Archives for category: NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

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.”

Larry Cuban writes on his blog about the most important inventions that have raised our nation’s standard of living. He poses the question that is the title of this post. He supposes that most people would respond “the smartphone,” but they would be wrong. His post is an intriguing review of a book by economic historian Robert Gordon, who contends that the century from 1870-1970 experienced greater growth and innovation than the past half century.

Cuban summarizes Gordon’s central argument:

Thus, an unheralded, stunning century of innovation and economic growth produced the telegraph, phone, television, house lighting, automobile, airplane travel, and, yes, indoor plumbing. These inventions networked the home and workplace in ways that raised living standards and increased workplace productivity considerably. It was in that same century that medical advances reduced infant mortality and lengthened life of Americans dramatically.

The half-century since 1970 has surely seen innovations that have enhanced these earlier inventions but the template for economic growth was laid down for that fruitful hundred-year period. In past decades, new technologies have clearly expanded communication and entertainment, making life far more instantaneous, convenient and pleasurable. But social media, immediate communication, and constant access to photos, video clips, and films have not increased the standard of living as had the decades between 1870-1970.

Cuban then segues to a discussion of the current reform movement in education, which traces its roots to the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk.” That report was “driven by an economic rationale–the human capital argument–for improving U.S. schools” and embraced by policymakers, business leaders, and foundations. If we didn’t improve education dramatically, we would lose our competitive edge in the world economy. And thus was born the “reform movement,” in which governors and “reformers” sought to raise curriculum and performance standards for both students and teachers, increase testing, and create accountability frameworks that included rewards and penalties in subsequent decades….

The current reforms in education and the pressure to raise test scores on international tests have not increased economic growth, stimulated productivity, or reduced inequality, writes Cuban.

In other words, reforms aimed at getting U.S. students to perform better on international tests for the past three decades–think No Child Left Behind, expanded parental choice in schools, more computers in schools, and Common Core state standards–was of little influence on growing a strong economy, raising median income, or lessening inequality, according to Gordon. These reforms, while aiding low-income minorities in many instances, overall, contributed little to improving productivity or raising standards of living

Gordon’s book concludes, writes Cuban, with a list of ten interventions that could raise the standard of living, like raising the minimum wage. Of his ten interventions three have to do with education. They are:

“…investing in preschools, state and federal school financing rather than local taxes, and reducing student indebtedness in higher education. Not a word about the dominant school reforms in 2016–Common Core standards, standardized testing, technologies in schools, charter schools, accountability.

In questioning the dominant beliefs in current school reform as essential to economic growth, Gordon’s argument and evidence are useful to those politically active decision-makers, teachers, parents, and researchers who know that a democracy needs schools that do more than prepare children and youth for the workplace.

The paradox, as Cuban suggests, is that the more we focus on test scores and workplace readiness, the more we sacrifice civic values that may be of greater importance in a democracy.

It was difficult for Congress to agree on a replacement for the failed No Child Left Behind. NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but it took eight long years to finally reach a bipartisan agreement.


The good part about the Every Child Succeeds Act is that it spells the end of federal punishment for schools, principals, and teachers whose students have low test scores, and it restricts the ability of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to dictate how schools should reform. There is no more AYP (adequate yearly progress); there is no more deadline of 2014 by which time every student everywhere will be proficient, which was always a hoax that no one believed in.


The bad part about ESSA is that it preserves the mindset of NCLB, a mindset that says that standards, testing and accountability are the keys to student success. They are not. NCLB proved they are not. Since “A Nation at Risk” in 1983, policymakers have been in love with the idea that this combination will cause a dramatic rise in test scores and close the achievement gap among different groups. It has done neither, yet ESSA continues the fable.


At the outset of the Senate deliberations, Senator Lamar Alexander offered a choice between annual testing, as in NCLB, and grade-span testing (e.g., grades 4, 8, 12). A group of civil rights organizations issued a statement saying that annual testing guaranteed the civil rights of disadvantaged minorities. This sealed the deal; most other organizations and the Democratic majority fell in line behind the civil rights groups. In my view, annual testing does nothing to advance civil rights; to the contrary, it labels children based on test scores and disproportionately and adversely harms children of color and children with disabilities and English language learners. These groups should have been fighting for measures other than standardized tests, but they did not.


And so the children of American remain saddled with annual testing, and states remain saddled with the enormous expense of annual testing.


My view: The federal government should not dictate any testing. The decision to test or not should be left to every state. Contrary to the belief promoted by ex-Secretary Duncan, NAEP testing gives us all the information we need based on sampling about performance in math and reading, by race, language, gender, poverty status, disability status, and also achievement gaps. Annual tests of every child are a waste of instructional time and money. They provide no useful information.


I am disappointed, though not surprised, that the law encourages more privatization of public schools by promoting the funding and expansion of privately managed charter schools. More genuine and beloved community public schools will be replaced by corporate McSchools. The new federal money plus Walton’s new $1 billion commitment, plus Eli Broad’s charter zealotry, will spur the continuing destruction of public education, especially in urban districts, but their ambition is to go beyond the big cities and into the suburbs, the exurbs, and even rural areas.


I am disappointed that the new law encourages phony “graduate” schools of education, like Relay and Match, which have no scholars, no research, nothing but charter teachers teaching charter teachers how to raise test scores. This will not improve education. It will simply expand the supply of charter school enforcers who have learned to “teach like a robot.”



I am disappointed that there are strict limits on the number of children with disabilities who can be exempted from regular state testing and given accommodations. This seems to me to be a decision that should be made at the school level, not by the federal government.


I am disappointed that the law does not permit parents to opt out of state testing. As a law written by a dominantly Republican Congress, it is surprising that it does not recognize parental rights. Furthermore, a Congress that favors choice of schools should also favor the parents’ choice to say no to testing that they believe is useless and unnecessary for their child’s education.


I would have written a different law.


I would have removed testing and accountability altogether from the law and left that to the states. Why should Congress decide how often children should be tested? What is their authority for making this decision? What knowledge do they have? If states want to know how they are doing, they can review their NAEP scores.


I would have strengthened the enforcement of civil rights and student privacy within the law.


I would have established standards for charter schools, so that they disclose their finances fully and accept students that are similar to those in the community they serve. I would have prohibited for-profit charter schools and for-profit virtual charter schools.


I would have increased funding for special education.


I would have encouraged teacher education programs to raise their standards for entry, but not by relying on standardized tests (they might look, for example, at grade-point average and essays about why the candidate wants to teach. I would have encouraged the professionalism of teachers by requiring certification in the subjects taught, as well as at least a year of student teaching, so that states were not able to drop their standards for teachers. I would have required certification for district superintendents and state superintendents.


I would have funded and required school nurses, psychologists, librarians, guidance counselors, and social workers in every Title I school. I would have expanded funding specifically for reduced class sizes in Title I schools. I would have required an arts program staffed with certified arts teachers in every school.


But instead, we are saddled with standards, testing, and accountability.


The good thing that the law does is to shift the issues to the state level (except when it doesn’t). That means that citizens have some chance to get a better perspective on education by voting out those legislators who are currently crippling public education in their states.


The outlook is that, as a result of ESSA, the states in a downward spiral–like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, Kansas, and many more–will continue in that direction until there is a rebellion among the citizenry. ESSA gives people a chance to take action. But that’s about all it does. I’m grateful that AYP is gone; I am grateful that the timetable is gone; I am grateful that the Secretary of Education can no longer boss everyone around. I am glad that Race to the Top is gone. Otherwise, it is NCLB handed over to the states to tinker with.


After 15 years of nonstop testing and accountability, we need a new vision. ESSA is not it.