Waiting for Obama's Education Pick

David Brooks wrote an interesting column (published in the Times) about who Obama will pick for Education Secretary. From the column:

"Each camp was secretly convinced that at the end of the day, Obama would come down on their side. The reformers were cheered when Obama praised a Denver performance-pay initiative. The unions could take succor from the fact that though Obama would occasionally talk about merit pay, none of his actual proposals contradicted their positions."

"The stakes are huge. For the first time in decades, there is real momentum for reform. It's not only Rhee and Klein — the celebrities — but also superintendents in cities across America who are getting better teachers into the classrooms and producing measurable results. There is an unprecedented political coalition building, among liberals as well as conservatives, for radical reform."

"This will be a tough call for Obama, because it will mean offending people, but he can either galvanize the cause of reform or demoralize it. It'll be one of the biggest choices of his presidency."

I bring this up because I did some research about NCLB recently. The district staff has been using it as a big stick data point to close some schools (AAA and AS#1) while all the while, during the first list, leaving Aki Kurose (Level 5) out of it. (Perusing the sheet handed out at the community engagement meeting, it appears there are other level 4 and 5 schools.) Aki has now made the next list either to close or to move to RBHS.

Now the NCLB wording about Level 5 says:

"If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for a fifth year, the school district must initiate plans for restructuring the school. This may include reopening the school as a charter school, replacing all or most of the school staff or turning over school operations either to the state or to a private company with a demonstrated record of effectiveness.

These so-called Title I schools are required to meet annual testing targets in English and math for their campuses overall as well as for subgroups that include races, special education students and children from poor families. The schools also have to test at least 95% of their students each year. In cases where schools still falter, their districts are required to develop "restructuring" plans that can include state takeovers or the removal of staff. The plans are implemented in the seventh and final year of the No Child Left Behind timetable."

Okay so you see the words "must" and "required"? Those sound like pretty tough words, right? As well, you don't see the word "closed" although they say a school can be "reopened". Holly Ferguson, the staff person who led the Board through the closure narrative, at several points said the district "had" to close AAA and AS#1 because of the NCLB status. The truth of the matter is the district may or may not lose its Title 1 money if it doesn't do something to a Level 5 school (level 4 is not the most actionable level) BUT the feds do NOTHING to a district who chooses not to restructure a level 5 school. Neither does the state. It is up to the district, and no one else, to decide what to do with a Level 5 school. The feds don't step in, there's no accountability about what happens to these schools, not even at a state level. OSPI is only accountable at the district level.

I'm not saying it's not bad to be a Level 5 school. I'm not saying the district isn't within its rights to do as much or as little as they want to a Level 5 school. But there the district is not responsible to either the state or the feds to do anything and can't be held accountable if they don't (except in the Title 1 funding and that even seems to be a slightly gray area). I can't believe how much time it took to call both OSPI and DOE to find this out. DOE acted like I was asking a very strange question which amused me because of Bush's "accountability" mantra about NCLB.

Let's see what Obama does.


David said…
The first thing Obama will do will be to get some money out to the states for modernizing school buildings--if you believe today's radio address, anyway.

As far as I'm concerned, the money can't come soon enough. We need whatever relief we can't get. The cuts currently being proposed (as of last night's email to SPS employees) are ominous--and even with what's been suggested, there's still a $10.2 million shortfall that has to come from somewhere if I-728 money is cut statewide.
Sue said…
I will bite - what was the email?

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