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?

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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.”

Duncan tells schools how to assign teachers

Uncle Sam shouldn’t try to manage school staffing, writes Rick Hess.

The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking “waivers” from the No Child Left Behind Act’s most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else. In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that “effective” teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.

Arne Duncan, who’s not the school superintendent for the U.S., wants to staff high-poverty schools with more effective teachers, writes Hess. That’s a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t be dictated from Washington.

 Ill-conceived policies might move teachers from schools and classrooms where they are effective to situations when they are less effective. Heavy-handed efforts to reallocate teachers could drive good teachers from the profession. And we are far less able to identify “effective” teachers in any cookie-cutter fashion than federal officials might think.

Some teachers who are effective with easy-to-teach students aren’t effective with hard-to-teach students, Hess points out.

Study: Waivers leave behind at-risk students

“At-risk students could fall through the cracks” as federal waivers let states ignore No Child Left Behind’s accountability rules, according to an analysis by the Campaign for High School Equity.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and a group of California districts have received Education Department waivers.

. . . students who are at the highest risk of dropping out – those from poor families, students whose native language is not English, those with learning disabilities and minority students – are often no longer tracked as carefully as they were before (Arne) Duncan began exempting states from some requirements if they promised to better prepare their students for college or careers.

“It appears to us that waivers could lead to fewer students of color receiving the support they need,” said Rufina Hernandez, executive director for the campaign, a coalition of civil rights groups.

Duncan rules the waives

The Obama administration “waiver gambit” lets states — and now eight CORE districts in California —  “ignore poor and minority kids,” writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The CORE districts’ waiver application doesn’t show how they’ll improve education, he writes, citing the review panel’s criticisms.

Kansas, Oregon, and Washington State — threatened by the feds with losing the waivers –  “are unlikely to implement their proposed reforms,” Biddle writes.

It has also been clear that the administration’s decision to allow states to focus on the worst five percent of schools (along with another 10 percent or more of schools with wide achievement gaps) — and ignore those districts serving up mediocre instruction and curricula — will lead to widening achievement gaps.

The administration could have “worked within the imperfect yet successful accountability framework No Child put in place 11 years ago,” writes Biddle, “if Barack Obama used his bully pulpit and political capital.”

Instead, the CORE, Kansas, Oregon, and Washington State waivers show the administration’s “shoddy and irresponsible” policymaking.

“Education insiders’ ripped the CORE waivers as bad policy, according to Whiteboard Advisers’s survey, reports Politics K-12.

  • “Is there nothing they won’t permit? Why CORE but not Burlington, Vermont? Why push for common standards but permit so much local control in how you collect and use data and what you measure?”
  • “The waiver was not well put together, the process for approval wasn’t transparent, it doesn’t maintain accountability. In other words it does none of the things the Secretary of Education keeps piously saying that the waivers all do.”
  • “Terrible. At this point, the Department is just making things up as they go along. It’s impossible to discern a coherent strategy. [Race to the Top] for states, for districts; waivers for states, for districts. They are leaving federal education policy a complete shambles.

And the ultimate nightmare: “Just imagine what a Republican president will do with this authority and what Arne Duncan as a school leader would have said.”