Archives for category: No Child Left Behind

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is conservative; he believes in state and local control of education. He doesn’t think that Washington knows best. He favors legislation to encourage states but not to compel them to do what Washington wants. In this article, he expressed his strong opposition to Arne Duncan’s favorite initiative, evaluating teachers by test scores and offering waivers only to states that agree to do it. Let me be clear that I disagree with his praise for the Teacher Incentive Fund (merit pay), because merit pay has never worked anywhere. The TIF was a waste of $1 billion, and now more money will be thrown at a failed policy. I have no doubt that I won’t like whatever is in the final bill to support privatization and profiteering, but I like Alexander’s clear dismissal of federally mandated teacher evaluation, which is a poison pill invented by Duncan and opposed by every major scholarly organization (the American Statistical Association, the American Education Research Association, the National Academy of Education). Leaving it (teacher and principal evaluation) to the states raises the possibility that some states will be even more heavy-handed and punitive than Duncan, but it’s hard to imagine how.


He said, in part:


Given all of the great progress that states and local school districts have made on standards, accountability, tests, and teacher evaluation over the last 30 years—you’ll get a lot more progress with a lot less opposition if you leave those decisions there.


I think we should return to states and local school districts decisions for measuring the progress of our schools and for evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of teachers.


I know it is tempting to try to improve teachers from Washington. I also hear from governors and school superintendents who say that if “Washington doesn’t make us do it, the teachers unions and opponents from the right will make it impossible to have good evaluation systems and better teachers.”


And I understand what they’re saying. After I left office, the NEA watered down Tennessee’s Master Teacher program.


Nevertheless, the Chairman’s Staff Discussion draft eliminates the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements and definition, and allows states to decide the licenses and credentials that they are going to require their teachers to have.


And despite my personal support for teacher evaluation, the draft doesn’t mandate teacher and principal evaluations.


Rather, it enables States to use the more than $2.5 billion under Title II to develop, implement, or improve these evaluation systems.


In a state like Tennessee, that would mean $39 million potentially available for continuing the work Tennessee has well underway for evaluating teachers, including linking performance and student achievement.


In addition, it would expand one of the provisions in No Child Left behind – the Teacher Incentive Fund that Secretary Spellings recommended putting into law and that Secretary Duncan said, in testimony before the HELP Committee in January 2009, was “One of the best things I think Secretary Spellings’ has done…the more we can reward excellence, the more we can incentivize excellence, the more we can get our best teachers to work in those hard-to-staff schools and communities, the better our students are going to do.”


And third, it would emphasize the idea of a Secretary’s report card—calling considerable attention to the bully pulpit a secretary or president has to call attention to states that are succeeding or failing.


For example, I remember President Reagan visited Farragut High School in Knoxville in 1984 to call attention to our Master Teacher program. It caused the Democratic speaker of our House of Representatives to say, “This is the American way,” and come up with an amendment to my proposal that was critical to its passage. President Reagan didn’t order every other state to do what Tennessee was doing, but the president’s bully pulpit made a real difference.


Thomas Friedman recently told a group of senators that one of his two rules of life is that he’s never met anyone who washed a rented car.


In other words, people take care of what they own.


My experience is that finding a way to fairly reward better teaching is the holy grail of K-12 education—but Washington will get the best long-term result by creating an environment in which states and communities are encouraged, not ordered, to evaluate teachers.


Let’s not mandate it from Washington if we want them to own it and make it work.



Robert Cotto, Jr., an elected member of the Hartford (CT) board of education, says that the state could save millions of dollars by reducing testing. Annual testing has been a waste of money. Before No Child Left Behind, Connecticut tested children in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. Now it tests every child in 3-8 every year.

“Reducing the tests that students take in each subject to only grades four, six, eight, and ten could save millions of dollars. The funds saved could help limit any budget cuts that will affect communities across the state, particularly for the most vulnerable children and families. Cutting testing in this way could also result in yearly savings of up to $9.5 million. That’s half of current state spending to administer the tests.

“At best, the evidence is mixed regarding the impact of spending more on testing and ratcheting up punishments. Here are some trends:

“Same data: With the exception of a few new features, the State reports and uses nearly the same type of test information today as it did more than a decade ago.

“Addition through subtraction: Increases in test results over the last decade didn’t happen until students with disabilities (mostly low-income, Black and Latino children) were removed from regular tests.

“Same disparities: The results of the “low-stakes,” sample-based National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have shown high overall test results of children in Connecticut, but little diminishing of race and class-based disparities. This historical pattern remains even after more than a decade of increased testing and punishments.

“Collateral damage: Curriculum hours in Connecticut narrowed to focus on the tested subjects. Students spent more time taking and practicing for tests throughout the year, taking away time for instruction.

“The State now uses the test results to rate students, schools, districts, and teachers.

“This isn’t educational progress.”

What really matters, he writes, is support for students, families, and communities. That’s a far better investment than high-stakes bubble tests.

Jeff Nichols is a leader of the Opt Out movement in New York City. He and his wife Anne Stone have opted their children out of state tests, organized other parents, written articles, testified before officials, and raised their voices whenever and wherever possible. Both are professors of music, and they understand how little a standardized test can measure of a child’s talent and potential.

Jeff Nichols and Anne Stone are hereby added to the blog’s honor roll for their fearless advocacy for American children.

Jeff Nichols wrote the following letter to Senator Alexander, who is chair of the Senate committee that intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind:

Dear Senator Alexander,

Your committee stands charged with drawing to a close an episode of national insanity that unfortunately has considerable precedent. As in the 1950s, when fear of the Soviet Union induced an assault on our fundamental rights of free speech and freedom of association during Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts, so in the past few years fear of the rising economic might of China and of global competition generally has led to another equally violent assault on a basic democratic principle: the right of the American people to determine for themselves the methods and policies that govern how they educate their own children.

In the name of saving those children from economic ruin at the hands of supposedly better-prepared rivals in newly developed nations, we are destroying the educational foundation of our greatness. Throughout the twentieth century, American public education was characterized by diversity and local control. Fifty state systems loosely oversaw thousands of local districts that possessed great authority to determine curriculum, assessment, hiring practices and many other basic functions of running schools. That is to speak only of the public schools; added to that picture of diversity were innumerable private and parochial schools.

The result was the rise of a free, wealthy, powerful and culturally vibrant nation virtually without parallel in the history of the world.

This is not a coincidence. Our pluralistic, decentralized, diverse education system is a primary reason science, business and the arts have been able to produce an unending stream of great discoveries and innovations that have benefited all humanity.

Yet our federal education leaders want to change all that, and they have used the instrument of high-stakes testing to force the change they want on the nation. Arne Duncan regularly sings the praises of China’s test-driven system and predicts dire consequences if we do not match their achievement. Through the Common Core and associated federal testing mandates, he is well on his way to achieving his goal.

Senator Alexander, have you read the writings of Yong Zhao, the great Chinese-American education scholar who has written definitive rebuttals of Mr. Duncan’s claims? I cite only one fact I learned from Professor Zhao’s latest book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

Zhao quotes from the 2013 book The Pathology of Chinese Education by Peking University professor Zheng Yefu, who wrote:

No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college…. Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner…. This forcefully testifies to the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of Chinese society.

Zhao, who lived under the Chinese system in his early years, points out what anyone should realize after half a moment’s reflection: China’s education system is designed to systematically suppress original, independent thought. That’s the primary task of education systems in ALL authoritarian societies.

Bill Gates, one of the chief forces behind the current drive to shape American education in the image of China’s through relentless high-stakes testing, has decried the uncontrolled diversity of American education. He has called the myriad state standards and associated diversity of educational approaches that prevailed before the Common Core “cacophonous.”

Well, I say this to Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg — some of the members of the “billionaire’s boys club” that Diane Ravtich has accused of mounting a coup in American education:

When everyone has a voice, it gets noisy. You may call that cacophony. I call it democracy. Get used to it. You and the politicians you back may have exploited the recent Great Recession to scare states into trading their sovereign authority over education for money, but the people of those states are rising up. We are going to retake control over the education of our children. Ordinary parents and teachers will reinstate democratic governance of public schools in this nation, asserting the same rights already enjoyed by the elite (including our president) who opt out of unconstitutional federal mandates by sending their children to private schools — schools where the meaning of accountability has not been perverted beyond recognition, schools where teachers and parents are accountable only to each other as they strive, according only to their best understanding, to do what’s best for the children they are jointly raising.

Public school parents and teachers will claim the same right, with or without the help of the U.S. Congress. If necessary we will do so through civil disobedience. My wife and I will submit our two children to no state-mandated standardized tests; we have joined tens of thousands of parents in our state of New York, defying both the federal government and the state authorities who caved to federal pressure, betraying our children to serve the interests of politicians and their corporate backers.

As in the McCarthy era, there is no middle ground here, Senator Alexander. You and your colleagues in Congress will either stop scapegoating teachers for the effects of poverty, and restore to parents, teachers and local communities their rightful control over public education, or you will go down in history as enablers of one of the most destructive series of laws and policies of our time: “No Child Left Behind” and its equally flawed sequel “Race to the Top.”

I call on you to work tirelessly to remove all federal efforts to control curriculum, assessment and teaching methods in our public schools. Leave it to us citizens, who are uniting across the political spectrum to defy illegitimate federal education dictates, and who you can rest assured will not only see to it that our children are “college and career ready,” but also fully prepared to know and assert their inalienable rights in a democratic society.


Jeff Nichols

United Opt Out sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee in the Senate. Senator Alexander intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was originally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it was first passed in 1965. At that time, the law was passed to send federal aid to poor districts. It said nothing about testing and accountability. But NCLB turned the federal law into a high-stakes testing mandate. Senator Alexander conducted his first hearing on January 21 and plans another hearing on January 27. Senator Alexander proposed two options in  his draft legislation: option 1 was to replace annual testing with grade span testing; option 2 was to keep annual high-stakes testing (the status quo). UOO is opposed to high-stakes testing in the federal law, period. (So am I.)


Here is UOO’s letter:



United Opt Out Public Letter to Senator Alexander



January 22, 2015


Dear Senator Alexander,


There is a great deal of discussion about where education leaders and organizations “stand” when it comes to the latest revision for ESEA titled Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. In response, the organizers of United Opt Out (UOO) find that we stand between Scylla and Charybdis, between the proverbial rock and a hard place.


In your bill you pose the question of support for Option 1, a reduction in testing to grade span, or Option 2, which continues the current testing nightmare; we support neither. We find many items in the 400 page document too egregious and insupportable even though we do accept the notion of “grade span testing,” preferably via random sampling, as an alternative to what is in place now.


While we understand why many of our respected colleagues have shown support for Option 1 in your bill, we cannot endorse either. This is because both options are tucked neatly inside a larger bill that promotes the expansion of charters and other policies destructive overall to the well-being of students, public schools, and communities. Another reason we are reluctant, no matter what enticing promises are included therein, is due to those who lobbied for this bill in 2013: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has immense ties to ALEC.


While we are inclined to support H.R. 4172 – Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, which also calls for grade span testing, we would like to see additional safeguards included against possible punitive (i.e. high stakes) state policies. Also, as stated above, we prefer random sampling. In our assessment, H.R.4172 does not go far enough to protect children, educators, and communities against state policies that are damaging in nature in spite of good intent. To elaborate, this bill requires those tests be administered at least once during: (1) grades 3 through 5, (2) grades 6 through 9, and (3) grades 10 through 12. However, “under H.R. 4172, the states would retain the ability to exceed federal testing requirements if they seek to do so.” In other words, students could be tested just as much as they are now if states choose to do so. The bill is not a guaranteed protection against over-testing and its punitive consequences; it’s just a hope. We believe that hope alone is not sufficient.


Make no mistake, Senator Alexander, we understand fully that you are a supporter of the privatization of public schools. Despite that fact, your bill and Gibson’s may be preferable to some who are against the privatization of public schools because they contain the possibility of being better than the existing federal and state policies. However, they are not appealing to many, in particular states that have suffered the negative impact of high stakes testing. Furthermore, we can’t see how either of the current bills proposed are the “solution” to problems such as equity in funding, re-segregation, compromised pedagogy, data mining, or the intrusion of corporate interests – to cite from a list of many – that continue to fester in public education.


We agree that education decisions should be decided in state legislative and local district bodies, but safeguards should be in place to ensure horrific policies such as over testing and attaching results to student, teacher, school, and community worthiness are not pushed through state and district legislative bodies. Your bill and Gibson’s include no such safeguards for polices that have been detrimental to the non-white, special needs, immigrant, and impoverished communities.


UOO and most other human rights organizations will vigorously oppose ANY state level measures that sanction the following:


Increase standardized testing even if it’s under “state control”


Support using high stakes to make decisions about students, educators, school buildings, or communities


Use of sanctions such as “shuts downs” or “turn overs” based on test data of any kind


Display favoritism toward increased charters and state voucher programs


Facilitate data mining and collection of private student information


Engage in sweet insider deals between state policy makers and corporations or testing companies using tax-payer dollars and at the expense of safety, quality and equity in public education


Therefore, we demand greater safety, equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.


We will not accept ANY bill until the following criteria are included:


Increased resources for the inclusion of local, quality curricular adoptions devoid of “teaching to the test”


Quality, creative, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures for general students, special needs, and English language learners that are sustainable and classroom teacher-created


Smaller teacher/student ratios


Wrap-around social programs, arts, physical education programs, and creative play recess


Career-focused magnet programs


Additionally, we demand legislation that supports a broad and deep system-wide examination of the power structures that perpetuate poverty-level existence for millions of Americans.


To conclude, we find ourselves having to choose between being shot in the head and being shot in the foot. For now, we choose neither. Instead we call for continued revisions of current legislation to include the items and protections outlined in this letter. We thank you for this opportunity to share our sentiments and our voice.




United Opt Out Administrators:



Rosemarie Jensen
Denisha Jones
Morna McDermott
Peggy Robertson
Ruth Rodriquez
Tim Slekar
Ceresta Smith



The Senate hearings on NCLB are being live-streamed right now. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee) quoted New York principal Carol Burris, as follows, from the article she published on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet:


This is what Senator Alexander quoted:


As we engage in the debate on the issue of how to fix NCLB, I ask that your committee remember that the American public school system was built on the belief that local communities cherish their children and have the right and responsibility, within sensible limits, to determine how they are schooled.

While the federal government has a very special role in ensuring that our students do not experience discrimination based on who they are or what their disability may be, Congress is not a National School Board.

Although our locally elected school boards may not be perfect, they represent one of the purest forms of democracy we have. Bad ideas in the small do damage in the small and are easily corrected. Bad ideas at the federal level result in massive failure and are far harder to fix.





Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are sponsoring legislation to banish federally mandated annual testing. Everyone who is opposed to the overuse and misuse of standardized testing should support this bill. It is called The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act.

To download a one page description, click here

For a one page letter Gibson and Sinema wrote to the other Congress people, click here

For the full text of the proposed bill, click here

For the official description from, including the list of co-sponsors, click here


Legislation will be introduced to end annual testing and to replace it with grade span testing. This is a bipartisan bill. For those sick of the money and time wasted on annual testing, support this legislation.

January 20, 2015

Gibson and Sinema to Host Joint Press Call on Reintroduction of Grade Span Testing Bill

Washington, D.C. – Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY-19) and Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9) will host a joint press call to announce reintroduction of their legislation, the Student Testing Improvement & Accountability Act. The bill will be reintroduced on the same day that the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee holds a hearing focused on federal testing requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The Student Testing Improvement & Accountability Act amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), replacing current federal yearly testing requirements for math and language arts/reading with the exact same grade span testing requirements that are in current law for science. This returns federal requirements on testing frequency to pre-No Child Left Behind standards.

Date: Wednesday, January 21

Time: 11:30AM – noon

Location: Dial-in: (712) 775-7031, meeting ID 493-479-058

Speakers: Representative Chris Gibson and Representative Kyrsten Sinema

Media Note: Speakers will start promptly at 11:30AM. Media will have the opportunity to ask questions following remarks from the Representatives.

Matt Sheehey
Press Secretary
Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-19)
1708 Longworth House Office Building
Office: (202) 225-5614
Cell: (802) 598-1156

Dear Senator Alexander:

I am a middle school English teacher for grades 6–8 at a small public school in the Hudson Valley. We’re a good school, no doubt about it. In 2010 my school was awarded Blue Ribbon status for the strength or our program and test scores. You would think that we would be in a great place in terms of the yearly testing that the NCLB and RTTP programs have required, but let me assure you that the truth is very different.

As I mentioned before, my school is quite small, and I am the only English teacher in the middle school. The students’ English education is my responsibility, and mine alone, something I take very seriously. Yet this mission is constantly being thwarted by federal testing mandates. A true English education would mean that kids get a great exposure to complicated, challenging, and interesting texts, yet the need to do test prep pushes me in exactly the opposite direction. Instead of classic literature, I am forced to give my students short essays, dozens and dozens of them, and then make them answer questions about them. My students hate this. They’d rather be learning poetry, or sailing with pirates, or crafting short stories, or strutting across Shakespeare’s stage. Yet NCLB has created just this, test preparation instead of a rich curriculum.

The critics may counter with, “No! That’s not how it’s supposed to be! You’re supposed to integrate the test prep within the curriculum!” True, there’s only a certain amount I can organically integrate test prep. After a point, I need to Xerox those hated essays and drop them on my kids’ desks. I estimate something like 10–20% of my year is engaged in test prep skills. This is the reality that NCLB has created. It’s made these tests so important that they dominate my curriculum like nothing else. Truly, was that the goal of NCLB?
Let us not forget that every student’s test score is also a measure of me. I am now evaluated by this one test, as if this is the very best way to know what I do in my classroom. How about that Shakespeare play I do every year? Sorry, that’s not on the test. What about the colonial era party, where every student makes a dish from the Revolutionary War period? Nope, not tested either. What about my journey through Ancient Greece through myths or leaping through space in my science fiction unit? Should I stop these? The testing regimen forced upon me seems to say that I should, because all that content doesn’t count anymore. My students and I are only measured by that score.

And what shall we do with the students who don’t do well, the ones who struggle? I can control, mostly, what happens in my classroom, but what about at home? I can’t force a kid who doesn’t study to put his nose to the grindstone. I can’t heal a child whose family life is chaotic, whose emotional turmoil prevents him or her from learning well. I can’t finance a family that’s stressed by poverty, who isn’t eating well and can’t focus. NCLB seems to insist that I employ god-like powers to fix these children so they do well on the yearly tests. It will even punish me with low evaluations if I don’t fix these children. How is this fair to my students or me? How is this even rational?

A testing moment I’ll never forget happened in the spring of 2013. One of my best students, let’s call him “Sam”, was taking the new Common Core tests for the first time. Sam was a student who wanted to do well, who always did well. His average for me was over 95 for three years straight. After the second day of testing, Sam came to me in tears. He pleaded for more time on the test because he hadn’t been able finish. My heart sank, because that was impossible. All I could do was say to this child, one who painstakingly wrote essay after essay for me, was “I’m sorry.”

If you want to use annual testing in a sane and meaningful way, you must take away its stigma. If you must test, give them in the beginning of the year and give teachers results in a timely manner to see what deficits that child has and help him/her. Right now we receive results about five months after they are given. It’s such a long period of time that the kids have already graduated to the next grade. What good is a test where you don’t get timely results? My tests evaluate what my students have learned and what I still need to teach them. The NCLB results come so far after the actual test that they are meaningless in terms of helping that child.

Even more importantly, you must remove the “high-stakes” part of the testing. Punishing kids, teachers, and schools for low test scores is damaging. It doesn’t help kids, or teachers, or schools. We are all trying our best to help children. We want to help kids no matter what his/her ability. Every child deserves our best efforts. Unfortunately teachers are now being punished for not being perfect. Who among us is that? Who among us can heal every wound? Who among us can lift up every single child? We do our best, of course, but that perfection is denied us. We are human. Yet NCLB demands my perfection, and my students and I will be punished because of low test scores. How is this ethical?

It needs to be said too that in my high-end public school I am shielded from many of these problems. Those who work in poverty-stricken or stressed neighborhoods are under much more stress from NCLB. These true heroes of education, those that spend their lives helping disadvantaged kids, are now failures because of low test scores. Their students too are punished. They must attend remedial class after class in this quixotic quest for high numbers, denying these needy kids art, music, and creative expression. How is this improving education? But of course, according to NCLB this enrichment is no longer important. It doesn’t measure a child’s musical ability, or verbal expression. Only test scores matter.

Please consider how damaging NCLB is to public education. It hurts rather than helps. It punishes children in poverty, stress, or those who struggle in a subject as well as their teachers. That said, if you truly want to design an effective education policy, please speak to teachers. We in the trenches of education are the experts in this matter, and we can help you. Too much education policy is designed by those who are not teachers, and this is one reason why it has gone so wrong. Listen to us. We speak the truth because we care very deeply about the children of America. So when we say high-stakes NCLB testing is destroying American education, we say this because that is the truth.

Veteran educator Arnold Dodge warns that the corporate reform movement, led by the U.S. Department of Education, threatens democracy and creativity. In its quest for data and standardization, the DOE will crush imagination and innovation. Standardized tests reward right answers, not original thought.

Not content to standardize children and their teachers, the DOE now wants to control teacher education by collecting test scores of students and linking them to the institutions that prepared their teachers. Test scores above all!

Dodge quotes John Dewey, who wrote:

“”Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”

“Lack of the free and equitable intercourse which springs from a variety of shared interests makes intellectual stimulation unbalanced. Diversity of stimulation means novelty, and novelty means challenge to thought.””

Carol Burris, high school principal in Rockville Center, Long Island, Néw York, wrote a public letter to Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Senator Alexander is the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Conmittee. He has said that he will press for a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

Sen. Alexander released a draft of his proposed legislation. It includes two options for testing. Option 1: let the states decide. Option 2: retain the status quo, with a federal mandate for annual testing in grades 3-8.

Burris, who supported NCLB when it passed in 2001, explains how NCLB has failed. She reviews the negative consequences of high-stakes testing and offers her suggestions for fixing the law.


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