Study: Post-NCLB, teacher morale is up

The testing-and-accountability era hasn’t turned teachers into “Debbie Downers,” as Education Gadfly puts it.

Teacher job satisfaction has improved since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, according to a new study. Researchers looked at surveys of 140,000 teachers taken before and after 2001.

. . . post-NCLB, teachers are more likely to perceive support from their colleagues, administrators, and parents than prior to the law. The study also found that teachers report a greater sense of “classroom control” (e.g., autonomy over curricula, textbooks, discipline, etc.), greater job satisfaction, and a stronger commitment to the profession.

Researchers compared teachers’ responses in states with accountability regimes prior to NCLB to teachers in states that implemented systems as a result of NCLB.  “The onset of accountability positively impacted teachers’ feelings of classroom control and administrator support,” but had no effect on job satisfaction or commitment.

Illinois sets lower standards for blacks, Latinos

Under a No Child Left Behind waiver, Illinois schools will set lower standards for blacks, Latinos, low-income students and other groups, reports the Chicago Tribune.

For example, while 85 percent of white third- through eighth-grade students will be expected to pass state tests by 2019, the goal is 73 percent for Latinos and 70 percent for black students.

NCLB calls for 100 percent of students to pass reading and math exams this school year. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. “By 2013, almost 85 percent of Illinois schools had received failing labels, including many of the state’s premier high schools,” reports the Tribune.

Since Congress has failed to update the law, the Education Department has given most state waivers. Illinois isn’t the first to set different standards for different student groups.

The lowest 15 percent of struggling schools in Illinois will be targeted for state attention. The six-year goal is to halve the percentage of students and groups who fail reading and math exams.

 Each year, groups will have goals for improving that push them toward their 2019 target. Because groups start at different places, their final targets will be different too. For example, state data provided to the federal government shows the percent of students passing exams in 2019 would range from about 52 to 92 percent, depending on test, grade and student group.

For all students combined, the passing rate would be about 76 to 79 percent in 2019 — lower than the now-infamous 100 percent requirement.

Illinois also will use “supergroups,” lumping together black, Latino and Native American students in the same group rather than looking at their achievement separately.  The Campaign for High School Equity, a coalition of civil rights and education advocacy groups, said supergroups undercut accountability. “This eliminates one of the most important civil rights victories in education law, and returns us to a time where states may not be responsive to the needs of underserved students.”

Under the state’s new policy, districts won’t have to offer tutoring — or transfers — to students in repeatedly failing schools.

Each school will have different achievement goals, so it will be harder for parents to compare schools’ achievement results.

If you like local control, you can (heh) keep it …

The Common Core is a thin end of an enormous wedge of federal power, conservative pundit George Will said on Fox News.

“The advocates of the Common Core say, if you like local control of your schools, you can keep it, period. If you like your local curriculum you can keep it, period, and people don’t believe them for very good reasons,” Will remarked.

With textbooks and the SAT aligned with the Common Core, we’ll have a national curriculum for all states, warns Will.

The U.S. Education Department is demanding that Indiana prove it’s still eligible for a No Child Left Behind waiver after officially dumping the Common Core. Andy Smarick, a Core supporter, fears a backlash against what many will see as federal overreach.

Washington state already has lost its waiver and others could follow, he writes. “That means there will be a stack of letters from Uncle Sam scolding various state leaders about their inadequate fidelity to federal rules related to standards, assessments, educator evaluations, school interventions, and more.”

Achievement gaps narrowed — till 2010

Achievement gaps narrowed under No Child Left Behind — until the Obama administration started handing out waivers, writes Brookings’ Mark Dynarski.

NCLB requires schools to analyze the achievement and progress of subgroups of low-income, black, Hispanic, special education and English Learner students.

. . .  if any subgroup failed to meet its targets for advancing, a school was designated “in need of improvement,” which triggered a set of increasing draconian consequences depending on how long the school remained in that category, e.g., mandatory school restructuring.

Since 2011, 43 states and the District of Columbia have received waivers from NCLB’s provisions. Many have combined subgroup data into a “super subgroup.”

The gap for all subgroups declined steadily throughout the early 2000s, with the largest improvements seen between 2000 and 2002. This progress seemed to slow by 2010, with gaps remaining unchanged or even ticking up slightly for some subgroups since then.

“It is possible waivers may impair equity,” Dynarski concludes.

Poll: Teaching is ‘average’ profession

College students with A or B+ grades see teaching as a low-prestige job for “average” people, according to the National Online Survey of College Students. Education majors are nice, socially conscious people who aren’t very ambitious, said the respondents. Education is one of the easiest majors, they believed.

Despite efforts to recruit top students to teaching, nearly half of American teachers still graduate in the bottom third of their college classes writes Conor Williams on EdCentral. A quarter of teacher preparation programs accept nearly every applicant, and two-thirds of programs have acceptance rates over 50 percent.

Only 17 percent of students surveyed reported that they were “very interested” in teaching, while fully 40 percent weren’t interested at all, writes Williams.

What would make the B+ or better students consider a teaching career? Higher pay for all teachers, higher pay for highly effective teachers and better student loan repayment for teachers.

The report suggests that the Department of Education use NCLB waivers to ensure that all districts “create and implement stratified career ladders and differentiated pay structures that offer the best teachers the opportunity to stay in the classroom while taking on additional responsibility and earning increased autonomy,” writes Williams.

(Successful) students are uninterested in a career with low base compensation and no connection between quality work and salary increases. They’re not attracted to “step and lane” contracts. Maybe there’s room in today’s Overton Window to pay teachers more on the condition that they were also held more responsible for the effects of their work.

Nearly three in four teachers became teachers because they wanted to make a difference in children’s lives and enjoy working with children, according to a University of Phoenix College of Education survey.

‘Test and punish’ threatens Common Core

“When people talk about Common Core, they often mean the high-stakes tests attached to the standards and not the Common Core itself,” says Linda Darling-Hammond in an American Prospect interview, Pencils Out

The tests are a step in the right direction for most states in that they include more open-ended items. In most cases, they include at least one or two performance tasks, which require the kids to take up a problem, do an analysis, write a response, and sometimes revise that response. There’s real engagement in the work.

Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor, is senior research advisor to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing core-aligned tests.

(Under Common Core) students will be asked to collaborate, engage in the use of technologies for multiple purposes, communicate orally and in writing, do extensive research, apply mathematics and English language arts in complex problem-solving situations. The tests are not designed to reach all of those Common Core standards. They tackle the ones that are closest to what traditional sit-down tests can accomplish. Many of the answers will still be close-ended—that is, pick one answer out of five, or drag and drop your answer, or identify it from something that is already provided.

Many high-achieving nations have fewer assessments, says Darling-Hammond. Some use only open-ended questions, such as writing an essay, designing a scientific investigation or inquiring into a social-science problem. 

Only in the U.S. are tests used, without other measures, to decide on promotion, high school graduation and teachers’ pay and employment, says Darling-Hammond.

“To move forward we have to change the accountability paradigm” from “test and punish” to “assess and improve,” she concludes. “If we try to pour the Common Core standards into the old No Child Left Behind accountability framework, it will be like pouring new wine into old bottles.”

Most top-scoring nations give high-stakes “gateway” exams that decide who goes into a college-prep or vocational program and who gets into college, reports NCEE.

2014: It’s time for universal proficiency!

It’s 2014:  All students will be proficient in reading and math, Mike Petrilli reminds us. It’s the law!

Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001–2002 school year, all students in each group described in subparagraph (C)(v) will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement.

– No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, section 1111(2)(F)

The next time someone talks about all students being college and career ready, a highly effective teacher in every classroom or eradicating childhood poverty, remember “universal proficiency by 2014,” Petrilli suggests.

The No Child Left Behind generation — today’s 11th graders started school after the law passed — are doing better he writes. 

NCLB kids were fourth graders in 2007:

Reading scores for the lowest-performing students and for black and Hispanic students all shot up four points (almost half a grade) over 2002’s baseline and math scores went up a whopping five points for all students, for white students, and for Hispanic students over a 2003 baseline, and black scores rocketed an incredible six points.

And in 2011, as eighth graders:

Reading scores for the lowest-performing students and for black students shot up four points over 2007’s baseline, while Hispanic students gained five points, and math scores were up three points over 2007, with Hispanic students gaining five points.

Yet just a third of the NCLB Generation had become proficient readers by the eighth grade. For Blacks and Hispanics, it was 15 and 19 percent, respectively. The results for mathematics were just a few points higher.

Still, these incremental gains add up to about half a year of extra learning, on average, writes Petrilli. That’s not enough, but it’s something.

Next time around, the goals should be high but achievable, writes Petrilli. For example, in the next six years, let’s try to get the national average to the level already achieved by Massachusetts students.

It’s not the white moms, it’s the whitewash

Common Core’s problem isn’t “white suburban moms” who can’t handle high standards, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, writes Eduwonk. It’s not the white moms, it’s the white wash.

Duncan and President Obama told suburban voters their schools were fine, whatever No Child Left Behind might say. Now Duncan is backtracking.

. . . the administration is pretty much fully reactive on K-12 policy now and doesn’t have a forward-looking argument to make about K-12 schools. This lets the Common Core critics have a field day (and they are, even without gaffes that make their job easier). Meanwhile, on the other side Civil Rights groups are increasingly up in arms over the looseness of the No Child Left Behind waiver process and what it means for currently underserved students.

No Child Left Behind, which “told the states to make their own standards more meaningful,” couldn’t overcome political resistance, writes Eduwonk.  Common Core standards are much more ambitious.  “It’s basically like a couple in troubled marriage who decide that since things are not working having a baby is the next logical step.”

Duncan’s No Child waivers let suburban districts hide their inability to educate low-income, black and Latino students, writes Sandy Kress, a NCLB architect, on Dropout Nation.

Core testing: Hold or go?

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com

Pause standardized testing for three years to let schools adjust to Common Core State Standards, argues Joshua Starr, superintendent of schools in high-performing Montgomery County, Maryland.

Testing provides critical information for teachers, administrators and parents, counters Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education and now president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Examining High-Stakes Testing in Education Next has the debate.

“We must build systems of accountability and support that use the right assessments to measure the right things,” writes Starr. “Once the CCSS is fully implemented and the new assessments aligned to these standards have been completed, we can begin to construct a meaningful accountability system that truly supports teaching and learning.”

Spelling responds: “Common Core is pie in the sky unless students meet basic grade-level expectations in reading and math, a goal we have fallen woefully short of meeting to date.”

 But no one has ever demonstrated that mastering grade-level reading and math skills hurts students’ ability to acquire higher-order thinking skills. Nor has anyone shown that state standards in reading and math endanger students’ social and emotional well-being. While the narrowing curriculum rallying cry is popular in opinion surveys, assessments such as NAEP reveal no signs of declining achievement in science or history or any other supposedly “squeezed out” subject.

Spellings suspects “we aren’t serious” about educating all children. While everyone debates “college and career readiness for all,” the “real battle on the ground is whether educators believe schools are capable of or should be expected to help students meet even basic academic standards.” She fears a testing moratorium would become permanent.

Waivers won’t require access to good teachers

No Child Left Behind waivers will be renewed with no rule to ensure low-income and minority students get equal access to effective teachers, reports Politics K-12.

Guidelines released in August required states to use teacher-evaluation data, starting in October, 2015, to see that “poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers,” writes Michele McNeil. The Education Department will drop that rule.

Civil rights groups have fought for better teachers in high-poverty schools. Teachers’ unions have opposed the use of evaluation data to rate teachers.

The timing is bad, writes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat. Two recent students show that “disadvantaged students tend to get weaker instruction and also that it’s really difficult to encourage the best teachers to transfer to low-performing schools.”

The Education Department claims it will deal with the issue next year by putting “teeth” into NCLB. But the law deals only with “inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers,” notes Sawchuk. “The effectiveness language came later and only applied to stimulus funds.”