California stops rating schools by proficiency

California is previewing the new education bill’s shift from federal to state accountability, writes Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Thanks to a No Child Left Behind waiver granted in June, schools are graded on attendance, graduation rates (“inflated by the demise of the exit exam”) and test participation, rather than by English and math proficency. The pressure is off.

For more than a decade, the release of federal scores indicating California public school students’ progress — or lack of it — has incited alarm, anxiety and anguish among educators.

 But when those marks were ever so quietly posted this month, barely anyone noticed. And it seemed few cared. For the first time in years, California schools met federal standards — but only because the yardstick had been replaced with an easier-to-meet measurement.
Some schools were freed from “Program Improvement” status, despite low achievement scores.

Statewide, only 44 percent of California students tested proficient in English, and 33 percent proficient in math.

Program Improvement “doesn’t have the importance it once did,” said Dorothy Abreu-Coito, director of instructional services in the Sunnyvale School District. “We have to jump through a few hoops.”

Ironically, high-performing Palo Alto High failed because too many 11th graders refused to take state standardized tests.

“Some fear that without federally mandated high expectations and demands for transparency, schools will continue to fail poor and minority children, the intended beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind,” writes Noguchi.

“Much of the pushback to NCLB came because the law actually succeeded, in part, at doing what it was intended to do: identify and intervene in schools that were not helping students achieve overall, as well as those with large disparities in outcomes among different student subgroups, and bring urgency to the need to improve,” writes Melissa Tooley in The Atlantic.  “Under ESSA, it’s no more likely that schools will know how to improve.”

Did reform fail in Newark?

School reform failed in Newark, according to most reviewers of Dale Russakoff’s The Prize, writes David Steiner in Education Next. However, the “stubborn facts” in this “compellingly readable book . . . complicate this conclusion out of all recognition.”

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“The combination of an extraordinary (and perhaps extraordinarily naive) 2010 donation of $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, the high-octane political antics of Mayor Cory Booker, and the very dedicated but consultant-reliant and at times tone-deaf district leadership of Cami Anderson converge to create an education drama of the first order,” writes Steiner, who is a John Hopkins education professor.

Five years later, Newark’s district-run schools had improved on some measures, but achievement scores were flat.

However, the city’s expanding charter schools proved to be a “success story,” Steiner writes. “Charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math” per year of schooling compared to similar students in district schools, concluded a 2012 CREDO report. Expanding the city’s charter sector helped many students.

Russakoff praises “public school teachers who kept their heads down and did wonderful work in their classroom,” writes Steiner.

(These teachers) took it upon themselves to glean many lessons from the city’s best charter schools, and found charter school leaders eager to help. They organized themselves as a nonprofit agency through which they raised private money to purchase the rigorous, early literacy program, developed at the University of Chicago for kindergarten through third grade, that was used in the two leading charter networks—the TEAM schools of the national KIPP organization and North Star Academy, a subsidiary of Uncommon Schools.

Ras Baraka, now mayor of Newark, opposed the reforms. But, as principal of a low-performing high school, he “mounted an aggressive turnaround strategy, using some of the instructional techniques pioneered by the reform movement.”

Newark schools have improved, writes Chris Cerf, who was state commissioner of education and is now superintendent of Newark Public Schools. Graduation rates are way up, he writes. “More students attend beating-the-odds schools.”

The Zuckerberg money made a huge difference in Newark, and continues to do so today. Yet The Prize has caused some philanthropists to question additional investments in public education, reading the book as a call to double down on charters since “districts are not fixable.”

School choice is the most powerful tool for change in Newark, writes Rashon Hasan, a school board member, in Education Post.

ESSA passes: Will states step up?

No Child Left Behind is no more. The Every Student Succeeds Act has passed the Senate and House by wide margins. President Obama signed the new education bill today.

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

ESSA guts the “strong accountability provisions that helped spur reforms that have helped more children attain high-quality education than at any other time in the history of American public education,” writes Sandy Kress, who helped write NCLB, on Dropout Nation.

Under ESSA, “schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps” will face no federal consequences, he writes. States and districts will hold themselves accountable for serving all students. Or not.

As seen in TexasCalifornia, and even in strong reform-oriented states such as Indiana and New York, traditionalists have been successful in weakening standards for high school graduation, getting rid of accountability measures, and ditching tests that are key in observing how well schools are serving our children. Opponents of reform have been successful in getting more money for doing less for our students . . .

ESSA stands for Excusing States for Student Abandonment, writes Alan Singer on the Huffington Post.

The bill is “political posturing,” writes Conor Williams. “It combines a thin veneer of civil rights equity with excruciating complexity and uncertain accountability.”

Conservatives should oppose the bill’s “bizarre, unclear federal accountability mandates,” he argues. Progressives should not trust states to hold schools accountable for serving underprivileged and underserved kids.

Endless testing? High stakes? Not really

U.S. schools don’t test as much as people think and the stakes “aren’t really that high,” argues Kevin Huffman, a New America fellow, in a Washington Post commentary.

“In an apparent about-face from his administration’s education policy over the past seven years,” President Obama said last week he wants to “fix” over-testing, writes Huffman. The administration wants to limit testing to 2 percent of classroom time.

Testing averages 1.6 percent of class time, according to a Center for American Progress analysis. In Tennessee, where Huffman was education commissioner, state-mandated tests took seven to 10 hours per student per year, less than 1 percent of class time.

“Where students spend too much time taking tests, local schools and districts — not federal or state policies — tend to be the culprits,” he adds.

Due to federal pressure, more states now evaluate teachers based partially on their students’ test scores. All use “multiple measures” and “nearly all teachers perform at or above expectations.”

When schools are evaluated, “significant interventions” are targeted at the bottom 5 percent of campuses, he writes.

“Many schools spend too much time on mind-numbing test prep, sitting kids at their desks and going over endless multiple-choice questions,” Huffman concedes. There’s little evidence it improves scores.

Duncan will resign as ed secretary


Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan, a member of President Obama’s original Cabinet, will step down as Education secretary in December.

His deputy John B. King, Jr., will replace him.

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

As New York’s state education commissioner, King was a staunch defender of Common Core standards and tests. reported the New York Times. He was shouted down at public forums. The state teachers’ union called for his resignation.

The son of a former principal and a guidance counselor, King grew up in Brooklyn. Both parents died of illness when he was 12.

He was a fourth grader at Public School 276 in Canarsie the year his mother died of heart failure, he told the Times. “His teacher that year, Alan Osterweil, was dynamic and creative, encouraging him to read Shakespeare and memorize the leaders and capital of every country in the world. Later, Celestine DeSaussure, a social studies teacher whom the children called Miss D, made him the sportscaster in a fake Aztec newscast.”

King earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, his master’s in teaching of social studies from Columbia, his law degree from Yale and his education doctorate from Columbia.

He taught social studies, co-founded the high-performing Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston and was a leader at Uncommon Schools, a charter network.

He is married and has two daughters.

Left-wing ‘fundies’ fight reform

Lefties have become education fundamentalists, writes Lynnell Mickelsen on Education Post.  She’s a lefty herself, but she values educating children more than protecting teachers’ unions.

Like the religious right, the teachers’ union and its allies frame issues as either-or, she writes.

Either you support every clause in the union contract or you’re trying to bust the union. Either you support teachers or you’re “bashing” them. Either you support public schools or you want their destruction because that apocalypse is always drawing nigh.

Fundamentalists demonize their opponents: “In the union narrative, ed reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy,” they’re evil “corporatists” trying to “privatize” the schools.

Fundies reject evidence that challenges their world view, writes Mickelsen. Students in New Orleans’  post-Katrina “public charters have made remarkable gains in reading and math scores, high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Yet union leaders and their allies have gone out of their way to deny or dismiss this data.”

Just as right-wing fundamentalists “insist that Marriage Is Between a Man and A Woman . . . teachers’ unions basically insist that Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District,” she writes.

Right now, the public schools that are getting the best results with low-income black and Latino children are mostly charters. But because charter schools are mostly non-union, the teachers’ unions are attempting to limit these schools—even though this would disenfranchise entire groups of children.

Both the teachers’ union and religious conservatives share the same message on racial disparities in achievement, Mickelsen concludes. “Our systems are fine. It’s the brown kids and their parents who are screwed up.”

It’s Time to Get Rid of Education’s Sacred Cows, writes Angela Minnici in Ed Week. These include the idea that “education is local,” that anyone who loves kids can be a good teacher and that U.S. schools traditionally have done well at educating all students.

New Orleans improves — with black teachers

A new generation of black teachers are part of New Orleans’ schools revival, writes Citizen (Chris) Stewart, who grew up in the city and attended neighborhood schools.

The Orleans Parish School Board — not “white school reformers” — put the city’s teachers on unpaid “disaster leave” because the schools were closed, he writes. That enabled teachers to collect unemployment benefits.

When schools reopened, the Recovery School District required that teacher candidates pass a basic skills test. “One third of the returning teachers failed that test,” writes Stewart.

“Veteran” and “experienced” don’t necessarily mean “quality,” he argues.

(Critics say) the fired black teachers “knew the kids” and “were the backbone of the black middle class.”

. . . The children of New Orleans deserve every shot at a good life we can proivde them. We can’t get there by viewing schools as a jobs program for the black bourgeoisie.

. . . Yes, some of the previous NOLA schools had many lovely, dedicated people working hard in a deeply dysfunctional system that blocked them from doing their best work.

At the same time, many others needed to go.

Today,  54 percent of NOLA teachers and 58 percent of RSD school leaders are black, writes Stewart. Blacks make up 59 percent of the city’s population.

“Great black school leaders and educators are working hard in a new system with many hopeful new possibilities,” he concludes. This time, growth of the black middle class is linked to “academic results for poor black children.”

Education Week‘s excellent series, The Re-Education of New Orleans, includes an interview with a veteran teacher who wasn’t rehired after Katrina.

Resurgence, by Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans, analyzes what’s changed in NOLA.

74 Million’s Matt Barnum answers critics who downplay progress in NOLA schools.

Music is vital for community and culture, reports Ed Week.

What doesn’t work

John Hattie’s What Doesn’t Work In Educationpublished by Pearson Education, attacks “popular and oft-prescribed remedies,” such as small classes, high standards and more money, reports NPR.

A University of Melbourne professor, Hattie analyzed 1,200 meta-analyses “looking at all types of interventions, ranging from increased parental involvement to ADHD medications to longer school days to performance pay for teachers, as well as other factors affecting education, like socioeconomic status,” to see what makes a significant difference.

Here’s his chart of “visible effect sizes of different interventions and issues related to achievement.”

Support slips for Core, other reforms

The 2015 Education Next poll shows slipping support for a variety of reforms from Common Core standards to school choice, merit pay and tenure reform.

Public support for annual testing remains high, while teachers split on the issue.

Two-thirds of parents — and the public as a whole — support the federal requirement for annual testing, while teachers are split on continuing the policy.

Since 2012, there are more supporters and opponents of testing with fewer people choosing the neutral position.

Only a third of parents and teachers and a quarter of the public support letting parents opt their children out of testing. ednext_XVI_1_poll_fig07-small

The federal push for “no-disparate-impact” disciplinary policies — linking suspension and expulsion rates to race and ethnicity — is unpopular with the public and teachers, the poll found.

Among whites, only 14 percent favor the federal policies, while 57 percent oppose them. A plurality (41 percent) of blacks favor the policies with 23 percent opposed and 36 percent neutral. Forty-four percent of Hispanics support the policy and 31 percent oppose it.

In 21 states and the District of Columbia, teachers’ unions can charge an “agency fee” to non-members to cover collective bargaining costs.

Surprisingly, half of teachers — and a plurality of the public — “requiring teachers to pay a fee for collective bargaining services even if they do not join a union.”

Only 52 percent of union teachers and 25 percent of non-union teachers support the agency fee.

However, 57 percent of teachers surveyed say unions have had a positive effect on schools.

Do poor kids need less learning, more play?

Direct instruction denies low-income children a carefree childhood and harms their emotional development, argues Steve Nelson, headmaster of an elite private school in Manhattan, in the Huffington Post.

Low-income children in “direct instruction” pre-schools do less well in life than those in traditional nursery schools, according to The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40, he writes. (The study followed 68 children, only one third of whom were in a direct-instruction preschool.)

Early childhood education must be “play-based and focused on social development,” writes Calhoun. “Children should explore at their own pace, negotiate relationships with other children and with adults, daydream, be silly, try things out, and try things on.”

Education reformers have created no-excuses schools that turn children into little adults forced to meet ever-higher expectations, Calhoun writes.

Are there “no-excuses” preschools, joyless academic factories that parents nonetheless choose for their children?

Nelson, the half-million-dollar mouthpiece of a $45,000-per-year private school, has descended “from Olympus to admonish teachers of impoverished students against actually trying to teach them anything,” writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio.

“Play-based,” content-free learning might be fine for the children of hedge fund managers, who will have lots of opportunities to screw up before easing into careers as progressive school principals. But it’s not cutting it for kids from low-income families, who often arrive at school with huge skills deficits and consequently have to, you know, learn something.

Calhoun should “stick to finger painting in the Imagination Station, and quit lecturing those who are actually trying to help the poor,” concludes Pondiscio.

A few months ago, I visited pre-k and elementary classes at a local public school that’s focused on helping children from immigrant families catch up academically by third grade. Classes were loaded with academic content. Teachers mixed directed instruction, discussion, writing, singing, dance, exploration, etc.

I was amazed at how much science these kids were learning as they developed English proficiency. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. And they were learning the normal set of social skills.