Archives for category: NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

Peter Greene read the Alexander-Murray bill with care and finds reasons for hope. It slices away most of the ugly features of NCLB. It puts an end to Duncan’s reign as the national superintendent of schools. It transfers back to the states the responsibility for their public schools and tells Washington to butt out.

He was disappointed to find a giant Xmas tree for the charter industry, with three grant programs to help them expand.

“The third grant program is also awesome if you are a charter profiteer– the feds would like a grant program to help pay for the buildings that charters squat in. No word on whether Senators Alexander and Murray considered a bill to cut up charter operators food for them or hire federal agents to wipe the charter CEO’s chin when he’s drooling with glee…..”

“So, What Do We Think?

“All in all, this is a more pointed rebuke of the Obama administration’s ed farfegnugen than I might have expected, but while [it] still keeps those stupid, worthless Big Standardized Tests enshrined, it frees states to make their own peace with them (and that testing requirement might reduce the possibility that the test manufacturers would loose their lobbying dogs to oppose the bill– they can rest happy now because their payday is intact). Now, that will mean different things in different states– I’m pretty sure Andrew Cuomo will be a giant ass to education whether the feds are pushing him to or not.

“And while Common Core is all but dead, this certainly frees everyone up to slap it around some more. This bill wouldn’t end the ongoing education debate, but it would break it up into fifty little arguments and if that doesn’t do anything more than divide up the reformsters money and forces, that’s a good thing.

“Of course, we still have the onslaught of amendments and the bill from the House and the President’s desk to get past. And the enshrinement of the rapacious charter school industry is not good news. So this is by no means perfect.

“But most of all, a new ESEA completely chops the back-door lawmaking of USED waivers off at the knees. If Congress can actually pull this off, it will be a gamechanger. There’s much to hate about the new game, but there are some pieces of hope as well. Let’s just see what happens next.”

The following comment was written by a young man just returned from teaching in the Peace Corps. Responding to a request from the Network for Public Education, he wrote a letter to Congress about NCLB:

 

Diane-

 

I would like to share the letter I wrote (at the urging of NPE) to my congressional Representative concerning H.R. 5:

 

This time last year I was a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer, coming home from service as an English teacher in a Cameroonian public school. Shortly before I left Cameroon I attended a disciplinary hearing convened for the purpose of meting out punishment. I sat with other teachers in a ring at the edge of the principal’s office while students were shuffled in by grade level, given the chance to explain their infractions, then made to lie on their stomachs on the dusty floor while an administrator whipped them. It was against the law, but they did it anyway. This policy was intended to regulate student behavior, and it was shamefully successful. They followed an ideology of control and never have I seen such a passive group of students. My colleagues and the administrators managing us weren’t bad people–or even bad educators. I still marvel at their drive to impart knowledge, but their instructional model followed a paradigm that mirrored their discipline: students are, to lean upon a cliche, vessels to be filled, objects to be acted upon.

 

It may be hard for us to see, but their ideology is our ideology. By conventional standards I was a good student; in me the systems of reward and punishment accomplished their goals. My success, however, was bounded by its context. The social psychology research that claims traditional classroom practices limit student interest, reduce depth of thought, and discourage a challenge-seeking orientation resonate with my experience. When I reflect on my education I feel the deep tragedy of my untapped potential. Here was the refrain of the times: “Why would I put more effort into this? I already have an A.” I was lucky because many other students repeated its more destructive corollary: “Why would I put any effort in to this? I’m just going to get an F.” No matter what a student’s place on this artificial spectrum, reducing performance to an externally imposed measurement of a pseudo-objective standard constitutes control. When, later in my academic career, I did fail one class, I imagine the emotional pain I felt was a close cousin to the physical pain of my future Cameroonian students.

 

Whether or not there are legitimate uses for standards in today’s world, the current political environment has paired standards with a toxic accountability. There’s an or else. Pay teachers following our formula or we won’t send federal money your way. Raise your students’ scores to the level we say or we’ll give your school a failing grade. Do better or we’ll close it entirely. As a country our greatest shames have been perpetrated under contingency and duress. This is no different. My educational history has been filled with motivated teachers who didn’t require bribes or threats to seek self-improvement, who didn’t need standardized tests to gauge student proficiency.

 

If we want our students to learn to function in a democracy, why are our classrooms structured like dictatorships? Why are we pursuing a path that further alienates students from content by adding additional separation between teachers and curriculum? Why, if we expect students to learn independence, are we stripping it from educators?

 

Best Regards,

 

Jakob Gowell

 

B.A. English, Grinnell College 2011
RPCV Cameroon 2012-2014
Education Volunteer (TEFL)

Arne Duncan went to Maryland to urge parents to organize against the House rewrite of NCLB. What parents wanted to talk about was Common Core and testing.

 

He told them there would be bumps in the road but everything would be fine in the end.

 

“I’m really afraid that the PARCC assessments are going to take away from my child’s time in the classroom,” one mother said to the education secretary at the Parent Teacher Association town hall at Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis. (She was referring to common-core-aligned tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two consortia devising such assessments.)

 

“And another parent asked, “Why are we doing too much too soon on aggressive PARCC testing in schools? … Can’t we take some time to examine this before we use our children as guinea pigs in the classroom?”

 

Duncan proceeded to make claims about the bill that, strictly speaking, were not accurate. And of course, he won’t back away from Common Core or high-stakes testing.

Jeff Bryant watched President Obama’s State of the Union address and the Senate’s NCLB hearings, and he concluded that the Democrats had lost their voice, with one exception: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

He describes the hearings in this post.

Two Néw York City public school teachers spoke eloquently about the deficiencies and flaws of high-stakes testing.

The only Senator who spoke sensibly about the realities of schooling was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Bryant writes:

“Finally, at the hearing’s very end, Rhode Island’s Senator Whitehouse said something that made educators everywhere smile: (watch here at the 2:24:30 mark).

“My experience in the education world is that there are really two worlds in it. One is the world of contract and consultants and academics and experts and plenty of officials at the federal state and local level. And the other is a world of principals and classroom teachers who are actually providing education to students. What I’m hearing from my principals’ and teachers’ world is that the footprint of that first world has become way too big in their lives to the point where it’s inhibiting their ability to do the jobs they’re entrusted to do.”

“Indeed, the footprint made by education policy leaders in classrooms has left behind a form of mandated testing that is “designed to test the school and not the student,”
Whitehouse stated, and he described a dysfunctional system in which teachers don’t get test results in a timely fashion that makes it possible for them to use the results to change instruction. Instead, educators spend more time preparing for the tests and encouraging students to be motivated to take them, even though the tests have no bearing on the students’ grades, just how the school and the individual teachers themselves are evaluated.

“Whitehouse compared the federal funding that has poured into policies mandating testing, such as Race to the Top, to “rain falling over the desert. The rain comes pouring out of the clouds. But by the time you’re actually at the desert floor, not a raindrop falls. It’s all been absorbed in between. I’ve never had a teacher who said to me, ‘Boy, Race to the Top gave me just what I need in terms of books or a whiteboard, or something I can use to teach the kids.’”

“Whitehouse urged his colleagues to consider more closely the purpose of testing – not just how many tests and how often but how assessments are used. He concluded, “We have to be very careful about distinguishing the importance of the purpose of this oversight and not allow the purpose of the oversight to be conducted in such an inefficient, wasteful, clumsy way that the people who we really trust to know to do this education – the people who are in the classroom – are not looking back at us and saying, ‘Stop. Help. I can’t deal with this. You are inhibiting my ability to teach.’”

Unfortunately other Democratic senators, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Al Frankenstein, support test-based accountability. Apparently no one told them that the original purpose of the historic Elementary and Secondary Education Act if 1965 was resource equity for poor kids, not testing and accountability.

Apparently no one told them that the traditional Democratic education agenda was equity for the neediest, while the traditional GOP agenda was testing, accountability, and choice.

The Democrats have lost not only their voice but their agenda. Even the civil rights groups want to protect testing and accountability, allowing only 1% of students with the most severe disabilities to be exempted and allowing English language learners only one year of exemption. Why this draconian approach to the children they represent?

The GOP has won the ideological debate because Democrats have signed on to GOP ideas. American children and public education will continue to be in deep trouble until at least one of the two parties abandons its reckless devotion to high-stakes testing and privatization.

Senator Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C.

 

Dear Lamar,

 

I wish I could be in Washington for the hearings about the reauthorization of NCLB. I can’t make it for two reasons: I wasn’t invited, and I have a date to speak to parents at P.S. 3 in Manhattan who are outraged about all the testing imposed on their children.

 

I learned a lot about education policy and federalism after you chose me to serve as your Assistant Secretary of Education in charge of research and improvement and as counsel to the Secretary of Education (you). I am imagining that I am still advising you, as I did from 1991 to 1993 (remember that you and every other top administrator in the Department left a day before the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and you told me I was Acting Secretary for the day?).

What I always admired about you was your deliberateness, your thoughtfulness, your ability to listen to discordant voices, and your respect for federalism. You didn’t think you were smarter than everyone else in the country just because you were a member of the President’s Cabinet. You understood federalism. You didn’t think it was your job to impose what you wanted on every school in America. You respected the ability of local communities to govern their schools without your supervision or dictation.

 

NCLB was not informed by your wisdom. It set impossible goals, then established punishments for schools that could not do the impossible. I remember a panel discussion in early 2002 at the Willard Hotel soon after NCLB was signed. You were on the panel. I was in the audience, and I stood up and asked you whether you truly believed that 100% of all children in grades 3-8 would be “proficient” by 2014. You answered, “No, Diane, but we think it is good to have goals.” Well, based on goals that you knew were out of reach, teachers and principals have been fired, and many schools—beloved in their communities—have been closed.

 

NCLB has introduced an unprecedented level of turmoil into the nation’s public education system. Wearing my conservative hat, I have to say that it’s wrong to disrupt the lives of communities, schools, families, and children to satisfy an absurd federal mandate, based on a false premise and based too on the non-existent “Texas miracle.” Conservatives are not fire-breathing radicals who seek to destroy community and tradition. Conservatives conserve, conservatives believe in incremental change, not in upheaval and disruption.

 

I urge you to abandon the annual mandated federal testing in grades 3-8. Little children are sitting for 8-10 hours to take the annual tests in math and reading. As a parent, you surely understand that this is madness. This is why the Opt Out movement is growing across the nation, as parents protest what feels like federally-mandated child abuse.

 

Do we need to compare the performance of states? NAEP does that already. Anyone who wants to know how Mississippi compares to Massachusetts can look at the NAEP results, which are released every two years. Do we want disaggregated data? NAEP reports scores by race, gender, English language proficiency, and disability status. How will we learn about achievement gaps if we don’t test every child annually? NAEP reports that too. In short, we already have the information that everyone says they want and need.

 

NCLB has forced teachers to teach to the test; that once was considered unethical and unprofessional, but now it is an accepted practice in schools across the country. NCLB has caused many schools to spend more time and resources on test prep, interim assessments, and testing. That means narrowing the curriculum: when testing matters so much, there is less time for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, civics, and other valuable studies and activities. Over this past dozen years, there have been numerous examples of states gaming the system and educators cheating because the tests determine whether schools will live or die, and whether educators will get a bonus or be fired.

 

I urge you to enact what you call “option one,” grade span testing, and to abandon annual testing. If you keep annual testing in the law, states and districts will continue to engage in the mis-education that NCLB incentivized. Bad habits die hard, if at all.

 

Just say no to annual testing. No high-performing nation does it, and neither should we. We are the most over-tested nation in the world, and it’s time to encourage children to sing, dance, play instruments, write poetry, imagine stories, create videos, make science projects, write history papers, and discover the joy of learning.

 

As I learned from you, the U.S. Department of Education should not act as a National School Board. The Secretary of Education is not the National Superintendent of Schools. The past dozen years of centralizing control of education in Washington, D.C., has not been good for education or for democracy.

 

The law governing the activities of the U.S. Department of Education states clearly that no federal official should attempt to “exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, [or] administration….of any educational institution.” When I was your Assistant Secretary and Counselor, I was very much aware of that prohibition. For the past dozen years, it seems to have been forgotten. Just a few years ago, the current administration funded tests for the Common Core standards, which will most assuredly exert control over the curriculum and program of instruction. The federal tests will determine what is taught.

 

The nation has seen a startling expansion of federal power over local community public schools since the passage of NCLB. There is certainly an important role for the federal government in assuring equality of educational opportunity and informing the American people about the progress of education. But the federal role today is taking on responsibilities that belong to states and local districts. The key mechanism for that takeover is annual testing, the results of which are used to dictate other policies of dubious legality and validity, like evaluating teachers and even colleges of education by student test scores.

 

Sir, please revise the federal law so that it authorizes the federal government to do what it does best: protecting the rights of children, gathering data, sponsoring research, encouraging the improvement of teaching, funding special education, and distributing resources to the neediest districts to help the neediest students (which was the original purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965).

 

In closing, may I remind you of something you wrote in your book of advice:

No. 84: Read anything Diane Ravitch writes about education.

—Lamar Alexander, Little Plaid Book, page 44

I agree with you.

 

Yours truly,

 

Diane Ravitch

 

Jeff Bryant analyzes the debate about the federal testing mandates and concludes it’s all about politics, not education.

By now, it is obvious that the testing required by “No Child Left Behind” did not leave no child behind. Child poverty, which is the root cause of low test scores, has increased, and testing does nothing to reduce it.

Bryant writes:

“How is the debate going? See if this makes sense to you:

“Conservatives want to let states have potentially more options for wasting taxpayer money on wayward attempts in “accountability,” and liberals are insisting on continuing measures that have been mostly bad for the education of black and brown students.

“Huh?”

According to the Southern Education Foundation, 51% of public school pupils–a new majority–are poor. More testing does not reduce poverty.

Bryant writes:

“Tests do uncover disparities in our education system, as the National Assessment of Education Progress has revealed for many years long before NCLB. Gerwerz, again, at Education Week, notes about NAEP, “When I look at it, I see the absence of nearly every single trigger point in today’s testing debates. Every kid required to sit for hours and hours of tests? Nope. Here we have only two hours of testing, given to a sample of the school’s students. Weeks of test prep? Nope. Students tied in knots over potentially bad test scores? Nope.”

“Further, as [Bruce] Baker concludes in a subsequent post, if the federal government really wanted to do something about inequities in our education system, it would develop policies that gave states more incentive to correct what’s really causing inequities: the ways “in which our schools are organized and segregated.”
Why isn’t anyone talking about this? Because the discussion over testing, at least how it’s being carried out in Washington, DC, isn’t really about education. It’s about power politics. Seen in this frame, it’s really hard to believe the Democrats are going to win.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, takes issue with Secretary Duncan in reauthorization of NCLB. Duncan said last week that annual testing was “a line in the sand,” that is, non-negotiable. This, of course, ignores the views if educators and parents, who SES how the testing obsession has harmed teaching and learning and narrowed the curriculum.

Randi on Secretary Duncan’s ESEA Reauthorization Remarks

WASHINGTON— Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s speech regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“As I’ve said before, any law that doesn’t address our biggest challenges—funding inequity, segregation, the effects of poverty—will fail to make the sweeping transformation our kids and our schools need. Today, it was promising to hear Secretary Duncan make a call for equity, stressing, as we did through the Equity and Excellence Commission, the importance of early childhood education and engaging curriculum. It was encouraging to hear him laud the hard work of educators, who have had to overcome polarization and deep cuts after a harsh recession. And it was heartening to hear him acknowledge the progress our schools have made. However, the robust progress we saw in the first 40 years after the passage of ESEA has slowed over the last 10 years.

“On testing, we are glad the secretary has acknowledged that ‘there are too many tests that take up too much time’ and that ‘we need to take action to support a better balance.’ However, current federal educational policy—No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and waivers—has enshrined a focus on testing, not learning, especially high-stakes testing and the consequences and sanctions that flow from it. That’s wrong, and that’s why there is a clarion call for change. The waiver strategy and Race to the Top exacerbated the test-fixation that was put in place with NCLB, allowing sanctions and consequences to eclipse all else. From his words today, it seems the secretary may want to justify and enshrine that status quo and that’s worrisome.

“Yes, we need to get parents, educators and communities the information they need. And all of us must be accountable and responsible for helping all children succeed. That’s why we have suggested some new interventions, like community schools and wraparound services; project-based learning; service internships; and individual plans for over-age students, under-credited students and those who are not reading at grade level by third grade.

“If one test per year can cause an entire school to be shuttered or all the teachers fired, something is wrong with the way that test is being used. Even in the District of Columbia, where the secretary spoke from today, the school district has pulled back from the consequential nature of these tests.

“At the end of the day, the most important part of the debate shouldn’t happen in big speeches. It should happen in real conversations with parents, students and teachers, who are closest to the classroom. Communities understand the huge positive effect ESEA had for impoverished and at-risk communities 50 years ago. Those communities are saying loudly and clearly that they want more supports for students and schools, and data used to inform and improve, not sanction. It’s my hope that, in the coming weeks, leaders in Congress and the administration will listen to these voices and shape a law that reflects the needs of all our kids.”

Postscript: An advanced copy of Secretary Duncan’s remarks today included a quote from Albert Shanker, former president of the AFT, on accountability. To this, Weingarten responded, “If the secretary wants to invoke Shanker on accountability, then invoke him on his proposals for grade-span over annual testing. Shanker once called for ‘an immediate end to standardized tests as they are now,’ instead favoring testing over five-year intervals.”

###

Randi Weingarten

American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

Politico reports that Republicans may scale back the federal mandate for annual testing from grades 3-8. This mandate is the cornerstone of No Child Left Behind’s accountability regime.

Parents and educators are up in arms about the misuse and overuse of testing. NCLB has not achieved any of its lofty and unrealistic goals. Its biggest beneficiaries have been testing companies, who are able to devote more money from their profits to lobby for more testing.

Anthony Cody <a href=”http://www.livingindialogue.com/pillars-reform-collapsing-reformers-contemplate-defeat that the so-called “reform movement” is collapsing. None of its strategies work.

1. TFA is having recruitment problems. Applications are down 25%. Criticism is coming from ex-corps members who realize they were ill-prepared.

2. Charter schools are no panacea, and many are struggling, even failing.

“But now charter proponents admit they have no secret sauce beyond excluding students who are difficult or expensive to educate. Their plan is to “serve the strivers,” and let the rest flounder in an ever-more-burdened public system. The states where regulations are weakest, like Ohio, have charters that perform worse than the public schools, and even the self-described fan of free-markets, Margaret Raymond, lead researcher at CREDO, recently concluded that using market choice to improve schools has failed. In the state of Washington, where Bill Gates and other reform titans spent millions to pass a law allowing charter schools there, the first charter school to open is struggling to stay afloat, having suffered massive staff turnover in its first year. How ironic that 13 years after the corporate reformers labeled their flagship of reform “No Child Left Behind,” that now their leaders are left defending leaving behind the very children they claimed their project would save.”

3. The new and improved tests the reformers promised are not working well and are creating massive parental resistance.

4. VAM is not working anywhere.

5. Constant disruption may not be such a good strategy after all.

Cody sagely writes:

“It is perhaps a basic truth that it is easier to tear something down than to build something new. This may explain some of the trouble reformers are facing. Our schools are flawed in many ways, and do not deliver the sorts of opportunities we want all children to have access to. Racial and economic segregation, inequitable funding, and the replication of privilege are endemic — though truly addressing these issues will require change that goes far beyond the walls of our classrooms.

“Corporate-sponsored reformers have blamed the very institution of public education for these problems, and have set forth a set of alternatives and strategies to overcome social inequities. Here we are a decade into this project, and the alternative structures are collapsing, one by one.”

Paul Karrer, who teaches in California, says it is time for accountability. Taxpayers need it. The public demands it. And they are right!

Unfortunately, the search for accountability is upside-down. True accountability rests with those who design and lead the big systems, not with the front-line workers trying to make muddled ideas work.

“Accountability needs to be placed on the shoulders of those who created the education programs foisted on the education system. It is the programs which ultimately have the greatest impact. It is not just or even hardly ever the soldiers themselves fighting street-to-street, city-to-city, state-to-state, who win or lose wars. It is the plan. The education plans need to be evaluated and field-tested before they are implemented.

“For example — it was the plan to invade Iraq which was faulty and resulted in the war being lost. It was not the poor patriotic, highly motivated, well-equipped, well-trained folks who kicked in doors, ate desert dust for years, and lost life, limb, and mental health.

“And so it is with education. Teachers are the front-liners. They are in the trenches. They are fighting house-to-house, street-to-street, city-to-city.

“But the plan, well, the plan keeps on changing. First it was No Child Left Behind, like the invasion of Iraq, based on false information. In Iraq it was weapons of mass destruction, with NCLB it was fraudulent data manipulation in the bogus inception of its success in Texas. (High graduation rates actually were a product of massive numbers of low performing kids quitting school in ninth and 10th grade. Then the remaining higher-performing kids who stayed were pointed to as successful due to NCLB).

“Then President Barack Obama inflicted his Race To The Top on the foot soldiers in the teaching trenches. The plan: Evaluate teachers according to tests. Reward good ones based on testing. Hammer schools which couldn’t do this. Privatize, charterize, dissect the now-failing schools. Problem is, teachers don’t take the tests, kids with a zillion influences take the tests.

“Currently, teachers are fighting the war with a brand-new shiny plan. It is called Common Core. This plan requires massive computer use, new standards, and of course more testing of teachers, standardization and lots of untested optimistic bravado.”

In wartime, battles are lost by the planners, not the men and women in the trenches following the plan.

If you want to know what’s wrong with No Child left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core, do some serious evaluation, not just political preening. When big educational ideas fail, don’t blame the teachers, blame the politicians and honchos who imposed their plans on the schools without full investigation of their feasibility.

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