committee on the institute’s mission and offered his views on improving K-12 education.

Steiner told the committee that in recent years the goalposts have moved for educators. “Today the emphasis is on preparing students to be college- and career-ready, whereas a decade ago we wanted students to be able to graduate from high school,” he said. “The two are not the same. In New York for example, 75 percent of the students graduate from high school while only half that number are ready for college. Unfortunately, the number of disadvantaged students who are ready for college is even lower.”

His message was clear: If we are to improved educational opportunities for all students, we need to focus more attention on what we teach and how effectively students are learning.

“Today the emphasis is on preparing students to be college- and career-ready, whereas a decade ago we wanted students to be able to graduate from high school.”

According to Steiner, research shows that with the exception of the contrast between a superbly effective and ineffective teacher, no single factor makes more of a difference in student learning than the curriculum. A strong curriculum can accelerate student learning as much as seven months over a weak one. Since there is no national consensus, curriculums now can vary by teachers within a school, among schools and among districts.

He said we “massively” under-educate our children and expect too little of them. “However, when we teach them really interesting and demanding material and challenge them to think about it, they do much better.”

As proof, he cites the example of the International Baccalaureate program, a top-rated curriculum, introduced to Chicago public schools. The program is serving 22,000 regular high school students, 70 percent of whom are minorities. Students completing the program are showing 40 percent greater rates of entry into higher education than their peers.

Steiner said student learning is directly related to the quality of the teaching they receive. He was critical of the lack of accountability of the nation’s 1,200 schools of education. He told the committee we have no idea what kind of training that teacher candidates are getting, nor do we know how effective they are in the classroom. “The problem of teacher quality is as deep a problem as the curricula problem,” he said.

He encouraged the legislative committee to take a leadership role in both areas. “You should know what curriculum is being taught in schools and whether it is research-based,” he told legislators. “You should also know if a school of education is producing effective teachers for the classrooms of Maryland.” The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act allows states more flexibility in using federal dollars to address these concerns.

Steiner offered legislators the services of the institute by providing access to an unbiased education research and also to answer questions important to them and their constituents. To see his complete presentation, click here. His presentation starts at 1:05.

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