A new education law — or more waivers?

No Child Left Behind (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) expired in 2007, but Congress hasn’t come up with a rewrite. House Republican leaders have postponed a vote on their version, the Student Success Act, because some conservatives think it doesn’t go far enough to curb federal mandates.

“My district doesn’t like it. They just feel that we’re moderating No Child Left Behind. They hate No Child Left Behind,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

In the Senate, Republican leaders hope to work with Democrats on a bipartisan bill.

Conservatives should back the Student Success Act, argues Rick Hess.

The Student Success Act (SSA) jettisons NCLB’s invasive system of federally mandated accountability and gives states the freedom to gauge school performance and decide what to do about poor-performing schools. It also puts an end to NCLB’s remarkable requirement that, as of 2014, 100 percent (!) of the nation’s students would be “proficient” in reading and math.

The SSA repeals the “highly qualified teacher” mandate, a bureaucratic paper chase whose most significant accomplishment was lending fuel to lawsuits attacking Teach For America (litigants had some success in California’s courts by arguing that TFA teachers failed to meet the “highly qualified” standard). It eliminates or consolidates 65 programs. It includes expansive new language intended to finally stop federal officials from pushing states to adopt Common Core (or any other particular set of academic standards).

The bill also boosts funding for charter schools, though it doesn’t authorize school vouchers.

Conservatives don’t like the requirement for annual testing, but “shorn of NCLB’s pie-in-the-sky accountability mandates, once-a-year tests will no longer distort schooling and infuriate parents in the way they have in recent years,” Hess argues.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. Education Secretary Arne Duncan attacked the provision letting federal dollars follow low-income students if they move from high-poverty to low-poverty schools. Urban school districts could lose millions of dollars, he said.

With NCLB in limbo, Duncan has used waivers to get states to adopt his education policies, notes the Washington Post.

If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the Democrats could regret opening the door to rule by waiver, Hess writes. He imagines President-elect Rick Perry nominating Michele Bachmann as secretary of education.

Chris Wallace: Are you worried you’ll be unable to make the legislative changes that you and the President think necessary?

SecEd Nominee Bachmann: Once upon a time, that might’ve been a concern. Happily, the Obama administration provided a path for driving educational change even when you don’t have the votes. That’s why we’ve promised that, come inauguration day, we’ll be ditching the Obama administration’s requirements for waivers from No Child Left Behind and substituting our own. They’ll be drawn from the President’s plan that we’ve been calling the Freedom Blueprint.

If states want a waiver, says Bachmann, they’ll need “to institute a moment of silence in all “turnaround” schools, adopt a statewide school voucher plan for low-income students and those in failing schools, require abstinence education, restrict collective bargaining to wages and prohibit bargaining over benefits or policy, and ask states to revise their charter laws to ensure that for-profit operators are no longer discriminated against on the basis of tax status.”

It’s not looking good for reauthorization, concludes Hess.

A principal who matters

Vidal Chastenet

Vidal Chastanet on Humans of New York

Asked about the most influential person in his life by the Humans of New York photo blog, eighth-grader Vidal Chastanet named Nadia Lopez, his middle-school principal. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us,” he said. “She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” The post went viral.

Lopez, who’d founded Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, had been thinking about quitting, reports The Atlantic in Why Principals Matter. She worried her work wasn’t making a difference. Then came the wave of publicity, $1.2 million in donations and a visit with President Obama for the principal and her student.

Lopez told The Atlantic how she’s made Mott Hall a safe haven in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the city’s poorest neighborhood. “In this building, my kids are going to feel like they’re successful,” she said.

NYC union’s failing K-8 charter will close

Running a charter school is harder than the United Federation of Teachers thought. The New York City union will close its failing charter school’s elementary and middle school, but ask for authority to continue its high school.

Students read at UFT's charter school in 2013. Photo: Geoffrey Knox

A reading class at UFT’s charter school. Photo: Geoff Decker

“When the school opened in 2005, then-UFT President Randi Weingarten said its success would demonstrate that unions could play a starring role in efforts to improve the school system,” write Geoff Decker and Sarah Darville on Chalkbeat NY. Weingarten also hoped to show that a union contract was not an “impediment to success.”

The UFT Charter School has been one of the lowest-performing charters in the city.

“Under Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s new school-grading system, the school earned the lowest of four marks in all four categories, including the school environment and its success at closing the achievement gap,” write Decker and Darville.

Curiously, only 2 percent of the school’s students are English Learners and 10 percent –below the public-school average — have an Individual Education Plan.

How to parent like a German


Photo by Metro Centric

Parenting like a German means giving kids more freedom, Sara Zaske writes in Time.

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Despite the stereotypes, Germans are mellow parents, she writes. “Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone.” It’s not called “free-range parenting.” It’s normal.

Kindergarten is considered a time for play and social learning. Children are learn to read in first grade, but “academics aren’t pushed very hard.”  A half day of instruction includes two outdoor recesses.

German children play outside every day. If it’s cold, they bundle up.

Starting first grade is marked by a big party called Einschulung.

 In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

There’s another big party when a child turns 14.

Lena Dunham tries teaching on ‘Girls’

Alexander Russo is “horrified and fascinated” by the new plot development on HBO’s Girls. After dropping out of her MFA writing program, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah decides to be a teacher.

The character says she wants to help people. Her friends remind her she’s selfish.

“Those who can’t teach” is “uttered, with an unclear amount of irony,” writes Russo.

Apparently, Hannah gets a job as an English teacher at a private school called St. Justine’s. (Dunham attended St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn.)

Will this be good for the teaching profession? Bad for teaching?

No, I won’t raise your grade

On the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stacey Patton asked college professors and TAs how they’d respond if a student who received a C grade on a paper asked for a higher grade because they “worked so hard on it.”

This appears to be a sore subject. Several offered to consider raising — or lowering — the grade on a second read. Others vented.

“The grade you received is reflective of the fact that what I got was a mash-up of poorly constructed sentences and last minute fooleywang,” wrote Takiyah Nur Amin, associate professor of dance at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Jennifer P. Simms, an adjunct visiting professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin at River Falls, advised the C student that “grades in college are based on performance, not effort.”

 I know elementary school teachers, coaches, and your parents told you that all that matters is that you do your best. Unfortunately, they all lied to you. In the real world, of which my college classroom is a part, trying hard does not count for squat. Demonstrated mastery of the material, no matter how much or little effort it takes to achieve it, is what is important.

I know that it is unfair that some students spend no time at all on schoolwork and get A’s while others struggle and barely scrape C’s. I suggest you quickly cry a river, build a bridge and get over it. In the meantime, reflect on whether you want other students graded based on how hard they try. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather that papers for Surgery 101: How Not to Kill the People You Cut Open and for Architecture 101: How to Build Bridges That Do Not Collapse and Leave People Plummeting to Their Deaths were graded on students’ demonstration of correct understanding of the concepts, not how much effort they put into writing it.

Many of the commenters thought the academic snark was mean.

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.

How many charters are just right?

ednext_XV_3_forum_img01How large a share of urban schools should be charters? asks an Education Next forum.

In dozens of U.S. cities, more than one in five students now attend charter schools. In New Orleans, nearly all public schools are charters.

D.C. Students Benefit from Mix of Charter and Traditional Schools, argue Scott Pearson and Skip McKoy, who serve on the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board.

Neerav Kingsland, former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, makes the New Orleans Case for All-Charter School Districts.

Asian students face diversity penalty

Playing piano or violin -- like the daughters of "tiger mother" Amy Chua -- fits the Asian stereotype, but hurts in college admissions, say counselors.

Playing piano or violin — like the daughters of “tiger mother” Amy Chua — looks “too Asian” on college applications, say counselors.

Asian-Americans have “turned against affirmative action policies” that make it harder for them to get into elite colleges, reports Frank Shyong in the Los Angeles Times. “In the San Gabriel Valley’s hyper-competitive ethnic Asian communities, arguments for diversity can sometimes fall on deaf ears.”

In a tutoring center’s workshop on college admissions in the valley, Ann Lee tells Asian-American parents about a Princeton study on how race and ethnicity affect admissions. Being black is worth 230 SAT points, according to the study. Hispanics receive a “bonus” of 185 points. Asian applicants are penalized by 50 points, says Lee. “Do Asians need higher test scores? Is it harder for Asians to get into college? The answer is yes,” Lee says.

For immigrant parents raised in Asia’s all-or-nothing test cultures, a good education is not just a measure of success — it’s a matter of survival. They see academic achievement as a moral virtue, and families organize their lives around their child’s education, moving to the best school districts and paying for tutoring and tennis lessons. An acceptance letter from a prestigious college is often the only acceptable return on an investment that stretches over decades.

Private college-prep academies counsel Asian-Americans on how to stand out. “Everyone is in orchestra and plays piano,” says Lee, founder of HS2 Academy. “Everyone plays tennis. Everyone wants to be a doctor, and write about immigrating to America. You can’t get in with these cliche applications.”

Crystal Zell, HS2’s assistant director of counseling, urges students to volunteer in poor neighborhoods and find activity other than tennis, taekwondo or chess.

“One parent asked Zell whether it would help to legally change the family name to something more Western-sounding,” reports the Times.

Some Asian-American students have filed lawsuits against colleges that rejected them, but admitted blacks and Latinos with lower grades and test scores.

1-parent families hurt kids, but what can we do?

The sharp rise in single-parent families is linked to a widening education gap, write researchers in Education Next.

Fifty-five percent of black children and 22 percent of whites live in single-parent families.

ednext_XV_2_duncan_fig01-small

What can be done? “Encourage young adults to think more about whether, when, and with whom to have children,” writes Isabel Sawhill, author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage, in Purposeful Parenthood.

Strengthening education and job training so more young men are “marriageable” is important, Sawhill writes. So is persuading young people to plan their futures. “Where long-acting reversible contraceptives (or LARCs) have been made more affordable, and women have been educated about their safety and effectiveness, usage has climbed dramatically and unintended pregnancy rates have fallen sharply,” she writes.

Illustration by Bernard Maisner

Illustration by Bernard Maisner

Sawhill and Brookings’ colleague Ron Haskins have identified the “success sequence” for young people: Earn a high school diploma (or more), work full time and wait till you’re at least 21 and married before having a child. Ninety-eight percent of people who do this will live above the poverty line and almost three-quarters will reach the middle class. Three-quarters of those who miss all three success markers will be poor; almost none will be middle class.

Schools can discourage unwed, unplanned parenthood by providing career training and helping young people develop character traits such as drive and prudence, writes Fordham’s Michael Petrilli in How Can Schools Address America’s Marriage Crisis?

Young men who’d enrolled in “career academies” in high school earned more, worked more and were 33 percent more likely to be married as young adults, notes Petrilli, citing a controlled MDRC study. The effect was especially strong for minority males.