Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

Peter Greene read a new publication from the U.S. Department of Education that is chock-full of useless and redundant information.

He sums it up:

Okay, listen carefully boys and girls, because this is some pretty heavy-duty stuff. Here’s the process for implementing evidence-based interventions:

1) Figure out what problem needs to be solved
2) Pick a solution that looks like it would work
3) Get ready to implement the solution
4) Implement the solution
5) Check to see if it worked

Oh, and there’s a graphic– five balls in a circle with arrows pointing from one to the next. I think I speak for Americans everywhere when I say thank God there are federal bureaucrats out there willing to provide us with this kind of hard-hitting guidance, because God knows, we would all be out here spinning our wheel randomly. Granted, I’ve translated the Department’s guidance into what I like to call “Plain English,” but I am absolutely stumped as I try to imagine who was sitting in DC thinking that this needed to be published. Was someone sitting in the Department saying, “You know, I bet people don’t understand that they should pick out solutions that will fit the problem. They’re probably picking some other solution. Probably a bunch of school districts out there thinking they need a new math series to get their reading scores up. We’d better address this. Oh, and add a graphic.” , listen carefully boys and girls, because this is some pretty heavy-duty stuff. Here’s the process for implementing evidence-based interventions:

1) Figure out what problem needs to be solved
2) Pick a solution that looks like it would work
3) Get ready to implement the solution
4) Implement the solution
5) Check to see if it worked

Oh, and there’s a graphic– five balls in a circle with arrows pointing from one to the next. I think I speak for Americans everywhere when I say thank God there are federal bureaucrats out there willing to provide us with this kind of hard-hitting guidance, because God knows, we would all be out here spinning our wheel randomly. Granted, I’ve translated the Department’s guidance into what I like to call “Plain English,” but I am absolutely stumped as I try to imagine who was sitting in DC thinking that this needed to be published. Was someone sitting in the Department saying, “You know, I bet people don’t understand that they should pick out solutions that will fit the problem. They’re probably picking some other solution. Probably a bunch of school districts out there thinking they need a new math series to get their reading scores up. We’d better address this. Oh, and add a graphic.”

Someone was paid to write this. Really.

Considering that this came from a federal agency that has been trumpeting the success of Race to the Top, you may rightly assume that the department has no idea what evidence based interventions are. What was the evidence for closing schools as a “reform”? What was the evidence that firing entire staffs and calling it a “turnaround” was evidence-based (it hasn’t worked in Chicago)? What was the evidence for evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students (answer: none)?

The ED needs to find out more about what constitutes “evidence.” It is not what you feel like doing, or a hunch, or a whim, or something Bill Gates told you to do.

It means that the approach was tried out and the results were reviewed to see what effects were produced. And then this was repeated again and again, to be sure that the relationship between cause and effect are genuine.

Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution lists the five questions he thinks that the candidates should be asked about education. They are not the questions I would ask. (Hansen, by the way, has defended VAM, pooh-poohed parent concerns about overtesting, and defended the effectiveness of Teach for America.)

They are not bad questions (what kind of person would you choose for Secretary of Education? how can Title I be improved? Have the Obama administration policies for higher education helped students? Which federal education programs would you expand, which would you shrink? How much would you increase funding for education research?). I actually would like to see these questions asked, since I am willing to bet that Donald Trump has no idea what Title I is, what No Child Behind was, what the Obama administration policies in higher education are, or which federal education programs are worth expanding or eliminating. He is for charters. He is against Common Core. Other than that, there is no indication that he knows anything about education issues.

Here are questions I would ask:

1. Do you think the federal government should continue to support the privatization of public education? Does the federal government have a role in strengthening and protecting public schools that have democratic governance?

2. Would you expand or shrink the funds now dedicated to privately managed charter schools?

3. What is your view of vouchers that allow public dollars to be spent in religious schools?

4. How would you define the federal role in education?

5. What do you see as the federal role in increasing equitable resources among districts and schools?

6. Would you be willing to persuade Congress to reduce the burden of standardized testing? Specifically, how would you change the federal law to ease the federal pressure to test students annually, a practice unknown in high-performing countries?

7. Do you think that every child should be instructed by a professionally prepared and certified teacher? How can the federal government verify that states are hiring fully qualified teachers?

I am sure you have many more good questions. Please suggest them.

Melinda Gates told the National Conference of State Legislatures that the Gates Foundation has no intention of backing away from their agenda of Common Core, teacher evaluations that include test scores, charter schools, and digital learning.

No matter how controversial, no matter how much public pushback, they are determined to stay the course. For some reason, she thinks that the foundation is a “neutral broker,” when in fact it is an advocate for policies that many teachers and parents reject. She also assumes that the Gates Foundation has “the real facts,” when in fact it has a strong point of view reflecting the will of Bill & Melinda. There was no reference to evidence or research in this account of her position. Her point was that, no matter what the public or teachers may say, no matter how they damage the profession and public education, the multi-billion dollar foundation will not back down from its priorities. The only things that can stop them are informed voters and courts, such as the vote against charter schools in Nashville and the court decision in Washington State declaring that charter schools are not public schools.

The question that will be resolved over the next decade is whether the public will fight for democratic control of public schools or whether the world’s richest man can buy public education.

Melinda Gates said she and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, learned an important lesson from the fierce pushback against the Common Core State Standards in recent years. Not that they made the wrong bet when they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting the education standards, but that such a massive initiative will not be successful unless teachers and parents believe in it.

“Community buy-in is huge,” Melinda Gates said in an interview here on Wednesday, adding that cultivating such support for big cultural shifts in education takes time. “It means that in some ways, you have to go more slowly.”

That does not mean the foundation has any plans to back off the Common Core or its other priorities, including its long-held belief that improving teacher quality is the key to transforming public education. “I would say stay the course. We’re not even close to finished,” Gates said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped shape the nation’s education policies during the past decade with philanthropic donations that have supported digital learning and charter schools and helped accelerate shifts not only to the new, common academic standards, but to new teacher evaluations that incorporate student test scores.

The Obama administration shared and promoted many of the foundation’s priorities, arguing that they were necessary to push the nation’s schools forward and close yawning achievement gaps. Now that a new federal education law has returned authority over public education to the states, the foundation is following suit, seeking to become involved in the debates about the direction of public schools that are heating up in state capitals across the country.

Speaking here at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Melinda Gates told lawmakers on Wednesday that the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, gives them a chance to grapple with whether “we are doing everything in our power to ensure that students are truly graduating ready to go on to meaningful work or to college.”

“I want the foundation to be the neutral broker that’s able to bring up the real data of what is working and what’s not working,” Gates said in an interview afterward.

She went on to say that the foundation would continue to pursue its priorities.

“I think we know what the big elements are in education reform. It’s how do you support the things that you know work and how do you get the whole system aligned behind it,” Gates said. “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. There are now 50 states that have to do it, and there isn’t this federal carrot or the stick, the push or pull, to help them along.”

The agenda she described is not one that everyone considers neutral. It includes supporting the Common Core standards and developing lesson-planning materials to help teachers teach to those standards; promoting personalized learning, or digital programs meant to target students’ individual needs; and, above all, improving the quality of teachers in the nation’s classrooms, from boosting teacher preparation to rethinking on-the-job professional development.

Vermont is the smartest state in the nation. Not because of test scores, but because the officials in charge of education actually care about children and about education. When they look at the state’s children, they see children with names and faces, not just data. When they think about their schools, they see them as places where children should experience the excitement and joy of learning.

Vermont did not apply for a Race to the Top grant, meaning that it never was compelled to adopt Arne Duncan’s ideas about how to reform schools (which he failed to do when he was superintendent in Chicago).

Vermont never enacted charter school legislation. Vermont has its own kind of school choice program. If a district or town does not offer a public elementary or high school, students may receive a voucher to attend a private (non-religious) school. Such vouchers (called “town tuitioning”) are available only when there are no public schools available.

Vermont education officials think for themselves. Read their brilliant letter to Secretary of Education John King, advocate of high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, about the inadequacies of ESSA and his proposed regulations.

They say:

The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better.

This thinking perpetuates a disabling narrative about public schools. We ask for leadership from Washington that celebrates the glories of what we can accomplish rather than unrelenting dirges.

We are dismayed that the federal government continues to commoditize education and support charter and private schools which segregate children and show no particular learning advantage. We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools. We are disappointed that the federal government could not embrace and promote a more expansive understanding of the purpose and value of public schools in creating a strong citizenry.

We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.

The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.

The letter can be found here.

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.

The U.S. Department of Education wants schools to offer a well-rounded curriculum. But it is not letting up on the pressure to raise test scores in math and English. John King has long believed in closing schools with low test scores and firing teachers who don’t raise test scores. So why should anyone take him seriously when he says he wants students to have a well-rounded curriculum? Next thing you know, he will suggest testing all those subjects too.

From Politico:

HELP WITH THE HUMANITIES: The Education Department today is releasing a Dear Colleague letter as part of the Obama administration’s push [ ] to help schools, districts and states deliver a more “well-rounded” education to students. That means teaching not only math and English, but also including art, music, civics, world languages and more. The letter is meant to help states and districts when it comes to using federal funds to improve teaching of the humanities, such as the study of history, philosophy, literature and languages. The department says in the letter that states and districts can use federal funds to purchase humanities-focused materials or devices, provide teachers with professional development in the subjects or better serve students with disabilities or English language learners through humanities courses. The letter:

Pass the bread, here comes the baloney (or bologna, if you please).

Several members of the Democratic party’s platform committee sent me the draft of the platform. It is linked below so we can all reflect on what is being considered. This is a draft so it can be changed. Please read it and send your best ideas.

The section on education contains a lot of reformer lingo. Zip codes. Options. Accountability. The Democratic party favors “high academic standards.” Who favors “low academic standards?” The party opposes too much testing; who favors too much testing?

The rhetoric about “high academic standards” brings echoes of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to see a statement about meeting the needs of all children? Or ensuring that all schools have the staff and resources they need for the children they enroll?

And then there’s the section on charters. The party is against for-profit charters: so far, so good, but how about saying that a Clinton administration will stop federal funding of for-profit schools and colleges, because they are low-quality and predatory, with profit as their top priority?

The party favors “high quality charters.” Does that mean corporate charter chains like KIPP, Achievement First, and Success Academy? Probably. How about a statement opposing corporate replacements for neighborhood public schools? How about a statement insisting that charters accept English language learners and students with disabilities at the same rate as the neighborhood public school? How about a statement opposing draconian disciplinary policies and suspensions?

How about a clear statement that the Clinton administration will no longer permit school closings as academic punishment? How about a clear signal that the Clinton administration intends to protect and strengthen our nation’s essential traditional public schools, which serve all children. How about signaling a new direction for federal education policy, one that promises to support schools and educators, not to punish them.

Please read and share yours reactions. I will pass ideas along to platform committee members.

See the entire pdf here.

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is a Democrat, and he is known as a progressive. He has also been known in the past as a supporter of charter schools.

However, even Senator Brown had a wake-up call as charter scandals multiplied in his home state. He could not help but notice the multiple editorials appearing in newspapers across the state, as well as news stories in national media about the charter owners who were becoming multimillionaires by donating to Republican politicians and getting more funding and less scrutiny of their charter schools.

He wrote a letter to Secretary of Education John King expressing his concern with the U.S. Department of Education’s award of $71 million to Ohio to open more charter schools (a grant put on hold because of outrage from Ohioans), as well as the embarrassing performance of the state’s charter sector. If Senator Brown has had his eyes opened, at last, that is a big step forward.

The letter can be read here.

Please contact your members of Congress and tell them not to allow the Department of Education to impose regulations that subvert the intentions of the Every Student Succeeds Act. FairTest has drafted the following letter and explanation. (See Valerie Strauss’s article on “The Answer Sheet” here.)

The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) has drafted regulations for implementing the accountability provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The DOE proposals would continue test-and-punish practices imposed by the failed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The draft over-emphasizes standardized exam scores, mandates punitive interventions not required in law, and extends federal micro-management. The draft regulations would also require states to punish schools in which larger numbers of parents refuse to let their children be tested. When DoE makes decisions that should have been set locally in partnership with educators, parents, and students, it takes away local voices that ESSA tried to restore.

You can help push back against these dangerous proposals in two ways:

First, tell DoE it must drop harmful proposed regulations. You can simply cut and paste the Comment below into DoE’s website at!submitComment;D=ED-2016-OESE-0032-0001 or adapt it into your own words. (The text below is part of FairTest’s submission.) You could emphasize that the draft regulations steal the opportunity ESSA provides for states and districts to control accountability and thereby silences the voice of educators, parents, students and others.

Second, urge Congress to monitor the regulations. Many Members have expressed concern that DoE is trying to rewrite the new law, not draft appropriate regulations to implement it. Here’s a letter you can easily send to your Senators and Representative asking them to tell leaders of Congress’ education committees to block DoE’s proposals:

Together, we can stop DoE’s efforts to extend NLCB policies that the American people and Congress have rejected.


Note: DoE website has a character limit; if you add your own comments, you likely will need to cut some of the text below:

You can cut and paste this text into the DoE website:

I support the Comments submitted by FairTest on June 15 (Comment #). Here is a slightly edited version:

While the accountability provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are superior to those in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Department of Education’s (DoE) draft regulations intensify ESSA’s worst aspects and will perpetuate many of NCLB’s most harmful practices. The draft regulations over-emphasize testing, mandate punishments not required in law, and continue federal micro-management. When DoE makes decisions that should be set at the state and local level in partnership with local educators, parents, and students, it takes away local voices that ESSA restores. All this will make it harder for states, districts and schools to recover from the educational damage caused by NLCB – the very damage that led Congress to fundamentally overhaul NCLB’s accountability structure and return authority to the states.

The DoE must remove or thoroughly revise five draft regulations:

DoE draft regulation 200.15 would require states to lower the ranking of any school that does not test 95% of its students or to identify it as needing “targeted support.” No such mandate exists in ESSA. This provision violates statutory language that ESSA does not override “a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments.” This regulation appears designed primarily to undermine resistance to the overuse and misuse of standardized exams.

Recommendation: DoE should simply restate ESSA language allowing the right to opt out as well as its requirements that states test 95% of students in identified grades and factor low participation rates into their accountability systems. Alternatively, DoE could write no regulation at all. In either case, states should decide how to implement this provision.

DoE draft regulation 200.18 transforms ESSA’s requirement for “meaningful differentiation” among schools into a mandate that states create “at least three distinct levels of school performance” for each indicator. ESSA requires states to identify their lowest performing five percent of schools as well as those in which “subgroups” of students are doing particularly poorly. Neither provision necessitates creation of three or more levels. This proposal serves no educationally useful purpose. Several states have indicated they oppose this provision because it obscures rather than enhances their ability to precisely identify problems and misleads the public. This draft regulation would pressure schools to focus on tests to avoid being placed in a lower level. Performance levels are also another way to attack schools in which large numbers of parents opt out, as discussed above.

DoE draft regulation 200.18 also mandates that states combine multiple indicators into a single “summative” score for each school. As Rep. John Kline, chair of the House Education Committee, pointed out, ESSA includes no such requirement. Summative scores are simplistically reductive and opaque. They encourage the flawed school grading schemes promoted by diehard NCLB defenders.

Recommendation: DoE should drop this draft regulation. It should allow states to decide how to use their indicators to identify schools and whether to report a single score. Even better, the DoE should encourage states to drop their use of levels.

DoE draft regulation 200.18 further proposes that a state’s academic indicators together carry “much greater” weight than its “school quality” (non-academic) indicators. Members of Congress differ as to the intent of the relevant ESSA passage. Some say it simply means more than 50%, while others claim it implies much more than 50%. The phrase “much greater” is likely to push states to minimize the weight of non-academic factors in order to win plan approval from DOE, especially since the overall tone of the draft regulations emphasizes testing.

Recommendation: The regulations should state that the academic indicators must count for more than 50% of the weighting in how a state identifies schools needing support.

DoE draft regulation 200.18 also exceeds limits ESSA placed on DoE actions regarding state accountability plans.

DoE draft regulation 200.19 would require states to use 2016-17 data to select schools for “support and improvement” in 2017-18. This leaves states barely a year for implementation, too little time to overhaul accountability systems. It will have the harmful consequence of encouraging states to keep using a narrow set of test-based indicators and to select only one additional “non-academic” indicator.

Recommendation: The regulations should allow states to use 2017-18 data to identify schools for 2018-19. This change is entirely consistent with ESSA’s language.

Lastly, we are concerned that an additional effect of these unwarranted regulations will be to unhelpfully constrain states that choose to participate in ESSA’s “innovative assessment” program.

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.”