Archives for category: Race to the Top

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.

FairTest has been the staunchest, most persistent critic of standardized testing for decades. Monty Neill explains here why FairTest supports ESSA, with full recognition of its faults.

 

He writes:

 

“From an assessment reform perspective, FairTest is convinced that the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) now before the House and Senate, though far from perfect, improves on current testing policy. The bill significantly reduces federal accountability mandates and opens the door for states to overhaul their own assessment systems.

 

“Failure to pass this bill in 2015 means NCLB and waivers will continue to wreak havoc for at least another several years.

 

“The primary improvement would be in “accountability.” The unrealistic “Adequate Yearly Progress” annual test score gain requirement would be gone, as would be all the federally mandated punitive sanctions imposed on schools and teachers. States will be free to end much of the damage to educational quality and equity they built into their systems to comply with NCLB and waivers. Waivers to NCLB would end as of Aug. 1, 2016. (Other provisions of the bill would take effect over the coming summer and fall.)

 

“Another modest win would be federal recognition of the right for parents to opt their children out of tests in states that allow it. While a 95 percent test-participation provision remains, states will decide what happens to schools that do not meet the threshold. (The feds had already backed down from enforcing this dictate.)….

 

“A dangerous requirement to rank schools continues. Worse, rankings must be based predominantly on student scores. High school rankings must include graduation rates, and all schools must incorporate English learners’ progress towards English proficiency. This data must be broken out by “subgroup” status. However, states must incorporate at least one additional indicator of school quality (such as school climate or student engagement) and can include multiple such indicators….

 

“Meanwhile, up to seven states will be able to fundamentally overhaul their assessments right away, with additional states allowed to join this pilot program after three years. States could design systems that rely primarily on local, teacher-developed performance assessments (as does the New York Performance Standards Consortium). New Hampshire already has a waiver from NCLB to do that, starting with allowing pilot districts to administer the state test in only three grades. For all grades, the pilots employ a mix of state and local teacher designed performance tasks, an approach with great potential.

 

“The new law also bars the U.S. Secretary of Education from intervening in most aspects of state standards, assessment, accountability and improvement. Given Secretary Arne Duncan’s history (and the track record in New York state of his soon-to-be acting successor, John King), that seems a good thing.”

 

The law is not ideal. But it is far better than NCLB or the failed Race to Nowhere. And we can keep fighting for a better law and resisting at the local level by opting out.

Mercedes Schneider is one of the few people who have read all (or almost all) of the 1,000 page plus behemoth that is the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. Her latest post provides valuable new information. This legislation was passed out of the Senate-House conference committee and is likely to move swiftly for full approval by both houses in the next few days or weeks. ESSA would replace No Child Left Behind, which should have been reauthorized eight years ago. It also kills off Race to the Top by stripping the Secretary of any power to impose his ideas about how to reform schools on districts and states.

 

The big change is the reduction in the role of the federal Department of Education (ED). This is the first big downsizing of the federal role since the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was passed. There are strict limitations on the power of the Secretary to meddle in state or local education matters. The shrinking of the federal role is Arne Duncan’s legacy.

 

Mercedes points out that the law is still mired in the testing-and-accountability mindset but oversight and responsibility shifts is from the federal ED to local and state governments. She says the bill is “test-centric.”

 

But there are some very good things in the bill. It puts an end to the hated No Child Left Behind and the failed Race to the Top. The bill eliminates AYP and Duncan’s waivers. States can drop out of Common Core without any penalty. No more teacher evaluation by test scores unless the states want to do it. Bill Gates will no longer have the Department of Education mandating his latest ideas. No more federal mandates about how to reform schools.

 

I know that many readers would like the law to go farther. I would like to see an end to annual testing, a practice unknown in the high-performing nations of the world. I would like to see stipulations about charter accountability and transparency. But that’s not there.

 

Nonetheless, I support the bill because it gets rid of a terrible, failed law and a terrible, failed program. The Bush-Obama era is over. Now the fight for a humane education system shifts to the states. In some states, that may seem like a herculean task. But the fact is that parents and educators have a greater chance of being heard by their state legislators than by the White House and Congress.

 

So what next? Organize, mobilize, agitate, wake the town and tell the people. Stop the privatization of public schools. Stop the testing madness. Join with organizations in your state and community that are fighting to transform the schools to places where learning, character, ethics, imagination, creativity, citizenship, and kindness are valued. Join the Network for Public Education. Find out how to make alliances with people who share  your values. We have a long way to go. The time to start is now.

 

 

A time to laugh and celebrate that the dumb policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are widely recognized as failures and will soon go into the dustbin of history, where they belong. To make a better world for children and educators, the fight goes on, to replace poor leaders and failed policies, to save public education from privatization, and to make real the elusive promise of equality of educational opportunity: for all, not some.

 

 

nclb_cartoon

John Thompson, historian and teachers, wrote a guest column on Anthony Cody’s blog in which he calls out the “reformers” for their arrogance and reckless disregard for collateral damage: children, teachers, and public schools. Thompson said that from the outset of Obama’s first term, he hoped that Arne Duncan and his team of advisers from the Gates Foundation “would not create a mess.” He recognized that every element of their Race to the Top program ignored a large body of social science and the professional judgments of teachers. But he kept hoping. He hoped that Duncan would be willing to obtain objective evaluations of his experiments. “At the time, I couldn’t have known that Arne Duncan and his team of former Gates Foundation administrators would be so allergic to facing up to facts.”

 

He lays much of the blame for the administration’s failed education policies not only on Duncan but at Joanne Weiss (former CEO of the charter-promoting NewSchools Venture Fund), who directed the Race to the Top, then became Duncan’s chief of staff. Duncan saw his job not as someone seeking unbiased evaluations of his initiatives, but as a cheerleader for his programs, regardless of their results. Intent on claiming victory after victory, he never listened. Since Duncan was unwilling to obtain objective evaluations or listen to professional educators, it was left to others to appraise his prized RTTT and SIG (School Improvement Grants).

 

Thompson writes:

 

Now, we are getting the next best thing as conservative reformers, as well as educators, are calling them to task. One of the most recent examples of the pushback is conservative reformer Andy Smarick’s challenge to Joanne Weiss’s defense of the RttT. Weiss personified the administration’s overreach. As director of the RttT, she set out to impose corporate school reform on states and localities across the nation.

 

Weiss ignored the need for checks and balances of authority, and then she seemed to blame states and localities for the failures of her federal micromanaging of school policies. Smarick concludes, “even when federal education officials are pure of heart, their plans reliably underperform, as in the case of SIG, the backlash to NCLB and Common Core, the disappointing results of educator evaluation reform, and the disintegration of the federally funded testing consortia.” (I don’t agree that federal policies always under-perform, but it is a safe bet that grandiose federal social engineering always will.)

 

Some of the best critiques of Weiss’s spin can be found in the comments prompted by her article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Almost all of the fifty-plus comments were negative, and many were especially eloquent in criticizing Weiss and her innovations. My favorite commenters were Leonie Haimson and Christopher Chase. Chase fact-checked Weiss and in doing so he cited the pro-Obama spin by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). DFER displayed an openness that contrasted sharply with Weiss’s current claims. It bragged, “President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan added the role of ‘venture philanthropist’ to the federal education policy wheelhouse.” The RttT and SIG, as well as Duncan’s NCLB Waivers were said to be transformative because previously:

 

[DFER wrote:] There was a confederacy of education reform-focused groups and most were narrowly focused (often with frustrating discipline) in their own directions. President Obama, primarily through the launch of the Race to the Top competition, got this crazy constellation of reform groups united and pointed in the same direction for the first time.
DFER not only gloated about the way that value-added added teacher evaluations were imposed through the process, but it also cheered the rise of the charter management organizations that facilitated the mass closures of schools. According to DFER, it “wasn’t accidental” that “charter schools flourished more under three years of Obama than under eight years of George W. Bush.”

 

Thompson wondered how smart people could make so many miscalculations and errors:

 

As conservatives and liberals finally come together to hold the Duncan/Obama/Gates reign of error accountable, we will often be able to grin at the language with which the administration’s social engineering is described. Rick Hess, as usual, is especially quotable; he describes their overreach as a “product of executive branch whimsy.” A commenter referred to Joanne Weiss as “a dilettante.” But, the policy wonk in me seeks a narrower explanation. How did the smart people – who imposed the full corporate reform agenda – do so while mandating policies that were so different than the principles they espoused?

 

Weiss’s micromanaging, for instance, imposed the full laundry list of the corporate reformers’ simplistic “silver bullets.” Her answer for the complex and interconnected problems in our low-income schools was an impossibly long and contradictory list of quick fixes: test-driven teacher evaluations, the undermining of teachers’ due process, Common Core, mass closures of urban schools, the mass dismissal of teachers, and subsidies for charter management systems.

 

In the context of mass closures, Weiss should have known, the abrogation of seniority rights would encourage districts to dump the salaries and benefits of veteran teachers, replacing them with often-ineffective novices. Her value-added mandates and need to meet extreme and immediate test score targets would incentivize bubble-in malpractice. One would think she would understand that her RttT would treat teachers as disposable, and thus kill the chances to build trusting and collaborative relationships. But, did Weiss not also realize that she was inviting a mass pushout of struggling students? It seems inconceivable that she wouldn’t recognize the opportunity costs of her RttT, undermining the capacity to build the student supports that readiness-to-learn requires in high-challenge schools.

 

Weiss later claimed that her RTTT wanted to get education out of “discrete silos.” But, she did so because the administration “wanted to mold entire systems.” It supposedly sought to help states implement “interconnected policies and work streams” and make them “move forward in tandem.”

 

And, that suggests an answer. Duncan staffed the USDOE with smart people who knew little or nothing about the inner city or high-challenge schools. What they knew was theories about incentives and disincentives. They were experts at the big “C,” control. They understood paperwork. They understood profits and privatization. Duncan, Weiss, et. al may have been clueless about real world schools, but they understood grant-making, rule-making, drafting criteria, subcriteria, memorandums of understanding, and regulations. They did what they knew how to do – creating work streams of interconnected policies that were disconnected from actual reality.

 

Thompson’s charitable explanation of how smart people do dumb things is that they were “disconnected from actual reality.” Meaning, they knew so little about schools and teaching that they created programs that were doomed to fail.

 

And now, as their failure becomes obvious to the world, they shift the blame to others, or in the case of Duncan, advise the nation to keep doing the same things over and over for at least another decade, when we will finally see the “results” he promised and never achieved. The question is whether the parents of millions of children want them to be subjected to Duncan’s failed policies for the next ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Burris carefully reviewed the NAEP scores. Listen to her interview on public radio. Unlike many commentators, she has the advantage of being an experienced educator and is also executive director of the Network for Public Education.

Education is a profession that is supposed to be about nurturing, developing, helping, supporting, and building not only intellectual competence but affective qualities. Race to the Top, with its harsh and punitive approach to school reform, ruined the lives and careers of many dedicated educators. Many were harmed, not only children, who were tested endlessly, but teachers and principals who were unjustly fired.

What happened to the principals who were fired because their school had low test scores? Carole Meyer of Washington State was one of them. She was fired in 2010 because her school was among the lowest performing in the state. She decided to write a dissertation about what happened to her and others similarly placed. She interviewed six other principals who were fired in 2010. She earned her doctorate. She is now a principal in a middle school that she has led successfully for the past five years. Her dissertation can be found here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxkcmNhcm9sZWxtZXllcmVkZHxneDozNzc1OTI4Yjc1ODNiZTRi.

The title of her dissertation is “School Principals’ Reassignment Under Race to the Top Legislation: Washington State Principals’ Sense Making and Affective Experience”

She writes:

The purpose of this qualitative interview study was to explore how K-12 public school principals in Washington State “made sense” of the experience of being reassigned under the provisions of Washington State’s version of RTTT.

The research questions this study attempted to answer were:

(a) How do principals describe what happened when they were reassigned?

(b) How did principals work with staff, students, district, and community around the issue of being reassigned?

(c) How did reassignment impact principals emotionally, personally, and professionally?

(d) What are principals’ evaluations of this type of policy approach?

And (e) What were the human costs/benefits associated with reassignment?

Conceptual frames related to human costs (Rice & Malen, 2003), sensemaking (Weick, 1995, 2005, & 2007), and Kübler-Ross’s Grief Construct (1969) were used to guide the study. Extensive in-depth interviews were conducted with six selected principal participants to explore their experiences of reassignment.

The major themes that emerged from the data analysis were (a) costs of reassignment associated with RTTT policy implementation, (b) principal critique of this type of policy approach, and (c) the sensemaking journey of each principal impacted by reassignment. This study found that reassignment had substantial impacts on principals, their critiques of the policy included: (a) unintended consequences; (b) the number of years required to successfully turn around a low-performing school; (c) lack of alignment with good practice in schools; (d) SIG grants’ failure to demonstrate notable benefits to students; (e) the mistake of funding education through competitive means; and (f) the importance of political action and principal “voice” in shaping education policy.

However, over time, the participants were able to resume a sense of normalcy in their work.

The following four major conclusions from this study can be stated: (a) RTTT is a draconian approach to education reform and its costs outweigh the benefits; (b) RTTT policy’s restrictive requirements were seen as unfair and left little choice for districts; (c) principal “voice” is a critical component in education reform; and (d) conceptual frames of Rice and Malen (2003), Weick (1995, 2005, & 2007), and the Kübler-Ross Grief Construct (1969) describe participant’s experiences.

Marc Tucker is glad to see the U.S. Department of Education acknowledging that American students spend too much time being tested and preparing for tests. But, he writes, it didn’t go far enough to take responsibility for the multiplication of redundant tests.

He writes:

A new report from the Council of the Great City Schools has done what seemingly nothing or no one has yet been able to do: Convince the current administration that the rampant over-testing in U.S. schools is proving harmful for the quality of education that our students receive.

The report found that students take, on average, more than 112 standardized tests between pre-K and grade 12, with the average student taking about eight standardized tests per year. Some are intended to “fulfill federal requirements under No Child Left Behind, NCLB waivers, or Race to the Top (RTT), while many others originate at the state and local levels. Others were optional.”

Now the administration is signaling that they see the error of their and their predecessors’ ways. Calling for a two percent cap on the amount of classroom time that is spent on testing, and a host of other proposals, the administration’s mea culpa is an unexpected demonstration of what can occur when the facts are laid bare for all to see. How much is actually done to reverse the over-testing trend will be decided by the actions of incoming acting Secretary of Education John King.

The tone of flexibility in the Department’s announcement is new and welcome, as is its recognition that the Department may share some culpability in the national revolt against testing. Its call for fewer and higher quality assessments is on target, as is its willingness to help the states come up with more sensible approaches.

What I don’t see in the administration’s proposals is understanding that the vast proliferation of indiscriminate testing with cheap, low quality tests is the direct result of federal education policies beginning with No Child Left Behind and continuing with Race to the Top and the current waiver regime. I offer you one phrase in the Department’s announcement in evidence of this proposition: “The Department will work with states that wish to amend their ESEA flexibility waiver plans to reduce testing…while still maintaining teacher and leader evaluation and support systems that include growth in student learning.”

But it is precisely the federal government’s insistence on requiring testing regimes that facilitate teacher and leader evaluations that include student growth metrics that caused all this over-testing in the first place.

Outstanding principals I’ve talked with tell me that when tough-minded, test-based accountability came into vogue, they created or found good interventions that came with their own assessments, each keyed to the intervention they were using. They had always done that. But their district superintendents, also fearful for their jobs under the new regime, mandated other interventions, with their own tests. Then the state piled on with their own mandated programs and tests, all driven by the fear of leaders, at each level, that if student performance did not improve at the required rate, their own jobs were on the line. Few of these interventions were aligned with the new standards or with each other. But time was of the essence. Better a non-aligned instructional program than none at all. Better a cheap test of basic skills they could afford than a much more expensive one they could not afford.

What sent the numbers right over the cliff was pacing. School administrators, focused on having their students score well on the basic skills tests used by the state accountability systems, pushed schools enrolling large numbers of disadvantaged students to figure out where the students needed to be at set intervals during the year. This determined the pace of instruction. It also made it much easier for administrators to get control over the instruction. All that remained was to administer a test at each of those intervals—say every month or couple of months—to see whether the teachers were keeping pace with the scripted curriculum and the students were making enough progress to do well at the end of the semester or year….

The key for great school leaders isn’t formal evaluation and it isn’t firing people. Only Donald Trump, evidently, fired his way to the top. The key is running a great school that great people want to work in, and then spending a lot of time identifying, recruiting and supporting those great people. Principals who work this way often let their staff know that they expect them to work hard. Those who do not want to work so hard go elsewhere. But these principals do not depend on test-based accountability systems to identify the slackers nor do they depend on test-based accountability systems to identify the teachers they want to hire or to develop them once they are hired.. Why should they? They are in classrooms all the time, talking and observing, coaching and supporting.

The data reported by the Council of the Great City Schools reveal a calamity. The cause is our national accountability system. The flexibility offered by the Department of Education is welcome and refreshing, but it is not the answer. The answer will have to wait for the day when the federal government no longer insists that the states and schools use test-based accountability and value-added strategies to assess individual teachers with consequences for individual teachers. John King did not create this system. Perhaps he can help this country change it. We’ll see.

The Badass Teachers association responded to Arne Duncan’s mea culpa on testing with this statement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 24, 2015
More information contact:
Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director BATs or Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. Executive Director BATs
Contact.BATmanager@gmail.com

Today the Obama Administration released a statement calling for “a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to ‘reduce over-testing’ as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/us/obama-administration-calls-for-limits-on-testing-in-schools.html?_r=0)

The Badass Teachers Association, an education activist organization with over 70,000 supporters nationwide, are reluctantly pleased with this announcement. Our vision statement has always been to refuse to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning. Our goals have always been to reduce or eliminate the use of high stakes testing, increase teacher autonomy in the classroom, and include teacher and family voices in legislative decision-making processes that affect students.

Since No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top we have seen our children and communities of color bear the brunt of the test obsession that has come in with the wave of Corporate Education Reform. When resources should have been used for funding and programming, politicians and policy makers were focusing on making children take more tests in hopes that equity in education would occur. It didn’t work, and it will not work. We know as educators you cannot test your way out of the education and opportunity gap. The blame and punish test agenda has not closed either the education or opportunity gap . We are reluctantly pleased that the President and his administration are finally taking a stand, but sadly the devastation has already been done. We are confident that if the President and his administration make a commitment to work with educators, parents, and students we can fix it and make it right.

“Although this is a step in the right direction I feel we need to see what the policy is before we count this as a win. Given his actions in New York, I have no reason to trust John King, and I’m concerned that this is a ploy to get teachers on the side of Democrats aka Hillary Clinton.” – BAT Board of Director Member Dr. Denisha Jones

“The policy that stems from this statement needs to be mindful that important discussions about exactly what kind of testing is most beneficial to our students. BATS advocates for teacher-driven tests with immediate and relevant feedback that can be used to drive current instructional practices.” – BAT Assistant Executive Director Melissa Tomlinson

“The policies of Sec. Duncan and the USDOE have caused an immense amount of damage to our educational system, student morale, and teacher morale. I am very reluctant to be happy about this announcement and will watch closely as to what the President plans to do to fix the damage that has been done. Will he stand up to Corporate Education Reform? Will he end the test, blame, punish system for schools, students, and teachers? Will he return the elected school board? Will he end mass school closings?” – BAT Executive Director Marla Kilfoyle

The Badass Teachers Association would like to extend its voice and expertise to help get public education on the right track. Together we can work towards the real solutions that will make great schools for all children. We will be watching closely as this unfolds.

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