Illinois sets lower standards for blacks, Latinos

Under a No Child Left Behind waiver, Illinois schools will set lower standards for blacks, Latinos, low-income students and other groups, reports the Chicago Tribune.

For example, while 85 percent of white third- through eighth-grade students will be expected to pass state tests by 2019, the goal is 73 percent for Latinos and 70 percent for black students.

NCLB calls for 100 percent of students to pass reading and math exams this school year. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. “By 2013, almost 85 percent of Illinois schools had received failing labels, including many of the state’s premier high schools,” reports the Tribune.

Since Congress has failed to update the law, the Education Department has given most state waivers. Illinois isn’t the first to set different standards for different student groups.

The lowest 15 percent of struggling schools in Illinois will be targeted for state attention. The six-year goal is to halve the percentage of students and groups who fail reading and math exams.

 Each year, groups will have goals for improving that push them toward their 2019 target. Because groups start at different places, their final targets will be different too. For example, state data provided to the federal government shows the percent of students passing exams in 2019 would range from about 52 to 92 percent, depending on test, grade and student group.

For all students combined, the passing rate would be about 76 to 79 percent in 2019 — lower than the now-infamous 100 percent requirement.

Illinois also will use “supergroups,” lumping together black, Latino and Native American students in the same group rather than looking at their achievement separately.  The Campaign for High School Equity, a coalition of civil rights and education advocacy groups, said supergroups undercut accountability. “This eliminates one of the most important civil rights victories in education law, and returns us to a time where states may not be responsive to the needs of underserved students.”

Under the state’s new policy, districts won’t have to offer tutoring — or transfers — to students in repeatedly failing schools.

Each school will have different achievement goals, so it will be harder for parents to compare schools’ achievement results.

If you like local control, you can (heh) keep it …

The Common Core is a thin end of an enormous wedge of federal power, conservative pundit George Will said on Fox News.

“The advocates of the Common Core say, if you like local control of your schools, you can keep it, period. If you like your local curriculum you can keep it, period, and people don’t believe them for very good reasons,” Will remarked.

With textbooks and the SAT aligned with the Common Core, we’ll have a national curriculum for all states, warns Will.

The U.S. Education Department is demanding that Indiana prove it’s still eligible for a No Child Left Behind waiver after officially dumping the Common Core. Andy Smarick, a Core supporter, fears a backlash against what many will see as federal overreach.

Washington state already has lost its waiver and others could follow, he writes. “That means there will be a stack of letters from Uncle Sam scolding various state leaders about their inadequate fidelity to federal rules related to standards, assessments, educator evaluations, school interventions, and more.”

Achievement gaps narrowed — till 2010

Achievement gaps narrowed under No Child Left Behind — until the Obama administration started handing out waivers, writes Brookings’ Mark Dynarski.

NCLB requires schools to analyze the achievement and progress of subgroups of low-income, black, Hispanic, special education and English Learner students.

. . .  if any subgroup failed to meet its targets for advancing, a school was designated “in need of improvement,” which triggered a set of increasing draconian consequences depending on how long the school remained in that category, e.g., mandatory school restructuring.

Since 2011, 43 states and the District of Columbia have received waivers from NCLB’s provisions. Many have combined subgroup data into a “super subgroup.”

The gap for all subgroups declined steadily throughout the early 2000s, with the largest improvements seen between 2000 and 2002. This progress seemed to slow by 2010, with gaps remaining unchanged or even ticking up slightly for some subgroups since then.

“It is possible waivers may impair equity,” Dynarski concludes.

Poll: Teaching is ‘average’ profession

College students with A or B+ grades see teaching as a low-prestige job for “average” people, according to the National Online Survey of College Students. Education majors are nice, socially conscious people who aren’t very ambitious, said the respondents. Education is one of the easiest majors, they believed.

Despite efforts to recruit top students to teaching, nearly half of American teachers still graduate in the bottom third of their college classes writes Conor Williams on EdCentral. A quarter of teacher preparation programs accept nearly every applicant, and two-thirds of programs have acceptance rates over 50 percent.

Only 17 percent of students surveyed reported that they were “very interested” in teaching, while fully 40 percent weren’t interested at all, writes Williams.

What would make the B+ or better students consider a teaching career? Higher pay for all teachers, higher pay for highly effective teachers and better student loan repayment for teachers.

The report suggests that the Department of Education use NCLB waivers to ensure that all districts “create and implement stratified career ladders and differentiated pay structures that offer the best teachers the opportunity to stay in the classroom while taking on additional responsibility and earning increased autonomy,” writes Williams.

(Successful) students are uninterested in a career with low base compensation and no connection between quality work and salary increases. They’re not attracted to “step and lane” contracts. Maybe there’s room in today’s Overton Window to pay teachers more on the condition that they were also held more responsible for the effects of their work.

Nearly three in four teachers became teachers because they wanted to make a difference in children’s lives and enjoy working with children, according to a University of Phoenix College of Education survey.

It’s not the white moms, it’s the whitewash

Common Core’s problem isn’t “white suburban moms” who can’t handle high standards, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, writes Eduwonk. It’s not the white moms, it’s the white wash.

Duncan and President Obama told suburban voters their schools were fine, whatever No Child Left Behind might say. Now Duncan is backtracking.

. . . the administration is pretty much fully reactive on K-12 policy now and doesn’t have a forward-looking argument to make about K-12 schools. This lets the Common Core critics have a field day (and they are, even without gaffes that make their job easier). Meanwhile, on the other side Civil Rights groups are increasingly up in arms over the looseness of the No Child Left Behind waiver process and what it means for currently underserved students.

No Child Left Behind, which “told the states to make their own standards more meaningful,” couldn’t overcome political resistance, writes Eduwonk.  Common Core standards are much more ambitious.  “It’s basically like a couple in troubled marriage who decide that since things are not working having a baby is the next logical step.”

Duncan’s No Child waivers let suburban districts hide their inability to educate low-income, black and Latino students, writes Sandy Kress, a NCLB architect, on Dropout Nation.

If you like your federal ed policy …

If You Like Your Federal Education Policy, You Can Keep It!, writes Andy Smarick on Education Next.

The Obama Administration, certain that it knows the “right thing to do,” boldly overturns decades of policy and institutes its own vision of a brave new world. Gradually, it appears that toying around with longstanding policies and practices has all kinds of unintended consequences, including producing policy potholes, causing implementation snags, and stirring up lots of political hornets nests. The administration is then forced to bob and weave with explanations for what’s gone wrong and then attempts an oscillating variety of micro policy fixes to patch up a growing number of cracks.

He’s talking about the Education Department’s reversal of its own policy on No Child Left Behind waivers, a sign that federal “hubris on standards, testing, and accountability” has caused a mess.

Duncan “doubled-down” on central planning, responds Ze’ev Wurman in the comments. Now he’s run out of bribe money and the administration has run out of credibility.

See the way California told him to go and fly a kite when it cancelled annual testing this year. After huffing and puffing, EDs tone suddenly cooled-off when it realized it has not much power — or credibility — left.

“Hubris always gets you” in the end, he concludes.

Sociologist Aaron Pallas sees hubris in Duncan’s claim that “white suburban moms” don’t like the Common Core because it shows their kids aren’t all that smart. It was “wrong-headed and insulting,” writes Pallas on the Hechinger Report.

Keep in mind that there is no evidence that implementing the Common Core on a national scale will improve the learning outcomes of anyone’s children. The effects might be positive, but we won’t know for some time. And in the meantime, the rollout of the Common Core, and ways of assessing mastery of the standards, has been uneven and unsteady—sort of like another federally supported initiative we’ve been reading a lot about lately.

Anthony Cody is ready to give up on Common Core, he writes in Education Week Teacher. “Common standards, if crafted in a democratic process and carefully reviewed by teachers and tested in real classrooms, might well be a good idea. But the Common Core does not meet any of those conditions.”

Waivers won’t require access to good teachers

No Child Left Behind waivers will be renewed with no rule to ensure low-income and minority students get equal access to effective teachers, reports Politics K-12.

Guidelines released in August required states to use teacher-evaluation data, starting in October, 2015, to see that “poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers,” writes Michele McNeil. The Education Department will drop that rule.

Civil rights groups have fought for better teachers in high-poverty schools. Teachers’ unions have opposed the use of evaluation data to rate teachers.

The timing is bad, writes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat. Two recent students show that “disadvantaged students tend to get weaker instruction and also that it’s really difficult to encourage the best teachers to transfer to low-performing schools.”

The Education Department claims it will deal with the issue next year by putting “teeth” into NCLB. But the law deals only with “inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers,” notes Sawchuk. “The effectiveness language came later and only applied to stimulus funds.”

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.”

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.”