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schools would permit them to make the instructional and structural changes needed for their students to reach the standards. And holding schools accountable for meeting the standards would create incentives to redesign instruction toward the standards and provide appropriate assistance to schools that need extra help.
Embedded in this theory are a number of assumptions that experience since 1994 has led the committee to call into question. Chief among these assumptions is the idea that teachers would institute effective practices if they had both the freedom and the motivation to do so. In addition, we question the assumption that motivated teachers would seek guidance about improving instruction and districts would provide the support teachers need, largely by making more widely available the existing array of professional development opportunities.
As a result of our examination of the theory of action, the committee concludes that the theory needs to be expanded to make explicit the link between standards, assessments, accountability, instruction, and learning. In our view, standards-based policies can affect student learning only if they are tied directly to efforts to build the capacity of teachers and administrators to improve instruction.
An Expanded Theory
What would such a system look like? In our view, the focus would be on teaching and learning, and the theory of action revolves around the links between all the elements and instruction. We call the expanded system an “education improvement system.”
The theory of action behind an education improvement system relies on information and responsibility. Everyone in the system—students, parents, teachers, administrators, and policy makers at every level—needs high-quality information about the quality of instruction and student performance. At the same time, everyone needs to be responsible for fulfilling his or her role in improving results. The key is transparency: everyone should know what it is expected, what they will be measured on, and what the results imply for what they should do next.
Such a system is never “complete”; educators and policy makers continue to modify and adapt it as they learn from their own experience and the experience of others. States and districts need to examine each component, and the system as a whole, continually, to determine the extent to which it is achieving the goal of improving teaching and learning. In the following section we outline the criteria for the components.