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.”

GOP-only No Child rewrite passes House

House Republicans have passed a No Child Left Behind revision called the Student Success Act — with no Democratic support, reports Education Week.  Schools would have to test students and report scores by subgroups, such as English Learners, special education students and low-income students. However, “states and school districts would get a lot more say on how they hold schools accountable” for students’ progress.

That has advocates for some school districts (including the American Association of School Administrators) pretty happy. But civil rights organizations, the business community, and urban districts are not on board. More on what’s in the bill and who likes and hates the bill here.

The Student Success Act no longer requires school districts to use student outcomes to measure teacher effectiveness. Now it’s optional.

The bill “walks away from low-income students and students of color and threatens to wipe away 40 years of educational progress,” charges Education Trust.

Bipartisan compromise is very unlikely. The likelihood of reauthorization before 2015 is roughly 2 to 3 percent, estimates Rick Hess.

Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s “completely partisan and very different” NCLB rewrite passed the Senate Education Committee with no Republican support, notes Ed Week.  Furthermore, “it’s unclear if the Obama administration, which has its own waiver plan, even wants a reauthorization.”

Duncan delays teacher accountability

“In what some see as a tacit recognition of the Obama administration’s overreach into nitty-gritty management of America’s schools, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will give states a reprieve from certain aspects of teacher evaluations’ consequences and the new wave of testing tied to the Common Core,” reports Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post.

Duncan said Tuesday he will give “some flexibility” in when states with No Child Left Behind waivers start “using student growth data for high-stakes decisions.” The first two groups of waiver states will have an extra year, until the academic year 2016-2017, before they must use teacher evaluations to make personnel decisions.

The U.S. Senate and House are holding hearings on “dueling bills” to revise No Child Left Behind. There’s little hope of replacing rule by waiver with a “coherent law,” writes Resmovits.

States must still evaluate teachers, at least in part by their students’ academic progress.

An Education Department memo obtained by HuffPost states explicitly that “there will be no pause or moratorium in rollout of standards, assessments, and teacher leader evaluation … or in accountability … because the need for these changes is too urgent.” But given the changes, “it is crucial that teachers and principals are well prepared for this shift.”

Teachers will receive low ratings if their students show too little growth on the standardized exams, but cannot be fired for those ratings within the year of reprieve.

Duncan also said states piloting new exams won’t have to give the old exams too in 2013-14. Without “double testing,” schools could be held to different standards in the same year.

State achievement gap grows

“There has been surprising progress in educating disadvantaged students” since No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed in 2002, but some states are doing much better than others, according to The New State Achievement Gap: How Waivers Could Make It Worse – Or Better, a new Education Sector report.

The state achievement gap is growing. High-performing states are adopting robust reform plans in exchange for federal waivers from NCLB, while low-performing states are doing the minimum, such as signing on to Common Core standards, the report finds.

“We now have hard evidence that states have exacerbated differences in the achievement of disadvantaged students, with the guidance of ESEA,” say authors John Chubb and Constance Clark. “We also know that some states, both richer and poorer, are doing very good things for students in need. Washington should be investing time and money in understanding what is actually working and using that knowledge to write a new ESEA based on hard evidence and not political expedience.”

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.

Ed Trust: Waivers hurt high-risk kids

The Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waivers let states shortchange low-income, minority and disabled student, charged Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, at Senate hearings.

Although states had to set high achievement goals to get a waiver, failure to reach the goals has no consequences, Haycock said in prepared remarks.

“This means that, in a state like New Mexico, a school can get an ‘A’ grade even if it consistently misses goals for, say, its students with disabilities, its Native American students, or its English-language learners.”

. . . “This is very definitely a step backward from the civil rights commitment embedded in” No Child Left Behind, Haycock said.

In conjunction with the hearings, Education Trust released A Step Forward or a Step Back? State Accountability in the Waiver Era, which opts for “a step back,” reports Ed Week.

In addition to goals that don’t matter, most states still aren’t using multiple measures to hold schools accountable, the report said.

. . . many states are vague in spelling out how districts will be responsible for turning around the most struggling schools. They single out Maryland and Georgia (two Race to the Top states that are also struggling!) for only requiring more planning when schools persistently fail to improve.

Waivers “eviscerate” accountability, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Gates: Mix measures to evaluate teachers

Combining growth in students’ test scores, student feedback and classroom observations produces accurate information on teacher effectiveness, according to Gates Foundation research.

A composite measure on teacher effectiveness drawing on all three of those measures, and tested through a random-assignment experiment, predicted fairly accurately how much high-performing teachers would successfully boost their students’ standardized-test scores, concludes the series of new papers, part of the massive Measures of Effective Teaching study launched three years ago.

No more than half of a teacher’s evaluation should be on growth in student achievement, researchers concluded.  In addition, teachers’ classroom performance should be observed by more than one person.

Of course, the controversy on how to evaluate teachers — and what to do with the information — is not over.

The ever-increasing federal role in education makes no sense, writes Marc Tucker, who complains that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is forcing states to evaluate teachers based on student performance in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers.  Most researchers don’t think value-added measures of teacher performance are reliable, writes Tucker.

The study is a “political document and not a research document,” Jay Greene tells the Wall Street Journal.  Classroom observations aren’t a strong predictor of student performance says Greene, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas. ”But the Gates Foundation knows that teachers and others are resistant to a system that is based too heavily on student test scores, so they combined them with other measures to find something that was more agreeable to them,” he said.

Florida sets lower goals for blacks, Hispanics

Florida’s race-based achievement goals are raising hackles, reports the Palm Beach Post. To qualify for a No Child Left Behind waiver, the state board of education set new goals based on race, ethnicity, poverty and disabilities.

. . .  by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent.

The new goals are realistic, state education officials said. Blacks and Hispanics will have to improve at faster rates than whites or Asians.

. . .  the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.

If each subgroup follows the trajectory in the strategic plan, all students will be 100 percent proficient by the 2022-2023 school year, according to the state education department.

Most of the states applying for NCLB waivers have set lower goals for black, Hispanic, low-income and disabled students. As long as the goals require low-scoring groups to improve more quickly, the U.S. Education Department has endorsed differential targets.