Archives for the month of: December, 2015

Remember how the Every Student Succeeds Act was transferring power from the Feds to the states? Well, not everything. The law still requires annual testing as before. It still requires a participation rate of 95%. The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to education officials across the nation to advise them about these basic facts.


But what happens when large numbers of students opt out to protest over testing, loss of the arts, and lousy tests?


As Alyson Klein explains in Edweek,



When it comes to opt-outs, ESSA has a complex solution. It maintains a requirement in the previous version of ESEA, the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, that all schools test at least 95 percent of their students, both for the whole school, and for traditionally overlooked groups of students (English Language Learners, racial minorities, students in special education, kids in poverty). Under NCLB, though, schools that didn’t meet the 95 percent participation requirement were considered automatic failures—and that was true under the Obama administration’s waivers from the law, too. (That part of the NCLB law was never waived.)


Now, under ESSA, states must figure low testing participation into school ratings, but just how to do that is totally up to them. And states can continue to have laws affirming parents’ right to opt their students out of tests (as Oregon does).


This is the year of opt-outs, and no less than a dozen states—Rhode Island, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, Delaware, North Carolina, Idaho, New York, Colorado, California, Connecticut, and Maine, received letters from the U.S. Department flagging low-participation rates on the 2014-15 tests—statewide or at the district or subgroup level—and asking what they planned to do about it. The department is reviewing the information it got from states. So far, the administration has yet to take serious action (like withholding money) against a state with a high opt-out rate.


So what’s this letter about? It sounds like the department is reminding states that they must come up with some kind of a plan to address opt-outs in their accountability systems, even in this new ESSA universe. And if they don’t have some sort of a plan in place, they’ll risk federal sanctions.


And, in a preview of what guidance could look like now that ESSA is in place, the department gives a list of suggested actions states could take in response to low participation rates. These actions are all pretty meaningful, like withholding state and district aid, counting schools with low participation rates as non-proficient for accountability, or requiring districts and schools to come up with a plan to fix their participation rates.


The letter makes it clear that states can come up with their own solutions, though. So it’s possible a state could decide to do something a lot less serious than the options listed in the letter. But importantly, states’ opt-out actions would likely have to be consistent with their waiver plans, since waivers are still in effect through the end of the school year. 


But the bottom line is that no state can prevent parents from opting their children out of state tests. They may threaten sanctions, but the larger the number of opt outs, the hollower the threats. This is called democracy. When the government announces a policy–in this case, a policy that was agreed upon behind closed doors, without any democratic discussion or debate–the citizens can register their views by saying NO.


No other nation in the world–at least no high-performing nation–tests every child every year. Annual testing was imposed on the nation by Congress in 2001 and signed into law as NCLB in 2002. We were told that annual testing meant that “no child would be left behind.” That didn’t happen. What we got instead was narrowing the curriculum, billions for the testing industry, cheating, and teaching to bad standardized tests.


The people who love high-stakes testing make sure that their own children attend schools like the University of Chicago Lab School (Arne Duncan, Rahm Emanuel) or Sidwell Friends (Barack Obama), where there is no high-stakes testing. The onerous testing of NCLB and the Race to the Top is not for their children, just yours.


Despite the failure of annual testing to fulfill the promise, Congress imposed it again. The more parents opt out, the sooner Congress will get the message that this policy is wrong.


Protect your children. Protect education. Cut off the money flow to Pearson and friends.


Opt out in 2016.






This is an essay that was written by a South Carolina school superintendent named John Taylor in 2002. It was originally called “Absolutely the Best Dentists.” It was supposed to be a satire, but reality overtook the jokes, and it was retitled “No Dentist Left Behind.” It was reprinted again and again. It was supposed to be funny.

Imagine a government system to rate dentists by the number of cavities their patients have. When the dentist in the story says that he chooses to serve patients in a poor neighborhood, and he can’t control how often they brush their teeth or what they eat, he is too to stop making excuses.

A dozen years ago this story was a satire. It was laughable and absurd on its face. Now it is federal policy, an integral part of Race to the Top. No one is laughing.

When the Cuomo task force announced that there would be a revision of the Common Core, a review of testing, and no consequences for teachers as a result of test scores for as much as four years, many parents breathed a sigh of relief.


But it is too soon to throw away your pitchforks. The state has already announced the testing schedule for 2015-2016, and the testing will go online.


Some people think that the task force report was intended to deflate the opt out movement. Others think it is a great step or a small step forward, away from the punitive testing culture of the past five years.


Watch and wait. And be prepared to return to the barricades if promises are broken.

Valerie Strauss posted the full transcript of Hillary’s remarks. It is important to see the context of what she said, which was not to bash schools or to advocate closing them.


Here is the relevant section of her comments:


I’m also going to do everything I can to defend education, and to make it clear that the best way to improve elementary and secondary education is to actually listen to the teachers and educators who are in the classrooms with our students and not scapegoat them and treat them like they don’t have any contribution to make.

And I wanna say a word about small rural schools like this one. Because I know that was the original reason that you all got so excited and why you were stalking presidential candidates. [laughter] And I don’t blame you. And I actually looked up some numbers.


Y’know Iowa has one of the best education systems in the country and has had for a long time. And I believe [applause] — Since I grew up in Illinois, we used to take a test they called the Iowa Basic Test, we used to take that test all the time. I wasn’t happy about it. But we did it because your education system was viewed as one of the best in the country. And your students have I think the second-highest ACT scores in the country. And I looked at the average of what Iowa students have, which is higher than the national average. This school’s students are higher than the Iowa average. [applause]


And so for the life of me, I don’t understand why your state government — and I know Governor Brandstad vetoed the money that would’ve come to help this school, and it was a bipartisan agreement. Y’know those are hard to come by these days. You had a bipartisan agreement in your legislature for more one-time student funding to help deal with some of the financial challenges that districts like this one have.


And Governor Brandstad vetoed it. Yet at the same time you have these laws which require if you have a deficit you may not be able to be a school district. It doesn’t make sense to me. When you- When you- Something is not broke, don’t break it. Right?


And this school district and these schools throughout Iowa are doing a better-than-average job. Now, I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better-than-average job. If a school’s not doing a good job, then, y’know, that may not be good for the kids. But when you have a district that is doing a good job, it seems kinda counterproductive to impose financial burdens on it.


So the federal government doesn’t have a whole lot to do with this, this is mostly state and local decision-making. Very little, less than 10 percent I think maybe 7 percent or so of the money that’s used to run schools in Iowa comes from the federal government. So therefore this is primarily a state issue.


But as president what I’m looking for are schools that exceed expectations. And I don’t care whether they’re urban, suburban, or rural. And where there are small districts like this one, I know you’ve got online opportunities, and maybe there should be exploration about how you can also share teachers and all the rest of it.


But I am very partial toward districts that are doing well. And from everything I can tell, this one is.



And so I hope that you’re able to work through whatever your financial and political challenges are with the state government, and at least have a fighting chance to keep providing the quality of education that produces students like these three young women. I meet a lot of students and you can be very proud of not only them but I’m sure so many others for the way they present themselves, the way they conduct themselves, and how effective they have been in making their case.


So when we talk about rural development, you’ve gotta also talk about rural education. And I think we’ve gotta go hand in hand, and maybe Tom [Vilsack] will have something more to say about this. Because if we’re gonna diversify the rural economy, we wanna make sure that we have the best possible schools in order to produce the students and the adults that are going be part of that new economy, particularly when it comes to clean energy in Iowa.


I also believe we need to do more on early childhood education. A lot of kids are not prepared when they come to school and they never catch up. So I would like to see us try to help, starting with the most disadvantaged kids, to give them a better early head start, a better universal kindergarten experience so that they can be successful.


And then on the other end we’ve gotta make college affordable, which it isn’t right now for a lot of hardworking families. And I have a whole plan about how to do that. I want to make tuition debt-free so you don’t have to borrow money if you go to a public college or university, and I wanna help anybody who has debt — anybody here have some student debt? yep — I wanna help you refinance that student debt the way you can with a mortgage or a car payment. Right now you can’t, and we oughta be able to get the cost down. [applause] You can save thousands of dollars if we do that for you.


And I personally don’t think the federal government should be making money off of lending money to students and families for kids to go to college and get their education. So we’re gonna change a lot of what is now the kind of challenges that people face when it comes to getting enough funding to go to college.

Julian Vasquez Heilig has a good post on Hillary and K-12 education. He asks whether she is with us (supporters of public education) or with Wall Street.


Only Hillary can answer. She should do so soon.

Steve Singer, a teacher-blogger in Pennsylvania, is willing to give Hillary Clinton the benefit of the doubt. She doesn’t want to close half the schools in the nation. She mis-spoke. 
But what does trouble him is that she made an off-hand comment about closing schools as a fix for low performance. This is a standard corporate reform strategy that destabilizes communities without helping children. 
What did Hillary mean? Only she can answer. It is time for her to devote a speech to explaining where she stands on K-12 education. Will she stand up against for-profit charter schools? Will she propose legislation to require financial transparency and accountability for charter operators? Will she speak out against failed virtual charters? Will she propose programs that address poverty? Will she oppose vouchers, whether they are called opportunity scholarships, tax credits, or education savings accounts? Will she fight for collective bargaining rights in states where they are under attack? Will she support teacher professionalism?
Only Hillary can answer these questions. We know where she stands on pre-K and higher education. It is time for her to tell the nation her views on the K-12 issues that concern parents and educators. Not as off-hand remarks, but with care and forethought.

Ooops, a campaign trail misstatement!


Hillary went to a small district in rural Iowa to praise a local public school. Loose lips sink ships. She said she would close schools that were below average. Most interpreted that statement to mean half the public schools in the nation, since average means–uh–average.


She mis-spoke. Hillary understands that the federal government doesn’t close schools. Period. A mistake. A slip of the tongue. An unthinking bow to corporatist ideology. She was wrong and she knows it. She has to walk back this careless statement. We don’t need any more school closings. Such closings have had a disproportionately harmful affect on communities of color.  Talk about school support, school helping, not closings. That’s yesterday.

The Charlotte News & Observer wrote an editorial calling attention to the excellent series of articles published by NC Policy Watch about the state government’s assault on public services.


There are many states where the governor and the legislature seem intent on closing down the public sector, but none has done as thorough a job as the state of North Carolina. It was once the most progressive state in the South, and it is now–in less than five years, since the Tea Party takeover of the legislature–the most regressive state in the South.


Every state should have an investigative journalistic project like NC Policy Watch, which reports without fear or favor with great fidelity to the facts.


The News & Observer editorial says:


The new majority stormed in with an agenda developed during long years in the minority, and the opportunity to make that agenda law was enhanced by the 2012 election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Assessing how the consolidation of Republican power has shaped North Carolina depends on how one sees the role of government.


McCrory talks about a “Carolina Comeback” as the state economy has recovered from a deep and scarring recession. He and GOP legislative leaders say the recovery has been spurred by limiting state spending, cutting taxes and reducing regulation. But those who think government should solve problems, protect the vulnerable, assist the needy and expand opportunity for all see the years of conservative rule as a “Carolina Setback.”


That latter perspective is documented in a report published by N.C. Policy Watch, a division of the progressive advocacy group, N.C. Justice Center. The report, published in print and online, is called “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina.”


Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, said the five-year mark was a fitting time for an overview. The report offers articles on public spending, unfair tax cuts, reduced support for education, the politicization of the state courts, a rollback in environmental regulations, reductions in safety net programs and new limits on voting access.


Fitzsimon said putting the years of change between two covers creates a powerful picture. “When you take this as a whole, it’s stunning what has happened,” he said.


One of the report’s charts shows that during the last 45 years, state spending has averaged 6.1 percent of the state economy. That share fell when the recession hit, and has declined every year since. By fiscal year 2017, it’s projected to fall to 5 percent despite a growing state’s need for more services.


Another chart shows that tax cuts and changes since 2013 have saved those in the top 1 percent of income an average of $14,977, those in the middle 20 percent saved an average of $6 and those in the lowest 20 percent paid, on average, $30 more.


The governor and legislative leaders say they are spending more on schools, but the report shows that spending per student has fallen 14.5 percent since fiscal year 2008.



Read more here:



Stand for Children was once an organization that fought for better education for all children. Then it discovered the corporate reform gravy train and jumped on. Now, SFC can be found fighting teachers and public schools in states across the nation.


In this post, MercedesSchneider reviews Stand’s infamous activities in Louisiana.


In Louisiana, there was a state school board election last October. One of the anti-corporate reform candidates was an incumbent board member named Carolyn Hill. She often joined with two other dissidents who wanted to improve–not eliminate–public schools. At election time, Stand for Children put up a fake TV ad that accused her of criminal behavior. It was totally false. But it worked. She lost at the polls. That helped build a stronger majority for the group on the board that wants more privatization, more charter schools, more vouchers, more efforts to demoralize career teachers. Carolyn Hill was a great loss.


Jason France, the blogger known as Crazy Crawfish, describes Stand for Children in Louisiana this way in the title of a recent post: “Stand For Children Louisiana” is an Evil and Malicious Corporate Front Group for Evil People and Organizations. As Jason put it, in his post about this sordid business,


This is how Stand chose to stand for children, by lying and deceiving people about a real champion of children in their community.


Of course this behavior wasn’t limited to Stand but this was one of the more egregious cases. In addition to the primetime commercials Stand also spent tens of thousands of dollars on direct mail to people’s homes, warning them about Carolyn Hill.


But not only does this organization not “stand for children”, it doesn’t stand for the “Louisiana” part of its title either! 98% of their funding came from corporations, tax exempt entities including one funded by the Sierra club (seriously), and billionaires outside of our state. Several of these organizations probably broke federal laws and should lose their tax exempt status for contributing to a purely political organization that spent all their money on attack ads and propaganda.



Peter Goodman blogs frequently about education in New York. In this post, he explains what “competency-based education” is and why it is a problem.


He writes:


“A decades-long cyber revolution has been changing the face of education – sort of. Assignments are online, papers and homework submitted online, distance learning allows class participation from anywhere, Skype, Dropbox, cyber tools abound; however, every new cyber tool, hardware and software, has to be monetized, turned into dollars. Will the cyber tools ultimately substitute for the instructor? Enhance the effectiveness of the instructor? Increase student learning (defined as scores on tests aka assessments of learning)?


“Is the future of education a tablet with a student tapping away and the teacher, as an adjunct assisting the student in using the cyber tools?


“A description of Computer Adaptive Testing provided by I-Learn, a vendor,


‘There is growing interest in computer adaptive testing (CAT), where students answer questions online and a computerized algorithm tailors future questions based on correct or incorrect answers. The key difference between an adaptive assessment and a fixed-form one—which is often taken with paper and pencil— teachers can better understand the root causes of skill gaps spanning back multiple years as well as identify where to focus instruction next. This helps them differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all learners, including those who are below, on and above grade level.’


“Questar, the newly hired creator of the next generation of New York State grades 3-8 tests also is a proponent of competency-based education (CBE). Content can be divided into discrete packages; a Questar blog describes the process,


“… eliminate the one-to-many teaching approach. Students can’t receive personalized instruction and personalized learning when a teacher has to teach to the most common denominator. We can solve this problem with technology by giving every student a tablet device that wirelessly connects to adaptive software in the cloud.


… seamlessly integrate assessment with the instruction presented to each student on his or her tablet. Educators know that best-practice teaching involves instructing for five minutes, asking students a few questions to determine if they’ve understood the material, backtracking if necessary, and then moving on to the next topic … With tablets and the right software, this approach is possible on an individualized basis: after every five minutes of individualized tablet-based instruction, students would be presented with a brief series of questions that adapt to their skill level, much as computer-adaptive tests operate today. After that assessment, the next set of instructional material would be customized according to these results. If a student needs to relearn some material, the software automatically adjusts and creates a custom learning plan on the fly.’


“Does this competency or adaptive learning approach agree with what we know about how children learn?


“The last decade has seen an explosion in brain research, and we know that children learn through interactions with adults and other students in challenging environments, these interactions lead to increased learning….


“We are not Luddites, the world will continue to change, we just have to make sure the changes benefit the needs of children not line the pockets of entrepreneurs at the expense of our children.”