Archives for category: NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

After much debate among the board members, the Network for Public Education decided to offer its qualified endorsement to the Every Child Achieves Act. We recognize that the bill has drawbacks. We oppose annual testing. And we oppose federal funding of privately managed charter schools. But in the end, we agreed that this bill would end some of the worst features of No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. As the bill moves through the Senate and the House, we will watch closely to see how it evolves.


NPE Statement on the Every Child Achieves Act


July 10, 2015 Charter Schools, Civil Rights, Every Child Achieves Act, NCLB, Race To the Top, Reauthorization of NCLB, Testing / Opting Out

There is much we applaud in the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). Although the bill is far from perfect, it is better than the status quo. ECAA represents a critical step forward, placing an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in how states evaluate schools and teachers. It bars the US Department of Education from either requiring or incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as Arne Duncan did through Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers.


The Every Child Achieves Act would prohibit the federal government from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores and would prevent the federal government from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, which Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.


And it would take the federal “high-stakes” from annual testing—the consequences of which have a disparate negative impact on students of color and those of highest need.


ECAA does not “lock in” the Common Core, but rather allows the states to set their own standards without having to meet a litmus test set by the federal government. States could thoughtfully design and revise standards and their teacher evaluation systems with stakeholders, without fear of losing a waiver that protects their schools from being labeled as failing.


Below is the relevant language that expressly prohibits the federal government from exerting influence on standards, curriculum and teacher evaluation, followed by the language that prohibits the federal government from interfering in parental decisions to opt out of state tests:


“(a) Prohibition Against Federal Mandates, Direction, Or Control.—Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any other officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s—

“(1) instructional content or materials, curriculum, program of instruction, academic standards, or academic assessments;

“(2) teacher, principal, or other school leader evaluation system;

“(3) specific definition of teacher, principal, or other school leader effectiveness; or

“(4) teacher, principal, or other school leader professional standards, certification, or licensing

“(K) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT AND GUARDIAN RIGHTS.—Nothing in this part shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent or guardian to not have the parent or guardian’s child participate in the statewide academic assessments under this paragraph.
Even as we support the above, we disapprove that the bill does not go far enough to meet the justified concerns of those who support our public schools. The federal government should cease providing financial support for privately managed charter schools that drain much needed resources from the public schools that enroll the vast majority of our students–caring for all and turning none away.


We are also dismayed that the bill maintains an annual testing mandate–which enriches testing companies while distracting us from the needed work to be done to improve our public schools.


We will continue to fight to restore ESEA to its original purpose of providing equity for the most disadvantaged children. We support the concerns raised by the coalition of Civil Rights groups who do not see testing as the answer to improving our schools. We will also continue to fight for charter school accountability and the elimination of annual tests. And we will carefully watch the bill as it progresses through Congress.


With all of its limitations, however, the end of NCLB, NCLB waivers and Race to the Top is a cause worth supporting. Therefore, NPE gives its qualified endorsement to ECAA.


Here is the list of 110 groups from across the nation that have signed a petition to Congress opposing high-stakes testing.

This is the petition. Your organization should sign too:

We, the below undersigned organizations, oppose high-stakes testing because we believe these tests are causing harm to students, to public schools, and to the cause of educational equity. High-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish Black and Latino students, and recent immigrants to this country.

We oppose high-stakes tests because:

There is no evidence that these tests contribute to the quality of education, have led to improved educational equity in funding or programs, or have helped close the “achievement gap.”

High-stakes testing has become intrusive in our schools, consuming huge amounts of time and resources, and narrowing instruction to focus on test preparation.

Many of these tests have never been independently validated or shown to be reliable and/or free from racial and ethnic bias.

High-stakes tests are being used as a political weapon to claim large numbers of students are failing, to close neighborhood public schools, and to fire teachers, all in the effort to disrupt and privatize the public education system.

The alleged benefit of annual testing as mandated by No Child Left Behind was to unveil the achievement gaps, and by doing so, close them. Yet after more than a decade of high-stakes testing this has not happened. Instead, thousands of predominantly poor and minority neighborhood schools —the anchors of communities— have been closed.

As the Seattle NAACP recently stated, “Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history. It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians being accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. …The use of high-stakes tests has become part of the problem, rather than a solution.”

We agree.

Yours sincerely,

Network for Public Education

Three activists for racial and social justice take issue with the position of several civil rights organizations that opposed opting out of mandated tests. Pedro Noguera of New York University, John Jackson of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, and Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project support the right of parents to opt their children out of state tests.

The NCLB annual tests have not advanced the interests of poor children or children of color, they say.

“Schools serving poor children and children of color remain under-funded and have been labeled “failing” while little has been done at the local, state or federal level to effectively intervene and provide support. In the face of clear evidence that children of color are more likely to be subjected to over-testing and a narrowing of curriculum in the name of test preparation, it is perplexing that D.C. based civil rights groups are promoting annual tests….:

“We are not opposed to assessment. Standards and assessments are important for diagnostic purposes. However, too often the data produced by standardized tests are not made available to teachers until after the school year is over, making it impossible to use the information to address student needs. When tests are used in this way, they do little more than measure predictable inequities in academic outcomes. Parents have a right to know that there is concrete evidence that their children are learning, but standardized tests do not provide this evidence….

We now know students cannot be tested out of poverty, and while NCLB did take us a step forward by requiring schools to produce evidence that students were learning, it took us several steps backward when that evidence was reduced to how well a student performed on a standardized test…..

The civil rights movement has always worked to change unjust policies. When 16-year-old Barbara Johns organized a student strike in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1951 leading to Brown v. Board in 1954, she opted out of public school segregation. When Rosa Parks sat down on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 she opted out of the system of segregation in public transportation. And as youth and their allies protest throughout the country against police brutality, declaring that “Black Lives Matter,” we are reminded that the struggle for justice often forces us to challenge the status quo, even when those fighting to maintain it happen to be elected officials or, in this case, members of the civil rights establishment.

Daniel Katz pulls together the events of the recent past and concludes that this has been a wasted era of school policy.

Both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are based on economic ideologies about incentives and sanctions that don’t apply to education. Both have interacted to distort the goals of schooling and both ignore individual differences and needs. We now know–and should always have known– that children are not molten pieces of lead waiting to be shaped or widgets waiting for commands.

Only one sector has thrived: the charter school industry.

Will we continue on this failed path or change direction?

Stephen Singer, teacher and BAT leader, here endorses the bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka NCLB), as written by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.

He writes:

“No more federal intervention.

“No more reducing schools to a number.

“That’s the promise of the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).

“Sure, it’s not perfect. But this Senate proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) could do a lot of good – even if it includes some bad.

“Imagine it.

“States would be in control of their own public schools. The U.S. Department of Education and its appointed Secretary would lose much of their power to impose unfunded federal mandates.

“For example, the federal government could no longer force states to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. It could no longer force states to adopt Common Core or Common Core look-a-like standards. It could no longer label high poverty schools “Failing” and then demand they be closed.

“That’s not nothing….

“We have a divided Congress. We have a President who never met a corporate school reform scheme he didn’t like.

“But we also have a citizenry who is fed up with all the bull….. People are demanding change.

“We have a real opportunity. If we can seal the deal, a generation of children will be the better for it. If not, the current calamitous law will stay in place for at least 7 more years.

“That’s just unacceptable.

“The biggest flaw in this proposed act is that it keeps annual testing in place. If approved in its current form, public schools would still have to give standardized tests to children in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

“If you’re like me, you just threw up in your mouth a little bit.

“However, supporting ECAA doesn’t have to mean supporting testing. There is an amendment proposed by Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) that would replace annual testing with assessments only once at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

“Yes. It’s not enough. We really should have zero standardized tests in our schools. If we have to accept Grade Span Testing – as Tester’s proposal is called – it should be done by a random sample. Don’t test all kids. Just test some small group and extrapolate their scores to the whole.

“But Tester’s amendment is not nothing.

“Even if it weren’t approved – even if all schools are mandated to continue annual testing as is – the ECAA requires no minimum length for those tests.
How many questions do we need to have on our exams? How many sections? Right now, most states have three sections in both Reading and Math of around 30-40 questions each.

“If I’m reading this correctly, it’s conceivable that states that disagree with standardized testing could give assessments of only one section with only one question.

“Talk about opting out!

“That’s not nothing.

“Moreover, the proposed law does not require states to continue evaluating teachers based on student test scores. States are free to stop using the same junk science evaluations currently championed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or not. It’s totally up to the states.

“That’s not nothing.”

Singer contrasts the Senate bill to the House bill, which turns federal aid into vouchers (“portability”) and finds the Senate bill superior.

It is amazing that Arne Duncan’s lasting legacy will be the destruction of support for the federal role in education among liberals and conservatives alike.

Mercedes Schneider continues her slog through the turgid legislative language in the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB. It matters because the revision of the law was supposed to happen in 2007, and because it defines the federal role in education. She reviews 20 amendments here.

A reader named Anita Hoge has posted comments here and elsewhere claiming that the Senate committee proposal on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (aka NCLB) contains federal requirements for “medicalizing” children and other such assertions. When I disagreed, because I know that the bill reduces the federal authority rather than enlarging it, the writer asked me if I had read the entire bill, as Anita Hoge did. I had not; I had read summaries. It is typical of legislation these days that few people, even members of Congress, read huge bills. Sorry to say so, but it is true as legislative language is tedious and bills tend to be very long (NCLB was more than 1,000 when it passed in 2001). So I turned to someone who had read every single line of the bill, Mercedes Schneider, and asked her to review Ms. Hoge’s contentions.

Here is her response. Schneider checked and could not find evidence for Hoge’s claims.

There are good things in the bill (it shifts responsibility for the use of assessments to the states, it prohibits the Secretary of Education from interfering in which standards and assessments states adopt), and it allows states to try new ways of assessing students), and there are bad things in the bill (it continues to mandate annual assessments, which is my view is wrong, inasmuch as these assessments provide little useful information [other than test scores and rankings] and no high-performing nation tests every child every year). Whatever federal policymakers say they need to know can be learned from the NAEP assessments.

One of the few rules of this blog is: no conspiracy theories. So, I will no longer post comments that make claims about this bill or other bills that are not factual.

CNN ran an excellent segment about the burgeoning opt out movement. It is especially strong in New York, but it is rapidly spreading across the country as parents recognize that the tests provide no information other than a score and have no diagnostic value. For some reason, the defenders of high-stakes testing continue to say that the tests are helpful to our most vulnerable children, who are likeliest to fail the test, because until now we have neglected them. We didn’t really know that they were far behind and now they will get attention. After years of No Child Left Behind, in which no child was left untested, this is not a credible claim. Every child has been tested every year since at least 2003. How is it possible to say that no one knows that special education students need extra time and attention and accommodations? How is it possible to say that without Common Core testing, we will not know that English language learners don’t read English? In New York, we have had two administrations of the Common Core. Five percent of the children with disabilities passed the test; 95% were told they were failures. Three percent of English language learners passed the test; 97% were told they failed. How were they helped by learning that they had failed a test that was far beyond their capacity?

Fred LeBrun, a regular columnist for the Albany-Times-Union, writes that the scale of the opt out movement sends a powerful message to the President, Arne Duncan, Governor Cuomo, “and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.” He wisely recognizes that the movement was an uprising by parents, who are sick of the test-driven, data-driven policies of the past dozen years and sick of the Governor’s demand to make the consequences of the test even harsher. Parents know that this means more resources devoted to testing, less time for the arts and other subjects and activities that their children enjoy. LeBrun understands that parents are fed up with No Child Left Behind, fed up with Race to the Top, and fed up with the politicians who blindly embrace the agenda of these policies that are so harmful to genuine education.

LeBrun writes:

That’s not just an opt-out movement anymore. It’s civil disobedience, and a step away from a growing stampede. That should make elected officials squirm, and they deserve it.

But we haven’t seen the half of it yet. This coming week those same children will go back to take three days of standardized math tests — or not.

How the numbers who didn’t take the English tests will impact the numbers taking the math tests will be illuminating. It’s hard to imagine anything but a tumbling effect. Reports have surfaced that those English tests had a number of questions that were ambiguous, poorly designed and written in language too sophisticated for the age level, yet again. One parent said that the tests seem to be about creating failure, not measuring learning. She likened the exams to child abuse. Of course, since these tests are endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, self-proclaimed guardian of our young minds, this couldn’t possibly be true.

Regardless how many show up for the math tests, what the parents have done so far is as strong a repudiation of national and state public policy as we have seen in a long time. These parents have given a resounding ”no” to the president, our governor, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.

Well, the public is not having it. Not just here in New York, but across the country. The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in progress right now will reflect enormous national pressures to change course from a reliance on testing and the linking of teacher evaluations and student achievement to those tests. Federal funding will not be connected to meeting any federal standards, as it is now.

Mercedes Schneider has diligently slogged through all 601 pages of the Alexander-Murray bill. I am late posting this because I was traveling, so it lacks the acknowledgement that the Senate committee approved it unanimously with some amendments.


This is her final installment. It includes links to her previous five reports on the bill.


There is much to be learned here, but the central point of this legislation is to prevent the Secretary of Education from telling states and districts how to run their schools. Of course, this has nothing to do with civil rights enforcement. It is a reflection of how both parties feel about Arne Duncan’s intrusive mandates that dictated how states and districts are supposed to turnaround low-performing schools, as well as his advocacy for Common Core and for the two assessments he funded. If this bill passes in its current form (it must still be approved by the full Senate and House), Duncan will no longer have the power to tell states and districts what to do and how to do it.


This is vintage Lamar Alexander. He has always said he didn’t want a “national school board.” When he was Secretary of Education, he had a keen sense of federalism and didn’t want the federal government telling everyone how to run their schools, not even himself.


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