In reading an account in the ASCD Journal about the tug-of-war over the reauthorization of NCLB I recall the original bi-partisan passage of the bill. During the final negotiations, Jim Jeffords agreed to vote for the bill because it was supposed to include a proviso that would fully fund the special education law. This was a key issue for Jeffords whose home state, VT, included scores of small districts who constantly struggled to balance budgets when students with extraordinary special needs moved in. When the final bill was adopted Jeffords saw that his Republican colleagues pulled that proviso out of the bill, an action that contributed to Jeffords decision to pull out of the party and create a slim Democrat majority in the Senate.
Whenever I read about the desire for “bipartisan agreements” and promises of provisos that will include elements that ensure more equitable funding I think of Jim Jeffords. I hope Patty Murray does not fall victim to the same shenanigans… but expect to see vouchers and abandonment of the replacement of national common core tests with state developed tests as elements in whatever bill passes the Congress… Alas, Murray and other bi-partisan minded Democrats have nowhere to run.
As reported in a post earlier this week, the prognosis for federal spending on public education is not good and, as intimated in earlier posts, those of us hoping to see NCLB and RTTT replaced with something better might be disappointed. Allie Bidwell’s interview with Senate Education Chair Lamar Alexander in the US News and World Report makes me think we should be pessimistic about the repeal of NCLB and the demise of RTTT. My pessimism is based on the following:
- As the quote below indicates, neither the house or the senate reauthorization will eliminate the use of standardized tests. The quote:
The consensus we came to in our Senate education committee was that the federal role should be to require measures of student achievement, tests, and to publicize them so that parents and students and taxpayers would know how the schools were doing.
- That same quote implies that both legislative bodies are viewing schools as a commodity whose worth can best be measured by standardized tests and, presumably, if they don’t like the “product” available in their public school will be able go elsewhere to purchase something better.
- The Democrats, the presumptive “pro-public education branch” traded new funding for pre-school for vouchers. Alexander indicated to Bidwell that the compromise between the parties was reached when he and his Democrat counterpart Patty Murray “exercised restraint in search of a result” and abandoned positions on issues that divided them.
- The President and Congress seem to be in agreement on the broad issues, including the continuation of standardized testing. When asked about the prognosis for passing the reauthorization bill, Alexander was optimistic: “Whenever you get both houses of a Republican Congress on a parallel track and you’re talking with the president of a different party at the same time, your chances of success are pretty good.“
As I’ve written often in this blog, those who want to replace the Common Core should be careful what they are wishing for… because when the decision about what to teach and test is returned to the STATES it is highly likely that academic rigor will be replaced with Christian culture… and this may prove to be one of the worst outcomes of the Obama administration’s ineffective roll-out of a national accountability measure.
According to an Education Week blog post by Lauren Camera on June 23, the Senate Appropriations Committee has increased the funding for USDOE by $1,100,000,000 over the House budget. That’s still not good news since it represents a cut of $1,700,000,000 over the current level. This is all in advance of the real budget battle, which will likely take place in the fall… but it does show where both the House and Senate agree on cuts… and it doesn’t look good for at risk children. Here’s where cuts seem inevitable:
…the proposal would slash funding for a slew of education programs and eliminate 10 others, including Investing in Innovation, Preschool Development Grants, and Striving Readers.
…School Improvement Grants would be cut by $56 million,Promise Neighborhoods would be cut by $20 million, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers would be cut by $117 million. Other cuts would include:
Migrant Education would be cut by $9.8 million
Teacher Quality State Grants would be cut by $103 million
State Assessments would be cut by $28 million
Safe and Drug-Free Schools would be cut by $10 million
Elementary and Secondary School Counseling would be cut by $26.6 million
Teacher Incentive Fund would be cut by $5 million
Magnet Schools Assistance would be cut by $6.6 million
Advanced Placement would be cut by $5.6 million
English Language Acquisition would be cut by $25.3 million
Eventually it appears the conservative wing will get its wish and the Department of Education’s budget will be small enough to drown it in a bathtub… and if the test-and-punish regimen persists few will lament it’s passing.
The title of Wednesday’s NYTimes op-ed article by Paul Morgan and George Farkas posed this question: “Is Special Ed Racist?” The short answer is “No”. The reason?
Black children face double jeopardy when it comes to succeeding in school. They are far more likely to be exposed to the gestational, environmental and economic risk factors that often result in disabilities. Yet black children are less likely to be told they have disabilities, and to be treated for them, than otherwise similar white children.
Based on my experience, poor children of any race face the same double jeopardy because in the final analysis the root of special education’s problem is funding. Everyone agrees we need to meet the unique individual needs of children and everyone agrees that the warehousing of severely needy children is abominable… but no one wants to pay the costs needed to provide these services. When the federal government passed 94-142 it promised to provide 40% of the costs. That has never happened. Worse, the mandated services effectively require districts to hire case managers who serve as quasi-administrators, instructional assistants who often shadow students all day long, and central administrative staff to oversee this personnel and make sure that the program is in compliance. This all costs money… and since the federal mandate is not matched with federal money there is no incentive for schools to aggressively identify children with special needs, especially in districts that are financially strapped to begin with.
But in affluent districts, engaged and informed parents seek the services of attorneys who serve as advocates for their children. Sadly, the parents of the poorest children in the most impoverished schools are often uninformed with it comes to special education services and, as a consequence, their children are underserved. While it is unimaginable that any level of government would fund advocates and perhaps equally unimaginable that some attorneys would take on this work pro bono, absent such a movement children raised in poverty will miss out on the services they are entitled to and schools will be incapable of providing children with the services they need to afford an equal opportunity to all children.
As noted in many previous posts, public schools have been collecting massive amounts of data on individual students for decades… data that has been stored in stuffed file folders and various generations of microfiche and computer formats. This inconvenient and inconsistent method of data collection made it impossible to use group data to determine the effectiveness of teaching methods, to track an individual student’s learning, or to do systematic research in education.
The advent of cloud storage, the adoption of uniform learning standards, and the extensive use of standardized tests makes it possible to gather and analyze data systematically. This should be nothing but good news for teachers and parents… but as we’ve seen with the NSA, data collection has a dark side as well. Recent articles in the NYTimes and Atlantic describe the dilemma researchers and practitioners face in making use of the data that is now available: the reluctance of parents to have information about their children stored on line.
The Times article, “When Guarding Student Data Endangers Valuable Research” looks at the Data Dilemma from the research angle. As the writer Susan Dynarski notes, the data gathered is invaluable:
Educators parse this data to understand what is working in their schools. Advocates plumb the data to expose unfair disparities in test scores and graduation rates, building cases to target more resources for the poor. Researchers rely on this data when measuring the effectiveness of education interventions.
Noting that despite the fact that no one has hacked into the student data and despite the fact the student data is not a likely target for marketers, many legislators are proposing laws that would hamstring the efforts of researchers to draw on the data to gain a better understanding of what works and the efforts of teachers to use the data to personalize instruction. To use a phrase of one of my colleagues in Maryland, the legislators are using a shotgun to kill a mosquito. Her solution to this is to provide the Department of Education with the ability “…to impose serious penalties on districts and states as soon as they are found to have violated privacy regulations” noting that “…the states, districts and the courts then need to do the hard work of enforcing laws that protect student privacy.” A noble idea, but a non-starter in Congress who, even if they passed such a law to pacify indignant parents, would fail to provide the funding for enforcement.
The Atlantic article by Andrew Giambrone describes one way to solve this data dilemma. Given the government’s seeming inability to deal with this problem, and the given the demand for data analytics on the part of schools (e.g. a 2012 survey of educational professionals indicated that 80% of the respondents “…believed analytics would become more important in the future”), developing an acceptable means of defining appropriate use of data may fall to local districts working with eager vendors. Giambrone describes how this is happening across the country… and it calls to mind a Ted Sizer quote I used frequently: “How does change occur in education? Slowly, Carefully, and All At Once”. His concluding paragraphs underscore why the systematic collection of student data is a good idea… and why this change will happen slowly and carefully:
Jose Ferreira, the founder and CEO of Knewton, a New York-based company that develops adaptive-learning tools, says a lot of student data is going to waste right now; rather than being forgotten at the end of each school year or semester, it could be harnessed responsibly to drive learning outcomes. His company tracks students’ proficiencies across a variety of subjects, but will not share that information—even with teachers—unless explicitly authorized to do so by a student’s legal guardians.
“If you’re going to touch people’s data, it’s very important that the benefits be clear,” he explains. “‘Why should I let you collect my data? The benefits are fantastic? Now you have to reassure me you’re going to use it in a way I’m comfortable with.’”
Like Ferreira, I am convinced that reams of student data is going to waste.. but like the majority of parents, I am not yet comfortable with the way the data could and might be shared. That will take some time.