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.

Common tests lose support

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are moving forward on Common Core Standards, but support for common testing is eroding, reports StateImpact.

Georgia will use its own exam, instead of the costlier test developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Two of Florida’s top elected leaders want Florida to leave PARCC, even though Florida is the fiscal agent for the testing consortium.

Already Alabama, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have left the consortium. Oklahoma plans to design its own test, and Indiana isn’t participating in PARCC governing board meetings right now. State education officials say they’re waiting until after a mandatory legislative review of the Common Core academic standards.

That brings the number of states participating in PARCC down to 18 plus the District of Columbia.

Pennsylvania, Utah and Alabama quit the other testing group, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which now has 24 members. (Some states had joined both groups.)

The crumbling of the testing consortia is a “disaster,” writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper.

At this point, I won’t be surprised if we end up with 20 or more different testing systems in 2014–15. So much for commonness, so much for comparability. Rigor and alignment with tough standards are likely the next to fall.

Blinded by “technocratic hubris,” common assessment advocates “underestimated how difficult it would be to undo decades of state policy and practice on tests,” writes Smarick. Governors and state chiefs will be reluctant to spend lots of money for a testing system that will make their schools and teachers look bad, he predicted six months ago.

The Common Core sky isn’t falling, responds Checker Finn, also a Fordhamite. This is “right sizing.”

The forty-five-state thing was always artificial, induced by Race to the Top greed and perhaps a crowd mentality. Never in a million years were we going to see forty-five states truly embrace these rigorous academic expectations for their students, teachers, and schools, meet all the implementation challenges (curriculum, textbooks, technology, teacher prep, etc.), deploy new assessments, install the results of those assessments in their accountability systems, and live with the consequences of zillions of kids who, at least in the near term, fail to clear the higher bar.

It’s “better for states to drop out in advance than to fake it, pretending to use the Common Core standards but never really implementing them,” Finn writes. “That’s long-standing California-style behavior (fine standards, wretched implementation), in contrast with Massachusetts-style behavior (exemplary standards and serious implementation—and results to show for it).”

Most of the drop-out states will keep the standards, but write their own tests or sign up with ACT. They’ll give comparability, “one of the major benefits of commonality,” Finn writes. Some may change their minds later “or face up to the fact that (like Texas and Virginia) they don’t really want to use the Common Core at all.”

Common Core backlash

Indiana will “pause” implementation of Common Core standards for more state review, if Gov. Mike Pence signs a bill on his desk. It’s not clear how state Superintendent Glenda Ritz will interpret the legislation, writes Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star.  The State Board of Education is “deeply committed to Common Core,” but the governor will be appointing new board members this summer.

The backlash against the new standards is a national phenomenon, reports the Washington Post. Some state legislators are worried about the costs, which could add up to $12 billion a year. Others say teachers don’t have the training and resources they need.

Conservatives say “Obamacore” amounts to a national curriculum. Using federal Race to the Top grants to pressure states to adopt Common Core has backfired.

New standards will mean lower test scores — and more testing for many students.

Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers and a strong  Common Core supporter, called for  a “mid-course correction” this week. “The Common Core is in trouble,” she said. “There is a serious backlash in lots of different ways, on the right and on the left.”

AFT’s proposed testing moratorium is a triangulation strategy, writes Dropout Nation.

Testing fights are nothing new

Testing controversies didn’t start with No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top, writes William J. Reese, an education history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the New York Times. “Members of the Boston School Committee fired the first shots in the testing wars in the summer of 1845.”

Many Bostonians smugly assumed that their well-funded public schools were the nation’s best.

. . . Citizens were in for a shock. For the first time, examiners gave the highest grammar school classes a common written test, conceived by a few political activists who wanted precise measurements of school achievement. The examiners tested 530 pupils — the cream of the crop below high school. Most flunked. Critics immediately accused the examiners of injecting politics into the schools and demeaning both teachers and pupils.

In 1837, education reformer Horace Mann, the “father of the common school,” became secretary of the newly created Massachusetts Board of Education, which was “part of the Whig Party’s effort to centralize authority and make schools modern and accountable,”  writes Reese. “After a fact-finding trip abroad, Mann claimed in 1844 in a nationally publicized report that Prussia’s schools were more child-friendly and superior to America’s.” (Prussia was the Finland of the mid-19th century!)

Mann’s friend Samuel Gridley Howe, was elected to the School Committee. As a member of the examining committee, he insisted on written rather than oral tests.

His committee arrived at Boston’s grammar schools with preprinted questions, which angered the masters and terrified students. Pupils had one hour to write down their answers on each subject to questions drawn from assigned textbooks.

Only 30 percent passed. It turned out that students had “memorized material they often did not understand,” Reese writes.

 The examiners believed that the teacher made the school, a guiding assumption in the emerging ethos of testing. Tests, they said, would identify the many teachers who emphasized rote instruction, not understanding. They named the worst ones and called for their removal.

. . . Anticipating an angry reaction from parents, Mann told Howe to deflect criticism from the examiners by blaming the masters for low scores. While the School Committee fired a few head teachers, parents nevertheless accused Howe of deliberately embarrassing the pupils and bounced him out of office in the next election.

Testing continued. Examiners caught one master leaking questions to students. They criticized a school for black students for low expectations and performance. They worried about how to evaluate school quality.

 “Comparison of schools cannot be just,” the chairman of the examining committee wrote in 1850, “while the subjects of instruction are so differently situated as to fire-side influence, and subjected to the draw-backs inseparable from place of birth, of age, of residence, and many other adverse circumstances.”

The history is “eerily familiar,” writes Reese, author of Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History.

Why there’s a Common Core backlash

In response to a conservative defense of Common Core Standards, Heritage fellow Lindsey M. Burke describes the conservative backlash on National Review Online.

The federal government has spent billions to move Common Core forward, and it has put billions more on the line. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, tea-party activists, and governors have every reason to believe Common Core represents major, unprecedented federal intervention into education.

In theory, Common Core is a state initiative. But the Obama administration has pushed states to adopt the new standards, Burke writes.

Washington is financing the two national testing consortia that are creating the Common Core assessments. Lawmakers have tied $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants to the adoption of standards similar to those found in a significant number of states, and they’ve made the adoption of Common Core a major factor in securing a No Child Left Behind waiver. And now, they have established a technical-review panel to work with the testing consortia on item design and validation.

For an undertaking that claims to be largely free of federal involvement, Common Core has quite a few federal fingerprints on it.

Many parents and teachers share an “understandable fear” that “the federal government is on the brink of dictating the content taught in every school,” Burke concludes.

I wish the feds had allowed Common Core to remain a state effort.

Obama: Educate for high-tech economy

High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.

Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. (The sinister Gates Foundation has been a major funder of dual enrollment.) Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.

“A Race to the Top-style grant program for high school curriculum” may raise hackles, notes Ed Week. Conservatives — and some liberals — are unhappy with the administration’s use of funding power to push states to adopt Common Core standards, which was supposed to be a state initiative.   Now Obama’s admitting that’s what Race to the Top did and asking for more money and power over curriculum.

Superintendent: Don’t test for 3 years

Schools need time to implement Common Core standards, so declare a three-year moratorium on federally required testing, proposes Joshua P. Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, in a Washington Post op-ed.

If we are serious about realizing the promise of the Common Core, we must allow our school districts to focus on the important work of curriculum and assessment development, implementation and professional development.

Most U.S. public school systems are attempting to implement at least three things at once right now: revamped accountability measures, reforms as part of the federal Race to the Top program and the Common Core State Standards. This is simply too much at one time.

“School districts are not investing in new curricula, assessments, professional development or data systems” because they’re so distracted by testing, Starr argues.

I think his real concern is to derail value-added teacher evaluation plans.

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not “loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

– 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

– 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

– 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

Politics and the Chicago teachers’ strike

Teacher evaluation — what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on students’ improvement on tests? — is at the heart of the Chicago strike, writes Marc Tucker, looking at the politics. The city wants a higher number than the one set by state law. And why did Illinois require the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers? It wanted to please Arne Duncan to get Race to the Top money.

The very policy that the teachers are most furiously opposed to is not just Rahm Emanuel’s policy.  It is core Obama administration policy.  The mayor is carrying the water for the Obama administration’s education reform strategy, and, in doing so, may be undermining the very reelection effort to which the mayor is personally very committed.

. . .  The administration has ardently and successfully advocated a reform agenda that teachers and their unions see as anti-teacher.  They have been successful in this advocacy because a tough-minded stance on teacher evaluations is one of only a tiny handful of issues on which the administration can find common ground with Republicans around the country.

President Obama has taken no position on the strike, notes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

“The president has said what’s appropriate to be said, that this is a local issue,” (American Federation of Teachers president Randi) Weingarten said.

. . .  I overheard the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers telling the striking teachers that he’d removed his “Reelect Obama” lapel pin.

After vehemently endorsing the Wisconsin teachers’ union’s fight with Gov. Scott Walker, Weingarten “has been careful to not embrace her Chicago chapter too closely,” writes Rick Hess in a New York Daily News op-ed. There’s been no fiery rhetoric this time.

What’s different is that this is a bad fight for the teacher unions – most of the public, seeing the facts, will not be on their side – it comes at an awful time, and an ugly defeat could be a crushing blow.

The district is opening more “Children First” centers to provide games, arts and crafts and recreation for children and expanding to normal school hours, reports Sawchuk.

It’s about power, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. “The unions are feeling whipsawed by tectonic shifts that have occured within the Democratic Party in recent years.”

There’s talk the strike could be settled soon — perhaps soon enough to start classes on Monday. Striking teachers are planning what to tell their students, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Christopher Barker, who teaches math and humanities at an elementary school, said he’ll ask students. “Is there anywhere that you go in life when you do have to speak up for yourself when there’s a perceived injustice?”

Donielle Lawson, who teaches special education at an alternative high school at Cook County Jail, also plans to discuss the strike. “They’re all too familiar with bullying and societal injustices, so it would be a very easy conversation with them,” Lawson said.

Dem platform lauds new standards, skips RTTT

The Democratic platform hails Common Core State Standards, allegedly a bipartisan state initiative, as an Obama administration achievement, notes Ed Week’s Politics K-12. Race to the Top, the administration’s signature education initiative, isn’t mentioned by name.

Republican convention-goers already fear “Obama Core” is “being used by the president to take over the nation’s educational system,” writes Andrew Ujufusa.

Not surprisingly, the platform praises teachers.

The party notes that Obama has acted to “save” more than 400,000 educator jobs, and that he wants to prevent even more layoffs while also “rewarding great teachers.” This is an apparent reference to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (known as the stimulus) as well as the Education Jobs Fund.

On the subject of evaluations, it tip-toes around sensitive issues (read: low-performing teachers who get fired) with the following language: “We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom.”

The platform also praises the government takeover of college loans, the increase in Pell Grants for low- and moderate-income students and Obama’s threat to reduce their federal aid to colleges that fail to control costs and double work-study jobs.

Montana Superintendent Denise Juneau, who didn’t apply for a NCLB waiver, was given a speaking slot. Though otherwise obscure, she’s a Native American.

Ed Week rounds up the education talk in the first-night speeches. President Obama is responsible for a low-performing Massachusetts K-8 school lengthening its school day (state funding) and using experiential learning, said Gov. Deval Patrick.

“Today’s Republicans and their nominee for president tell us that those 1st graders are on their own: on their own to deal with poverty, with ill-prepared young parents … with a job market that needs skills they don’t have, with no way to pay for college,” Patrick said.

I’m not surprised they don’t have job skills. They’re in first grade, for pete’s sake!