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Friday, September 23, 2011

Obama Takes On NCLB

Score one for Obama.  He waited and waited for Congress to do some needed updating of NCLB.  Did they?  Nope and so he went ahead and is going to grant waivers to states that ask for them.   The concern was about the large numbers of schools (somewhere between 50-80%) were going to be labeled failing. 

Today the President will give a speech outlining how states can get those waivers and what they will cover.  It seems clear, though, that only states that buy into the administration's vision of ed reform (see Race to the Top) will get the waivers. This includes charter schools and that's why you may see this push for charters here in Washington state. 

Here's a thoughtful blog post from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post.  She says:
If the administration believes it has the power to relieve states of NCLB mandates without congressional input, why not do it without favor?

The overriding issue is the goal of having all children proficient by 2014.  This was never a realistic goal in the first place - akin to "all high school seniors will go to college" - but especially difficult because of the numbers of Special Education and ELL students.  We live in a huge and diverse country and asking schools to be able to - across the board - have everyone in the same place at the same time is a little crazy.

Background from the NY Times:

The Obama administration proposed a sweeping overhaul of the law in March 2010 that would encourage states to raise academic standards after a period of dumbing-down, end the identification of tens of thousands of reasonably managed schools as failing, refocus energies on turning around the few thousand schools that are in the worst shape and help states develop more effective ways of evaluating the work of teachers and principals, among other goals. But efforts to address the problem have gained little traction in Congress, where several attempts since 2007 to rewrite the sprawling law have failed.

The standardized tests developed by the states under the No Child law focus on measuring the number of students in each grade level in each school who are proficient in reading and math. The administration would like to shift the focus to measuring each student's academic growth, regardless of the performance level at which he starts.

Since the law was signed, educators have complained loudly that it was branding tens of thousands of schools as failing but not forcing them to change. Teachers' groups disliked the emphasis on preparation for now-crucial exams that the law brought. Many Democrats, including Senator Kennedy, complained bitterly that Mr. Bush had reneged on a promise to provide more federal aid to help low-scoring schools improve. Some states, led by Utah, sought to rebel against the law's strictures. And with every new round of data, academics debated whether new scores showed the bill's impact, positive or negative.


In October 2009, the latest results on the most important nationwide math test — The National Assessment of Educational Progress — showed that student achievement grew faster during the years before the No Child Left Behind law, when states dictated most education policy. Scores increased only marginally for eighth graders and not at all for fourth graders, continuing a sluggish six-year trend of slowing achievement growth since passage of the law.

For two years, backed by a friendly Congress and flush with federal stimulus money, the Obama administration enjoyed a relatively obstacle-free path for its education agenda, the focus of which is the $4 billion Race to the Top grant program, which benefited school systems nationwide. But with the Republicans taking control of the House in 2011, the odds appeared dim that the two sides would be able to come together on any sweeping overhaul of the entire law. Instead, House Republicans planned to push a piecemeal approach, carving out areas of agreement.

Mr. Duncan has said his plan would not undermine what Congress is doing because the waivers could serve as a bridge until Congress acts.

According to a new research report, 31,737 of the 98,916 schools missed the law's testing goals in 2009, vastly more than any level of government can help to improve.

For me there is one big issue - we have 50 state tests.  There is NO way that we, as a nation, can accurately say how our students are doing with 50 tests. 

Of course, this will never happen and it's one of issues that may slow down the ed reform train: education is a local control issue.  You can say as much as you want from a national level, that charters would be good everywhere and ditto on TFA, teacher assessments, etc. but, in the end, states and communities want to enact what they believe is best for their students. 

What is good about this push by Obama is putting the focus on the 5,000 worst schools and turning them around.  It had come out a couple of years back that there were specific high schools that continued to churn out the most drop-outs so focusing on those who truly are underperforming on a long-term basis is a good idea. 

But what we are facing is a lot of long-term work that needs money and most of all, time.  And time isn't on anyone's agenda as a given.  Not parents for whom the time is now for their child (and rightly so), not education advocates who want different things and especially not Congress and the public who want progress now.  Somehow this country got a bit adrift and now we are scrambling to do better in a short period of time. 

I think it can't happen for several reasons. 

One, money.  Despite what many think, it does take money to educate children.  Also, we are now a very technology-driven country and that certainly has filtered down to our schools.  There is a huge cost to all this technology and it is on-going. 

Two, is it realistic to think you can turn an entire educational system around in a couple of years?  No, but I do think it IS realistic to think you can focus schools that are consistently underperforming and turn them around. 

Three, and this one is sad, I'm not sure the elected leadership in this country is willing to unite and get it done.  What we see now is a polarized Congress and, with the 2012 Presidential election coming up, I think Congress will be even less inclined to work hard on this issue.

So what's next?  States have until the end of the year to ask for waivers.   The main target will be the 100% proficiency goal and more flexibility on the use of federal dollars. 

An irony here is that the only thing that Congress has shown bipartisanship on is expansion of charter schools.  There is a bill that gives about $250M for new charters and addresses some quality control issues. 

I hear the train a'comin' and it's sounding the arrival of charters. 

7 comments:

dan dempsey said...

"Score one for Obama.
You must be kidding.

Because states cannot meet an impossible ill conceived goal.... Obama/Duncan get to extort states into the plans preferred by the Federal Action boys via "waivers".

There is no evidence that all this testing is improving anything other than the bottom lines of publishers of testing materials. (Pearson take a bow.)

Instead of placing an emphasis on instruction that works .. the focus is on tests and test results. (See the Bergeson decade for how well this worked in WA State)

WA state had a big big improvement in WASL reading scores in the period from 2000-2005 while IOWA reading test scores remained flat.

Tests have been a political tool to manipulate public opinion and little else.

I will today post my analysis of the new Algebra End of Course assessment scores by high school .... see if that motivates any politicians to do anything contructive? .....Instead the WA state math EoC #1 and #2 will be discontinued in a couple years to make way for the massive barrage of Federal Common Core Standards testing.

Score one for "Big Money" profiteers.
Subtract a lot more than one from Parents and Teachers and Students.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data ... don't hold your breath for either the Board as a whole or the Superintendent to understand that.

dan dempsey said...

The waivers are aimed at forcing Ed Reform on every state. Let us save money by closing the US Dept of Education .... and save the public schools as well.

Yes there is a lot that needs fixing in USA Education but there is also a lot that is great.

Obama/Duncan have decided to identify something as a problem and then slip in changes that are NOT solutions. One of these is the "Value Added" measure for teacher evaluation.
Check out how reliable and valid that latest crackpot idea is
HERE.

Jack Whelan said...

I think that the hardest thing to fight are ideas that have become 'commonplaces'. Commonplaces are ideas or attitudes that have attained cliche status by their having been accepted by almost everybody as unquestionably true. Propagandists and anyone with an ounce of rhetorical instinct know that they don't have to be fact based to win support for their programs; they just have to have an aura of 'truthiness' to them.

The corporate reformers and fellow travelers like Wendy Kopp understand this, and they have so far won most of the rhetorical battles. They've won using commonplaces like "data driven decision making", "achievement gap", "accountability", "teachers and unions are an adult interest group" (as opposed to people like the reformers who only care about kids), "we need managers not educators running schools", "families need to have choices" (i.e. charter schools), and so on. (Which ones am I missing?)

The article that Dan links to about "Mathematical Intimidation" concerns one of these (data driven whatever) that has been egregiously abused, but the point I"m making is that the rest of us are getting our rhetorical asses kicked because we think that facts matter. They do, obviously, in the reality-based community, but they don't matter in politics, which has little or nothing to do with reality--it has to do with whose commonplaces are most robustly deployed in their arguments. Facts are secondary only insofar as they support a larger commonplace narrative.

Most of the people who read and comment on this blog smell a rat, but, IMO, don't really have an effective plan for exposing and eliminating it. The 'rat' is not bad decsion making or incompetence; it's a mindsetI would characterize as "technocratic" The best book ever that talks about how this rodent operates in systems was David Halberstam's 'The Best and the Brightest'--about sincere, data-driven and very smart people who thought they knew better but made a royal, bloody mess of everything.

The Reformers in the foundations and the elite progressive types who go to the Aspen Institute are all cut from this cloth. They all talk to one another and reinforce this basic mindset. They don't smell the rat, because they don't think of themselves as rats. They see themselves as the good guys, the ones who really care about improving education.

But it's precisely that technocratic reforem mindset that has to be fought against, and it has to be contrasted with a more robust narrative that promises a better future for kids and schools than the reformers' narrative. I'm not sureI know how to do this, but I think that you can't solve a problem unless you correctly frame it, and the problem is essentially a rhetorical one. And I see it as essentially a conflict between a technocratic set of commonplaces vs. a humanistic set, and humanists are on their heels because all the money and rhetorical fire power is with the technocrats and that's what shapes elite opinion from Obama to Gates to the Seattle Times.

The question is how to push back: facts aren't enough. They have to be woven into a robust humanistic narrative that supports an alternative future for American education.

dan dempsey said...

So looking back to November of 2009 ...

This is Gov. Perry’s press release dated 11.24.09 in which he stated the reason Texas refused to participate in the Common Core Standards/Race to the Top:

“The citizens of Texas, not the federal government, know what is best for our children. As the federal government continues its sweeping expansion of federal authority from the financial, energy and health care systems, it is now attempting to increase their intrusion into Texas classrooms.

Catherine said...

Rick Perry, same guy who doesn't believe there is global warming (at all, cause independent) and that evolution doesn't explain anything about how we got here? That Rick Perry? He's about the last guy I'd refer to about anything, even if I do agree with him on some issue somewhere like the sky is blue.

In my mind, Perry, and Scopes Trial, are cases in point as to why the feds must have some influence into education at the state level.

dan dempsey said...

Catherine,

My post was not a recommendation of Rick Perry for President.... I placed it in the blog as I certainly think he has nailed the current Common Core State Standards ..... extortion attempt perfectly..... even a Blind Pig occasionally finds an acorn.

Lets not focus on the pig but rather the acorn.

Anonymous said...

side note:

Jeb Bush & Rupert Murdoch headline ed reform conference

http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/09/23/18691148.php

(words fail me)

-JC.