Goosing the gander

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is granting No Child Left Behind waivers to states that adopt Duncan’s favored reforms, notes Rick Hess. If Romney wins, what sort of waivers would sauce the gander?

First, Romney ought to announce that waivers from NCLB will require real options for parents in all persistently low-performing schools. Since Democrats are right to point out that there aren’t enough seats for all the affected kids to escape to, Romney ought to insist that states adopt the “parent trigger” in order to give parents the option to radically remake their children’s school. Given that the parent trigger has been championed by Democratic school reform activists, but angers traditional Democratic allies in school districts, it’d be a neat piece of political jujitsu.

If states can’t provide alternatives for kids in failing schools, Romney could require a voucher option, Hess suggests.

In addition, waiver-seeking states could be required “to emulate Wisconsin and Indiana and restrict the scope of collective bargaining to wages and wage-related benefits, so that it no longer encompasses policies that can impede school improvement.”

Romney could require waiver states “to undergo an independent audit of their health care and retirement obligations and to adopt a plan that establishes a sustainable financial model.”

Finally, he ought to insist that states demonstrate that they’re spending federal funds wisely. This requires meaningful cost accounting, including calculating ROI (return on investment) at the school and district levels.

Yes, it would be federal overreach, Hess writes. But if the Democrats can do it, the Republicans can too.

NCLB waivers let states set goals by race

Virginia will revise its new goals for student achievement, but will continue to set “different achievement goals for students according to race, family income and disability,” reports the Washington Post.  That’s OK with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The Obama administration has allowed states to set different goals for different groups of students, as long as the low-performing students are required to make greater rates of progress, so that the gap between struggling students and high-achieving students is cut in half over six years.

The District and 27 of the 33 states that have received waivers from the Obama administration under No Child Left Behind have also set new goals that call for different levels of achievement for different groups of students.

In Maryland, for example, state officials say they want Asian students to progress from 94.5 percent proficient in math in 2011 to 97 percent by 2017. During the same period, the state wants black students to improve from 68 percent to 84 percent. The black students are expected to reach a lower endpoint but they would have to improve at a faster rate.

Virginia’s goals qualified the state for a NCLB waiver. While 89 percent of Asian students and 78 percent of whites are expected pass state math tests in 2017, only 65 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of blacks and 49 percent of special-education students are expected to pass.

Measuring performance by results

Can School Performance Be Measured Fairly? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.

Testing Has Moved Beyond Filling Circles, responds Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation. Objective test scores should be just one part of measuring student success.

When No Child Left Behind was written 11 years ago, standardized tests were the only way to consistently measure student learning on a large scale. But since then, many states have developed sophisticated data systems that can calculate the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college, enlist in the armed services and land steady, well-paying jobs. Instead of using proxy measures for successful preparation (i.e. test scores) we can use measures of the real thing. If high school graduates need to take remedial courses in college, for example, that means their high school didn’t do its job.

School evaluation should include standardized test scores and visits by “highly trained school inspectors” who can  ”observe classrooms and interview teachers and students.”

Waivers don’t go far enough in allowing states to use better measures of achievement, adds Fordham’s Mike Petrilli.

States may not, for example, use a race-neutral approach to identifying schools that are leaving disadvantaged students behind, as Florida would have liked. (In the Sunshine State’s own system, schools are docked if their lowest-performing students — whatever their race — don’t make significant gains in the course of the school year.) They can’t evaluate high schools by outcomes — like how many students go on to graduate from college — instead of by test scores. They can’t even use computer-adaptive tests, like those uses for graduate school admissions, because low-performing students would get assessed on content that is “below grade level.” (Of course, that’s the point of computer-adaptive technology — it can pinpoint exactly where students are, even if they are far ahead or behind most children their age.)

Use international benchmarks and real-world results, writes Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas education professor.

We can find out if our teachers and administrators are effective by comparing our students’ performance levels on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which assesses knowledge of mathematics and science gained from a rigorous curriculum, and the Program for International Student Assessment, which assesses daily life skills and minimal academic content.

 

Massachusetts’ 26 regional technical/career high schools have long wait lists and high graduation rates, notes Stotsky, who helped write Massachusetts standards. “Accountability ultimately lies in their employability after high school.”

 

Infographic

http://www.joannejacobs.com/2012/07/30731/

Special ed needs waivers too

“Flexibility is education’s new buzzword” – except for special education, writes Miriam Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, in EdSource Today.

. . . more than 6 million students with disabilities, their parents, 13,809 school districts, 98,706 public schools, and 5,453 charter schools all have to meet the same rigid legal and regulatory requirements, regardless of the local situation or unique needs of the child or community. In 2002, studies found some 814 federal monitoring requirements for compliance by state and local agencies for programs for students with disabilities.

Parents should be able to “opt out of requirements that they don’t need or want, especially when children are doing well,” argues Freedman, who blogs at School Law Pro.

No Child Left Behind waived away

Wisconsin and Washington received No Child Left Behind waivers today. That means Education Secretary Arne Duncan has waived federal education law for 26 states, reports the New York Times.

In just five months, the Obama administration has freed schools in more than half the nation from central provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law, raising the question of whether the decade-old federal program has been essentially nullified.

To qualify for waivers, states must adopt policies favored by the Education Department, such as evaluating teachers and schools on student achievement and other factors.

Virginia was the first state approved for a waiver that refused to adopt Common Core Standards.

Lawless

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, the education president

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.”

 

Meet the new teacher, Uncle Sam

President Obama has waived No Child Left Behind requirements for 10 states ”in exchange for embracing the Obama administration’s educational agenda,” reports the New York Times.

Education Trust analyzes what each state promised to earn a waiver, highlighting the best and “most worrisome” ideas.

Obama and Duncan Waive Goodbye to Systemic Reform, headlines RiShawn Biddle, who objects to putting low-income, minority, disabled and non-fluent student  in one high-needs subgroup.

States had to jump through a lot of hoops to get very limited flexibility, writes Rick Hess.

The U.S. Department of Education could be violating federal law by using Race to the Top to push Common Core Standards, argues The Road to a National Curriculum (pdf), sponsored by the Pioneer Institute, the Federalist Society, the American Principles Project, and the Pacific Research Institute of California.

By law, the department is barred from “directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials.”

Lance Izumi piles on in Obama’s Education Takeover.

It’s time to reboot the ever-growing federal role in education argues Choice and Federalism by the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education: States should be free of federal constraints as long as they provide information on school performance and let parents choose their children’s schools.

The federal government has three critical responsibilities, the task force concluded:

creating and disseminating information on school performance, enforcing civil rights, and providing financial support to high-need students via “backpack” funding attached to individual pupils.

“Today, Washington is stuck in an education policy rut,” said task force chairman Chester E. Finn Jr. “On one side we find those who would simply let states do whatever they like with the federal dollars. On the other side are those who want the federal government to tighten the centrally prescribed accountability screws even harder. This debate is going nowhere, as is evident from Congress’s multiyear failure to reauthorize what just about everyone agrees is a badly flawed law.”

Flexibility? Not so much

Despite promises of flexibility on No Child Left Behind, the Education Department is micromanaging waivers, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

He cites Education Department letters to the states reported by AP, which show federal nitpicking.  Even “Massachusetts —the first-place finisher in the Race to the Top, the state with the highest achievement in the land, the one that has seen dramatic gains across all subgroups of students, a strong supporter (for better or worse) of the Common Core standards” gets no respect from the feds.

Petrilli predicts most of the 11 waiver-seeking states will be approved.

Upon closer inspection, observers will notice that the amount of flexibility granted on accountability is tiny. Approved plans will amount to minor changes away from the AYP system we’ve got today.

The number of states planning to apply for waivers by February 21 will drop precipitously, as they realize that it’s just not worth the effort.

This will raise congressional enthusiasm for rewriting No Child Left Behind, but “nothing will come of it this year.”