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.

How federal rules block innovation

Federal education funding is supporting the status quo, argues a new Center on Reinventing Public Education report, Federal Barriers to Innovation. Authors Raegen Miller and Robin Lake focus on Title I funding for disadvantaged students and  IDEA funding for disabled students.

 The Title I comparability loop hole, for instance, prevents districts from adopting promising new technology–based school models. If a district has a high-poverty school staffed with inexperienced, lower-paid teachers, and an affluent school of the same size staffed with the same number of more experienced, higher-paid teachers, those schools are considered to have comparable staffing levels. The loophole masks the true educational costs of schools, reinforces a traditional compensation system that favors tenure and post-graduate education, and prevents districts from differentiating pay in strategic ways.

IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirement forces districts to keep spending money “without regard for its efficiency or effectiveness.” That blocks innovative teaching methods and technologies.

Instead, IDEA needs a “challenge waiver” system, Miller and Lake write.

Districts could be granted waivers for the 100 percent spending threshold on special education and related services “provided they furnish a coherent, strategic special education plan documenting the rationale for a lower threshold.” Such a system would encourage more data-driven decision-making, while random audits would ensure fidelity of implementation.

In addition, they call for “redirecting Title II funds (an amalgam of funding streams supporting ineffectual professional development and class-size reduction programs)” toward effective new instructional technologies.

Teaching Tiny Tim

Class Matters in education, wrote Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske in a New York Times op-ed that claimed “No Child Left Behind required all schools to bring all students to high levels of achievement but took no note of the challenges that disadvantaged students face.”

Large bodies of research have shown how poor health and nutrition inhibit child development and learning and, conversely, how high-quality early childhood and preschool education programs can enhance them. We understand the importance of early exposure to rich language on future cognitive development. We know that low-income students experience greater learning loss during the summer when their more privileged peers are enjoying travel and other enriching activities.

The op-ed called for more funding for Promise Neighborhoods, which provides social and health services to low-income families.

Diane Ravitch praised Ladd’s research on education and poverty.

Even Scrooge might agree that our current efforts at school reform are ignoring the needs of the neediest children. Even Scrooge might wake up and realize that schools alone cannot equalize vast income gaps and cannot reinvent our social order.

When George W. Bush decried “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” he was asking too much of schools with low-income students, write Ladd, Fiske and Ravitch.

Nobody denies that class, poverty and parents matter, responds Peter Meyer in A Christmas Carol For Our Schools on Education Next.  No Child Left Behind “forced schools to pay attention to their poor and minority students by demanding disaggregated data.”  Schools were pressured to pay much more attention to struggling students.

As for special help for low-income children, Meyer asks:

What happened to Title I?  What happened to free-and-reduced lunch? What about the dozens of adequacy and equity lawsuits that have redistributed billions of tax dollars to low-wealth schools? . . . Outside of schools we have Medicaid, Section 8 housing, WIC (Women, Infants and Children food program), food stamps and a plethora of anti-poverty programs that should prove, if nothing else, how misguided the cure-poverty first folks are.

An “increasing number of reformers” and Catholic educators “have proven over and over again that poverty is an educational challenge for schools, not a death sentence for their students,” Meyer concludes.

“Saying we need to fix poverty before we can fix schools is like a doctor saying that he’s going to wait until you get better before he treats you,” writes Kathleen Porter-Magee in  The Poverty Matters Trap.

 

 

‘Nothing worked’

Nathan Glazer’s Warning should be heeded, writes Howard Husock in City Journal.  In The Limits of Social Policy, the Harvard sociologist reviewed the research on education, training and poverty programs including the Job Corps, Head Start, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the school breakfast program and early-childhood education programs.

“At least some of the states known for high expenditure on education and social needs have shown remarkably poor records.”

“After having done badly in schooling, we do not do well at making up for the failure through work-training programs, though we have certainly tried.”

And crucially: “The evaluations of specific programs that were available during the first ten years after the launching of the [War on Poverty] confirmed the verdict: nothing worked, and, in particular, nothing that one did in education worked.”

A neoconservative, Glazer came to see social policy as grandiose and too focused on “remaking” individuals instead of supporting families, writes Husock.

 Any social policy, he writes in Limits, must be judged against “the simple reality that every piece of social policy substitutes for some traditional arrangement, whether good or bad, a new arrangement in which public authorities take over, at least in part, the role of the family, of the ethnic and neighborhood group, of voluntary associations.”

Traditional agents are weakened and the needy are encouraged to depend on the government, Glazer wrote. That increases the demand for more social programs, which inevitably fail to produce the desired results.

 

 

GOP on NCLB: Rollback or reform?

States would have more say in school reform under a No Child Left Behind rewrite proposed by key Republican senators, led by Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former U.S. secretary of education. The GOP leaders are introducing five bills to reauthorize NCLB, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

It’s a “stunning retreat on two decades of education reform,” blasted Democrats for Education Reform.

Senate Republicans to poor and minority children: Fuggedaboutit, headlines Dropout Nation.

Don’t “roll back hard-won progress in student achievement,” responded Education Trust.  “When left to their own devices, states have a long, well-documented history of aiming far too low and shortchanging the schools that serve our most vulnerable children.”

It’s a rollback of NCLB’s excesses that preserves education reform, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

The reform package . . . would eliminate “adequate yearly progress,” hand “accountability” back to the states, and undo the law’s “highly qualified teachers” mandate. But it doesn’t abdicate Uncle Sam’s interest in reform, or in the country’s neediest students. States would still be required to take dramatic action to turn around their very worst schools. Title I funding would continue to flow to the highest-need schools and districts. Students would continue to be tested in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and the results would continue to be reported widely and by subgroup. The approach is tight-loose, incentives over mandates, transparency over accountability. It’s “reform realism” through and through.

The bills require states to adopt college-and-career standards, but don’t push Common Core Standards.

One bill is modeled on the pro-charter school bill that passed the House this week.

Republicans are winning the education debate, writes Joan Richardson in Phi Delta Kappan. In the PDK/Gallup Poll numbers, “Americans favor charter schools (70%), favor allowing parents to choose a child’s school (74%), believe unionization is bad for public school education (47%), and that natural talent is more important than college training (70%). Any way you slice it, those ideas have been part of the Republican reform agenda.”

Obama: 4% more for K-12 education

The Obama administration is proposing to spend 4 percent more on education, excluding Pell Grants, in fiscal 2012, reports Ed Week. That includes small boosts to Title I grants for disadvantaged students, special education funding and School Improvement (to be renamed School Turnaround) Grants.

And, as part of its proposal for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka the No Child Left Behind Act), the administration is asking for $300 million for a program called Title I rewards, to help give a pat on the back to schools that are making progress in boosting student achievement.

Race to the Top will be directed at districts, not states. And Obama proposes to create an education R&D institute like the Defense Department’s DARPA.

Counting Pell Grants, which go to low-income college students, K-12 and higher education spending would go up by 22 percent.

It’s about the 2012 election, not the kids, grumps Mike Petrilli.

House Republicans want to cut education spending, reports Politics K-12.

The measure, which would continue federal funding for rest of the fiscal year, takes aim at some programs that were previously considered untouchable, including special education spending and Pell Grants to help low-and-moderate income students pay for college. Overall it would cut $4.9 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s fiscal year 2010 budget of $63.7 billion.

Curriculum Matters lists the Republicans’ proposed cuts in adolescent literacy, math and science education, teaching U.S. history and more.

Don’t give up on Promise Neighborhoods

Don’t give up on Promise Neighborhoods, argues Paul Tough in a New York Times op-ed. The initiative aims to create a network of support services — child care, parenting classes, health clinics, etc. — and high-quality schools in 20 high-poverty neighborhoods.  The model is the Harlem Children’s Zone. Tough wrote the book on the zone, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest To Change Harlem and America.

Last month, a Senate subcommittee cut more than 90 percent of the $210 million that President Obama had requested for Promise Neighborhoods.

A Brookings report questioning the Harlem Children Zone’s effectiveness in raising student achievement proved devastating.

There’s no proof Promise Neighborhoods will work, Tough concedes, but there’s some hope. If Congress is willing to spend billions on Title I and Head Start, proven failures, why not a few hundred million on a new idea? (One could argue Model Cities tried this idea from 1966-74.)

According to a new report (pdf) by Educational Testing Service, the combined Title I and Head Start budgets grew in inflation-adjusted dollars from $1.7 billion in 1970 to $13.8 billion in 2000. This year’s budget was $21.7 billion.

Head Start, which provides preschool programs to poor families, is a prime example of the Senate committee’s true attitude toward evidence-based decision-making. In January, the Health and Human Services Department released a study of Head Start’s overall impact (pdf). The conclusions were disturbing. By the end of first grade, the study found, Head Start graduates were doing no better than students who didn’t attend Head Start. “No significant impacts were found for math skills, pre-writing, children’s promotion, or teacher report of children’s school accomplishments or abilities in any year,” the report concluded.

Nonetheless, the Senate allocated $8.2 billion for Head Start in 2011, almost a billion dollars more than in 2010.

Rather than stick with the same strategies and hope things somehow magically change, Congress should find more room in the budget to support the Obama administration’s declared approach: to try new strategies and abandon failed ones; to expand and test programs with strong evidence of success, even if that evidence is inconclusive; and to learn from mistakes and make adjustments as we go.

Trimming the growth in Head Start would fund Promise Neighborhood pilots. Perhaps organizers will study Model Cities’ problems and do it differently this time. Or we could just give the Harlem experiment more time to prove itself.

Where does the money go?

School districts have trouble tracking spending, writes Marguerite Roza in Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go? (Urban Institute Press). District averages mask wide variations in the “distribution of experienced teachers, enrichment programs, and social services among schools in the same district.” Some districts spend more per student at schools in affluent neighborhoods than in poor neighborhoods.

School spending has doubled in 30 years in real dollars, Roza points out. It’s impossible to link spending to the district’s priorities if officials don’t know where the money’s going.

Education Trust’s new report, Close the Hidden Funding Gaps in our Schools, calls for rewriting Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to ensure that federal funds for low-income students buys extra help for those students, instead of being used to fill local funding gaps.

For example, in 2007-08, half of New York City’s Title I schools (serving poor children) received less state and local funding than non-Title I schools serving more affluent students.