Meet the new teacher, Uncle Sam

President Obama has waived No Child Left Behind requirements for 10 states ”in exchange for embracing the Obama administration’s educational agenda,” reports the New York Times.

Education Trust analyzes what each state promised to earn a waiver, highlighting the best and “most worrisome” ideas.

Obama and Duncan Waive Goodbye to Systemic Reform, headlines RiShawn Biddle, who objects to putting low-income, minority, disabled and non-fluent student  in one high-needs subgroup.

States had to jump through a lot of hoops to get very limited flexibility, writes Rick Hess.

The U.S. Department of Education could be violating federal law by using Race to the Top to push Common Core Standards, argues The Road to a National Curriculum (pdf), sponsored by the Pioneer Institute, the Federalist Society, the American Principles Project, and the Pacific Research Institute of California.

By law, the department is barred from “directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials.”

Lance Izumi piles on in Obama’s Education Takeover.

It’s time to reboot the ever-growing federal role in education argues Choice and Federalism by the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education: States should be free of federal constraints as long as they provide information on school performance and let parents choose their children’s schools.

The federal government has three critical responsibilities, the task force concluded:

creating and disseminating information on school performance, enforcing civil rights, and providing financial support to high-need students via “backpack” funding attached to individual pupils.

“Today, Washington is stuck in an education policy rut,” said task force chairman Chester E. Finn Jr. “On one side we find those who would simply let states do whatever they like with the federal dollars. On the other side are those who want the federal government to tighten the centrally prescribed accountability screws even harder. This debate is going nowhere, as is evident from Congress’s multiyear failure to reauthorize what just about everyone agrees is a badly flawed law.”

Who writes the tests?

“Proponents of national benchmarks seem to think that they’ll be the ones writing them,” notes Marcus A. Winters in No State Left Behind in City Journal.

Bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Education will have other ideas. So will congressmen from lower-achieving states, which won’t want to be embarrassed by a national proficiency standard that their students can’t reach. Since any system of setting a common standard—either by federal mandate or voluntary state agreement—depends on the cooperation of lousy performers like Georgia, it’s hard to see how a demanding national standard would survive the political process. Similarly, if the NAEP became an enforceable national benchmark, pressure would grow to make it easier.

Winters proposes amending No Child Left Behind to encourage states to set high standards backed by a challenging test.

Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuk looks at teaching common s standards and writing and scoring the tests.

Most experts in the testing community have presumed that the $350 million promised by the U.S. Department of Education to support common assessments would promote those that made greater use of open-ended items capable of measuring higher-order critical-thinking skills.

. . . The issues now on the table include the added expense of those items, as well as sensitive questions about who should be charged with the task of scoring them and whether they will prove reliable enough for high-stakes decisions.

To save the cost of human scorers and speed  turnaround time, testing companies are experimenting with software that scores open-ended responses.  Are we going to let high-stakes tests be scored by robots?

Quality Counts

Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report focuses on the national debate on common academic standards.

. . . Quality Counts 2010 assigns state grades in four of the report’s six indicator categories updated for this edition: the teaching profession; standards, assessments, and accountability; school finance; and the Chance-for-Success Index, which was created by the EPE Research Center to assess the role of education at key stages of a person’s life, from early childhood to adulthood.

The report also includes a Math Progress Index on how well students are learning math in different states. Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire do the best.

The state rankings are the most controversial part of the report. The report’s Chance-for-Success Index is misleading, argues Margaret Raymond and the CREDO team on Education Next.

The index combines indicators related to family background, wealth, education levels, and employment with schooling measures, including kindergarten enrollment and selected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores. The 13 components of success are identified in the sidebar. Not all of these have a clear relationship to postsecondary success, and several are beyond the control of state policymakers.

CREDO used the education data to devise its own success index, which excludes family factors. “Success” was defined as the percentage of young adults 18 to 24 who are working full-time, pursuing a college degree or on active military service.

Five indicators have a clear bearing on education outcomes: preschool enrollment, kindergarten enrollment, 4th-grade reading, 8th-grade mathematics, and high school graduation.

The new index changed the state rankings significantly.  While it provides a better look at states’ public education systems, the best index would measure “how well states and schools did, given their demography,” Raymond writes.

Education Gadfly also criticizes the methodology, but calls Quality Counts “the closest thing we have to a comprehensive annual report card on American K-12 education.”