Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

Mercedes Schneider has followed the development of the new federal legislation to replace the failed No Child Left Behind. She is one of the few people in the U.S. who has actually read every word of both the Senate bill and the House bill.

She concludes in this post that there will be no federal sanctions for opting out. The Congress has made clear–in both houses–that it does not want the federal Department of Education to take an activist role in punishing states. Will states punish school districts where parents rise up in rebellion against high-stakes testing. Schneider thinks not.

However, I now think that if the House and Senate conference committee whose task it will be to merge SSA and ECAA into a single bill decide against the SSA blanket opt-out and go with the state-level opt-out provision in ECAA, the federal government will not sanction states, regardless of state-level opting out.

In other words, if according to the future ESEA revision, states are supposed to set their own opt-out policy and include as much in the future ESEA Title I funding application, and if a state includes no opt-out provision in its future ESEA application yet dips below the 95 percent of students completing federally-mandated annual tests, the federal government is not likely to strong-arm states with federal sanctions.

I believe the federal government knows it has gone too far in strong-arming states via conditions attached to federal tests. For example, both the SSA and ECAA revisions include language to limit the role of the US secretary of education. The current US secretary, Arne Duncan, has actively promoted and defended Common Core and its annual tests; with the backing of President Obama, Duncan has lured states into adopting Common Core sight unseen with the lure of Race to the Top (RTTT) funds; he has paid for two Common Core testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced; he has made it a condition of states’ RTTT funding to use student standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and via his NCLB “waivers,” he has cornered states into agreeing to institute Common Core and its associated annual tests as well as testing teachers using test results as a condition for avoiding having the almost all schools in all states declared “failing” according to NCLB.

So, the fact that major news outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Times are doing their best to chastise those who support opting out of standardized tests is not enough to conceal what is obviously a federal blunder to make annual testing the end-all, be-all of American public education.

In its August 15, 2015, editorial, the New York Times points to possible federal penalties for New York State’s failure to test 95 percent of its students. It also notes that parents’ opting out of tests “could damage educational reform… and undermine the Common Core standards….”

Gee, that would be terrible.

It seems that the plan in New York is for state officials to put the squeeze on superintendents and principals to encourage participation in future annual tests– and to not encourage opting out. But the opt-out movement is not driven by superintendents and principals. It is driven by parents who are tired of the toll that test-centric education is taking on their children, including the artificially branding of their children as failures and the state’s allegiance to this branding…

The reality is that opting out of federally-mandated testing is not going away and likely will only continue to gain momentum across years as increasingly more children are branded American public school failures.

Test-centered American public education has had its day, and based upon the growing appeal to parents of opting their children out of mandated tests, that day has more than passed.

There was no opt-out movement throughout the heyday of test-and-punish NCLB, but there certainly is one now.

Federal and state officials need to take the hint as they formulate a non-test-centered Plan B.

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute has been a strong supporter of school choice and the Common Core. On the whole, he and TBF have applauded Arne Duncan’s move to promote charter schools, to ignore the voucher proliferation, and to push Common Core on the states (as if they were “state-led,” which they were not).

However, Petrilli now has had a change of mind. (For the record, I support those who are willing to rethink their views and change their minds.) He now recognizes that Arne overreached and caused a counter-reaction. The most atrocious action by Duncan was to force test-based teacher evaluation on the states, with no evidence that it would improve education. It was a disaster. It hasn’t worked anywhere, and it has increased teaching to the test and teacher demoralization. If you are looking for the cause of the widespread teacher shortage, look to the policies of the U.S. Department of Education since 2009.

Petrilli writes, with humility, that he was wrong.

It’s not just that the Department of Education usurped power from Congress and the states; it’s that they used that power to push bad policy. Nobody today can creditably argue that mandating statewide teacher evaluations as a condition of ESEA flexibility was a good idea. Nobody can say that the teacher evaluation efforts are going well. This was an unforced error of enormous magnitude—one that has sparked a significant backlash to accountability policies writ large and also destroyed whatever credibility the feds may have had….

So yes, both the Senate and House versions of ESEA reauthorization are “looser” than No Child Left Behind, or than the Fordham proposal from 2011. If this renewal processes gets across the finish line (and I think it will), the federal government will have much less power than it does today. Folks like Chad who don’t like that will only have Arne Duncan to blame. reports today that the General Accounting Office wants the U.S. Departmemt of Education to exercise greater oversight over teacher education programs. The question is how quality will be judged? Will it be the pass rates on Pearson’s EdTPA? Or the VAM ratings based on student test scores after graduation? If the former, expect to see a sharp decline in the proportion of African-American and Latino teachers? If the latter, expect to see teachers avoiding special education and schools in poor districts?

Incentives have unintended consequences.

As long as they are beefing up oversight at ED, why don’t they close down some of the predatory for-profit colleges that sell worthless diplomas and saddle young people with debt?

If the U. S. Department of Education had the capacity to oversee any sector,

Geoff Decker in Chalkbeat New York reports that the Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents said that if she had a child with special needs, she would think twice about letting the child take the state tests.

“New York’s top education official, who sharply criticized parents who might keep their children from taking state tests a few months ago, offered a different message for parents of some students with special needs on Monday.
“Personally, I would say that if I was the mother of a student with a certain type of disability, I would think twice before I allowed my child to sit through an exam that was incomprehensible to them,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in Albany.

Tisch’s remarks came after federal education officials rejected New York’s request to loosen testing requirements for some high-needs students in June. The waiver would have exempted English language learners who have attended U.S. schools for less than two years from taking the tests, and assessed students with severe disabilities based on their instructional level, rather than their age-based grade…

Never before has Tisch supported opting out as a reasonable response to unreasonable demands.

The state’s “request to exempt certain high-need students from some testing requirements was denied. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that the current testing requirements were necessary to ensure that academic progress of all students is properly tracked.”

This is the height of absurdity. If a child has cognitive impairments so severe that he or she cannot understand the test, what exactly is the point of forcing the child to take the test. If the teacher knows that the child is certain to fail because of his or her disabilities, requiring the test is akin to child abuse.

Last year in Florida, the state compelled a dying child to take the state tests. At what point does a society come to realize that policymakers who impose such draconian mandates don’t care about children? When common sense and common decency are gone, what is left but an empty bureaucratic shell?

Where are the lawyers?

Jeff Bryant, Director of the Education Opportunity Network, faults Lyndsey Layton’s sympathetic portrayal of Arne Duncan. She portrays him as someone who is a good listener, a big-hearted fellow who won wide acceptance for charter schools, test-based evaluation of teachers, and the Common Core. Bryant says she got the story wrong. He says that reporters for the big national newspapers think that if they interview people in think tanks inside the Beltway, they have the real story. In fact, people inside the Beltway think tanks live in an echo chamber, almost completely detached from the rest of America and the consequences of the policies they promote.

Bryant says Layton got it wrong: Arne is not a good listener; in fact, he never listens to anyone unless they agree with him. Most Americans still don’t know what charter schools are. Test-based teacher evaluation has been a flop, and increasing numbers of states are dropping the Common Core and/or the tests that Arne paid $360 million for.

The most notable result of Arne’s stewardship of the U.S. Department of Education is that both parties have agreed to legislation that would neuter future Secretaries of Education and strip them of the power to punish schools, districts, and states. This is not exactly a resounding endorsement of his leadership. You might say that it is a bipartisan repudiation of it.

Bryant is quietly furious. He cites Arne’s “white suburban moms” quote about the anti-testing revolt in New York. He did not mention Arne’s infamous claim that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans’ public schools: It wiped out the public schools, created a pretext to fire 7,500 mostly African American teachers, eliminated the teachers’ union, and turned New Orleans into a privatized district. Nor did he mention Arne’s other memorable quote, that he wants to be able to look into the eyes of a second-grader and know that he or she is college-bound. When you see the kind of absurd comments that he is apt to make off-the-cuff, you can understand why he sticks with talking points and a tight script.

Duncan’s policies failed because he never listened to critics. He listened, or appeared to, then ignored whatever he may have heard. As Bryant writes, “Every time experienced educators challenged Duncan to question his agenda and reconsider policy directions, he responded by … continuing down the same course.”

The worst legacy of Duncan’s tenure is that Congress is determined to limit the role of the federal government in the future and to forfeit the good things that the federal government has done in the past.

He writes:

What’s particularly unfortunate about that policy direction is that the federal government historically has had a mostly positive influence in public schools. As the article reminds us, what we now call NCLB was “initially passed in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” a law that “was originally designed to protect the nation’s neediest students, and that the federal government must play a significant enforcement role to ensure that poor students, racial minorities and students with disabilities all receive an equal education.”

Because of that act, millions upon millions of impoverished children have had resources funneled to their schools through programs like Title I. Students who do not speak English as their first language have had funds sent to their schools to pay for specialists. Students who have physical disabilities, social-emotional problems and trouble with their learning and intellectual development have had more access to education opportunities and better supports in their schools. More girls and young women have been provided opportunities to play sports and experience a full curriculum.

Sure, this federal mission has not always been fully funded or adequately implemented. But that was the goal, and it was the goal NCLB took our attention away from and the goal this blundering oaf of a secretary refused to take up as his primary job, even though everyone outside his inner circle clamored he do so.

So the biggest tragedy of Arne Duncan is not only the millions of students and families ill-served under his tenure but the millions that will likely be ill-served in the future because it looks like his self-righteous, narrow-minded zeal will leave the federal government’s role in education marginalized for the immediate and foreseeable future.

Mercedes has been closely following the evolution of the Congressional debate about the future of federal aid to education. She became one of the few people in the world to read every line of the Senate proposal, which she gave a “close reading.” In this post, she leans on a comment by Laura Chapman.


She know the final product won’t please everyone. Everyone has a different idea about how it should be revised.


The least desirable path is to leave the NCLB-‘Race to the Top as is. It is a harmful, toxic brew that kills education and crushes the joy of learning.


Our goal must be to fight off the intrusion of uninformed politicians who know nothing about schooling but assume it is their duty to tell teachers what and how to teach, and how to evaluate teachers. It would be useful to have a good summary of the research about charters and vouchers to demonstrate that their record of success is slender and that they damage more schools (and children) than they save.


In a perfect world, Congress would limit its education program to things that it can do–and do well:


1) distributing money to the neediest schools

2) protecting the civil rights of teachers and students

3) making sure that federal funds go to students who need them most.


How did we get into this mess of believing that the U.S. Department of Education has the knowledge, wisdom, experience, and foresight to create a single template of standards, curriculum, standards, professional development, teacher evaluation, and assessment to guide the nation’ s millions of children and teachers? It does not. That is a fantasy. Here is a fresh idea: evidence-based policy-making. Field trials. Or how about the simple recognition that teachers are not the sole cause of students test scores. Or how about the startling idea that every child does not progress at the same time and in the same way?


There is a simple axiom that our parents taught us: Stick to what you know.



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.  

The biggest scam in higher education was perpetrated by Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit corporation that once enrolled more than 120,000 students at 120 campuses. Corinthian collapsed recently, leaving tens of thousands of students saddled with debt and worthless degrees.


The recruiters focused on minorities, the poor, and veterans, making false promises about future employment and costs. The bottom line was always the same: profits. Not education.


The linked article is the inside story of the decline and fall of Corinthian, its predatory practices, its lies to students, and the inaction of the DOE.


“In lawsuits, official complaints to state and federal regulators, sworn declarations submitted in Corinthian’s bankruptcy proceeding, and conversations with The Huffington Post, dozens of former Corinthian students and several former Corinthian employees said that Corinthian drowned students in debt and sent them off with meaningless diplomas that did not help — and sometimes even harmed — their job prospects. It illegally padded job placement statistics and gave students college credit for “externships” at fast-food restaurants. It charged students up to 10 times what a comparable community college degree would cost. More than 1 in 4 Corinthian graduates defaulted on their student loans, according to Education Department data. And for years, the Education Department not only failed to recognize the depths of the abuse, but effectively funded Corinthian’s business model, sending the company billions of dollars in financial aid to help cover students’ bills.”


Why did the U.S. Department of Education allow this fraud to continue for so long? One might well ask why the U.S. Department of Education has been silent about the growth of predatory for-profit K-12 schools, both virtual and brick-and-mortar. For the first time in history, the U.S. ED just doesn’t see privatization and profit-making as a problem.


“In 2008, Tasha Courtright visited the Everest College campus in Ontario, California, with a friend. She was not looking to pursue higher education. “The recruiter said, ‘How about you? Do you want to go to school?’” Courtright recalled.


“I said I can’t afford it, I can’t do loans,” she remembered, noting that she was working a minimum-wage job at a gas station when Corinthian first recruited her. “They said, ‘Let us do the numbers.’ They said I qualified for Cal Grants and Pell Grants, and I wouldn’t have to pay anything.”


“The recruiter called Courtright repeatedly for two days, pressuring her to make a decision. “They said classes were starting and ‘If you don’t do it now, you never will.’ So I went down again and signed up.” Courtright spent four years at Everest, earning a bachelor’s degree in applied business management. She said recruiters promised she wouldn’t pay a dime; she ended up with $41,000 in student debt.


“High-pressure sales tactics like that were deliberately targeted at vulnerable demographic groups, including single mothers and the unemployed, according to Lueck, the former Corinthian manager. Recruits were often the first in their families to attend college. Almost anyone could qualify.


“Laurie McDonnell, a librarian at the Everest-Ontario Metro campus, resigned after learning that her school had enrolled a man who read at a third-grade level.


“The goal was simple: profits. Smaller chains like Lincoln Tech or DeVry used to dominate the for-profit college industry. But toward the end of the last decade, larger, publicly traded companies took over. By 2009, three-quarters of all U.S. students enrolled in for-profit colleges were at schools owned by a corporate conglomerate or private equity firm. Goldman Sachs owns around 40 percent of Education Management Corporation, another operator of for-profit colleges.


“Many for-profit college companies own multiple university brands. Corinthian, which traded on Nasdaq, ran Everest, Wyotech and Heald Colleges. The consolidation of the industry changed how for-profit schools operated, argues Elizabeth Baylor, senior investigator on a landmark 2012 Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee study of for-profits. “Student success was not the primary focus of the entity. It was returning investor value,” Baylor, who now works at the Center for American Progress, told HuffPost.


“One-quarter of the average for-profit college budget goes to marketing and recruitment, Baylor said. The goal is to capture and retain students, and squeeze as much money out of them as possible. The 2012 Senate report found that Corinthian’s students defaulted on their loans at a rate that was “by far the highest of any publicly traded company” that investigators scrutinized.”

Martin Levine reports in “Nonprofit Quarterly” that charter frauds are multiplying, yet the U.S. Department of Education fecklessly plans to increase charter school funding by 48%.

The frauds are facilitated because of inadequate supervision by state or local agencies. Unscrupulous charter operators take advantage of deregulation to steal taxpayers’ dollars or make lucrative contracts with friends, relatives, or their own corporations.

Levine reports:

“Six distinct categories were needed for this report to capture the practices of the charter school operators that were studied:

*Charter operators using funds illegally for personal gain

*School revenue used to illegally support other charter operator businesses

*Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger

*Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided

*Charter operators illegally inflating enrollment to boost revenues; and

*Charter operators mismanaging public funds and schools

“At the federal level, despite the apparent misuse of such large sums of scarce funds and the lack of adequate oversight mechanisms, the 2016 budget that is working its way through Congress includes a significant increase in funding with little if any increase of management. According to Jonas Persson of PR Watch, “Despite drawing repeated criticism from the Office of the Inspector General for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls within the federal Charter Schools Program—designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools—the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is poised to increase its funding by 48 percent in FY 2016.”


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