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.”

‘Teacherpreneurs’ — and free e-books

Teacherpreneurs tells the stories of eight classroom teachers who are shaping policies and practices at their schools.  All are members of Center for Teaching Quality’s  Collaboratory.

Download free-e-books: Michael Petrilli’s The Diverse Schools Dilemma and Education Reform for the Digital Era are available.

Also available as a free download: Mark Schneider’s The Accountability Plateau analyzes No Child Left Behind’s effect on NAEP scores (math achievement is up) and warns that gains may be leveling off.

Minority gains ended in Obama era

Racial/ethnic achievement gaps were narrowing, till the Obama administration waived and weakened No Child Left Behind, writes Paul Peterson, who directs Harvard’s program on Education Policy and Governance, in a Wall Street Journal commentary.

During the Clinton-Bush era (1999 to 2008), white 9-year-olds gained 11 points in math, African-American student performance rose by 13 points and Hispanic student performance leaped by 21 points. In reading, the gains by white 9-year-olds went up seven points, black performance jumped by 18 points and Hispanic student achievement climbed 14 points.

For the first nine years, the average annual gains were six points for African-Americans, five points for Hispanics and three points for whites.

In 2008, President Obama campaigned against No Child Left Behind’s testing and accountability provisions, writes Peterson. Once elected, he “halted enforcement of most of No Child’s key provisions and offered waivers to states that signed up for more lenient rules devised by the Education Department.”

Between 2008-12, gains by African-Americans at age 9 were just two points in each subject, while Hispanics gained one point in reading and nothing in math. Whites gained one point in reading and two points in math.

The racial achievement gap has widened slightly.

Now, “the Obama administration, teachers unions and some Republicans are joining forces to gut core provisions” of No Child Left Behind, which is up for reauthorization, writes Peterson.

The latest bill promoted by the Senate education committee calls for testing but allows states to let students submit “portfolios” or “projects” in lieu of the standardized tests required by the original law.

He has more in Education Next.

The Obama administration isn’t “serious” about passing a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act to replace No Child Left Behind, even though Sen. Tom Harkin’s bill is “close to the administration’s vision,” writes Alyson Klein on Ed Week‘s Politics K-12. “With waivers in place in 39 states and the District of Columbia, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is instead spending his time and effort on prekindergarten, a policy that probably has even less of a shot in a Congress bent on cracking down on spending.”

GOP-only No Child rewrite passes House

House Republicans have passed a No Child Left Behind revision called the Student Success Act — with no Democratic support, reports Education Week.  Schools would have to test students and report scores by subgroups, such as English Learners, special education students and low-income students. However, “states and school districts would get a lot more say on how they hold schools accountable” for students’ progress.

That has advocates for some school districts (including the American Association of School Administrators) pretty happy. But civil rights organizations, the business community, and urban districts are not on board. More on what’s in the bill and who likes and hates the bill here.

The Student Success Act no longer requires school districts to use student outcomes to measure teacher effectiveness. Now it’s optional.

The bill “walks away from low-income students and students of color and threatens to wipe away 40 years of educational progress,” charges Education Trust.

Bipartisan compromise is very unlikely. The likelihood of reauthorization before 2015 is roughly 2 to 3 percent, estimates Rick Hess.

Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s “completely partisan and very different” NCLB rewrite passed the Senate Education Committee with no Republican support, notes Ed Week.  Furthermore, “it’s unclear if the Obama administration, which has its own waiver plan, even wants a reauthorization.”

Duncan delays teacher accountability

“In what some see as a tacit recognition of the Obama administration’s overreach into nitty-gritty management of America’s schools, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will give states a reprieve from certain aspects of teacher evaluations’ consequences and the new wave of testing tied to the Common Core,” reports Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post.

Duncan said Tuesday he will give “some flexibility” in when states with No Child Left Behind waivers start “using student growth data for high-stakes decisions.” The first two groups of waiver states will have an extra year, until the academic year 2016-2017, before they must use teacher evaluations to make personnel decisions.

The U.S. Senate and House are holding hearings on “dueling bills” to revise No Child Left Behind. There’s little hope of replacing rule by waiver with a “coherent law,” writes Resmovits.

States must still evaluate teachers, at least in part by their students’ academic progress.

An Education Department memo obtained by HuffPost states explicitly that “there will be no pause or moratorium in rollout of standards, assessments, and teacher leader evaluation … or in accountability … because the need for these changes is too urgent.” But given the changes, “it is crucial that teachers and principals are well prepared for this shift.”

Teachers will receive low ratings if their students show too little growth on the standardized exams, but cannot be fired for those ratings within the year of reprieve.

Duncan also said states piloting new exams won’t have to give the old exams too in 2013-14. Without “double testing,” schools could be held to different standards in the same year.

State achievement gap grows

“There has been surprising progress in educating disadvantaged students” since No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed in 2002, but some states are doing much better than others, according to The New State Achievement Gap: How Waivers Could Make It Worse – Or Better, a new Education Sector report.

The state achievement gap is growing. High-performing states are adopting robust reform plans in exchange for federal waivers from NCLB, while low-performing states are doing the minimum, such as signing on to Common Core standards, the report finds.

“We now have hard evidence that states have exacerbated differences in the achievement of disadvantaged students, with the guidance of ESEA,” say authors John Chubb and Constance Clark. “We also know that some states, both richer and poorer, are doing very good things for students in need. Washington should be investing time and money in understanding what is actually working and using that knowledge to write a new ESEA based on hard evidence and not political expedience.”

Accountability light and lighter

Sen. Tom Harkin and the Democrats have proposed a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind). So have Sen. Lamar Alexander the the Republicans. Both “move away from the strong federal accountability system at the center of the much-maligned NCLB law, but to different degrees,” reports Ed Week.

The Harkin bill would require states to create accountability systems that essentially build on the administration’s waivers (which are in place in 37 states plus D.C. so far), meaning that states would have to set goals for student achievement and come up with some sort of system to help turn around the schools that are struggling the most. The Alexander bill, on the other hand, would continue to require states to test in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but the senator is counting on transparency to be the main lever for school improvement. And under the Harkin bill, schools would be on the hook for helping the bottom five percent turn around—plus fixing another 10 percent of schools with big achievement gaps. There’s nothing like that in the Alexander bill . . .

Harkin wants teachers to be evaluated based on student achievement with the results used to ensure that low-performing schools get an “equitable” share of high-quality teachers. The Alexander bill eliminates the provision on “highly qualified” teachers and leaves teacher evaluation to the states.

The House Republicans don’t agree: Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education committee, wants to mandate teacher evaluation. He introduced his ESEA reauthorization bill today.

Alexander also would let “federal Title I dollars follow a child to any public school they want, but not to a private school or for outside options like tutoring,” writes Klein. And the Alexander bill specifically forbids the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring districts to adopt certain tests, standards, or accountability systems.

Harkin claims to be ending federal “micromanaging” of schools and offering states “flexibility.”

That’s laughable, writes Mike Petrilli on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.  He lists 40 policy questions that Harkin’s bill decides, ranging from “equitable distribution of quality teachers” to collaboration time for teachers in low-performing schools.

School report cards must include  (“detailed data on the number of pregnant or parenting students and their outcomes,” data on “school violence, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, in-school student suspensions, out-of-school student suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools), and student detentions” for each subgroup, etc.)

Fordham favors “reform realism” about the limits of federal power. On Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle calls that “mushy.” He thinks both bills are “lackluster.” But, at least, Harkin is trying to hold schools accountable.

States would still have to provide data on how districts and schools are helping poor and minority children, keeping one of the most successful aspects of No Child’s accountability provisions. States would also have to provide families with an “equity report card” complete with data on how well districts are doing in providing comprehensive college preparatory courses – including Advanced Placement classes – to all kids; this would make data easily accessible to families so they can make smarter decisions and be lead decision-makers in education.

But Harkin repeats the Obama administration’s error of focusing on the worst-performing schools and letting the rest off the hook, Biddle writes.

Neither bill will pass, nor will there be “anything even resembling a compromise, anytime ever until there are new folks in Congress (and maybe a new president),” writes Alyson Klein. That means rule by waivers will continue.

Empowering the best, testing the rest

How can we “create an accountability system that empowers excellent educators to create top-notch schools while ensuring a basic level of quality for everyone?” asks Fordham’s Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

Petrilli once believed that “educator autonomy, plus parental choice, would lead us to the Promised Land.”  At Fordham, which embraced “let a thousand flowers bloom,” he helped plant a few charters in Dayton, Ohio. The “flowers that turned out to be, err, more like skunk cabbage.”

Empowering educators was necessary, but not sufficient, he concluded.

You can’t just empower anyone—you have to empower a team of people who actually know what they are doing. And these people, collectively, must have the capacity to run a great school. They need to have a coherent pedagogical vision, know how to build a curriculum, know how to create a positive school culture, know how to build and follow a sensible budget, know how to put reasonable “internal controls” in place, know how to recruit a great staff, and on and on. These people, it turns out, are scarcer than I had realized at age 22.

And then you have to hold these schools accountable for getting strong results with kids.

The charter movement started with the idea that each school would commit to the results it would achieve, customizing the metrics to the school’s goals, writes Petrilli. In response to No Child Left Behind, charter leaders agreed to take the same exams and be judged by test scores like other public schools.

Petrilli suggests keeping testing and accountability as the default system, but with better standards and tests.

Students are tested annually; schools are held accountable for making solid progress from September to June, with greater progress expected for students who are further behind. States and districts give these schools lots of assistance—with curriculum development, teacher training, and the like. Such a default system won’t lead to widespread excellence, but it will continue to raise the floor so that the “typical” school in America becomes better than it is today.

All public schools—district and charter—could opt out by proposing a different set of accountability measures that might reflect the long-term success of their graduates or the willingness to face school “inspections.”