Archives for category: Federal Waiver

Laura H. Chapman provides here the relevant federal statutes that restrict the role of federal officials to prevent federal intrusion and control of public education. The prohibition of federal employees exercising any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, instruction or personnel of public schools was enacted when the U.S. Department of Education was created in 1979. Secretary Duncan insists that the Department of Education is not directing or influencing curriculum or instruction by its ardent support for the Common Core standards or its $360 million funding of CCSS tests. We all know that standards and tests don’t influence curriculum and instruction, right?

Legal Restriction: “U. S. Congress. General Provisions Concerning Education. (2010, February). Section 438 (20 U.S.C. § 1232a). US Code TITLE 20 EDUCATION CHAPTER 31, SUBCHAPTER III, Part 2, §§ 1232a. Prohibition against Federal control of education. No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.” Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/20/usc_sup_01_20.html

Legal Restriction: “The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, 115 Stat. 1425 (2002). Section 9527 ESEA amended by NCLB (20 U.S.C. § 7907(a).1) This provision is based on 20 U.S.C. 7907(a) (Section 9527(a) of NCLB). Section 7907(a) is one of the ESEA’s general provisions contained in Title IX of the Act. It states: Nothing in this [Act] shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this [Act]. 20 U.S.C. 7907(a).”

Since 2002 federal officials have been threading legal needles with the carefully contrived language of “deniability” if they are accused of violating federal law.

No one in Congress has the interest or courage to call for the hearings needed to expose the damage, incompetence, and under the table deals with lobbyists–all enabling the destruction of public education except for the funding that will subsidize for-profit schemes conjured by billionaires who see education the nation’s young people as a source of profit and, in some cases,opportunity for indoctrination.

In 2001, Congress passed a law called No Child Left Behind. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2002. It is the worst federal education legislation ever passed. It required that 100% of children in grades 3-8 must be proficient by 2014 or their schools are failing and subject to harsh sanctions. In no nation in the world are 100% of children proficient. This is an impossible goal. Yet many schools have been closed, many educators fired, because they could not do the impossible.

Although NCLB should have been re authorized in 2007, Congress has been unable to agree on how to change it. It should have been scrapped. Accountability should be the job of the states, not the federal government.

Into the stalemate over NCLB stepped our present Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who offered waivers from the 2014 deadline to states that agreed to evaluate their teachers based on their students’ test scores. States lined up to seek waivers. Washington State, however, asked for a waiver but the Legislature refused to evaluate teachers by test scores. Many studies have shown that this a fundamentally flawed way of evaluating teachers. But Duncan stuck to his guns, oblivious to the research. He decreed that Washington State would lose its waiver. That men’s that every school in the state is a failing school and must inform parents that their child attends a failing school.

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Educators in Washington State have written a plea to Arne Duncan not to rescind the state’s waiver from what is, in fact, a ridiculous law. They have a petition and invite you to support them by signing it.

Here is their press release:

This year, most school districts across Washington state were forced by Secretary Arne Duncan’s selective enforcement of the No Child Left Behind Act to send letters to all parents that labeled our schools as failures. We are parents, teachers, students and community members who reject this label that has been placed on our schools.

We know that our schools are not failures. In fact, their accomplishments have been remarkable, especially given the deeply flawed policy imposed on them by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). While there are certainly changes needed for our schools – many due to the legacy of racism, class inequality, and lack of equitable funding for our schools – we believe that those changes should be directed by communities that make up local school districts, not by top-down mandates. This website will share stories and testimonials about the great things that are happening in our schools that should be supported and connect our communities so that we can organize opposition to Arne Duncan’s policies and No Child Left Behind.

According to NCLB, our schools should have had 100% of students test at proficient levels in reading and math by 2014. No county, no state, and no school district has ever achieved 100% proficiency on standardized tests and, in fact, the way the tests are designed make it statistically impossible to achieve that goal. Washington, like many other states, originally had a waiver in place that would have exempted it from this absurd NCLB mandate. However, when the state legislature refused to pass bills tying teacher evaluations to test scores (following overwhelming evidence that this would not improve teaching or learning), Arne Duncan chose to punish Washington state by revoking the waiver. With the waiver gone, nearly all of Washington’s schools have been labeled failures, we may lose control of millions of dollars in federal money, and some schools will be at risk of state takeovers and mass layoffs of teachers.

This kind of political game-playing has no place in our schools. Our schools and teachers should not be labeled as failures simply because we have rejected extremely flawed education policies. In August 2014, 28 school superintendents from around the state authored a letter, where they declared that their schools’ successes are not reflected in these ratings and criticized No Child Left Behind. We agree. It’s time for the voices of parents, teachers and students to be heard and respected.

If you have a story to share about why your school is not a failure, tell us here.

Also, sign our petition to reinstate the NCLB waiver for Washington state.

Endorsed by:

Parents Across America (PAA)
Seattle Education Website
Social Equality Educators (SEE)
Wayne Au, PhD, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Washington Bothell*
Jesse Hagopian, Teacher, Garfield High School*
Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council member*
Sue Peters, Seattle School Board Director*
Melissa Westbrook, Seattle Schools Community Forum

*For identification purposes only

Frank Breslin, retired teacher of foreign languages and history, calls for Congressional hearings about the cost and misuse of testing.

He points out that test scores are used to close public schools, fire teachers, and privatize schools, even though charters do not get better results than public schools.

He warns that the federal government has used testing to impose its failed ideas on schools, eviscerating local control. Breslin concludes that the best way to end federal intrusion is to abolish the Department of Education.

Paul Karrer, who teaches in Castroville, California, writes a scorching review of what is laughingly called “reform.”

He begins:

“Arne Duncan and his patron President Barack Obama have gotten themselves in a bit of an educational bind. Big news came out of the White House on Aug. 21 but a lot of America missed it. It seems a collision course of: 1. sunsetting of the year 2014 and the imbecilic impossible fatwa of No Child Left Behind (the obscenity of schools held accountable for testing without a morsel of input for poverty); and 2. a large push by teacher unions to dethrone he of the basketball — Sir Arne Duncan.”

So Duncan made his statement about testing “sucking the oxygen” out of teaching, a typical Duncanism in which he denounces the policies he promote and still enforces.

Says Karrer of Duncan’s fancy step:

“Is it a complete flip flop? No, it is a little greasy middle-of-the-road weaseling meant to gain favor from Obama’s once-upon-a-time education supporters and to patch the rebellious hemorrhaging of his pet bamboozle Race To The Top and its ugly stepsister Common Core. Ever since Obama initiated his slash and burn policy regarding public education with pro-privatization, the green light to pro-charter corporations, his relationship with publishing-testing companies, and his knee in the groin and knife in the backs of teachers with rigorous evaluations based on kids’ test scores, he’s been trusted about as much as a pedophile at a playground by those who once-upon-a-halo included him in their sacred prayers.”

Karrer says time is running out for the Age of Test and Punish. More and more people are speaking up and the public is catching on to the failure of test, test, test. The momentum is growing. Time is running out.

John Thompson, widely published writer, historian and teacher, wrote this post for the blog.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan obviously knew what he was doing when he timed the USDOE revocation of Oklahoma’s NCLB Waiver on the proverbial “take out the trash day,” just before the long Labor Day weekend. One Duncan soundbite is that Common Core is not a top down corporate and/or federal mandate, but he doesn’t want to call national attention to his own repudiation of that claim. It is now impossible for anyone to believe Duncan’s spin after he punished Oklahoma for repealing its standards and tests.

Neither can Duncan deny anymore that his policies are about reward and punish. In its letter informing Oklahoma that it must return, this year, to the discredited NCLB accountability regime, the USDOE admits that it is imposing a policy that “is neither simple nor desirable.”

Technically, Duncan did not punish the teachers and students of Oklahoma because the state yielded to bipartisan grassroots pressure and rejected Common Core. It did not even throw our underfunded and overwhelmed schools into another mess, at the beginning of the school year, because Oklahoma rejected college-readiness standards. Oklahoma has long had such standards, known as PASS, and those widely praised standards are again in place. Despite the dubious nature of the legal authority that he claims, Duncan threw our schools into turmoil because Oklahoma did not meet his schedule for proving that our democratically enacted standards meet his standards.

The USDOE had given Oklahoma sixty days to prove that its standards are college ready. The Oklahoma State Regents was tasked with determining that a student who met those high school standards would not require remediation in college. The Regents apparently was on schedule to ratify or not ratify that status by October.

In other words, Secretary Duncan remains consistent in not only demanding that all states, schools, and teachers toe the line, but that they remain on his timetable when implementing everything on his corporate reform wish list.

Duncan tipped his hand when Oklahoma repealed Common Core, snidely commenting on the state’s high college remediation rate. Clearly Duncan believes the failure to produce college ready students was linked to our failure to see the wisdom of Common Core. It couldn’t be due to generations of poverty, an out-of-control incarceration rate (especially of mothers,) lack of access to health care for children and families, or our incredibly low per student spending (of about $8000 per student.) Our shortcomings were not due to education budget cuts of 22%, more than any other state.

Neither could our high remediation rate be attributable to what we are doing right. Oklahoma Promise funds college attendance for low-income students, meaning that our universities need to remediate the skills of students who otherwise would not have attempted to go to college. (But, perhaps I shouldn’t go there; Duncan might demand a repeal of that law or mandate NCLB-type accountability for the universities whose graduation rates are hurt by it.)

But, frankly, this week is a reminder of a misjudgment I made a couple of months ago. The transition to the current standards was slowed somewhat when Oklahoma Board of Education exercised its legal right to challenge the repeal of Common Core in court. I was in a room full of superintendents at the Vision 2020 annual conference when it was announced that the lawsuit was rejected and school systems were on a tight schedule for starting the year with the old PASS standards.

I could understand the pain of educators who had invested scarce resources and energy in preparing for Common Core, while meeting all of the new post-NCLB demands of the Duncan administration and our state Chief for Change. In a time of austerity, they had to implement high-stakes 3rd grade reading tests, and find resources for students who they had been required to retain. (Fortunately, a moratorium on mandated retention was also passed in the closing days of the legislature.) They had to deal with a dysfunctional A-F Report Card, as well as the second year of technical failures during testing. At a time of teacher shortages, Oklahoma schools had to implement the value-added teacher evaluation scheme that Duncan had pressured us to adopt.

I could appreciate the frustration of so much energy being wasted at a time when so many mandates remained on their plates. But, I sensed that the anxiety of that roomful of administrators – which I felt bordered on outright fear – was out of proportion. Now, I’m reminded of how wrong I was to judge.

Preliminary reports and my layperson’s reading of the Waiver revocation indicated that most of the rebudgeting would not have to be completed until 2015. But, the Tulsa World’s more detailed reporting indicates that an unknown number of schools and districts will be on the 2014 School Improvement List, and that most of these schools will have to set aside 10% of their federal Title I funds for professional development this year. I find it hard to believe that it will happen this year, but some schools on that list may have to conduct mass dismissal of teachers and/or become charters. So, it is not unlikely that the state’s two high-poverty urban districts will be thrown into confusion at this crucial time of the year.

The Oklahoma DOE correctly notes, overburdened administrators now face “a steep learning curve” as they figure out what is required of them this year under the reinstated NCLB regulations. Under the best case scenario, after administrators rush to learn the new rules, the USDOE will hear from the Oklahoma Regents and say, “never mind.” They will thus be reminded about the way that corporate reformers see educators’ labor as easily expendable.

Superintendents can’t assume a rational outcome. Plans must be made for rebudgeting in case the NCLB Waiver is not reinstated. Next year, up to 20% of Title I funds may have to be set aside for supplemental educational services and transportation for school choice, perhaps requiring the dismissal of teachers. As the OKDOE says, they must “plan for these additional funding restrictions and federal requirements to go into place next year.” So, educators must frantically adjust to Duncan’s new rules, hope that their efforts will soon be flushed down the toilet, and fear that they might actually have to act on the plans that they must now make.

The bottom line for educators across the nation, not just in Oklahoma, is “déjà vu all over again.” Once again, it is rule by soundbite. If students need remediating, it’s not due to poverty or the multiple, contradictory mandates placed on under-resourced schools; the soundbite is that teachers don’t fully embrace “High Expectations!”

The new Duncan cop is the same as the old NCLB cop – or worse. NCLB was designed to produce an endless list of failing schools, to produce an infinite string of headlines about failing schools. Some conservatives would celebrate the inevitable march towards 100% failure as proof that schools should be privatized. Pro-NCLB liberals somehow believed that showcasing the predetermined defeat of public schools would create a demand to end poverty and that schools could do so on the cheap.

By the time Duncan took office, even NCLB’s chief author acknowledged that it was the most discredited “brand” in politics. That title should now pass to Arne Duncan, and his test, sort, and punish policies. But, because he didn’t like the way that Oklahoma pushed back, he has punished us by creating a situation where:

Upward of 90 percent of Oklahoma schools are expected to be affected to some degree by the loss of the waiver. Under NCLB, schools must meet 100-percent proficiency on a number of benchmarks to avoid being designated as a school in need of improvement. The number of failing schools in need of improvement could now swell from its current 490 to more than 1,600, according to NCLB definitions of failing.

So much for the claim that corporate reformers put children’s interests over adult concerns. Equally absurd is the idea that Common Core is a state-driven effort, not a mandate from on high.

The Tampa Bay Times published an editorial saying that the U.S. Department was “out of line” for threatening to yank Florida’s NCLB waiver.

Duncan took away Washington State’s waiver because the legislature refused to tie teacher evaluations to student test score. So now, schools across the state must send home letters saying that their child attends a “failing” school because it had not achieved 100% proficiency on tests of reading and math.

Duncan took away Oklahoma’s waiver because the Legislature repealed the state’s participation in the Common Core, and the governor signed the law.

What did Florida do to offend the U.S. Department of Education?

“Duncan’s staff has put Florida on notice that the state is at risk of violating NCLB standards that require all children to be counted equally in accountability formulas. Earlier this year, with the support of educators and advocates, the Legislature agreed to give non-English-speaking students two years in a U.S. school before including their standardized test scores in school grading formulas. The change was an acknowledgement of the huge learning curve such children face and that schools should not be penalized if those students can’t read, comprehend and write English at grade level within a year.

“Yet to the federal bureaucrats enforcing the unpopular NCLB law, such common sense doesn’t matter. They have given Florida a year to make changes or risk losing its NCLB waiver, which has allowed the state to substitute its own accountability efforts for some of the most unworkable federal mandates. Those include the idealistic but unreasonable federal standard for 2014 that each child at a school must be working at grade level for the school not to be deemed “failing.”

Thus, if Florida wants to keep its waiver, the Florida legislature must change the law so that English learners are allowed only one year to master English ad be tested in English.

The editorial concludes:

“Ultimately, the continued flaws in NCLB are Congress’ fault, because it has failed repeatedly to adopt reforms. But the last thing federal enforcers should be doing is punishing a state for embracing a commonsense reform. Education Secretary Duncan needs to find a better solution.”

Peter Greene discovered an article in the Vanderbilt Law Review by University of South Carolina law professor Derek W. Black that argues that Arne Duncan’s waivers from NCLB are unconstitutional.

Greene writes, quoting the article by Black:

“Two of the most significant events in the history of public education occurred over the last year. First, after two centuries of local control and variation, states adopted a national curriculum. Second, states changed the way they would evaluate and retain teachers, significantly altering teachers’ most revered right, tenure. Not all states adopted these changes of their own free will. The changes were the result of the United States Secretary of Education exercising unprecedented agency power in the midst of an educational crisis: the impending failure of almost all of the nation’s schools under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The Secretary invoked the power to impose new conditions on states in exchange for waiving their obligations under NCLB….As a practical matter, he federalized
education in just a few short months.”

Greene then says:

“This allows the kibbitzing to start immediately in response. Black does not distinguish at all between Common Core Standards and a national curriculum, a distinction without a difference that reformsters have fought hard to maintain. Nor will reformsters care for the assertion that states did not all adopt reform measures of their own free will. But all of that background in the first paragraph of the article is simply setting the stage for Black’s main point.

“This unilateral action [writes Black] is remarkable not only for education, but from a constitutional balance-of-power perspective. … Yet, as efficacious as unilateral action through statutory waiver might be, it is unconstitutional absent carefully crafted legislative authority. Secretary Duncan lacked that authority. Thus, the federalization of education through conditional waivers was momentous, but unconstitutional.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided to punish Oklahoma for revoking the Common Core standards, according to Caitlin Emma in Politico. Oklahoma will lose its federal waiver from the structures of No ChildLeft Behind, which mandates that all students in grades 3-8 must be proficient in math and reading by this year. Since this is in fact an impossible goal, all public schools in Oklahoma will be “failing” schools and subject to a variety of sanctions, including state takeover, being turned into a charter school, or closed.

Indiana, which also revoked the Common Core standards, received a one-year extension of its waiver because it has not yet replaced the Common Core standards.

““It is outrageous that President [Barack] Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement. “Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students.”

“This marks the first time the Education Department has stripped a state of its waiver on the grounds of academic standards, said Anne Hyslop, a senior policy analyst for Bellwether Education Partners.

“This is obviously dicey water for the Secretary [Arne] Duncan, given growing opposition to Common Core,” she said.
States had to adopt so-called college- and career-ready standards to escape some of NCLB’s requirements, including offering school choice and tutoring or reconfiguring schools that are considered failing under the law. But most states with waivers adopted the Common Core.

“Fallin did an about-face on her support of the standards this year and signed a bill in early June repealing the Common Core after previously supporting the standards. The state reverted to its old academic standards, the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills standards.”

Even Michael Petrilli of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a fervent supporter of Common Core, denounced Duncan’s decision:

“Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli called the Education Department’s move a “terrible decision.”
“While Bobby Jindal doesn’t have a case against Arne Duncan, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin sure as heck does,” he said. “I hope she sues. Nothing in ESEA gives the secretary of education the authority to push states around when it comes to their standards.”

Whatever your opinion of the Common Core, Duncan’s actions make clear that the U.S. Department of Education is coercing states to adopt them through the waivers, and that Duncan is asserting federal control of state standards, curriculum, and instruction, all of which are interwoven in the Common Core standards and tests. The fact that this role is forbidden by federal law should concern someone somewhere.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/08/oklahoma-common-core-no-child-left-behind-waiver-110421.html#ixzz3BmReC5XW

Washington State declined to ask Arne Duncan for a waiver from NCLB because the legislature thought that the price was too high. In exchange for gaining freedom from NCLB’s demand that 100% of students would be proficient by 2014, the state would have to agree to endorse Arne Duncan’s inane idea that teachers should be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Apparently some wise policy makers saw the research and the universal failure of Duncan’s idea and said “no thanks.”

Now virtually every school in the state of Washington is a “failing school.”

The superintendents are required to send a letter to parents informing them that their child attends a failing school. But 28 superintendents sent a cover letter explaining that the law required them to say something untrue.

““Some of our state’s and districts’ most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled ‘failing’ by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials — as well as the U.S. Department of Education — acknowledge isn’t working,” the cover letter states. The letter is signed by John Welch, superintendent of the Puget Sound Educational Service District, which represents the 28 districts.

“The signees include many of the larger school districts in King and Pierce counties, such as Bellevue, Federal Way, Issaquah, Kent, Lake Washington, Northshore, Renton and Tacoma.
They announced the protest letter at an event Wednesday.

“Seattle Public Schools did not sign it, but supports the letter’s sentiments, a spokeswoman said.”

NCLB is a pathetic hoax that was intended to label almost every school in the nation a failing school. Kudos to the superintendents of Washington State for standing up to abusive federal power—not only NCLB but the coercive waiver too.

28 superintendents in Washington state join the honor roll for courage in support of public education.

This is a good news story about a state commissioner of education who stood up and said, with quiet determination, that the emperor has no clothes.

That state commissioner is Rebecca Holcombe of Vermont. She wrote a clear and eloquent letter to the parents and caregivers of Vermont, explaining the punitive and incoherent nature of federal education policy, which (under NCLB) requires that every single school in Vermont be labeled low-performing, even though many national and international measures show that Vermont is a high-performing state. She explained that Vermont refused to apply for a waiver from NCLB offered by Secretary Duncan because it would have forced the state to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores, which is unreliable and unfair to teachers and students.

Commissioner Holcombe wrote that Vermont believes that schools have purposes that are no less important (and perhaps more important) than test scores.

For her thoughtfulness, her integrity, her devotion to children, her understanding of the broad aims of education, and her courage in standing firm against ruinous federal policies, Rebecca Holcombe is a hero of American education. Most people go along with the crowd, even when doing so violates their sense of personal and professional ethics. Not Commissioner Holcombe. If our nation had more state commissioners like her, it would save our children from a mindless culture of test and punish that the federal department of education has imposed on them and our nation’s schools.

This is the letter that State Commissioner Holcombe wrote to every parent and caregiver in Vermont:

“Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), as of 2014, if only one child in your school does not score as “proficient” on state tests, then your school must be “identified” as “low performing” under federal law. This year, every school whose students took the NECAP tests last year is now considered a “low performing” school by the US Department of Education. A small group of schools were not affected by this policy this year because they helped pilot the new state assessment and so did not take the NECAPs last year. Because these schools had their federal AYP status frozen at 2013 levels, eight schools are not yet identified as low performing by federal criteria. However, had these school taken the NECAPs as well, it is likely that every single school in the state would have to be classified as “low performing” according to federal guidelines.

The Vermont Agency of Education does not agree with this federal policy, nor do we agree that all of our schools are low performing.

In 2013, the federal Education Department released a study comparing the performance of US states to the 47 countries that participated in the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, one of the two large international comparative assessments. Vermont ranked 7th in the world in eighth-grade mathematics and 4th in science. Only Massachusetts, which has a comparable child poverty rate, did better.

“On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Vermont consistently ranks at the highest levels. We have the best graduation rate in the nation and are ranked second in child well-being.

“Just this week, a social media company that compares financial products (WalletHub) analyzed twelve different quality metrics and ranked Vermont’s school system third in the nation in terms school performance and outcomes.

“Nevertheless, if we fail to announce that each Vermont school is “low performing,” we jeopardize federal funding for elementary and secondary education. The “low performing” label brings with it a number of mandatory sanctions, which your principal is required to explain to you. This policy does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being. Further, it takes our focus away from other measures that give us more meaningful and useful data on school effectiveness.

“It is not realistic to expect every single tested child in every school to score as proficient. Some of our students are very capable, but may have unique learning needs that make it difficult for them to accurately demonstrate their strengths on a standardized test. Some of our children survived traumatic events that preclude good performance on the test when it is administered. Some of our students recently arrived from other countries, and have many valuable talents but may not yet have a good grasp of the academic English used on our assessments. And, some of our students are just kids who for whatever reason are not interested in demonstrating their best work on a standardized test on a given day.

“We know that statewide, our biggest challenge is finding better ways to engage and support the learning of children living in poverty. Our students from families with means and parents with more education, consistently are among the top performing in the country. However, federal NCLB policy has not helped our schools improve learning or narrow the gaps we see in our data between children living in poverty and children from more affluent families. We need a different approach that actually works.”

What are the alternatives? Most other states have received a waiver to get out from under the broken NCLB policy. They did this by agreeing to evaluate their teachers and principals based on the standardized test scores of their students. Vermont is one of only 5 states that do not have a waiver at this time. We chose not to agree to a waiver for a lot of reasons, including that the research we have read on evaluating teachers based on test scores suggests these methods are unreliable in classes with 15 or fewer students, and this represents about 40-50% of our classes. It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools. Also, there is evidence suggesting that over-relying on test-based evaluation might fail to credit educators for doing things we actually want them to do, such as teach a rich curriculum across all important subject areas, and not just math and English language arts. In fact, nation-wide, we expect more and more states to give up these waivers for many of the reasons we chose not to pursue one in the first place.

Like other Vermont educators, I am deeply committed to continuously improving our schools and the professional skill of our teachers. I have heard from principals and teachers across the state who are deeply committed to developing better ways of teaching and working with parents and other organizations to ensure that every child’s basic needs are met. If basic needs are not met, children cannot take advantage of opportunities that we provide in school. However, the federal law narrows our vision of schools and what we should be about. Ironically, the only way a school could pass the NCLB criteria would be to leave some children behind – to exclude some of the students who come to our doors. That is something public schools in Vermont will not do.

Matching Our Measures to Our Purpose

Certainly, we know tests are an important part of our tool kit, but they do not capture everything that is important for our children to learn. With this in mind, our State Board of Education clearly outlined five additional education priorities in our new Education Quality Standards, including scientific inquiry, citizenship, physical health and wellness, artistic expression and 21st century transferable skills.

As parents and caregivers, we embrace a broader vision for our children than that defined in federal policy. Thus, we encourage you to look at your own child’s individual growth and learning, along with evidence your school has provided related to your child’s progress. Below are some questions to consider:

• What evidence does your school provide of your child’s growing proficiency?

• Is your child developing the skills and understanding she needs to thrive in school and
the community?

• Are graduates of your school system prepared to succeed in college and/or careers?

• Is your child happy to go to school and engaged in learning?

• Can your child explain what he is learning and why? Can your child give examples of
skills he has mastered?

• Is your child developing good work habits? Does she understand that practice leads to
better performance?

• Does your child feel his work in school is related to his college and career goals?

• Does your child have one adult at the school whom she trusts and who is committed to
her success?

• If you have concerns, have you reached out to your child’s teacher to share your
perspective?

Be engaged with your school, look at evidence of your own child’s learning, and work with your local educators to ensure that every child is challenged and supported, learning and thriving. Schools prosper when parents are involved as the first teachers of their children.

The State’s Obligation to Our Children

Working with the Governor, the State Board, the General Assembly and other agencies, and most importantly, with educators across the state, the Agency of Education will invite schools across the state to come together to innovate and improve our schools. We hope your school will volunteer to help develop and use a variety of other measures that will give parents, citizens and educators better information on student learning and what we can do to personalize and make it better. These measures include:

• collaborative school visits by teams of peers, to support research, professional learning and sharing of innovative ideas,

• personalization of learning through projects and performance assessments of proficiency,

• gathering and sharing of feedback from teachers, parents and students related to school climate and culture, student engagement and opportunities for self-directed learning,

• providing teachers and administrators standards-based feedback on the effectiveness of their instruction,

• developing personalized learning plans that involve students in defining how they will demonstrate they are ready to graduate, and basing graduation on these personalized assessments of proficiency rather than “seat-time”,

• analyzing growth and improvement at the Supervisory level as well as the school level, to identify systems that seem to be fostering greater growth in students, as a way of identifying and sharing promising practices across schools.

Vermont has a proud and distinguished educational history, but we know we can always do better. We are committed to supporting our schools as they find more effective and more engaging ways to improve the skills and knowledge of our children. As we have done before, we intend to draw on the tremendous professional capability of teachers across the state as we work to continuously improve our schools. Our strength has always been our ingenuity and persistence. In spite of federal policies that poorly fit the unique nature of Vermont, let’s continue to work together to build great schools that prepare our children to be productive citizens and contributors to our society

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