Archives for category: NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

Reformers have been trying to figure what to say about Trump and DeVos. It is embarrassing for people who call themselves “progressives” to acknowledge that their agenda of charters and choice has been embraced by the most rightwing president in the past century, if not all of American history. They want more charters, as Trump promises, but they have to distance themselves from a president who has been warmly embraced by the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups.

Shavar Jeffries of DFER and Peter Cunningham of Education Post (and former aide to Arne Duncan) try to wend their way through the political thicket in this article. THE LINK IS NOW WORKING. 

First, they list all the Democrats (like Rahm Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo) who support school choice. But they include Albert Shanker without admitting that after promoting the idea of charters in 1988, he denounced them as no different from vouchers in 1993, when he saw the business groups vying to run schools for profit. Documented in my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 127-128, revised edition).

Second, they give a nod to their friends in the unions, neglecting to mention that 93% of charters are non-union and are endorsed by all the Red State governors and right wing think tanks as a way to break unions.

Their biggest concern seems to be that DeVos might not adhere to the accountability regime established by George W. Bush. For them, high-stakes testing is a civil rights issue. Critics of high-stakes testing know that these tests measure family income and cause immeasurable harm to children who are poor, children with disabilities, and children who are English language learners. Just look at the Common Core scores in any state: most kids “failed” a test that was a grade level or two above their real grade. The highest failure rates were among the children with the greatest needs.

Accountability belongs at at the top. That’s where crucial decisions are made about resources and leadership. Yet the “reformers” still want to pin it on teachers and students.

As for “choice,” the results of 20+ years of vouchers in Milwaukee and Cleveland and Detroit, and of charters there and  in other cities should persuade everyone that neither vouchers nor charters address the needs of our children, especially those who are poorest. Their most damaging result is to drain resources from the public schools that enroll all children, making them less able to do their job.

Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, writes frequently about education issues.

In this post, written a year ago, he warned that the real problem in education is that we fail to prepare our students for the challenges of citizenship. The post was prophetic.

The phrase college and career readiness has become ubiquitous in education debates, but as a slogan without significant transformational direction. Of course, students should leave K-12 education with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the next phase of their lives. Of course, students’ experiences should open rather than restrict their choices and opportunities when they graduate. Of course, they should all graduate. Of course, young people need to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to be successful in the world of work. Ignoring that would be an irresponsible abdication, especially for students whose parents already struggle to make a decent living. It’s not that that these are misplaced goals. They are just insufficient.

We need an education system intentionally designed to engage students to understand their values and to learn how to become effective citizens. Which questions teachers ask or do not ask influences how their students understand the world and their role in it.

There are ways to teach that promote passivity, he writes. And there are ways to teach that encourage active engagement:

In the past, how have people worked together to improve the human condition in different societies? What has supported and thwarted those efforts? What features of governments support or impede peaceful resolution of conflicts? How do scientists make discoveries? How do engineers design solutions that improve people’s lives? How do literature and the arts help us understand and value one another and our environment? How can mathematics be used to help make better decisions? What changes are you interested in investigating? These are change-oriented questions that affirm students’ capacities and encourage them to imagine themselves as agents of improvement. These are engaging motivational questions. When student engage in such action-directed learning they can develop the values, confidence and mindset to make things better.

We need a rebirth in the teaching of history and civics. We need more than ever to teach students the importance of living together with others in peace and mutual respect. We need to teach them to respect the humanity and individuality of others.

Perhaps this is the state we are in after 16 years of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, focused exclusively on test scores, standardized testing, basic skills, and getting the right answer.

Civics is about asking the right questions, and questioning why those questions are “right,” not picking a bubble and saying it is the “right answer.”

Cathy Rubin interviewed several well-known educators and asked what they would do if they were Secretary of Education. I was one of them. Here is the interview. The interview was conducted about four or five years ago. I focused on the errors of the Bush-Obama agenda of test-and-punish. It was a bad idea in 2002, a worse idea in 2009, and today it is a proven failure.

If I were Secretary of Education, I would focus federal funding on greater resources for the neediest students. My theme would be equity and equality of educational opportunity. I would create a fund to promote increased desegregation. I would campaign for community schools and wraparound services. I would not fund privately managed charters. I would fund only charters that are created and supervised by school districts to meet needs. I would be a champion for the principles and values of public education and a champion for teachers.

This link will take you to the opening pages of the revised “Death and Life of the Great American Dchool System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” The book was originally published in 2010. It became a surprise national bestseller.

The publisher at Basic Books, Lara Heimert, invited me to lunch a year ago and made an unusual offer. She said that I could revise the book any way I wanted. This was an extraordinary offer. Publishers usually warn you not to add or subtract unless you keep the line count exactly the same. They want to avoid the expense of resetting the entire book. But I was offered the opportunity to change, add, delete as I wished. It was an offer I could not refuse.

The two big changes I made were these:

I removed my long-standing support for national standards and tests in light of the Common Core debacle.

Second, I revised my estimation of the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk,” which gave rise to the myth that American education was broken.

I hope you will take the time to read this new edition. It reflects much of what I have learned from YOU on this blog over the past four years.


John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, is a frequent contributor to the blog.

Diane Ravitch publicized an educator’s concise and astute critique of Florida’s standards of instruction where “The FLDOE has absolutely no clue on how long it takes to teach each standard effectively.” An educational software company “looked at the standards that a fifth grade teacher is required to teach effectively and stopped counting when we found it would take a minimum of at least 300 school days to teach the standards to an effective level.” The obvious problem is that covering the tested standards would take 2/3rds of a school year more than the time students are in class – even if there were no disruptions of learning ranging from assemblies and class disruptions to the time wasted on benchmark and other form of testing.

Reader: It Takes 300 Days to Teach the Florida Standards Effectively

Moreover, even a Florida true believer in test-driven, competition-driven reform should understand “that these tests are not built to test your child’s learning knowledge, they are built to evaluate the schools and teachers on their effectiveness on teaching the standards.” Consequently, “In order for a teacher or school to score effectively on these tests you have to hope that the students that are coming into your classroom have at least some prior knowledge of the standards.” That, of course, helps explain why the contemporary reform movement, which was designed to help poor children of color, has inflicted the most damage on the kids that it was supposed to help.

We need far more press coverage of the absurdities fostered by high stakes testing. To know about the real-world effects of corporate school reform is to recognize why it should be ridiculed to death. We must also explain, however, that teaching and testing to a standards regime that is disconnected to reality is more than a farce. It is a tragedy. For our poorest children of color, the test, sort, reward, and punish path to school improvement has been especially cruel. And, don’t even get me started about the damage done to our society’s education values by bubble-in accountability.

In Oklahoma City, before NCLB, administrators would grin when they passed out aligned and paced curriculum guides. All types of educators were mostly amused that anyone would seriously contemplate such a guide for our Standards of Instruction as anything more than some silly paperwork to be filed away and forgotten. The time it took for students to master material obviously was the time it took to master material. There was no possible way that the rate of learning could be predetermined and, back then, administrators knew that there was no alternative to trusting the teachers’ judgments on the pacing of instruction. Besides, teachers and students need to be free to build on the kids’ interests and strengths, and get off the beaten path to engage in class discussions, take field trips, and pursue project-based learning.

The pacing guide listed the standards, or major concepts and skills, that students were supposed to master on its schedule. I was supposed to cover a major standard, something as complex and sweeping as the New Deal or the Cold War, every eight minutes, every hour of every day. A unit on World War II, for example, prescribed a one-day lesson to examine the rise of nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s, describe the causes of the war, elaborate on its outcomes and effects, from the Holocaust against the Jews and other groups, to economic and military shifts since 1945 to the founding of the United Nations and the political positioning of Europe, Africa, and Asia. This lesson was known in the curriculum guide as “Standard 16.4.” Another typical one-day lesson, known as Standard 7.2, was to describe China under the Qin, Han, T’ang, and Sung Dynasties; discuss the traditions, customs, beliefs, and significance of Buddhism; document the impact of Confucianism and Taoism, and detail the construction of the Great Wall.

Since history test scores were not included in the NCLB accountability matrix, nobody bothered to ask whether I followed the pacing guide. By 2005, however, freshman math and sophomore English teachers had to organize their instruction around those standards and, on Fridays, give benchmark tests, provided by the central office. Teachers resisted the micromanaging, so grades were mandated for benchmarks.

Soon failure rates soared from below 20% to 80% to 90% in tested subjects. Within three months, our school lost 40% of its students, mostly to the streets. This occurred as the percentage of our students on special education IEPs peaked at 30% and the number of high schoolers who could not read their name jumped from zero to twelve.

After that horrible fiasco, the doubling down on teach to the test according to a mandated schedule grew worse as individuals were supposed to be held accountable for test-score growth. My students complained that they had been robbed of an education. Their entire career had been dominated by fill-in-the-blanks, worksheet-driven pedagogy. Now, a full generation of kids have been subject to bubble-in malpractice.

And that raises the question of what else has been lost to corporate reform. Since 9/11, the global village has faced incredible challenges, but how many classes have been required to keep their aligned and paced schedule, and thus denied an opportunity to grapple with world historical issues. Digital miracles abound, but have schools introduced the younger generation to cultural literacy and media ethics? The economic and racial divide has exploded into view, but how many classes are denied the time to address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter? Global warming has accelerated and time is running out for wrestling with ecological dilemmas. But, how many minutes are allotted to environmentalism? Someday, our generation may be condemned for ignoring, and allowing our children to ignore, these crucial issues. Our reply – that we had to get through Standard 18.2, or whatever, before the standardized test – is likely to ring hollow.

In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.

To my amazement and disgust, Democrats in the Senate and the House is that they have become forceful defenders of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind-style legacy of punitive accountability. They love testing and accountability, which was always the GOP agenda.

During the debate about the reauthorization of NCLB, which produced the Every Student Succeeds Act, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut proposed an amendment that would have preserved the punitive AYP accountability of NCLB. Almost every Democratic senator supported the Murphy amendment, even Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. See here and here. The only Democrats to vote against the Murphy amendment were Senator Tester of Montana and Senator Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Yesterday, POLITICO reported that Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington State and Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia commended Secretary of Education John King for his efforts to insert sharp teeth into ESSA, doing an end run around the Republicans’ decision to eliminate the worst features of NCLB.

“- Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott teamed up for their public comments. In a letter to Education Secretary John B. King Jr., they applaud a number of provisions, like the requirement that states come up with concrete evaluations or scores for schools. They also support the requirement that states test 95 percent of students annually, and include that participation rate in their accountability systems. But the lawmakers want to see changes and tweaks to a number of items, including the timeline for states to get their new accountability systems up and running, transportation for students in foster care, calculating graduation rates, “n-sizes,” resource equity and more. The department should change the definition of “consistently underperforming” when it comes to student subgroups, they write. Student subgroups should be identified for consistent underperformance based on all indicators in a state’s accountability system – not just a select few – and whether or not student subgroups are hitting interim and long-term goals set by the state, the letter states. Read the letter:”

Recall that the idea of giving schools a “concrete” score of A-F came from Jeb Bush and won the approval of many Red State governors. Murray and Scott also support King’s effort to suppress and punish schools and districts with opt out rates that exceed 5%. This is astonishing. In the last round of testing in New York, the overwhelming majority of districts had opt out rates that exceeded 5%.

Murray is the senior senator in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Scott is the senior Democrat in the House Education Committee.

Question: Why are they defending George W. Bush’s legacy?

Mercedes Schneider writes here about the way that New York parents threaten to bring down John King’s desire to crush the opt out movement. 22% of the state’s eligible children didn’t take the tests. Should the school be punished for the actions and decisions of parents. As long as New York’s well-organized opt out movement keeps going, ESSA is unenforceable.

Joseph Ricciotti, veteran educator in Connecticut, wonders if Hillary Clinton will forge a different path from that of the Obama administration. He points out that Race to the Top and Common Core were both major disasters. Race to the Top was built on the assumptions of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and proved even more harmful to public education and to children.

He notes that she benefited in her campaign by the early endorsements of the two teachers’ unions, the NEA and AFT.

He writes:

She can be thankful in no small part to the major role that the teacher organizations in the nation such as the National Educational Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) played in their early endorsement of her presidency. Public school teachers and parents are fighting the battle of their lives in attempting to hold off the forces of privatization along with the onslaught of charter schools in the nation.

Sadly, theses forces of privatization received major support from Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education appointed by President Barack Obama. No other Education Secretary, especially Democratic, has done more to privatize and weaken public education than Arne Duncan who was also obsessed with standardized testing. Under his regime, public schools across the nation experienced two failed programs with Race to the Top (RTTT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). His so-called “testocracy” grossly neglected the impact of childhood poverty on learning for children from impoverished homes.

Likewise, under Duncan’s time in office, we have witnessed the demise of the neighborhood school and the growth of charter schools, all with corporate sponsors. Hence, it was obvious that former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not a public school advocate but rather a paid shill who was in the pockets of the corporate reformers and the testing industry.

If Clinton is elected as president in 2016, it will not take very long for both the NEA and the AFT to know whether their early presidential endorsement has been wasted, as was the case following Barack Obama’s nomination eight years ago in his selection of Duncan as Secretary of Education. Whether Clinton chooses someone to serve as Secretary of Education who will undo the disastrous harm that Duncan has inflicted on public education in his eight years remains to be seen. Will she choose another corporate reformer or will she surprise everyone with an appointment of someone who will be a true advocate of public education and who is widely respected by the supporters of public education in the nation?

I can’t bring myself to tell you whom he recommends to lead the Department of Education.

Valerie Strauss conducted a written Q&A exchange with me over the weekend.

She asked good questions. She wanted to know what I had changed in the revision of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

She asked me what I would say to President Obama if I had the chance to sit down with him.

She asked what I thought Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would do.

I thought it was a good opportunity to sum up what is happening right now.

As an aside, readers of this blog might be interested to note that our old friend Virginia SGP comments and claims that he was “censored” on my blog. Happily, a reader of this blog pointed out that he was limited to only four comments a day, which is not censorship. If I posted everything he sent in, he would have had 10-12 comments a day. And then there was the problem that he often used his space to slam and slander people he disagreed with. Not me, but others. He has left us, sadly. I no longer have to read a dozen comments of his daily and decide which to post.

This is a very interesting interview with Senator Lamar Alexander, which appears in Education Week.

Alexander was the architect or ringmaster in crafting the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Alexander explains how he created a bipartisan coalition to draft the law. The Education Department, he says, was left out in the cold. He doesn’t like “federal outreach” or a “national school board.” He was critical of the Education Department (and Duncan) for not recognizing any restraints on the federal role.

He noted that the subject he heard the most about was testing and over-testing. The Network for Public Education was one of many grassroots groups that urged Congress to abandon annual testing and switch to “grade-span” testing instead (e.g., 4, 8, and 12). There was considerable public opposition to annual testing, imposed by federal law. But in the end, Democrats insisted that annual testing had to remain, because of pressure from civil rights organizations. To get the bill passed, he acquiesced to the Democrats’ insistence on annual testing and “subgroup accountability.” To this day, it remains hard to understand why civil rights organizations wanted annual standardized testing, because in the past, the same organizations had filed lawsuits against standardized testing.

Ironically, it was Senate Democrats (including Senators Warren and Sanders) who ended up protecting George W. Bush’s NCLB legacy in the new law. Almost every Democrat in the Senate voted for the Murphy Amendment, which would have retained NCLB accountability and punishments. Fortunately, the amendment did not pass.

Senator Alexander is watching the Education Department closely now, because he fears that it is drafting regulations intended to subvert the intent of Congress.

Here is a small part of the Q&A:

How do you square the law’s crackdown on secretarial authority with its accountability focus?

“I didn’t trust the department to follow the law. … Since the consensus for this bill was pretty simple—we’ll keep the tests, but we’ll give states flexibility on the accountability system—I wanted several very specific provisions in there that [limited secretarial authority]. That shouldn’t be necessary, and it’s an extraordinary thing to do. But for example, on Common Core, probably a half a dozen times, [ESSA says] .. you can not make a state adopt the Common Core standards. And I’m sure that if we hadn’t put that in there, they’d try to do it.”

Alexander said that when he was education secretary during President George H.W. Bush’s administration Congress created the direct lending program, allowing students to take out college loans straight from the U.S. Treasury. Alexander didn’t like that program, but he implemented it anyway.

“Contrast that with the attitude of this secretary and this department,” Alexander said. Exhibit A: supplement-not-supplant.”That’s total and complete disrespect for the Congress, and if I was a governor I would follow the law, not the regulation.”

Do you think that there’s anything you possibly could have done in crafting this bill to prevent current controversy over supplement-not-supplant?

“I guess we could abolish the Department of Education. … I’m convinced that the law is the most significant devolution of power to the states in a quarter century, certainly on education.”

What’s your take on the accountability regulations?

Alexander declined to talk about the Education Department’s proposal, released late last month. “At the request of the White House I’m holding my powder on this until I have a chance to read and digest it.”

But it’s clear he’s pretty fired up about the supplement-not-supplant regulation, which deals with how federal dollars interact with state and local education spending. Congress, he said, produced a bill that could give school districts certainty on education for years. “Now the department is trying to rewrite what the Congress did and throw the whole issue into political wrangling,” he said. “They have no authority to do that.”

The change to the way teacher’s salaries are calculated that the department is pursuing through its proposed supplement not supplant regulation was already floated in a bill by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., which failed to gain support, Alexander noted.

“Under this department’s theory of regulatory authority, you can apparently do anything,” Alexander said. “Governors across the country will fight and resist, and I think it’s a shame because we had ended a period of uncertainty, there were hosannas issuing forth from classrooms everywhere, and this one little department is about to upset that.”