Rossier professor helps to progress education

A young face on USC’s faculty, Morgan Polikoff is well on his way to becoming a leading member at the Rossier School of Education.

Wunderkind · Assistant professor Polikoff joined the Rossier Staff in 2010, quickly rising through the ranks with his research contributions. - Photo courtesy of USC Rossier

Wunderkind · Assistant professor Polikoff joined the Rossier Staff in 2010, quickly rising through the ranks with his research contributions. – Photo courtesy of USC Rossier

Polikiff, who joined the Rossier staff in 2010, was recently ranked in a top public influence ranking by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. He has focused his work on testing and accountability in schools.

Hess’ public influence ranking identifies university-based scholars who have had a heavy influence on public debates regarding education. Fellow Rossier faculty members Dominic Brewer, Mary Helen        Immordino-Yang and Katharine Strunk were also honored.

Though he hasn’t been on the scene for long, Polikoff’s research contributions have quickly launched him into prominence in the field of education.

One focus of Polikoff’s research involves the design of an accountability system for schools, which revolves around the No Child Left Behind policy. The policy outlines requirements such as annual testing for select grade levels, proficient level achievement on state tests and training for highly qualified teachers in order to improve education for disadvantaged students.

The major flaw of No Child Left Behind is that it identifies schools that need interventions solely based on test scores, Polikoff said. He stressed that with this strategy, the results are merely correlated with student demographics at a minimum and fail to measure student achievement growth.

His focus of accountability, rather, takes other factors such as graduation rates, attendance and student engagement into account in order to propose how states can achieve school accountability more effectively.

Another focus of Polikoff’s research is the implementation of the new Common Course State Standards. The CCSS describes what students should know and be able to do in the subjects English and mathematics by the end of each grade. Since 2010, 45 states have adopted this set of standards.

Polikoff  studies the effectiveness of implementation by looking at the curriculum materials and how well they are aligned with what the teachers are actually supposed to be teaching. The discrepancies play an important role in student achievement, Polikoff said.

“We have gaps in this country in terms of achievement and attainment,” he said.

Polikoff stressed that the United States’ meager education standing compared to other countries reflects the need for curriculum changes and reforms.

“There’s no question that we can do better in terms of these relevant standings,” Polikoff said.

Polikoff also asserted reform needs to be partially taken on by textbook companies. Currently, many textbook companies say that they are aligned to curriculum standards, when in fact they essentially “slapped a new sticker on the old book.”

Polikoff believes his job is to get this kind of information into the hands of educators so that they can make informed decisions about the best way to educate children.

His work, however, is not without controversy. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Polikoff discussed his opinion on the new state standard that requires education in cursive writing, stating that he  did not think of the requirement as such an important or necessary matter.

The story soon received a lot of attention, and Polikoff was asked to write a blog post for the New York Post. Some of the reactions to his opinion have been negative.

This kind of response, however, has not slowed down Polikoff’s work.  The assistant professor continually publishes articles, writes policy briefs and engages with people on social media sites such as Twitter to inform the public of the flaws he sees in the educational system.