Archives for category: No Child Left Behind

Emma Brown of the Washington Post has a good article about the Murphy amendment, which Democrats favored and Republicans opposed.

 

The chamber voted 54 to 43 against the amendment, which aimed to give the federal government more say in defining which schools are low-performing and require intervention.

 

Instead, the bill allows states to decide not only how to judge schools’ success, but which schools don’t measure up and what to do to improve them.

 

The proposed amendment’s lead sponsor, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said that could return the country to the days when states and school districts could ignore achievement gaps and allow poor, minority and disabled children to languish.

 

“This law is an education reform law, but it has to be a civil rights law as well,” said Murphy, invoking the law’s original passage in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

 

The measure was opposed by many Republicans who want to rein in the federal government’s influence over education, which they say ballooned under the Bush and Obama administrations.

 

“Instead of fixing No Child Left Behind, it keeps the worst parts of it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee.

 

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers are sure to continue pushing for stronger accountability provisions before sending the legislation to the White House. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that the Obama administration would not support the legislation unless it strengthens the federal role in school accountability. But he stopped short of saying whether the president would veto it.

 

Why do Democrats believe that the U.S. Department of Education has the capacity or knowledge to identify “failing” schools or to intervene to improve them? Nothing in the past decade suggests that this is a realistic expectation.

 

Democrats have now almost completely bought into the assumption that more testing=more equity, when it is a well-established fact that standardized tests always have a disparate impact that disadvantages students and adults of color. For many decades, the same civil rights groups that now defend standardized tests for students have litigated to block the use of standardized tests as decisive measures, whether in school or in employment. But for reasons that are hard to discern, certain leading civil rights groups now insist that without testing every child every year, children of color will be overlooked and neglected. Of course, if standardized tests could meet the needs of children of color and children in poverty, these children would be in far better shape today than they are because they have been taking standardized tests every year since 2003, when NCLB was implemented. That is an entire generation of children. What are the results? Where are the benefits of the billions spent to test every child every year? How many children have lost access to courses in the arts, history, science, civics, geography, physical education, and foreign languages because they took time away from test preparation?

 

NAEP already documents the achievement gaps every other year for every state and for many urban districts by scientific sampling. No other nation tests every child every year. The cost of testing and the instructional time lost to test prep actually hurts the children it is supposed to help.

 

Why don’t the Democrats listen to other civil rights groups, such as the Journey for Justice Alliance, which opposes high-stakes testing. Is it because they don’t have lobbyists? Here is part of their open letter to the leaders of the Senate:

 

The Journey for Justice Alliance, an alliance of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, joins with the 175 other national and local grassroots community, youth and civil rights organizations signed on below, to call on the U.S. Congress to pass an ESEA reauthorization without requiring the regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing and sanctions that have recently been promoted as civil rights provisions within ESEA.

 

We respectfully disagree that the proliferation of high stakes assessments and top-down interventions are needed in order to improve our schools. We live in the communities where these schools exist. What, from our vantage point, happens because of these tests is not improvement. It’s destruction.

 

Black and Latino families want world class public schools for our children, just as white and affluent families do. We want quality and stability. We want a varied and rich curriculum in our schools. We don’t want them closed or privatized. We want to spend our days learning, creating and debating, not preparing for test after test.

 

In the Chicago Public Schools, for example, children in kindergarten through 8th grade are administered anywhere between 8 and 25 standardized tests per year. By the time they graduate from 8th grade, they have taken an average of 180 standardized tests! We are not opposed to state mandated testing as a component of a well-rounded system of evaluating student needs. But enough is enough.

 

We want balanced assessments, such as oral exams, portfolios, daily check-ins and teacher created assessment tools—all of which are used at the University of Chicago Lab School, where President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sent their children to be educated. For us, civil rights are about access to schools all our children deserve. Are our children less worthy?

 

High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. Their results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools close.

 

Standardized tests are used as the reason why voting rights are removed from Black and Brown voters—a civil right every bit as important as education. Our schools and school districts are regularly judged to be failures—and then stripped of local control through the appointment of state takeover authorities that eliminate democratic process and our local voice—and have yet so far largely failed to actually improve the quality of education our children receive.

 

Throughout the course of the debate on the reauthorization of ESEA, way too much attention has focused on testing and sanctions, and not on the much more critical solutions to educational inequality.

Emma Brown reports in The Washington Post that the Senate turned down an amendment that would have allowed parents to opt out of federally mandated tests without penalty.

 

The lead author of the Senate bill said that this decision should be left to states.

 

The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said.

 

But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — the Republican co-sponsor of the carefully crafted bipartisan bill — spoke forcefully against the proposal, saying it would strip states of the right to decide whether to allow parents to opt out.

 

“I say to my Republican friends, do we only agree with local control when we agree with the local policy?” said Alexander, who has framed the bill as an effort to transfer power over education from the federal government to the states.

 

I have great respect for Senator Alexander but his argument is not logical. The federal government mandates the tests, but it leaves to states the power to decide whether parents have the right to opt out. Why is the federal government mandating any tests? Why is this not a state responsibility? If he were being consistent, he would leave the testing and the right to opt out to the states. I would just remind the Congress that the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 was a resource equity act, not a testing and accountability act. It was meant to send money to schools and districts that enrolled students who lived in poverty. It was No Child Left Behind that turned the ESEA into a testing and accountability act in 2001-02. And it was the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 that first proposed that states create their own standards and assessments.

 

No matter what the Congress does, no matter what the states do, parents can opt their children out of testing if they believe the tests are neither valid nor reliable.

 

If anyone has a list of Senators who voted for or against the amendment, please send it.

 

A large coalition of grassroots groups and civil rights organizations wrote a powerful letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate and every member of the Senate expressing their views about what should–and should not–be in the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

 

This is how their letter begins:

 

The Journey for Justice Alliance, an alliance of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, joins with the 175 other national and local grassroots community, youth and civil rights organizations signed on below, to call on the U.S. Congress to pass an ESEA reauthorization without requiring the regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing and sanctions that have recently been promoted as civil rights provisions within ESEA.

 

We respectfully disagree that the proliferation of high stakes assessments and top-down interventions are needed in order to improve our schools. We live in the communities where these schools exist. What, from our vantage point, happens because of these tests is not improvement. It’s destruction.

 

Black and Latino families want world class public schools for our children, just as white and affluent families do. We want quality and stability. We want a varied and rich curriculum in our schools. We don’t want them closed or privatized. We want to spend our days learning, creating and debating, not preparing for test after test….

 

The letter points out that the children of Chicago will have taken 180 standardized tests by the end of eighth grade. This is not education.

 

We want balanced assessments, such as oral exams, portfolios, daily check-ins and teacher created assessment tools—all of which are used at the University of Chicago Lab School, where President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sent their children to be educated. For us, civil rights are about access to schools all our children deserve. Are our children less worthy?

 

High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. Their results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools close.

 

Standardized tests are used as the reason why voting rights are removed from Black and Brown voters—a civil right every bit as important as education. Our schools and school districts are regularly judged to be failures—and then stripped of local control through the appointment of state takeover authorities that eliminate democratic process and our local voice—and have yet so far largely failed to actually improve the quality of education our children receive….

 

They don’t just complain. They have clear solutions that Congress could enact if it had the will.

 

First, there are 5000 community schools in America today, providing an array of wrap around services and after school programs to children and their families. These community schools serve over 5 million children, and we want to double that number and intensify the effort. We are calling for a significant investment in creating thousands more sustainable community schools. They provide a curriculum that is engaging, relevant and challenging, supports for quality teaching and not standardized testing, wrap-around supports for every child, a student centered culture and finally, transformative parent and community engagement. We call on the federal government to provide $1 billion toward that goal, and we are asking our local governments to decrease the high stakes standardized testing with its expensive test prep programs and divert those funds into resourcing more sustainable community schools.
Second, we want to include restorative justice and positive approaches to discipline in all of our sustainable community schools, so we are calling on the federal government to provide $500 million for restorative justice coordinators and training in all of our sustainable community schools.
Third, to finally move toward fully resourcing Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we call on the federal government to provide $20 billion this year for the schools that serve the most low income students, and more in future years until we finally reach the 40% increase in funding for poor schools that the Act originally envisioned.
Finally, we ask for a moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program, which has pumped over $3 billion into new charter schools, many of which have already closed, or have failed the students drawn to them by the illusive promise of quality. We want the resources that all our schools deserve – we don’t need more schools. We need better ones.
So now we are prepared to say, clearly, that we will take nothing less than the schools our children deserve. It will cost some money to support them, but that’s okay, because we have billionaires and hedge funders in this country who have never paid the tax rates that the rest of us pay. We are a rich country, and we can afford some world class community schools.

 

 

 

Carol Burris, who recently retired as principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, Néw York, here explains why she supports the Every Child Achieves Act.

She writes:

“It forbids the Federal Government from:

–requiring or promoting teacher evaluation systems.

–setting, mandating or encouraging standards such as the Common Core.

–imposing school improvement strategies.

–taking federal money from states that allow parents to opt their kids out from testing.

“In short, ECAA would require Mr. Duncan to stop imposing his reform strategies on the states and our schools. And that allows all of us to have more influence at the state and local level to help set a better course. No State Education Department can hide behind federal mandates to justify the Common Core or evaluating teachers by test scores.”

The act has too much federal funding for unaccountable charter schools and for school choice.

But Burris believes it is a step forward nonetheless.

Mercedes Schneider reviews the D.C. Merry-go-round, where legislators who are not educators are deciding what to do to the nation’s schools.

The Senate’s bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act has the singular distinction of telling the Secretary of Education that he is prohibited from meddling in state standards and tests and teacher evaluations. Until now, Arne Duncan claimed to be very satisfied with the bill. Maybe he actually got a briefing, as the Obama administration now says it is not happy with the bill.

Civil rights groups continue to clamor for federally mandated annual testing, even though Black and Hispanic students have seen their schools turned into test-prep centers, with loss of non-tested subjects.

Higher education groups are lobbying for the Common Core, which has sinking support. Apparently they look forward to shrinking enrollments, since most students fail the “rigorous” CC tests. They will see an especially large decline of Black and Hispanic students, whose failure rates in PARCC and SBAC are scandalous. Do they care?

Expect more federal funding for charters and more charter scandals.

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters, writes here about the Every Child Achieves Act and the distortions that are filling her email box these days. Haimson is also a member of the board of the Network for Public Education and a fearless supporter of public education.

She writes:

Over the last few days, I have been flooded with blog posts, Facebook comments, memes and tweets, claiming that the bi-partisan bill to be debated this week in the Senate, called ECAA, or Every Child Achieves Act, must be opposed, because it “locks in” Common Core and many of the worst, test-based accountability policies of Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education.

Yet this is far from the truth. For nearly 13 years, students have suffered under the high-stakes testing regime of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). NCLB was likely the dumbest law ever passed by Congress, because it required that all public school children in the United States reach “proficiency” by 2014 as measured by test scores, or else their schools would be deemed failing.

The inanity of NCLB was exacerbated by Race to the Top and other policies pursued by Arne Duncan that put testing on steroids. These policies treated our children as data points, reduced our schools to test prep factories, and attempted to convince parents that their education must be handed over to testing companies, charter operators, and ed tech corporations. This disastrous trend resulted in huge parent protests and hundreds of thousands of students opting out of state exams last spring.

The current Senate bill is admittedly far from perfect. It still requires annual standardized tests in grades 3-8, as did NCLB. It would allot far too many federal dollars and too little accountability to charter schools, while encouraging merit pay for teachers – all policies likely to lead to wasted taxpayer funds that would be better spent on programs proven to work, such as class size reduction. It would do nothing to protect student data privacy, while allowing the continued disclosure of sensitive personal information to vendors and other third parties without parental knowledge or consent. Hopefully this critical issue will be addressed separately by Congress, by improving one or more of the many student privacy bills introduced during the past few months.

Yet ECAA still represents a critical step forward, because it places an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in the decision-making of states and districts as to how to judge schools, evaluate teachers or implement standards. In particular, it expressly bars the feds from requiring or even incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as Duncan has done with the Common Core, through his Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers.

It would also bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive, by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging test prep to the exclusion of all else. The bill would prevent the feds from imposing any particular school improvement strategy or mandating which schools need improvement – now based simplistically on test scores, no matter what the challenges faced by these schools or the inappropriateness of the measure. Finally, the bill would prevent the feds from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, as Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.

It is true that many states have already drunk the Common Core/testing Koolaid, led by Governors and legislators influenced by the deep pockets of corporate reformers or tempted by RTTT funds. ECAA also still requires annual testing, which the Tester amendment would replace with grade-span testing, as many organizations including FairTest and Network for Public Education have strongly urged. (Full disclosure: I’m on NPE’s board.) The bill has a provision aimed at alleviating over-testing, by requiring that states audit the number of standardized exams and eliminate duplication, though it’s not clear how effective this requirement will be.

But with or without the Tester amendment, ECAA would release the stranglehold that the federal government currently has on our schools, and would allow each of us to work for more sane and positive policies in our respective states and districts. For this reason alone, it deserves the support of every parent and teacher who cares about finally moving towards a more humane, and evidence-based set of practices in our public schools.  

Politico,com reports that the states are working to reduce testing. Do you believe it? Color me skeptical. As long S NCLB and Arne’s waivers threaten school closings and teacher evaluations based on test scores, how can any state cut down on testing?

STATES CONSIDER CUTTING TESTING: The Council of Chief State School Officers sent states a survey earlier this year and recently revealed [http://politico.pro/1NxwAQH] one of their findings: At least 39 states are working to reduce unnecessary testing in various ways. That might include establishing a task force, surveying existing tests, gathering feedback from educators and more. Last October, CCSSO and the Council of the Great City Schools announced an effort to review testing across states and districts.

– Which states aren’t among the 39? According to CCSSO’s survey results: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Texas. But doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing – CCSSO stresses that some additional states have taken action since the survey was administered earlier this year. For example, North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler launched a task force to review the state’s testing options after glitches with the state’s Smarter Balanced vendor, Measured Progress, interrupted exams this spring. Some states took action prior to the survey and some may not have responded to the survey.

– Speaking of testing, a group of Florida state lawmakers wants Republican Gov. Rick Scott to dump this year’s testing results on the Florida Standards Assessment. Tampa Bay Times: http://bit.ly/1JxPjxF.

– And the California high school exit exam may be suspended immediately. EdSource: http://bit.ly/1JyxqPb.

For at least 15 years, federal efforts at “school reform” have focused on “fixing” the schools; now it is focused (fruitlessly) on teacher evaluation. One thing that is obvious: schools can’t be “reformed” by federal legislation. They can surely use federal money to reduce class size and to reduce spending gaps between districts and schools. But federal policies and laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have generated more disruption than school improvement.

Aurora Moore received her doctorate from Stanford, where she studied school improvement strategies. She concluded that the school is the wrong unit of analysis. A school is a building, a “pile of bricks.” In this post on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog, she argues that federal policy has missed the most important variables in successful school improvement. While writing about “the myth of school improvement,” she does not say that it can’t be done and never happens, but that the federal government and “reformers” (privatizers) have rejected meaningful strategies and chosen to deploy failed strategies.

What matters most for genuine school improvement is what she calls “context stability” and autonomy. The irony is that federal policy and mandates actively weaken and destroy what matters most.

She writes:

“Variable 1: Context stability

The first variable is something that I call context stability. Context stability is a combination of low teacher turnover, stable leadership, and a demographically consistent student population. Context stability is also about having continuity in curriculum and materials, programs and program staff from year to year –or something that researchers studying Chicago schools called, “coherence.” If you dig deep into the research on effective and improving schools you find out that all of them had continuity in staff, leadership and student demographics during the period studied. Staff and leadership stability was a condition of effectiveness.

“Anyone who works in schools today can tell you that context stability is very uncommon, especially in schools deemed “in need of improvement.” Teacher turnover is an ongoing problem, particularly in schools serving large percentages of students living in poverty where the average teacher stays less than five years. And ironically, the federal School Improvement grants have convinced many district administrators that it’s a good idea to move school principals around. And in many locales, particularly urban ones with open enrollment policies and large immigrant populations, student demographics can change dramatically from year to year.

“And the real rub is that context stability itself doesn’t last forever. Most research about effective or improving schools is done in a 1-5 year period. Give me an effective school or improving school and wait three years. The effective principal or effective program will have gone, and it’ll be back to square one.

“Variable 2: Autonomy

“The other important variable we failed to consider is autonomy. During the previous eras of school reform people working in schools had much more control over their curricula, their technology and their programs than they did today. The research on Chicago’s improving schools was conducted during the 1990s during an unprecedented experiment in local school control. Nowadays districts and states often dictate what materials teachers can use, what programs they can implement, and even what page to be on in a pacing guide. Some researchers say that schools should be responsible for “crafting coherence” but in my experience, that’s more pie in the sky idealism than reality, particularly when district-school administrator power dynamics are involved.

“If you really think about it, schools are just buildings that have a constant and complicated flow of policies, programs and people moving in and out. School administrators and teachers have very little control of that flow of information, people and practices—they can only manage those things within the confines of district, state and federal policies.”

Quinn Mulholland of the Harvard Political Review examined the issues surrounding annual mandated testing, interviewed leading figures on both sides, and concluded that the exams are overkill. They cost too much, they narrow the curriculum, they take too many hours, they distort the purpose of education.

 

Mulholland concludes:

 

Given all of these problems with standardized testing, it seems that the civil rights issue is too much testing, not too little. Instead of forcing low-income schools to spend millions of dollars and countless hours of class time preparing for and administering standardized tests that only serve to prove, oftentimes inaccurately, what we already know about the achievement gap, we should use those resources to expand programs in the arts and humanities, to provide incentive pay to attract teachers to areas where they are needed most, and to decrease class sizes, all things that could actually make a difference for disadvantaged students.

 

This is not to say that America’s accountability system should be completely dismantled. Politicians and schools can de-emphasize testing while still ensuring high achievement. Student and teacher evaluations can take multiple measures of performance into account. The amount of standardized tests students have to take can be drastically reduced. The fewer standardized tests that students do take can incorporate more open-ended questions that force students to think critically and outside the box

 

Thirteen years after NCLB’s mandates were first set into place, the rhetoric used by politicians and pundits is sounding more and more like that which the same politicians and pundits used to endorse NCLB. Congress would be ill advised to try to use high-stakes test-based accountability to narrow the achievement gap and expect a different result than the aftermath of the 2002 law. It is time to acknowledge that putting an enormous amount of weight on standardized test scores does not work, and to move on to other solutions.

 

Regardless of the outcome of the current debate, grassroots activists like [Jeanette] Deutermann will continue to fight against harmful test-based accountability systems like New York’s. “This is an epidemic,” she said. “It’s happening everywhere, with all sorts of kids, from the smartest kids to the kids that struggle the most, from Republicans to Democrats, from kids in low-income districts to kids in high-performing districts. It doesn’t matter where you are, the stories are exactly the same.”

 

“We may be passive when it comes to all the other things [corporate reformers] have interjected themselves into,” Deutermann warned, “but when you mess with our kids, that’s when the claws come out.”

 

In an article in The Atlantic, Paul Barnwell describes how difficult it was for him when he was a new teacher assigned to a low-performing school.

 

In a span of three minutes, the group in room 204 had morphed from contained to out of control. Two boys were shooting dice in the back of the room, and as I instructed them to put their crumpled dollar bills away, several others took off their shoes and began tossing them around like footballs. Before I could react, one boy broke into my supply closet. He snatched handfuls of No. 2 pencils and highlighters and sprinted out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

 

He was 22 years old, and he was working in one of Kentucky’s most troubled, underperforming, and dysfunctional middle schools. He quit before Christmas. Eventually, he realized that the school needed experienced teachers and stability, but federal policy does not set a priority on either. In fact, NCLB and Race to the Top encourage churn, pretending to “fix” schools by firing principals and teachers and moving in new and often inexperienced teachers.

 

How can struggling schools attract experienced teachers? Combat pay has repeatedly failed; so has merit pay. The practice of tying teachers’ compensation to test scores will only make matters worse by incentivizing teachers to avoid the toughest schools.

 

He concludes:

 

I asked several of my public-school teaching colleagues from around the country—from New Hampshire to Washington—what it would take for them to voluntarily switch to the neediest schools in their regions. Julie Hiltz, an educator in Hillsborough County, Florida, with nearly 13 years of teaching experience, told me that the following would need to be in place: The ability to make local decisions, professional development designed and led in-house, more time for collaboration, and smaller class sizes, among other factors. Unfortunately, current guidelines for struggling schools under No Child Left Behind often disenfranchise administrators and staff.

 

Lauren Christensen, a social-studies teacher in the Waltham, Massachusetts, with six years of experience, currently works in a low-poverty school. I asked her if she’d voluntarily transfer to a high-poverty school in her area. “Maybe, she said, “but I would need to know that the whole school would be supported with a long-term commitment [from decision-makers]. I think the pressure of standard assessments and the stress put on educators to turn ‘failing’ schools around immediately might be too much to overcome.”

 

When I think back to my first year, I’m no longer bitter. I’m now completing my 11th year as a teacher; I mentor new educators and advocate for better support and working conditions. But unless those resources are in place, I wouldn’t voluntarily work in another struggling school.

 

 

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