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Posts Tagged ‘ESSA’

Washington Post’s Narrative of School Reform Movement is Flawed, But It’s Conclusion is Accurate: Reform Failed

March 19, 2020 Comments off

Yesterday’s Washington Post featured an extended article by Kevin Carey on public education titled “The Demise of the Great Education Saviors“. It’s subtitle explains who the saviors were support to be:

Charter schools and testing were supposed to right historic wrongs.                                                                 Now they’ve run out of political steam. What happened?

Having lived through all of the history in the article and served as a public school administrator during the period of history Mr. Carey described, I found his narrative flawed. He oversold the virtues of testing asserting that Robert Kennedy saw testing as a means of achieving equitable outcomes in the face of districts who were fighting against school segregation, downplaying the GOP’s privatization agenda, dissociating the Common Core from Bill Gates misguided philanthropy, and insinuating that the virtues of competition could still save the day. Despite these flaws, his story ends with a clear and accurate conclusion: the reform movement failed.

And I also think Mr. Carey did a decent job of answering his question about “what happened?” in two key sections of the story he weaves. The first section offered an anecdote about Shannon Carey, an Oakland CA teacher who worked in a segregated and struggling elementary school beginning in 1992. After describing how Ms. Carey’s elementary school eliminated after school enrichment programs in favor of an extended school day and doubled the amount of math instruction, he offers this insight:

“For the record,” Carey says, “my teacher friends and I knew it was terrible from the start. These carrots and sticks with adults who were working in underfunded schools with 32 students per classroom? Really? You’re going to punish us for our migrant students who learned English two years ago, their test scores? It was very clear that it was setting us up to restructure. For privatization.”

…Teachers like Shannon Carey and her friends and millions like them sensed mistrust in how NCLB spoke to them. They felt infantilized and disrespected. Because the law did so little to fix the financial and social inequality baked into the education system and the larger society, they felt set up to fail. So they rejected it, in ways large and small.

Mr. Carey countered Ms. Carey’s contention that NCLB’s intent was to restructure and privatize by offering statistics on how few schools were actually closed— a misleading data point since the restructuring more frequently took the form of offering students the “choice” to attend a charter school. It is noteworthy that Mr. Carey offered no rejoinder to the sense teachers had that they “felt infantilized and disrespected”. Nor did he offer a rejoinder to their sense that they were “set up to fail” because “the law failed to fix the financial and social inequality baked into the education system and the larger society“. I suppose being of a quantitive mind Mr. Carey diminished these “feelings”… but in the case of the feelings they had of being set up, the facts are that neither NCLB or RTTT did anything to redress the “financial and social inequality baked into the education system and the larger society” and because of this oversight (or, less charitably, negligence) on the part of lawmakers, teachers in schools like the one where Ms. Carey taught WERE in fact punished for the low test scores their migrant students achieved… and likewise NYC teachers in schools serving a large population of homeless children whose absentee rates were high were punished… and teachers in underfunded schools in property poor districts were punished… In the meantime, teachers in affluent districts like the one I led from 2004-2011 paid no attention to minimum competency tests whatsoever because there was never any danger that they would be placed on a “watch list” for an extended time period. The result? While districts proximate to mine were struggling to maintain reasonable pupil-teacher ratios we were debating whether to offer swimming and rowing as interscholastic sports.

The second telling section of Mr. Carey’s article came at the end, where he described the status of the Education Trust, the school reform think tank he worked for from 2002-2005… and whose credo he still seems to believe— with some notable caveats, which I highlighted in bold red italics!

The Education Trust is now run by Obama’s second education secretary, John B. King Jr., a former schoolteacher, charter-school leader and New York state commissioner of education. “I’m more optimistic than many about the future of school reform,” he told me. For all the political controversy around the Common Core, he notes, 41 states and the District of Columbia remain on board.

King believes that accountability can succeed if it works alongside other critical changes, including more-equitable funding, higher-quality curriculums and better training for teachers. He points to a recent bipartisan deal in Massachusetts to boost school funding alongside accountability for student learning. States including Texas and California have taken advantage of the decade-long economic expansion to send large sums to high-poverty schools. Others may follow suit. King’s is a more pragmatic and incremental approach to improving education, one that recognizes, and pays, the price of democracy that confronted Robert Kennedy in 1965.

Of course with the Dow declining precipitously and unemployment forecast to rise to 20% it appears the “decade-long economic expansion” is over… and with it the other critical changes Mr. Kind calls for are likely to disappear as well… Here’s hoping the reform movement disappears with it…

Trump Seeks to Cut Bi-Partisan ESSA, Mental Health, Community Based Schools

February 27, 2020 Comments off

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Linda Darling-Hammond describes the proposed cuts to the federal Education budget, cuts that would decimate ESSA, one of the few pieces of bipartisan legislation that has passed in the past decade. The program has many elements I’ve questioned in this blog… but it also featured more funding for arts, PE, and mental health and a far too small amount for community based programs that provide safety nets… programs that are proven to be effective for children raised in poverty. Inevitably the cuts to ESSA will be restored but the other funds will have to be restored by the next administration… and the next generation will pay the price.

Good News in Massachusetts: A Commitment to Funding Equity Paid Off

January 29, 2020 Comments off

Earlier this month, Bloomberg News reporter Andrea Gabor wrote an article describing the recent implementation of Massachusetts’ financing bill  titled:

School Wars Are Over in Massachusetts. Everybody Won.

The subtitle of the article elaborates on the heading with even MORE good news from this blogger’s perspective:

A bipartisan agreement to boost financing, especially for poor districts,                                                                    marks a retreat from top-down reforms and the spread of charter schools.

From my perspective, the two headlines and the accompanying article underscore the reality that bipartisanship is the only avenue for accomplishing the kinds of funding equity every State constitution aspires to. In her essay, Ms. Gabor describes how a bi-partisan 1993 bill established rigorous standards for all schools and provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund an equity formula. It goes on to describe how a tax cut in the early 2000s undercut the funding required to maintain the equity elements of the formula and the Obama stimulus compelled the state to replace it’s holistic standards for ones based almost solely on standardized tests. Once the recent ESSA legislation gave the states some degree of flexibility in setting standards, the Democratic Massachusetts legislature passed a bill the Republican Governor signed that effectively replicated the accountability and funding put in place in 1993. Ms. Gabor concludes her article with this synopsis of the legislation passed last years, with the especially heartening information about the bill highlighted:

After two decades of reforms that focused on expanding standardized tests and charter schools with disappointing results — scores mostly declined on the latest NAEP test — a few states, including Michigan and Rhode Island, are looking to Massachusetts as a model. Unfortunately, they are trying to achieve improvement via tests and state intervention in underperforming districts without the extra funding that made Massachusetts successful.

Ultimately, it is voters who will have to press legislators to spend more on schools and to distribute the money to communities with the fewest resources. Just months before passage of the Massachusetts law, 58 percent of the state’s voters said they were willing to pay higher taxes to reduce education disparities and a majority said they would give up some funding in their own districts if it meant more money for the most disadvantaged communities.

I find it hard to believe that a majority of any state’s voters would be so cold hearted that they would not be willing to share their wealth with those less fortunate. I hope that those running for office in 2020 will address this need in the forthcoming elections at all levels of government.

Bernie Sanders’ Blunt and Accurate Assessment of Public Education Gets My Vote

January 8, 2020 Comments off

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This USA Today op ed article by Bernie Sanders nails the real problem with public schools and, in my opinion, separates him from others who are running for President.

Bad News Betsy Blistered by Guardian

December 30, 2019 Comments off

Guardian writer David Smith wrote a blistering essay outlining the many ways Betsy DeVos has undermined public schools in her short tenure as Secretary of Education. Here are some highlights, beginning with Randi Weingarten’s assessment:

“We’ve had plenty of Republican as well as Democratic secretaries of education but none of them, even those who believed in alternatives to public education, actually tried to eviscerate public education,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Here is someone who in her first budget tried to eliminate every single summer school programme, every single after-school programme, and who has done everything in her power to try to make it harder for us to strengthen public [sector] schools.”

Then there’s the federal court’s assessment:

DeVos is currently attacking a programme, known as “borrower defense to repayment”, intended to forgive federal loans for students whose colleges misrepresent the quality of their education or otherwise commit fraud. The programme was expanded under Barack Obama but DeVos has been accused of stalling it for more than a year while she altered the rules and made it harder for students to get loan relief, resulting in a large backlog.

Last month, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt for violating an order to stop collecting loan payments from former Corinthian Colleges students, a for-profit college chain that collapsed in 2015 amid allegations that it lied about the success of its graduates in order to get students to enroll.

And centrist MD legislator John Delaney’s take:

“If we were grading her on a report card, I would give her very low grades if not a failing grade,” he said by phone from Iowa. “The reason I think she has not been a successful secretary of educationwas obvious from the day she was given the job, which is she doesn’t believe in the public education system in this country. She would voucherise the whole system if she could.”

But the most chilling quote from Mr. Delaney was this one:

Delaney warned: “We have to be careful not to be so preoccupied with every single ridiculous thing the president does because, to some extent, it might be a strategy to distract us from the bad policy that’s actually getting done.Obviously the things he did with Ukraine deserve this attention they’re getting. But in some ways he’s the bright, shiny light and every little tweet causes people to just be incredibly preoccupied.

“Meanwhile, environmental regulations are getting rolled back. Ethanol waivers are being granted. There are proposals to spin off the entire student loan portfolio of the Department of Education. The list goes on and on and on of real policies that are happening that deserve much more attention. She has largely kept her head down and gone about her business, which I think is ideologically driven and hasn’t attracted that much attention.”

John Delaney is onto something insidious: while the President issues ridiculous tweets that occupy bandwidth on the evening news his appointees and the anti-government wing of the GOP are doing horrific damage to our country… damage that will cost billions of dollars and, in all probability, decades to repair.

Mr. Smith’s article concludes with this prediction from Neil Sroka, an activist from Michigan:

“(Betsy DeVos)… scion of wealth and privilege has never had a real job but made it her life’s work to attack public schools, teachers and students. She only escapes scrutiny because so much incompetence, grief and evil comes out of this administration that she’s been able to ride out the storm. But she’s made it much more likely we’ll get a Democratic education secretary who’s a real champion for teachers.

Sroka’s prediction will only come true if we elect a Democrat who opposes the neoliberal agenda. If the Democrats choose someone in the mold of Barak Obama or Bill Clinton they will likely get a secretary of education in the mold of Arne Duncan, someone who will never be held up as “…a real champion for teachers”.

The GDP and Standardized Tests

December 16, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by David Leonard titled Why You Shouldn’t Believe Those GDP Numbers. In the article Mr. Leonard questioning the validity of the GDP as a metric for the well-being of workers and the quality of our economy. He writes:

Americans are dissatisfied, and have been for years, largely because the economy as most people experience it has not been booming. G.D.P. — or gross domestic product, the economy’s total output — keeps on rising, but it no longer tracks the well-being of most Americans. Instead, an outsize share of economic growth flows to the wealthy. And yet G.D.P. is treated as a totemic measure of the country’s prosperity.

The economy is not the only area that is mis-measured. For years we have decried our “failing public schools” using standardized test scores as the primary metric. Since the advent of “high stakes testing” schools have increased their time and energy to boosting test scores. As a result more and more schools have eliminated the arts in favor of “academics”, which is really test-preparation. The result: public schools whose soulless rote study of “academics” mirrors the menial low wage jobs.

What gets measured gets done… and if the total spending is measured without regard for who is doing the spending, it does more reflect the well-being of all citizens any more than test scores measure the well-being of all students.

Vermont Story on Delayed Test Results Illustrates Everything Wrong with Testing

July 29, 2019 Comments off

Our local paper, the Valley News, reprinted an article by Lola Duffort titled “School Test Score Data Nine Months Overdue“. This is unsurprising given the ambitious scope of the State’s new Annual Snapshot “dashboard” and the fact that the current State Department of Education is woefully understaffed. And this problem of ambitious analytics combined with understaffed state departments is not limited to Vermont. This toxic combination is a systemic problem brought about by federal legislators allowing and encouraging states to include more and more data on their “report cards” on the heels of states deciding to cut back staffs following the 2008 economic collapse, often making those cuts on data collection departments where much of the work was outsourced.

In an earlier article Ms. Duffort described the new expanded “dashboard” as follows:

The Vermont Agency of Education has released its first Annual Snapshot, a new online dashboard that will allow anyone to take a look at how each of the state’s public K-12 schools are doing, using a variety of new indicators.

The Snapshot is an intentional pivot away from the standardized-testing focused era of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was widely criticized by educators — particularly in Vermont — for emphasizing too narrow a measure of school performance. The successor law to NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act, still requires testing, but it also allows states to name several new standards for appraising schools…

…the Snapshot aims to allow the public to see not just traditional measures of school performance – like test scores and graduation rates – but also information about school climate, staffing quality, spending priorities, and personalization.

As one who has written frequently about the inanity of rating schools based solely on test scores, I fully support this new direction by Vermont. But, as one who worked with state departments for 29 years and witnessed their de-staffing over that time period, I also understand that delivering on this promised expansive data will be difficult… and it will be especially so in Vermont where it appears the new commissioner is loathe to add staff:

The agency is “seriously understaffed,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“It’s resulted in delays and errors and a general inability to do their jobs. I’ve been trying to light a fire under Secretary French and this administration for a year now, to pick up the pace of hiring, but they seem content to continue running the agency well below full strength,” he said.

Staffing capacity at the agency worried House lawmakers enough last session that House Education chair Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, and Government Operations chair Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, held a joint hearing on the subject. The agency has lost about a fourth of its staff to budget cuts since the Great Recession.

But Webb said that, as for the test scores, she was “not concerned at this time,” since students, teachers, and districts have access to their individual results.

Sorry, Ms. Webb… but the whole point of providing the Snapshot was to provide MORE information than test results and providing those results nine months after the tests were administered is, to be blunt, ridiculous and useless. If a teacher failed to return a high-stakes test to a student nine months after the test was administered they would be looking for a new career. For the Annual Snapshot to serve ANY valid educational purpose it needs to be in the hands of teachers, administrators, and Board members within weeks— not nine months later. Moreover, between October 2018 and August 2019 it is likely that 1/4 of the school board members and a similar percentage of principals and teachers will change, especially in the small rural schools that constitute much of Vermont. Complicating matters even more, there are several new Boards in place now as a result of Act 46, making the late delivery of data even more problematic.

The solution, as always, is more resources— in this case for State Departments of Education. But finding support to pay for “bureaucrats” whose primary purpose is enforcement of regulations adopted by the legislature and State Board and the delivery of reports on a wide array of issues is not easy. It’s far easier to outsource data gathering, skimp on regulatory enforcement, and complain about the inefficiency of the State Department of Education…. because, well, “government is the problem”.