Archives for category: NCLB


Paul Thomas Taught for nearly 20 years, then became a teacher educator at Furman University in South Carolina. He often writes about the media and its misperceptions of teaching. In this post, he laments the fact that the media is constantly in search of a scapegoat for whatever goes wrong in education.

The latest scapegoat, he writes, is teacher education, and the latest lamentation is that teacher educators fail to teach the “science” of education.

The scapegoating deepened because of Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top. If every child was not 100% proficient, someone must be blamed. First, the outcry was “blame the teacher,” but when VAM backfired, it became blame the teacher educator.



Nancy Bailey reviews the impact of No Child Left Behind and its ill-fated “Reading First” component. NCLB came to be a hated law yet stayed on the booksfrom 2002 until 2015, when it was replaced by the slightly less odious “Every Student Succeeds Act.” As if a federal law could make every student succeed.

Bailey writes that the demand that every child should learn to read in kindergarten is developmentally unsound and unrealistic.

The combination of NCLB, Race to the Top, and Common Core is frightful for young children.

“Teachers and their ed. schools are blamed when kindergartners don’t show up in first grade reading. Yet in years past we never expected kindergartners to read.

“It is developmentally inappropriate! We have monumental research by early childhood developmental researchers that goes back years. We know what is developmentally important to teach at what times.

“It’s important to remember too that students were never doing badly as indicated by NCLB proponents. Poverty was the real culprit when it came to student achievement.

“As far as learning to read goes, language develops from the moment a child is born, and there are many wonderful ways to promote the joy of reading.

“Some children easily acquire reading skills without formal phonics instruction. They are curious about words and are able to sound letters out as they listen to and enjoy picture books. They may read well before they start school.

“Other children learn a little later. And some with disabilities may need extra assistance with a formal phonics program.

“Repeatedly testing young children to find out how they read at such an early age would be better spent reading out loud lovely, funny, engaging picture books, and letting children develop their language skills through play!”

Joanne Barkan has been writing brilliant articles about the billionaire assault on public education for several years. Her first was “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.”

Her latest is this article, which appeared on Valerie Strauss’s “The Answer Sheet.” She calls it “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” It will ring true for everyone who is fighting the massive money and power of the privatizers.

Barkan supplies a brief history of neoliberalism, as well as the federal efforts to introduce competition and privatization into the schools.

She begins:

When champions of market-based reform in the United States look at public education, they see two separate activities — government funding education and government running schools. The first is okay with them; the second is not. Reformers want to replace their bête noire — what they call the “monopoly of government-run schools” — with freedom of choice in a competitive market dominated by privately run schools that get government subsidies.

Public funding, private management — these four words sum up American-style privatization whether applied to airports, prisons, or elementary and secondary schools. In the last 20 years, the “ed-reform” movement has assembled a mixed bag of players and policies, complicated by alliances of convenience and half-hidden agendas. Donald Trump’s election and his choice of zealot privatizer Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education bolstered reformers but has also made more Americans wary.

What follows is a survey of the controversial movement — where it came from, how it grew, and what it has delivered so far to a nation deeply divided by race and class.

Print it out and take the time to read it. An informed citizenry can stop this behemoth. All that money and power and the privatizers have achieved exactly nothing other than destruction.

Tom Ultican became a teacher of math and physics in San Diego after a career in Silicon Valley. He is retiring. He loves teaching.

He describes with precision the people who imposed bad ideas on the schools and messed them up. Maybe they meant well but their lack of knowledge or experience in the classroom led to naive and foolish and failed interventions, like Common Core and “turnaround,” with mad firings.

He writes:

“Standards based education is bad education theory. In the 1960’s Benjamin Bloom proposed mastery education in which instruction would be individualized and students would master certain skills before they moved ahead. By the 1970’s this idea had been married with B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist philosophy and teachers were given lists of discrete items for their students to master. The “reform” became derisively known as “seats and sheets.””

Tom says he is leaving the classroom. I hope there is a way to keep his kbowledge, experience, and wisdom engaged in educating the next generation.

Jim Horn has a website called “Schools Matter.” He opposes corporate reform, as I do.
I have never met him. I hear he doesn’t like me. I don’t know why. I thought we were fighting for the same goals.

The first time I became aware of his hostility was when he posted a photograph of me with the caption, “Nice face job, Diane.” Very puzzling as I have never had a facelift. Sexist too. I ignored him.

When Anthony Cody and I decided to create the Network for Public Education, aiming to build alliances among the many individuals and groups fighting against corporate reform, we selected a board and announced our existence. Horn emailed to say that he was going to attack us because we included a much admired NBCT African American teacher from Mississippi. Horn discovered that she had written an article praising merit pay. Many emails went back and forth among him, Anthony, and me. He decided not to poison us at our birth.

But he has an intense and personal animus towards me. Again, I can’t explain it. I don’t know why.

I thought I would share with you his latest blast, which was (I assume) a response to my post about how progressive movements die when they turn on one another. In the post, I urged us all to work together towards our shared agenda. Apparently he is angry that I supported ESSA; I supported it because it eliminated NCLB (No Child Left Behind), AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), and VAM (value-added modeling or test-based teacher evaluations). If ESSA had not passed, NCLB would still be federal law, and John King would have the authoritarian power that Arne Duncan had over the nation’s schools. If I were writing the law, I would have eliminated all federal mandates for accountability and testing, but I was not writing the law.

Despite what he writes, we are on the same side of the issues. Like him, I oppose standardized testing, other than for sampling purposes. I oppose evaluation of teachers by test scores. I oppose segregation. I support equitable and ample funding of schools. I support teacher professionalism and collective bargaining. I support public education and oppose privatization. Yet he says I am his enemy. He wants us to fail.

This is what Jim Horn wrote yesterday:

Today’s Communique to the Ravitch Forces

After what seems to me to have been a pretty effective skirmish, the Ravitch forces have climbed out of their tent at their permanent Basecamp, stomping the ground and waving their, um, whatevers. For those Ravitch acolytes who are not too drunk on revenge to read, here’s something to ponder, as I am working on a next book today and don’t have time to attend to your whining.

In everything I have seen from D. Ravitch and the band of intellectual eunuchs who comprise the NPE echo chamber, a theme stands out, which is that we cannot afford to fight among ourselves, that allies cannot be ripped asunder, that we must stick together in the same tent, blah blah. So let me speak to Diane directly here, and I hope that all of her disciples will read this carefully.

The problem is, Diane, our goals are not the same. My goals are ending testing accountability in all forms, ending segregated classrooms in all forms, and ending corporate education reform in all forms. I can’t work toward those goals with any effect while misleaders like you and the union suits are cutting deals on ESSA to guarantee another generation of testing accountability, segregated classrooms, and corporate control. Have you read the history of NCLB?

We are on different sides of these issues, regardless of how much braying and foot stomping you are able to stir up. We are not allies. I am your enemy. Get used to it.

Please open the link from NPE Action and, if you agree that John King is overreaching, write a letter to your member of Congress.

King will testify before the Senate Committee that led the revision of NCLB and eliminated the federal punishments. King is trying through regulation to restore them.

Please let your members of Congress hear from you!

Here are the members of the Senate HELP Committee.

Most of the Democratic members (especially Warren, Sanders, Murphy, and Bennett) are accountability hawks. Write them anyway.

Emma Brown, writing in the Washington Post, reports the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress: High school seniors showed a slippage in their test scores in math and no improvement in reading.


Throughout the entire period of “reform” that started with No Child Left Behind, scores of high school students have been stagnant. Brown writes:


The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also show a longer-term stagnation in 12th-grade performance in U.S. public and private schools: Scores on the 2015 reading test have dropped five points since 1992, the earliest year with comparable scores, and are unchanged in math during the past decade.



The NAEP report says:


In comparison to the first year of the current trendline, 2005, the average mathematics score in 2015 did not significantly differ. In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992, the 2015 average reading score was lower.


In short, NCLB (signed into law in 2002) and Race to the Top (launched in 2009) have been failures. They have been disastrous failures. How many billions of dollars were wasted no testing and test prep? How many teachers and principals were fired? How many schools were closed? How many public schools were turned over to entrepreneurs?


As a nation, we have endured fourteen years of failed federal policies. Will we ever learn that testing doesn’t produce higher achievement? Will we ever learn that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than threats and rewards?


Heckuva job, President Obama and former Secretary Arne Duncan!



James Kirylo is a professor of teaching and learning at Southeastern Louisiana University. His son opted out of testing last year. And he will opt out again this year. He went to his local school board to tell them his reasons. He did it twice.


In this post on Mercedes Schneider’s blog, Kirylo explains why.


When No Child Left Behind was passed, we were told that it would raise achievement so high that no child would be left behind. That was not true.


Kirylo writes:


There you have it—fourteen years later since NCLB was introduced—standardized tests, as they are currently administered, interpreted, and used in school communities across the country, do not work, have not worked, and will not work as they were presumably intended. In fact, the adverse effects of them are overwhelming. Nevertheless, we continue to use them like a bad drug to which the desperate addict keeps crawling back.


And like the addict who is in need of dire help, until there is admittance to the problem, school systems will continue down this addictive path of testing until that type of assessment system is recognized as inherently harmful. Until then, therefore, parents have only one option to not enable the addiction to testing: opt-out.


He is also outraged by the school grades that the state slaps on every school. As it happens, his children’s school does not have a high grade. Kirylo knows the letter grade is meaningless:




My two children attend a school that has a state report card grade that has been hovering between a D and C– hardly a glaring narrative. What am I thinking by sending my sons to just a slightly-below-average school– and, by implication, one that is populated by slightly-below average teachers and administrators, only to be surrounded by slightly-below average children? But indeed, that is the warped message corporate reformers want to convey.


In other words, this objectification of children and those who work in public schools—which is particularly heightened when my children’s school is only slightly above the prospect of receiving even more threats to intensify the obsession on everything testing—ultimately works to close those schools. In short, corporate reform operates under the framework of threats, coercion, shaming, and blaming, and it has taken us nowhere.


What does matter is a strong public education system that is intentionally mindful of the common good. This is done through collaboration, cooperation, and the cultivation of meaningful relationships, which is attentive to building up the community, a state, a nation–all of which is filtered through the fostering of developmentally appropriate practices–and through the professionalization of teaching.


To be sure, the assistant principal who every morning greets my two boys with a welcoming smile at carpool drop-off and clearly demonstrates great care is an “A” person; the teachers who work hard, communicate well, and have the best interests of my children’s educational growth are “A” people; the principal who I had the fortune to teach in graduate school is an “A” administrator who is diligently working to push the school forward; and, finally the over 1000 children who attend my sons’ school are “A” human beings, relying on the adults to cultivate a schooling environment that works to maximize their opportunities.


We all should have no patience with so-called school report grades that are misleading and by which the public is being erroneously manipulated. Thus, the only option I see if things don’t change is to opt-out.

Mercedes Schneider reflects on Arne Duncan’s legacy. He was described by President Obama as a man who “has dedicated his life to the cause of education.” Now he is gone. He left behind, said the President, “a good product.” We will somehow have to persist without him.


But his “legacy” of bullying states and school districts lives on.


Mercedes notes that one of his aides, Ann Whalen, sent out a threatening letter to several states, warning that there would be serious consequences if they permitted or experienced high number of opt outs. They might even see the loss of federal funding for their poorest kids. Imagine that: the U.S. Department threatening to hurt poor kids as a punishment to states where many children opt out of testing.


This letter violates the spirit of the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act, but the new law has not yet taken effect. So, the Duncan crew must bully and intimidate as much as possible until the new law kicks in.


Ann Whalen, by the way, wrote a blistering attack on experienced educator Carol Burris last year for doubting the transformative power of high standards and daring to question the Common Core standards. Whalen has a BA in political science from Stanford; that makes her assertive and confident. She has apparently never been a teacher or principal, unlike Burris. Whalen worked for Duncan in Chicago before he became Secretary. She has been a bureaucrat now for many years, but she has some nerve lecturing Carol Burris. I suppose we should forgive her messianic belief in high standards and the Common Core because her attack was penned before the release of the 2015 NAEP scores, which showed that after 15 years of relying on standards and testing, after five years of Common Core, NAEP scores were flat or declining in almost every state.


What I can’t forgive, however, is the very idea that a federal official would attack a private citizen. When I served in the U.S. Department of Education under Lamar Alexander in 1991-92, that impropriety would not have been permitted. Something about working in Arne Duncan’s space seems to give his aides the belief that they are relieved of the rules of civility and propriety. I still recall that he accused me of “insulting” teachers, principals, and students “all across the country” when I wrote an article in the New York Times debunking his absurd claim that his favorite schools were achieving miraculous results merely by having high expectations and firing experienced teachers or closing the school and restaffing it. I used data to demonstrate that there were no miracles. No, I wasn’t insulting teachers, principals, or students; I was calling out the hype and spin that is now customary from the U.S. Department of Education. The only thing they haven’t been able to spin is the NAEP scores. And the NAEP scores raise serious questions about the Bush-Obama reliance on standards, testing, firing teachers and principals, and closing schools as a strategy for reform.





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.