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Brookings Papers on Education Policy 2004 (2004) 180-197



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[Article by Sandra Stotsky with Lisa Haverty]

Comment by Margaret Raymond

Sandra Stotsky provides an in-depth case study of policymaking at the state level. To improve the quality of teaching and enhance student performance, Massachusetts has undertaken a number of initiatives in recent years. The state carefully integrated teacher preparation reforms with other efforts to define content requirements for students through standards and curricular frameworks, aligned with student testing and school accountability programs. Stotsky reviews the steps taken and the reaction to them and then draws a few conclusions about the experience. The focus of these comments is on the rational formulation of policy.

The United States is in a brave new world with No Child Left Behind,where the focus is squarely on creating positive impacts on student outcomes. Stotsky correctly characterizes a primary focus of No Child Left Behind as seeking to raise the floor for low-performing students. Additional elements of the law recognize the critical role of teachers in that process. States then must focus on teacher quality as a driver of improved student achievement.

Stotsky's paper is important in part because of the role that Massachusetts has taken on in the evolution of school reform. Massachusetts has been first among states to initiate a number of new policies. Its efforts have received considerable attention from education reform leaders, researchers, and the media over the last few years. Other states, for a variety of reasons, are waiting and seeing what happens in Massachusetts.

Policy concerns the choices that states make. The large number of proposals for new programs or refinements to existing programs amounts to a menu of alternatives that states can contemplate. Eventually, state education [End Page 180] departments and state legislatures narrow down the range of policy possibilities, and they make specific choices. And at that point, they have a particular policy or program to put in place, which presumably strives to be a good steward of the public trust.



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Figure 1
Useful Analysis for Policy


The programs resulting from the combined efforts of the Massachusetts legislature, the board of education, and the Department of Education reflect their choices. In most cases, the choices represent best guesses as to the wisest course of action, the best investment of scarce resources aimed at an educational objective. The primary objectives for Massachusetts were to attract more high-achieving undergraduate majors, graduates, and academically able midcareer changers to teaching; increase the academic qualifications of new teachers entering the field; and increase the academic knowledge of the current teaching force.

All these objectives focus on the factors of production in education. While the focus is entirely reasonable, it is important to set out the larger context: Superior teaching is the goal because positive impacts on student performance are expected from good teaching. So the ultimate question for policymaking ought to be, How do state policies, not the near-term effects of improving teachers, affect student performance in the long run?

A framework for both the proximate and ultimate impacts of state education policies is captured in figure 1. The framework provides a simple structure for thinking about evaluating policies in the area of teacher quality. [End Page 181] Teachers—measured both by number and by quality—are important inputs. Their presence in classrooms is influenced by the policies and programs described by Stotsky.

Each choice has a mix of inputs, or specific processes, either that the policies and programs are seeking to change or that they rely on to create better teaching, which is the output of these initiatives. But Massachusetts needs to couple its choices with rigorous attempts to figure out whether those choices lead to the student academic performance outcomes that they expected. While Stotsky examines the output effects of several of the policies, she acknowledges that outcome or impact evaluations are not the general practice in her state.

That deficiency has broad ramifications. If Massachusetts knew more about the effectiveness of policies that were put in place, some of the debate could...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-4457
Print ISSN
1096-2719
Pages
pp. 180-197
Launched on MUSE
2004-03-03
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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