Educate All Students, Support Public Education

December 6, 2015

Alarming Provisions of NCLB Re-authorization

Filed under: NCLB — millerlf @ 4:44 pm

The disturbing provisions about teacher preparation in No Child Left Behind rewrite

By Valerie Strauss December 5 Washington Post Blog

There has been loud applause in the education world for the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind that has passed the House and is expected to become federal law soon. It has been hailed as a fix-it to the broken NCLB law, and it does indeed moderate some of NCLB’s biggest problems. But, perhaps because the legislation was only made public a few days before the House voted, there has been little time to look at the details in the bill.

In this post, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle, does just that in regard to how the bill approaches teacher preparation programs — and he reveals some deep concerns. For example:

* Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.

* The legislation “oversteps the authority of the federal government” in several ways, including by declaring that the completion of a program in an academy run by an organization other than a university results in a certificate of completion that may be recognized by states as “at least the equivalent of a master’s degree in education for the purpose of hiring, retention, compensation, and promotion in the state.” The federal government absolutely has no business in suggesting what should and what should not count as the equivalent of a master’s degree in individual states.

* The legislation seeks to mandate “definitions of the content of teacher education programs and methods of program approval that are state responsibilities.” As a result, it lowers “standards for teacher education programs that prepare teachers for high-poverty schools … by exempting teacher preparation academies from what are referred to as ‘unnecessary restrictions on the methods of the academy.’ ”
Here’s the piece by Zeichner, who is a member of the National Academy of Education and professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and who has done extensive research on teaching and teacher education.

By Kenneth Zeichner

The fundamental tenets of the Every Student Succeeds Act – the successor to No Child Left Behind – are now well known. It lessens the latter’s focus on standardized test scores and shifts much policy-making power from the U.S. Education Department back to the states. But many educators may be surprised to learn what it includes about teacher preparation. There are provisions in the bill for the establishment of teacher preparation academies – and they are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs.

In October 2013, I criticized a bill called the GREAT Teachers and Principals Act, known as the GREAT Act. It was initiated in March 2011 in conversations between leaders of the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF); Norm Atkins, founder of the Relay Graduate School of Education; Tim Knowles of the University of Chicago; and several members of Congress.


The purpose of this bill was to provide public funds for promoting the growth of entrepreneurial teacher education programs such as the ones seeded by New Schools Venture Fund (for example, Relay, MATCH Teacher Residency and Urban Teachers) that are mostly run by non-profits. At the time, the CEO of NSVF was Ted Mitchell, who is now the U.S. under secretary of education.


January 23, 2012

Linda Darling-Hammond on New NCLB Proposals

Filed under: Charter Schools,Educational Practices,NCLB — millerlf @ 8:48 am

Why Is Congress Redlining Our Schools?

Linda Darling-Hammond

January 10, 2012   |     The Nation.

With the nation’s public education system under siege, the need for qualified teachers who are committed to creating exciting and empowering schools is more urgent than ever.

Today a new form of redlining is emerging. If passed, the long-awaited Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would build a bigger highway between low-performing schools serving high-need students—the so-called “bottom 5 percent”—and all other schools. Tragically, the proposed plan would weaken schools in the most vulnerable communities and further entrench the problems—concentrated poverty, segregation and lack of human and fiscal resources—that underlie their failure.

Although the current draft of the law scales back some of the worst overreaches of No Child Left Behind, the sanctions for failing to make “adequate yearly progress” that have threatened all schools under NCLB are now focused solely on the 5 percent of schools designated as lowest-performing by the states. As we have learned in warm-up exercises offered by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, these schools will nearly always be the ones serving the poorest students and the greatest numbers of new immigrants. In many states they will represent a growing number of apartheid schools populated almost entirely by low-income African-American and Latino students in our increasingly race- and class-segregated system.

In the new vision for ESEA, these schools, once identified, will be subjected to school “turnaround” models that require the schools to be closed, turned into charters, reconstituted (by firing nearly half the staff) or “transformed,” according to a complicated set of requirements that include everything from instructional reforms to test-based teacher evaluation. The proposed array of punitive sanctions, coupled with unproven reforms, will increasingly destabilize schools and neighborhoods, making them even less desirable places to work and live and stimulating the flight of teachers and families who have options.

Meanwhile, the most important solutions for these students and their schools are ignored by NCLB and the proposed new bill, as well as by current federal policy in general, leaving their most serious problems unaddressed.


December 10, 2011

School Board Member Fails NCLB Test

Filed under: NCLB,Standardized Tests — millerlf @ 4:20 pm

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids

Revealed: The school board member who took standardized test

This was written by Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author. 12/05/2011

A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public.

By any reasonable measure, my friend is a success. His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.

He called me the morning he took the test to say he was sure he hadn’t done well, but had to wait for the results. A couple of days ago, realizing that local school board members don’t seem to be playing much of a role in the current “reform” brouhaha, I asked him what he now thought about the tests he’d taken.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Here’s the clincher in what he wrote:

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”

“I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

There you have it. A concise summary of what’s wrong with present corporately driven education change: Decisions are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.

Those decisions are shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

All that without so much as a pilot program to see if their simplistic, worn-out ideas work, and without a single procedure in place that imposes on them what they demand of teachers: accountability.

But maybe there’s hope. As I write, a New York Times story by Michael Winerip makes my day. The stupidity of the current test-based thrust of reform has triggered the first revolt of school principals.

Winerip writes: “As of last night, 658 principals around the state (New York) had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.”

One of those school principals, Winerip says, is Bernard Kaplan. Kaplan runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, but is required to attend 10 training sessions.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

Carol Burris, named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, has to attend those 10 training sessions.

Katie Zahedi, another principal, said the session she attended was “two days of total nonsense. I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations.”

A fourth principal, Mario Fernandez, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking. They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

My school board member-friend concluded his email with this: “I can’t escape the conclusion that those of us who are expected to follow through on decisions that have been made for us are doing something ethically questionable.”

He’s wrong. What they’re being made to do isn’t ethically questionable. It’s ethically unacceptable. Ethically reprehensible. Ethically indefensible.

How many of the approximately 100,000 school principals in the U.S. would join the revolt if their ethical principles trumped their fears of retribution? Why haven’t they been asked?

Quiz: How smart are you? Test yourself with some National Assessment of Education Progress questions.

Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page. Bookmark it!

February 2, 2011

50 Organizations Send Letter to Pres. Obama on ‘Highly Qualified’ Teachers

Filed under: NCLB,Teachers — millerlf @ 12:43 pm

Posted By Valerie Strauss 1/2011

Letter to President Obama: Who is a ‘highly qualified’ teacher?

This letter was just sent to President Obama by more than 50 organizations — including education, civil rights, disability, student, parent, and community groups — about legislation in Congress that would allow teachers still in training to be considered “highly qualified” so they can meet a standard set in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Dear Mr. President:
As organizations concerned with promoting educational quality and equity, particularly for students who have traditionally been least well served by our educational system, we are deeply committed to the development of well-prepared, experienced, and effective teachers for all communities, and to ensuring that every student has a fully prepared and effective teacher.

On behalf of the nation’s 50 million elementary and secondary students, we write to you with a sense of urgency about a critical issue that threatens the welfare of many of them.

We are deeply concerned about a provision inserted in H.R. 3082, the Continuing Resolution for government funding passed in December, which undermined the federal definition of a “highly qualified teacher” in the No Child Left Behind Act by allowing states to label teachers as “highly qualified” when they are still in training – and, in many cases, just beginning training – in alternative route programs.


This provision – inserted in the law without notice to concerned public stakeholders and without public debate – codifies a Bush-era regulation that was challenged by parents of low-income students of color in court because their children were disproportionately taught by such under-prepared teachers and because the regulation removed the obligation of states and districts to disclose and rectify the inequity.


The provision seeks to reverse the recent federal appeals court ruling these parents obtained, which held that the regulation patently violated NCLB’s unambiguous requirement that only fully prepared teachers be deemed “highly qualified” and that, as such, teachers still in-training must be publicly disclosed and not concentrated in low-income, high-minority schools.


Our concern with this provision (and with any federal policy that reinforces the unequal allocation of fully trained and certified teachers to all students) is that it disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable populations: low-income students and students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities who are most often assigned such underprepared teachers.


Further, this provision hides this disparate reality from parents and the public by disingenuously labeling teachers-in-training as “highly qualified” and hindering advocacy for better prepared teachers.


Research confirms what logic and experience dictate: that teachers-in training are significantly less effective in supporting student achievement than those who are fully trained when they enter teaching, and that the negative effects are particularly pronounced for students whose success depends most acutely on fully-trained professionals.

We believe that students with the greatest needs should have the best-prepared and most effective teachers to support their success, and that pursuit of that goal should be the purpose of federal policy.


In the coming weeks, we will propose specific actions to the Administration and the Congress that can achieve this goal, including repeal of this provision and development of a transparent definition of teacher quality, along with a set of policies that will allow the nation to put a well-prepared and effective teacher in every classroom. We will work tirelessly and in concert to see that policy is enacted that will support high-quality teaching for every child.
Action United
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
Alliance for Multilingual Multicultural Education
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Federation of Teachers
ASPIRA Association
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network
California Association for Bilingual Education
California Latino School Boards Association
Californians for Justice
Californians Together
Campaign for Fiscal Equity
Campaign for Quality Education
Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning
Center for Teaching Quality
Citizens for Effective Schools
Coalition for Educational Justice
Council for Exceptional Children
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Easter Seals
ELC, Education Law Center
FairTest, The National Center for Fair & Open Testing
Higher Education Consortium for Special Education
Justice Matters
Latino Elected and Appointed Officials National Taskforce on Education
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Los Angeles Educational Partnership
Movement Strategy Center
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Council for Educating Black Children
National Council of Teachers of English
National Disability Rights Network
National Down Syndrome Congress
National Down Syndrome Society
National Education Association
National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project
National League of United Latin American Citizens
Parents for Unity
Philadelphia Education Fund
Public Advocates Inc.
Public Education Network
Rural School and Community Trust
RYSE Center
School Social Work Association of America
Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children
Texas Association for Chicanos and Higher Education
United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries
Youth Together

cc: Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education


November 22, 2010

Duncan Proposal for ESEA Reform: A Blue Print

Filed under: Education Policy,NCLB — millerlf @ 5:03 pm

ESEA Reauthorization: A Blueprint for Reform
en español

More Resources

On March 13, the Obama administration released its blueprint for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The blueprint challenges the nation to embrace education standards that would put America on a path to global leadership. It provides incentives for states to adopt academic standards that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace, and create accountability systems that measure student growth toward meeting the goal that all children graduate and succeed in college.

Read the blueprint or download it PDF (1.9M). Learn how the blueprint empowers educators: read Built for Teachers. See a slideshow comparing the blueprint to No Child Left Behind download files PowerPoint (64K). Find out what the blueprint proposes for…

  • supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education download files PDF (833K)
  • supporting families and communities download files PDF (912K)
  • supporting teachers download files PDF (851K)
  • college- and career-ready standards and assessments download files PDF (2.24M)
  • a complete education download files PDF (2.10M)
  • diverse learners download files PDF (1.99M)
  • early learning download files PDF (1.17M)
  • public school choice download files PDF (2.04M)
  • rewarding excellence and promoting innovation download files PDF (2.65M)
  • turning around low-performing schools. download files PDF (1.77MB)

See the press release. Watch the President discuss the blueprint. Listen to Secretary Duncan’s conference call MP3 (5.6M) with reporters or read the transcript MS Word (88K). See Secretary Duncan’s March 17 testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee.

On May 4, the Obama administration released a series of documents outlining the research that supports the proposals in the blueprint. These research summaries will serve to inform conversations around ESEA reauthorization and the reforms that research shows are necessary. These documents outline the research base around each section of the blueprint, including:

  • College- and Career-Ready Students download files PDF (749K)
    College- and Career-Ready Students, School Turnaround Grants
  • Great Teachers and Great Leaders download files PDF (920K)
    Effective Teachers and Leaders, Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, Teacher and Leader Pathways
  • Meeting the Needs of English Learners and Other Diverse Learners download files PDF (662K)
    English Learners, Diverse Learners
  • A Complete Education download files PDF (1.17M)
    Literacy, STEM, A Well-Rounded Education, College Pathways and Accelerated Learning
  • Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students download files PDF (891K)
    Promise Neighborhoods, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students
  • Fostering Innovation and Excellence download files PDF (840K)
    Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, Supporting Effective Charter Schools, Promoting Public School Choice

September 9, 2010

DOE School Reform Is Intellectual Dishonesty and Political Puffery

Filed under: Arne Duncan,Education Policy,NCLB,Race to the Top,School Reform — millerlf @ 5:45 pm

“…Duncan routinely urges “a great teacher” in every classroom. That would be about 3.7 million “great” teachers — a feat akin to having every college football team composed of all-Americans. With this sort of intellectual rigor, what school “reform” promises is more disillusion.”

School reform’s meager results

By Robert J. Samuelson
Monday, September 6, 2010; A15

As 56 million children return to the nation’s 133,000 elementary and secondary schools, the promise of “reform” is again in the air. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced $4 billion in “Race to the Top” grants to states whose proposals demonstrate, according to Duncan, “a bold commitment to education reform” and “creativity and innovation [that are] breathtaking.” What they really show is that few subjects inspire more intellectual dishonesty and political puffery than “school reform.”


July 31, 2010

Critiques of NCLB and Race to the Top Sharpen

Filed under: NCLB — millerlf @ 3:52 pm
In the past week there has been significant developments in the growth of anti-Race to the Top sentiment around the country.  An impressive coalition of national civil rights groups issued a statement critical of the Obama/Duncan administration’s educational policies: Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It’s worth the read.

Similarly, a coalition of 24 community groups organized by Communities for Excellent Public Schools issued a stinging critique of the federal government’s “turnaround” strategies. “Our Communities Left Behind: An Analysis of the Administration’s School Turnaround Policies” is a comprehensive critique that shows why those policies won’t work and offers concrete suggestions as to what will turn around struggling schools. For a summary see an article in the Washington Post.

The lead segment on Democracy Now on July 30 was on the Race to the Top and included interviews with Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson from Class Size Matters and they respond to President Obama’s recent speak at the National Urban League where he defended the Race to the Top program. It’s worth the listen:

June 3, 2010

NCC delegation meets with U.S. Secretary of Education on the need to provide equal education to all children

Filed under: NCLB — millerlf @ 12:44 pm
Washington, June 2, 2010 — A delegation of the National Council of Churches met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials Monday to express concerns about the Education Department’s “Race to the Top” initiative and the Obama Administration’s “blueprint” for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Duncan requested the meeting following the issuance last month of a pastoral letter to the President and Congress on proposed education reforms. The letter was adopted unanimously by the NCC’s Governing Board at its May 2010 meeting. (See

Joining Secretary Duncan were Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, and Peter Groff, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the Department of Education.

The NCC’s pastoral letter urged the nation’s leaders to help craft a system of education that looks upon children as unique and valuable individuals rather than “products to be tested.” The letter cautioned politicians against scapegoating principals and teachers when schools fall short of arbitrary goals.

The letter noted that Federal policy is encouraging states to rapidly expand school choice through charter schools. However, the letter raised the question whether or not market based reforms, while they may increase educational opportunity for a few children or even for some groups of children, introduce more equity into the system itself.

The NCC delegation said Duncan welcomed the group and appeared to listen carefully to their concerns. Both the Secretary’s group and the NCC delegation affirmed their shared commitment to civil rights and equal access by all citizens to a quality education.

Assistant Secretary Ali said her office was re-energizing the department’s commitment to civil rights and asked that any civil rights violations be reported to her. President Chemberlin said the NCC will encourage its member churches to report violations.

Duncan told the delegation that the status quo in many schools is unsatisfactory and steps need to be taken to address that. He said the firing of principals and teachers should be the “last line of change, not the first.”

Standardized tests alone are not a satisfactory measure of progress, Duncan said, “but they must be part of the equation” of assessing improvements in schools.

Regarding charter schools, Duncan admitted, “I do believe that good charter schools are a part of the solution, bad charter schools are part of the problem,” but he said “they are a very small part of the larger issue.” Even so, members of the NCC delegation are concerned that the issue of charter schools will loom large in urban education.

The NCC delegation made the following points to the Secretary:

► A good society must balance the needs of each particular child and family with the need to create a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children.

► Persistent support and assistance remains society’s best strategy for raising achievement in the schools that are struggling. The delegation has serious reservations about turn-around models in “Race to the Top,” and rejects the current dependence on standardized testing.

► Federal leadership is needed to address long-standing resource inequality across states. The U.S. government must allocate resources for equal treatment of children and press states to close gaps in opportunities offered to children.

► While competitive, market-based measures may increase educational opportunity for a few children, the concern is that they do not introduce more equality into the system.

► We must work together to eliminate policies that blame public school teachers for many problems beyond their control. The Race to the Top “turnaround model” that fires principals and staff in struggling schools without evaluating their performance constitutes scapegoating and tosses out professionals society cannot afford to lose.

To see the full letter go to the following link:

May 6, 2010

Parent Coalition Letter to President Obama and Congress on ESEA

Filed under: NCLB — millerlf @ 11:22 am

To read the full statement go to the following link:

ESEA_from Class Size Matters NY

Following is the news release:

Contact: Leonie Haimson, 917-435-9329

Julie Woestehoff, 773-715-3989

Parent Across America

Oppose the Administration’s “Blueprint” for Education Reform

Today, parent leaders and advocates from throughout the nation sent a letter to the President and Congress, asking them to keep the parent voice in public education and to oppose the administration’s “Blueprint” for the re-authorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) put forward by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Eighteen parent leaders from cities including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington DC, pointed out that the parent voice has been missing from the national debate on education and is entirely absent from the top-down and often draconian proposals being put forward by the administration.

They expressed their conviction that the Blueprint’s proposals would undermine rather than strengthen their city’s public schools, and that these reforms represent large-scale experiments on children with little or no backing in the research, and lacking informed parental consent.

The signers pointed out that the Blueprint removes existing and essential mechanisms for engaging parents, and that the document’s only recognition of the need to involve parents for parents of Indian children be included in the design of school-level programs.  They also drew attention to the fact that class size reduction, the top priority of parents in national surveys and one of the few reforms proven to increase learning through rigorous evidence, is omitted from the administration’s priorities.

In many cities, thousands of parents, teachers and students have erupted in protest against the closing of neighborhood schools which are often the anchors of their communities, and in opposition to the prospect that more exclusive screened schools or charter schools will be put in their place.  Yet instead of offering more resources and support to improve the troubled schools that our most at-risk children attend, the proposed legislation threatens to further undermine them, by requiring that five percent be closed, turned into charter schools, or that half their teaching staff be fired.

The signers of the letter particularly objected to the administration’s focus on forcing states to privatize education, by radically expanding their charter school sector.  They urged the Congress “to be wary of the influence of venture philanthropy on our public education system,” and to be aware that “powerful foundations are shaping many of our federal and local education policies with dollars rather than evidence-based solutions.”

According to Leonie Haimson, New York City public school parent and Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “the approach of this administration to education reform has been at best oblivious; at worst, it is highly disrespectful of the central role that parents should play in their children’s education and lives. Moreover, the punitive approaches embodied in the Blueprint would undermine and discourage quality teaching and learning, particularly in the nation’s schools that need it the most.”

Julie Woestehoff, Chicago parent advocate and Executive Director of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) said, “the Blueprint pays almost no attention to the need to address the enormous disparities in funding across and within states, saying only that states should be asked to measure and report on these disparities. Yet in a plan filled with heavy-handed threats and promises of financial windfalls, this statement seems to be a mere afterthought with no consequences attached.”

The parent leaders who signed the letter insist that the next version of the ESEA must formally incorporate the views of public school parents: “As highly knowledgeable primary stakeholders, we must be permitted to have a seat at the decision-making table.”

The letter concludes its message to Congress this way: “You hold a great responsibility in your hands this year in reauthorizing the ESEA. We hope you will listen to parents, the most important stakeholders of our public school system, before you make the radical and destructive changes that the administration has put forward. “

May 2, 2010

Diane Ravitch on Duncan/Obama NCLB Overhaul

Filed under: NCLB — millerlf @ 3:19 pm

Try Again, Secretary Duncan, It’s Not Too Late

By Diane Ravitch on March 23, 2010

The big event of early March was the release of President Obama’s plan to revise No Child Left Behind. Although NCLB continues to have its defenders, the Obama administration rightly views it as a “toxic” brand. Perhaps if the Obama team had given more thought to why it became toxic, their own plan would be far better.

While the administration has tried to distance itself from NCLB, the assumptions of its proposal continue to be firmly rooted in NCLB’s philosophy of “measure and punish.”

NCLB’s overemphasis on basic skills testing was harmful to schools across the nation, its results have been meager, and its utopian goal of 100 percent proficiency unleashed unrealistic expectations. No school district or state could hope to meet the law’s utopian goal (except by dumbing down standards and tests). But the failure to meet this goal has unfairly stigmatized public education in the United States , setting the stage for privatization.

The privatizers and their apologists lick their chops as they watch one school after another fail, but those of us who understand the importance of public education in our democracy must speak up, resist, and stop the advance of this movement to destroy a vital public institution.

I say this not to defend the status quo, but to insist that we need real reform and improvement, not a blunderbuss that blasts apart our nation’s public school system.

Most educators hoped that the Obama administration would launch a fresh start and rethink the federal role in education. That has not happened. It may yet be possible, if the administration can be persuaded to remove the noxious elements of the proposed legislation. I give the administration credit for trying to do the right thing. They have dropped the deadline of 2014, which was not surprising, since no one expects that the deadline can be reached. They have eliminated the complex calculation of AYP (adequate yearly progress), which put some very good schools on the “failing” list. Some of the micromanagement that characterizes NCLB will disappear, for which we must give thanks to Secretary Arne Duncan.

But the federal role continues to be muscular, in fact, probably even more muscular than NCLB, if you happen to be one of the 5,000 schools in the bottom five percent. Muscular, as in tough, mean-spirited, and bullying.

All students in grades 3-8 across the United States will still be required by federal law to take annual tests in reading and math.

Those in the upper 95 percent will more or less be left alone, and some may get cash rewards for progress. The administration says it wants to reward “growth,” not just compare cohorts, but to reward “growth,” there should be two tests a year for everyone, not just one. Since one of this administration’s signal initiatives is to grade teachers by their students’ test scores, students should be tested in September and again in May or June to see what part of their academic gains may be attributed to a specific teacher. It is hard to see how anyone can calculate “growth” by testing only once a year. So the proposal may bring even more testing than at present, with bigger stakes for teachers.

Most troublesome to me, however, are the draconian “remedies” that will be imposed on the 5,000 schools at the bottom in test scores. These schools must be “transformed” or “turned around” or closed. Their principals may be fired, their staffs may be fired, they may be turned over to state control, they may be turned into charter schools or private management organizations.

Although it is certainly possible to “turn around” a low-performing school, none of the administration’s remedies have proven successful on any large scale. In effect, the administration is threatening a death sentence to 5,000 schools this year (and thousands more next year?) because the schools have low scores on tests of basic skills. You can be sure that the next 10,000 schools up the list will double the time for test prep to try to escape that giant sucking sound that could devour them, too.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage states to create teams of expert educators to visit each low-performing school and find out why it is low-performing? One school may be overloaded with students who don’t speak or read English; another may have disproportionate numbers of students with disabilities; another may be struggling because the district office assigned it huge numbers of students in 9th grade who were reading on a 4th-grade level. Why not analyze why the school is in difficulty and try to solve its problems? Wouldn’t it make more sense to send help instead of an execution squad?

If this plan is enacted as proposed, it will eventually become just as toxic as NCLB. Only we won’t know it for another five years or so after the evidence of devastated schools and communities has accumulated.

It’s not too late, Secretary Duncan, turn back and offer a helping hand, not a death sentence. Send help, not a firing squad.


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