Lance Izumi talks about Obama’s Education Takeover in the Opinion Journal.
Lance Izumi talks about Obama’s Education Takeover in the Opinion Journal.
In its zeal to push Common Core Standards on all the states, Arne Duncan’s Education Department is “pretending that three laws do not mean what they clearly say,” writes columnist George Will. He cites the Pioneer Institute’s report, The Road to a National Curriculum, by three former department officials.
The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act – No Child Left Behind is its ninth iteration – said “nothing in this act” shall authorize any federal official to “mandate, direct, or control” a state’s, local educational agency’s or school’s curriculum.
The General Education Provisions Act of 1970 stipulates that “no provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize” any federal agency or official “to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials” by “any educational institution or school system.”
The 1979 law establishing the Education Department forbids it from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” or “program of instruction” of any school or school system. The ESEA as amended goes further: No funds provided to the Education Department “may be used…to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in” grades K-12.
The department has used Race to the Top funding and No Child Left Behind waivers to pressure states to adopt the new standards, the Pioneer report charges. The effect will be a national curriculum.
“As the regulatory state’s micromanagement of society metastasizes, inconvenient laws are construed — by those the laws are supposed to restrain — as porous and permissive, enabling the executive branch to render them nullities,” Will concludes.
Update: When South Carolina legislators considered rescinding the state’s adoption of Common Core Standards, Duncan blasted the idea. He drew a lot of flak for that. In response to Utah’s threatened withdrawal, he wrote a letter agreeing that it’s the state’s decision.
Obama’s Education Record includes some success stories — and soft spots, write Mike Petrilli and Tyson Eberhardt in Education Next.
His Race to the Top (RttT) initiative catalyzed a chain reaction of legislative action at the state level, securing key reforms on issues ranging from charter schools to teacher evaluations to rigorous standards. His stimulus and “edujobs” bills seemed to maintain a critical level of investment in the public schools during a time of difficult budget cuts and financial strain. His administrative action to provide flexibility on No Child Left Behind’s most onerous provisions bypassed a paralyzed Congress and partially fulfilled his campaign promise to lift the law’s yoke off the backs of decent but maligned schools. . . .
. . . both the Common Core State Standards effort and the move toward rigorous teacher evaluations could lead to dramatic increases in student achievement, if implemented faithfully by states and school districts. Neither of these reforms would have been adopted so quickly, in so many places, were it not for the president’s leadership.
But the stimulus wasted a lot of money, they write. Race to the Top states have back-pedaled on reforms.
And Washington keeps tightening the screws on the states, while promising flexibility. Race to the Top required states to “develop plans that complied with federal guidelines set forth in excruciating detail.” No Child Left Behind waivers required more hoop jumping. Now the Education Department has declared that “a disproportionate percentage of white students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes constitutes evidence of racial discrimination.”
“Obama and Duncan have been good on education reform” compared to their Democratic predecessors, write Petrilli and Eberhardt. But “the administration deserves to be pressed on the cost-effectiveness of its education system bailouts, on the results of its Race to the Top initiative, and on the wisdom of its approach to federalism and separation of powers.”
Race to the Top winners are veering off the reform track, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on states to make good on their commitments under its Race to the Top competition, after all 12 winners either scaled down plans or pushed back timelines to overhaul their public-education systems.
Hawaii, which has delayed almost every part of its reform plan, could lose its $75 million grant, the Education Department warns. The state has been unable to reach a deal with the teachers’ union.
The Education Department has approved scores of waiver requests, including allowances for Massachusetts to delay plans to develop online courses for teacher mentors and for Rhode Island to push back plans to open more charter schools. Some states, including Florida, got sidetracked by overly optimistic target dates to hire contractors for developing student data systems or to create mathematical formulas for linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Tennessee is pushing ahead with a plan to link teacher evaluations to value-added data on their students’ progress, despite complaints that the system makes no sense for teachers in untested subjects and grades. A few “tweaks” will fix the problems, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.
Why wait for 2012, when Rick Hess has the top Ten Edu-Stories We’ll Be Reading in the new year?
Among his headlines of the future: “GOP presidential nominee abandons primary season attacks on Department of Education; talks up education reform in push for moderates.” Meanwhile, Republicans will feud over Common Core standards, he predicts.
Despite doubts about Race to the Top’s implementation, ”Obama campaign makes Race to the Top, push on college affordability a centerpiece in effort to woo suburban swing voters.”
Hess also foresees a backlash against aggressive anti-bullying campaigns after elementary school boys are suspended for tussling and name-calling. (Think zero tolerance.)
Rewriting No Child Left Behind will be left till 2013, he predicts.
Finally: “Mixed results for the Khan Academy‘s ‘flipped’ classroom lead some educators and policymakers to worry that the model doesn’t work for kids who don’t do the requisite work at home. One expert notes, ‘The kids who didn’t do their reading or homework before are the same kids who aren’t viewing their lessons and lectures now.’”
It’s not quite the lion lying down the lamb, but Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford ed professor who served on Obama’s transition team, have co-written a New York Times op-ed, How to Rescue Education Reform. They disagree on some key issues, but agree that the federal government should stick to what it alone can do and avoid trying to micromanage schools.
The first federal role is transparency: No Child Left Behind required states to measure and report achievement, so parents, voters and taxpayers could “hold schools and public officials accountable.” However, states were allowed to set their own, low standards.
Instead of the vague mandate of “adequate yearly progress,” federal financing should be conditioned on truth in advertising — on reliably describing achievement (or lack thereof) and spending. To track achievement, states should be required to link their assessments to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (or to adopt a similar multistate assessment). To shed light on equity and cost-effectiveness, states should be required to report school- and district-level spending; the resources students receive should be disclosed, not only their achievement.
The second federal role is “enforcing civil rights laws and ensuring that dollars intended for low-income students and students with disabilities are spent accordingly.”
Third is supporting basic research in fields such as “brain science, language acquisition or the impact of computer-assisted tutoring.”
Competitive federal grants can support innovation, they conclude. However, the “Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition . . . ended up demanding that winning states hire consultants to comply with a 19-point federal agenda, rather than truly innovate.”
The feds should stop trying to improve schools by order from above, write Hess and Darling-Hammond. “The federal government can make states, localities and schools do things — but not necessarily do them well.”
Schizophrenic, responds RiShawn Biddle.
The odd couple call adequate yearly progress a “vague mandate,” but elsewhere complain it’s too prescriptive, writes Andrew Rotherham. The left and right are uniting to kill education reform, he adds in Time.
Hundreds of New York principals are protesting plans to use test scores to evaluate principals and teachers, reports the New York Times. To qualify for Race to the Top funds, the state put together a new evaluation system.
Their complaints are many: the evaluation system was put together in slapdash fashion, with no pilot program; there are test scores to evaluate only fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and New York tests are so unreliable that they had to be rescaled radically last year, with proficiency rates in math and English dropping 25 percentage points overnight.
Delaware, one of the first states to get Race to the Top funds, also has rushed through “ludicrous initiatives,” writes Hube at The Colossus of Rhodey.
Administrators, who’ve evaluated countless teachers through the years, are required to attend “training” sessions to … evaluate teachers.
Teachers will support a fair evaluation system, he writes.
. . . why not take a few master teachers from each subject area and pay them to, say, three times a year visit the classrooms of district teachers for the latter’s evaluations? . . . not only would these evaluators be experienced teachers, they also know the subject area as well. . . . I bet this idea’d be a heck of a lot cheaper.
Teachers and their unions should rethink their lockstep support of Democrats, Hube writes. “George W. Bush was blasted by these folks for No Child Left Behind, but Obama’s initiative is NCLB on steroids.”
An early Race to the Top winner, Tennessee is requiring schools to evaluate teachers by value-added test scores and principal observations. The new evaluation system is complex, confusing and a huge time suck for principals, reports the New York Times.
Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.
The state is tweaking rules to cut principals’ paperwork burden. But principals complain it’s not enough.
. . . (Principal Will) Shelton is required to have a pre-observation conference with each teacher (which takes 20 minutes), observe the teacher for a period (50 minutes), conduct a post-observation conference (20 minutes), and fill out a rubric with 19 variables and give teachers a score from 1 to 5 (40 minutes).
He must have copies of his evaluations ready for any visit by a county evaluator, who evaluates whether Mr. Shelton has properly evaluated the teachers.
Shelton must observe his 65 teachers four times a year, whether they’re his best or weakest staffers.
The formula—in what is called a “value-added” model—tries to determine a teacher’s effect on a student’s FCAT performance by predicting what that student should score in a given year, and then rating the teacher on whether the student hits, misses or surpasses the mark.
But (calculus teacher Orlando) Sarduy, like thousands of other Florida teachers, doesn’t even teach a subject assessed by the FCAT. So his value-added score will not come from his math teaching or his particular students. Instead, it will be tied to the FCAT reading score of his entire school in South Dade—a notion that infuriates him, even though he appreciates the level of objectivity the new system brings, and the ways it strives to isolate a teacher’s impact on student learning.
Some performance-pay experiments have rewarded teachers and support staff for improvements in the whole school, rather than trying to measure each person’s contribution. The idea is that everydone does their bit in raising those reading scores, including the music teacher and the janitor. But when the stakes are high, people want to be rated on measures they control. And it’s hard work to evalute teachers fairly.
Good riddance to new national standards, writes Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who’s a centrist voice in the education debate. Common Core Standards, adopted by more than 40 states and pushed by the Education Department, “won’t help and won’t work,” Mathews argues.
Such specific standards stifle creativity and conflict with a two-century American preference for local decision-making about schools.
. . . We should focus on better teaching methods and better training of teachers, as well as school structures that help educators work more as teams. Those teachers could then employ whatever methods and standards make sense for their students.
Mathews was persuaded the national standards movement will collapse by reading Jay Greene, who argues that neither the states nor the feds can afford “a ton of money” to change curriculum, testing and teaching to make standards meaningful. Not even the Gates Foundation can afford it, Greene writes.
(Greene) says the digital learning industry, a growing financial and political force, will soon realize that the new standards will frustrate innovation.
“No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top grants are likely to be the high water mark of federal involvement in schools,” Mathews predicts.
States can borrow good standards from other states without creating one set of standards for everyone, he argues. If the tests developed to go with the new standards “probe conceptual understanding in ways state tests fail to do,” then there will be demand to use those exams.
While recruiting, training and supporting good teachers is important, curriculum isn’t chopped liver. I’d like to see states with good standards stick with what they’ve got, at least until the Common Core Standards and tests prove their worth. But plenty of states have nowhere to go but up.
I’m also not persuaded national standards are doomed. Still, it’s odd that nobody will defend the rigor and quality of Common Core math standards for an Education Next forum. “Common Core advocates seem to have already grown impatient with public give-and-take and eager to declare the issue settled,” writes Rick Hess, who sympathetic but skeptical about the Common Core effort.
Don’t mess with Texas’ schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan claimed Texas schools have “really struggled” under Gov. Rick Perry, now a GOP candidate for president. “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said in a TV interview, adding he feels “very, very badly for the children there.”
Texas’ fourth- and eighth-graders “substantially outperformed” students in Chicago, the district Duncan ran before going to Washington, notes Andrew Rotherham in Time. The Texas high school graduation rate of 73 percent is slightly below the national average, but way above Chicago’s 56 percent graduation rate.
Overall, Texas scores are “right around the national averages” in reading and math on NAEP, despite educating many immigrant students with poorly educated, non-English-speaking parents. ACT reports Texas high school graduates only narrowly trail national averages for college readiness.
Duncan’s response to Rotherham:
“Texas has challenges. The record speaks for itself. Lots of other states have challenges too. But there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done in Texas and a lot of children who need a chance to get a great education.”
Duncan’s claim of “massive increases in class size in Texas” is untrue, responds the Dallas Morning News. Primary classes, capped at 22 students, have remained stable. Secondary classes in core subjects are getting smaller.
. . . secondary math classes averaged 20.3 students in 2000-01 and dropped to 18.5 by last year. Average size of secondary English/language arts classes fell from 20.2 students in 2000-01 to 17.8 by last year.
In an e-mail to Duncan, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott added:
– Texas is ranked 13th in Ed Week’s Quality Counts report. Quality Counts gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in “Transitions and Alignment” of the Texas system with college and career readiness. . .
– The Texas class of 2011 posted a record-high math score on the ACT college entrance exam. The Texas average math score was 21.5 and was higher than the national average of 21.1. ACT scores from 2007 to 2011 showed increases in all four subjects.
Texas fourth- and eighth-graders aced the 2009 NAEP science exam, Scott wrote. In eighth grade, black Texans were first in the nation compared to other blacks, white Texans tied with whites in high-scoring Massachusetts and Hispanics ranked eighth.
Perry has resisted Race To the Top, so perhaps Duncan’s antipathy is all about education policy. But it looks as though the education secretary is playing presidential politics. That’s not the way to build bipartisan consensus.