This federal Big Brother idea made people on the right AND on the left unhappy. That's quite the trick for one law.
The one usefulness of NCLB was that it forced districts to account for every - single - student. As they should. But trying to fit all these students - ELL, Sped, homeless - into the same testing box with everyone else was never going to work.
But what everyone should understand about public education over, say the last 15 years, is very much like the old Billy Crystal routine where he imitated Ricardo Montalban and said, "It's not how you feel, it's how you look and you look mahvelous."
There is an awful lot of PowerPoint and meetings and initiatives and goal-setting and rubric-making and then, it usually goes very, very quiet. There are long titles after people's names and we call employees "human capital" instead of "human resources" (which is what employees are if you are a humane person and not a corporate person).
Meaning, a lot of fluff and not much else. My perception, after all these years, is that many people at the top in education want to burnish their resume and will run at the first failure to the next big thing. Or, if they are like Arne Duncan, the person AT the top, will just ignore the warning signs.
This needs to stop.
I have done several speeches about public education to Dems. I have told them that local control IS everything. I don't have a problem with national standards. I wouldn't even have a problem with ONE national test (which we do have in NAEP).
But when you bookend those standards with tests, then you narrow the curriculum.
When you tell districts how many kids to test and how often, you take away the understanding of both state and district about their populations. You waste time and money and really, only feed the testing industry.
So where are we today? Three articles on NCLB and Arne Duncan are worthy reading.
First there is the article by Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters, writes here about the Every Child Achieves Act. I know Leonie to be one of the hardest-working public education advocates in the country. She has tracked the changes to NCLB (which is now ECAA or Every Child Achieves Act) and here's her assessment.
She thinks it should be supported despite the heavy support - financial support - for charter schools without increasing accountability. That is a hard stance for me to support. I do think that many states, like Ohio, are tired of being burned and hoodwinked by charters and states may start really clamping down. But, just like the testing industry, the charter school industry is massive and wants to get bigger.
It would also still require annual testing for 3-8 plus one year of high school (but there is an amendment out there that would make it one year in elementary, one year in middle and one year in high school - that's the Tester amendment).
But she also says this:
Yet ECAA still represents a critical step forward, because it places an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in the decision-making of states and districts as to how to judge schools, evaluate teachers or implement standards. In particular, it expressly bars the feds from requiring or even incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as Duncan has done with the Common Core, through his Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers.
It would also bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive, by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging test prep to the exclusion of all else. The bill would prevent the feds from imposing any particular school improvement strategy or mandating which schools need improvement – now based simplistically on test scores, no matter what the challenges faced by these schools or the inappropriateness of the measure. Finally, the bill would prevent the feds from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, as Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.
But with or without the Tester amendment, ECAA would release the stranglehold that the federal government currently has on our schools, and would allow each of us to work for more sane and positive policies in our respective states and districts. For this reason alone, it deserves the support of every parent and teacher who cares about finally moving towards a more humane, and evidence-based set of practices in our public schools.
Then there was this more-than-sympathetic article in the Washington Post about poor little Arne Duncan.
I always think it's a bad idea to bring friends (or relatives) into your work. But after his first election, Obama just had to bring his best friend from Chicago to Washington, D.C. and install him as Secretary of Education. And then Obama left him to his own devices and boy, didn't Duncan take that mandate and run with it.
Arne Duncan is not a bad guy and he's bright. But he has done very little good for public education in our country.
Duncan faces a political backlash that threatens to undercut his power and erase some of his most influential work. The bipartisan warmth he enjoyed on Capitol Hill has yielded to critics from the left and the right, including an odd alliance between tea party conservatives and the teachers unions. This week, both houses of Congress began debating legislation that would seriously dial back the education secretary’s legal authority; the Senate began Tuesday and the House approved a bill Wednesday.
“The question is not whether we’re going to put handcuffs on Arne Duncan,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, a centrist think tank. “The question is how many handcuffs.”
The conflict has made Duncan “radioactive,” said Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “He’s reduced, in terms of what he can realistically accomplish in the time he has left.”
His wife and children have already left Washington to go back to their lives in Chicago (and yes, his children will go back to the private school that Duncan went to and that Obama's kids attended). That private school has a 10:1 student-teacher ratio and naturally, does not have to follow Common Core or take a SBAC or PARCC test.
As a second article, in Salon, that criticizes the Washington Post profile says, Duncan seemed to run on talking points, no matter what. It's called, "Washington Post writes the most embarrassing, awful profile of Arne Duncan ever, completely misses the point." The subtitle was, "Arne Duncan has been a monumental flop as education secretary. Why is the Washington Post drinking his Kool-Aid?
Ouch. To whit:
First, regarding Americans’ supposed acceptance of charter schools, let’s be clear that because surveys show people generally have a favorable opinion of charter schools, that does not mean most people consider them “an alternative.” The main conclusion of most polling data about charter schools is that most people don’t know what the hell they are. After all, only 6 percent of the nation’s school children attend charter schools, and vast swaths of the country are still relatively charter-free.
Second, it’s true that more teachers than ever before are having student test scores used in their performance evaluations. But Layton’s own contention that teachers “expect” this is refuted in her own reporting that Washington state “rejected Duncan’s requirement that it use student test results to evaluate teachers, which experts increasingly say is not a reliable way to identify good and bad teachers.”
Last, while Duncan was instrumental in pressuring states to adopt new Common Core State Standards, there’s not really any evidence the standards are “more demanding” than what states already had.
Arne's true persona?
When education journalist Valerie Strauss watched Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart try to have a conversation with Arne Duncan, she observed on her blog at The Washington Post, “The effort was an exercise in the futility of conversing with someone who won’t deviate from his talking points.”
It’s really hard to reconcile this image of a caring and considerate Arne Duncan with the same man who called his critics “armchair pundits” and said education historian Diane Ravitch, a critic of his, “is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country.”
This is the man, after all, who derided parents who dared criticize his imposed testing regime as “white suburban moms.”
The Washington Post article said he was a good listener but there's not much evidence to back that up.
But more serious than these personal interactions, Duncan’s tendency to ignore critics, regardless of their stature, was a significant reason why his policies ultimately failed.
When the Obama administration introduced its “Education Blueprint” in 2010, research experts at the National Education Policy Center immediately warned the policies guiding the Department of Education were poorly grounded in research or not based on any objective studies at all. Later in his tenure, Duncan was warned numerous times that using student test scores to evaluate teachers was inaccurate and unfair, yet he persisted in ignoring these warnings. Every time experienced educators challenged Duncan to question his agenda and reconsider policy directions, he responded by … continuing down the same course.
I give Diane Ravitch the last word:
This deafness to expertise, more than any of his deficiencies, is likely why, as Ravitch concludes in here response to Layton’s piece,
“It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next president and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation’s public education system from the damage done.”