Saturday, April 04, 2015

Ed Reform, Accountability and NCLB

I wouldn't exactly call this hell freezing over but maybe it's a bit of a frosting over.  I cover two views about accountability and NCLB.

From The Hill (a blog about Congress) comes this op-ed from two different leaders of ed reform - corporate and reality-based.  The authors are:

Linda Darling-Hammond is professor of Education at Stanford University and faculty director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Paul T. Hill is research professor at the University of Washington and founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

(Disclaimer: I think Darling-Hammond is brilliant and should have been Obama's pick for Secretary of Education.  On the other hand, I have very little appreciation for Dr. Hill's thoughts on public education.)

These two ed reformers have come together to find common ground on accountability. Their points:
We agreed that tests were taking up too much school time and that the results were being misused. But we also agreed that high-quality assessments are necessary, as a way of tracking progress and identifying student learning problems so they can be addressed in a timely way.
We also agreed that if parents and public officials pay attention only to standardized tests, they get a distorted picture of what children are learning and where improvement is needed. More information about schools and student outcomes is needed to diagnose what’s happening and what should be done. 
We agreed that public officials have a responsibility to intervene when a group of students are not learning what they need to finish high school, succeed in higher education, and become fully self-supporting adults. But we also agreed that actions toward a particular school – whether to invest more money in it, change its staffing and methods, or replace it and let families choose other schools – should consider more than just test results. 
Finally, we agreed that if schools are to be held accountable for results, their leaders must control hiring and budgets and be free to choose methods that best match the needs of their students. School leaders, not distant federal officials or data systems, should decide how to evaluate, pay, and promote teachers and other educators.
 You'll note how a lot of their agreement is over less control/interference from on high.  As well, they also don't say anything about districts but about school control.
Starting with these points of agreement, we have written an unprecedented consensus report, focused on the pending reauthorization of the ESEA, which you can find here and here.
 I do like this as well:
There are no risk-free actions. Mechanical arrangements—where all schools whose test scores fall below a given level are automatically targeted for intervention and all above that level are automatically sustained—present a false sense of assurance, but are more risky than judgments considering multiple factors.
Public officials cannot expect those in schools or at lower levels of government to use data well and make good judgments if they are not willing to consider whether their own actions as funders and regulators prevent some schools’ improvement.
And speaking of fixing ESEA (NCLB), Diane Ravitch weighs in.  She first scathingly reviews Secretary Duncan's work:

The administration’s Race to the Top program was not passed into law by Congress, yet it was funded with $5 billion awarded by Congress as part of the economic stimulus plan following the 2008 recession.
Duncan used that huge financial largesse to make himself the nation’s education czar.
When states were most economically distressed, he dangled billions of dollars before them in a competition. They were not eligible to enter the competition unless they agreed to lift caps on opening more privately managed charter schools, to rely on test scores to a significant degree when evaluating teachers, to adopt “college-and-career-ready standards” (aka the Common Core standards, which had not even been completed in 2009 when the competition was announced) and to take dramatic action to “turn around” schools with low test scores (such as closing the school or firing all or most of the staff).
 Except for the first sentence of paragraph two, all of that is true.
As an exercise in federal power, it was brilliant, as Duncan got almost every state to do what he wanted and make it appear to be voluntary. 

It is important to bear in mind that none of the so-called sanctions and remedies in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top was supported by evidence from research or experience.
 Then she goes onto the Republican's rewrite of NCLB:
There is much to dislike in the Republicans’ rewrite of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which is the most recent version of America’s most important education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). They intend to make Title I funding for poor children portable, so that the money can be transferred to charter schools and perhaps vouchers as well. Instead of federal aid being targeted to help schools in poor communities, it will become available to spur school choice, which has long been the Republicans’ favorite remedy, despite the absence of evidence for the efficacy of either charters or vouchers.
Even as people from all sides are now agreeing that NCLB is a dog:
Both Republicans and Democrats are determined to maintain the annual testing regime at the heart of NCLB.
Advocates of the testing regime will point to improved test scores as “proof” that the demands of NCLB were correct. But they won’t admit that test scores improved even faster before NCLB was implemented, or that scores on international tests remain flat. Nor do they care that the relentless focus on testing has reduced the time available for the arts, science, history, civics, foreign languages and physical education. Thus, the quality of education for most children has been reduced in pursuit of higher test scores.
Her thoughts:
  • Restore the original purpose of the ESEA: equity for poor children and the schools they attend. These schools need more money for smaller classes, social workers, nurses, and librarians, not more testing.
  • Designate federal aid for reducing class size, for intensive tutoring by certified teachers and for other interventions that are known to be effective.
  • Raise standards for those entering teaching.
  • Eliminate the testing and accountability portions of the law and leave decisions about when and how often to test to states and districts.
  • Rely on the federal testing program – the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – to provide an audit of every state’s progress. NAEP data are disaggregated by race, gender, ethnicity, language and disability status. NAEP tracks achievement gaps between blacks and whites and Hispanics and whites. Anyone who wishes to compare Missouri and California can easily do so with NAEP data that measures performance in reading and math in 4th and 8th grade every two years.
 Testing every child every year in grades 3-8 and 11 is an enormous waste of money and instructional time. Testing samples of students, as the NAEP does, tells us whatever we need to know. Teachers should write their own tests; they know what they taught and what their students should have learned. Use normed standardized tests only for diagnostic purposes, to help students, not to reward or punish them and not to reward or punish their teachers or close their schools.
In the end:
Policymakers may decide to reauthorize NCLB and give it a new name. But if they maintain the current program of high-stakes testing, as both Secretary Duncan and the Republicans want, they will feed the fires of the anti-testing movement. They will confront angry parents, students and educators who know that testing has become too consequential, too punitive and too frequent. 
 Lastly, like charters, like vouchers:
 High-performing nations do not test every child every year. We shouldn’t either.


n said...

Voices in the wind. So many logical arguments and knowledgeable voices out there that never get listened to. The big-stick method of raising achievement continues unabated. Test and blame.

This "exceptional" country is falling behind in so many ways and yet nobody seems to notice. In Finland, teaching blocks are forty-five minutes with fifteen-minute recesses for students and teachers. In China at international schools some provide extra math with math specialists at primary and include for all children dance and art and other right-brain activities for balance. Even in Mexico, teachers and education are held in high respect and students are held to a higher level of discipline at school.

Today in America education has evolved into a war against women (women comprise the largest segment of teachers), and a war against the poor by rerouting money to private companies and diminishing social supports to our neediest children.

Education is a for-profit industry. Do you know our newest projectors come from a company called AVER and every time I turn on the projector my kids and I have to stare at the name AVER for ten-to-fifteen seconds before the teaching content is visible. In teaching, that is a lot of time. Just try it. Sit quietly without moving for ten seconds and pretend you are seeing the name AVER for that whole time. Waiting . . .waiting . . . waiting . . . Why do primary kids need to see the word AVER at all?

What an unexceptional country we've become.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well said, N.