Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Governors Uniting for NCLB Changes

Another from Ed Week this time about a National Governors meeting. It seems they disagree about the changes NCLB needs but do agree about..

They all agree, for instance, that more funding is needed, and that some of the accountability provisions need to be made more flexible, especially regarding the testing of English-language learners and special education students.

That's all rather vague isn't it? Also...

Gov. Gregoire said the governors will work closely with their chief state school officers and designate one person from each state to form a coalition that will develop more specific policy goals as the debate over reauthorization continues. She said the NGA is considering convening an NCLB summit to talk about what changes should be made to the law.

I'm waiting with baited breath.

How Are These NCLB Reports Like All The Other Reports? Lotsa Ways.

From the Ed Week column This Week in Education...

Written by former Senate education staffer and journalist Alexander Russo, This Week in Education covers education news, policymakers, and trends with a distinctly political edge...

Back in the day, there used to be a thing called a "side by side" that would compare the key provisions of different versions of legislation category by category or even sometimes provision by provision. Maybe it's still done.

In the meantime, David DeSchryver from Brustein & Manasevit has done somewhat the same thing based on seven NCLB reauthorization reports (USDE, Commission, Chiefs, NEA, AFT, NASBE, NCSL.

Common if not unanimous areas of interest and direction include: a focus on standards and cross-state comparisons, calls for more flexibility in accountability models, improved assessment quality, a better menu of sanctions and corrective action, addressing the special education system, incentives for teachers in high need schools and districts, more exemptions for ELLs, and increased funding. However, the devil is in the details...

Interestingly, he says it's the Aspen Institute Commission Report that is the real outlier in terms of size and scope (I had thought it was the USDE proposal).

This is a pretty thorough review of what people are thinking, and as the man says the devil is in the details...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Study says students are learning less

Another from O'Hanian's site. You have read this. It is all over. Everywhere. But this post come with comments from a CA teacher. He asks questions we should all be asking...

California Teacher Comment:
This article has made me so angry I'm finding it hard to concentrate on anything else.
  • Why do they think that one test would be more valid than all of the courses and all of the assignments completed by these kids?

  • Why are they accepting that a standardized test is a more accurate measure of students' ability than coursework?

  • Why does no one trust teachers anymore?

  • Why do they automatically assume that there is grade inflation and course inflation and not that the test is unreliable and invalid?

  • Why don't they take other variables into consideration, like the fact that there was a 57.4 (% increase) in foreign population in the U.S. from 1990 to 2000?

  • Or that maybe the seniors didn't take the test seriously whereas they took their courses seriously.

  • Arrgh!

    Arrgh! Indeed!

    NCLB 'drills and kills' the spirit of education

    This is a great comment from a retired teacher fro the Lehigh Valley PA, with 40 years experience. The clincher is at the end...

    NCLB needs serious revision. Legislators must listen to educators who are in the schools day in and day out. Assessment must begin to chart individual student academic growth over time. We cannot continue to compare the same grade levels year after year. We must begin to acknowledge that students who live in poverty, who have special needs, or who are English language learners present unique educational challenges. Funds must go directly to the schools to hire more teachers and establish effective instructional programs, particularly in reading. Schools must strengthen their ties with parents because all parents must realize the importance of academic success for their children. Congress must fund social programs for low-income children. Outreach specialists must be placed in every impoverished school. The schools alone cannot do it.

    Teachers regulate the heartbeat of their school. They know what is needed and what to do. They know that some kids need extra help; some need a favorite class; yet others can succeed alone. The primary focus of the new NCLB must focus on the realities of education. Like a good teacher, the revised NCLB legislation must have a positive philosophy where multiple types of assessments are used to improve education.

    If only someone was listening.

    Wednesday, February 21, 2007

    No child left behind - including smaller schools

    From Forida comes this commentary:


    Federal policies should recognize the unique needs of small rural school districts.

    A third of our nation's schools are classified as rural, and their characteristics are far different from schools in large urban centers.

    Rural schools are often in isolated communities with limited resources. In rural and small communities, there is often just one high school. They struggle to attract and retain effective teachers, particularly in math, science, special education and other specialized subjects.

    It is now time to provide all districts with the flexibility they need to truly improve instruction and equip every child with the skills needed to succeed in school and the workplace...


    The goal of NCLB - proficiency for all - matters just as much in small towns as it does in large cities. That goal must not change. Nor should the approach the law takes toward meeting that goal - high standards, accountability, teacher quality and options for students.

    But applying those approaches means different tactics in different parts of the country. A size-6 suit will not fit everyone, yet everyone can wear a suit. Tailoring suits to meet everyone's needs will only make everyone look and perform better.

    Unless you want everyone to stop wearing suits.

    There's no cheap, easy way to help children

    This is a powerful commentary:

    We spout slogans such as "No child left behind" while refusing to fund the programs that would, in fact, help us to leave no child behind. We cut school funding, we cut funding for social support systems, we cut finding for youth intervention programs, we cut programs for parental education and support, we cut programs for family planning and sex education - we save a few dollars, and we willingly sacrifice young people to do it. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

    And the rest of us, those of us who "know better," are guilty too. Too often we just shake our heads, wring our hands and wear our sackcloth in silent dismay. We, too, should be ashamed - ashamed not of our dismay, but of our silence...


    It's both tough and expensive to support programs for intense early intervention for children in abusive and neglectful families; it's easier and cheaper to minimize the level of intervention and, quite literally, hope things get better for those kids and those families.

    But face it: Cheaper and easier is not the answer. Today's neglected, abused, uneducated and disenfranchised child becomes tomorrow's neglectful, abusing, uneducated, disenfranchised, disaffected, and nonfunctioning adult and parent. Today's "savings" have a huge cost, both in dollars and misery, for future generations.

    We piously state that "children are our most precious resource," then we knowingly watch as that resource is squandered. We need to feel a sense of shame, replace that shame with a sense of hope, and then parlay that hope into action for the sake of all of our children.

    It's not too late. But with each day, it is getting later and later for those kids I'm talking about.

    Gary Crum of Junction City is a former teacher and counselor.

    Americans cheated of quality education

    ..Many empirical studies show standardized tests disproportionately have a negative impact on lowerclass and minority students because statistically, they do far worse as a whole than their white, upperclass counterparts.

    Many teachers and schools have been known to teach for the test.

    ...Because of this, students are being cheated out of learning many important subjects such as music, art, history and so on.

    This new legislation negatively affects girls because the subjects on the tests are considered “male” subjects because they are encouraged to study them. “Female” tracked subjects do not appear and therefore have lost much of their place in the classroom.

    Although No Child Left Behind was enacted to help disadvantaged and minority students, it continues to perpetuate the cycle that it is trying to eliminate.

    Girls, minority, low-income and special education students still fall behind, and without the appropriate funding, which is the No. 1 criticism of the legislation, these programs will only continue to fail and cheat our children out of the education they deserve.

    There is good thinking in Oklahoma.

    Why “No Child Left Behind” Is Nuts

    A reader who teaches math in a public high school in northern Orange County, California recounted the following dialogue with one of his students:

    Student: "My mom is 28 years old."

    Teacher: "How old are you?"

    Student: "Fifteen."

    Teacher: "So, your mother had you when she was thirteen?"

    Student: "Wow! You can do that in your head that fast?"

    Teacher: "Uh, well, uh, don't worry about it. That's why I'm a math teacher!"

    And his student went away happy, self-esteem reassured by knowing that only nerdy math teachers can quickly subtract 15 from 28.

    Meanwhile, America's Great and Good carry on making plans for America's schools based on assumptions that wouldn't survive an hour in an average classroom. (Not that they would ever send their kids to a typical school.)

    The Aspen Institute's bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind, co-chaired by former governors Tommy Thompson and Roy E. Barnes and paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (among others), has just issued 75 recommendations for improving the NCLB legislation when it comes up for renewal by Congress this year.

    Despite the many small reforms advocated in the Commission's report "Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation’s Children" (222 page PDF), not one word of criticism is uttered against the original legislation's most important and implausible requirement: "that all children should reach a proficient level of academic achievement by 2014" in math and reading.

    The report declares this goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 to be "audacious … morally right … and attainable."

    What they don't mention about this demand: It's nuts...


    In other words, the Commission is so clueless that it didn't realize that the fraud built into the NCLB wasn't a problem, it was a solution. Bald-faced swindling on a colossal scale is the only imaginable way of reaching the NCLB's goal of making every kid in the country into a B student by 2014. Requiring states to achieve an impossible level of performance, but not providing any system for disinterested outsiders to measure the states' performance, was a massive hint that the states were supposed to cheat.

    You can see just how much bamboozling is necessary by looking at the NAEP results. On the federal government's 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam for 8th graders, reading scores were distributed like this:

    Advanced (A): 3 percent
    Proficient (B): 28 percent
    Basic (C): 42 percent
    Below & Far Below Basic (D & F): 27 percent

    So 69 percent of American 8th graders are under the 2014 legally mandated requirement of proficiency....


    A report prepared for the Campaign for Educational Equity by Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder sums up the absurdity of NCLB in its title: "'Proficiency for All' – An Oxymoron." They point out:

    "In its administration of NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education barely acknowledges this human variability. … Under NCLB, children with I.Q.s as low as 65 must achieve a standard of proficiency in math which is higher than that achieved by 60 percent of students in Taiwan, the highest scoring country in the world (in math), and a standard of proficiency in reading which is higher than that achieved by 65 percent of students in Sweden, the highest scoring country in the world (in reading)."

    Here's the really fascinating thing about the broad support for NCLB.

    In private, virtually every single person in America understands that human beings are highly diverse in mental capabilities.

    They just won’t acknowledge it in public...

    [Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.com features his daily blog.]

    There's lots more. Read it!

    Senator Feingold Part of Senate Coalition Calling for Improvements to NCLB Testing Mandates

    February 15, 2007, Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and nine of his Senate colleagues are calling for substantial overhaul of the testing mandates contained in the 2001-02 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as “No Child Left Behind (NCLB).” In their letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the Senators also identify key issues in NCLB they would like the Committee to examine during the ESEA reauthorization process that begins this year. Many teachers, administrators, and parents in Wisconsin and throughout the nation have raised serious concerns about the law and its effect on students and teachers since it was enacted five years ago...
    n their letter, the Senators cite concerns they have with NCLB's one-size-fits-all approach to testing and measuring student achievement. Based on feedback from students, parents, teachers, school counselors, and administrators, it has become clear that this accountability structure is not taking into account the specific needs of individual states and school districts. Additionally, national reports have also called into question the effectiveness of NCLB's statutory provisions and the effect of these provisions on students and teachers. The Senators asked that the upcoming Committee hearings on NCLB focus on the following topics: adequate funding and financial burdens facing school districts; sensible accountability models; differences in school districts’ size and composition; effect on teachers, students, and curriculum; and supportive interventions for struggling schools.

    "There is growing frustration around the country about NCLB, and it is our responsibility to ensure that those voices are heard in the coming reauthorization debate in the Senate," said Feingold.

    For the past three years, Feingold has called on the HELP Committee to hold hearings on NCLB implementation issues and is pleased the Committee began a series of roundtable discussions and hearings last week.

    A copy of the letter is available upon request.

    Source: Office of Senator Russ Feingold

    We can only Hope.

    Tommy and Roy: Domestic Shock and Awe on the Education Front

    Gerald Bracey Strikes again!:

    If the Constitution is silent on something, that something devolves to the individual states. The Constitution is silent on education. Therefore, No Child Left Behind and the proposals in Tommy and Roy's spanking new 800 pound cousin, Beyond NCLB are unconstitutional? Not quite. The game is Let's Make a Deal.

    It's sort of a reverse shakedown. We, the feds, have this pile of money. You want some? Here's the deal. If you take the money, you play by our rules. Hence, there has been no serious constitutional challenge to NCLB (there could have been, but states are up against a regime that rules by intimidation and retribution--ask Joe Wilson. To be constitutional, agreements between the states and the federal government must be voluntary and clear. That is, the states cannot be coerced and they have to know what they are getting into. There is substantial question about the coercive nature of NCLB and clearly states were in the dark. No one with the possible exception of Sandy Kress knew what they were getting into with the 1100 page law).

    I wrote my first anti-NCLB article under commission from New York's Newsday in January, 2001. At the time, it was only a plan, not yet even a bill. I saw it as another cynically Orwellian-named program to do the opposite of what its name implied--Clear Skies, Clean Waters, Healthy Forests and, now, NCLB....

    It would transfer huge sums of taxpayer money to the private sector. Private schools (especially the student-hemorrhaging Catholic schools) would benefit greatly when the voucher provisions kicked in. Private companies stood poised to clean up as they took over public schools. The president of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich actually said "This looks a lot like our business plan." Shifting so much of education to control by private firms would weaken or--hope of hopes!--destroy two large Democratic power bases, the teachers unions.

    Bush compromised on vouchers in order to get bi-partisan support...

    ...One interesting tidbit: The Commission recommends the development of national standards and national tests in reading, mathematics and science. The states would then have the option to adopt the national tests, build their own tests around the national standards, or keep their existing tests. This unexpected flexibility is clearly designed to keep ETS and CTB-McGraw Hill and the other testing companies--the largest unregulated industry in the country--from unleashing their lobbyists to kill any legislation that would produce a single national test...


    Friday, February 02, 2007

    No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure

    Tell it like it is!

    This article argues that, although No Child Left Behind is not presented as a jobs policy (Bush’s slip during a Presidential Debate being the only place it is given such a moniker), the Act does function as a substitute for the creation of decently paying jobs for those who need them. Aimed particularly at the minority poor like its 1965 predecessor, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NCLB acts as an anti-poverty program because it is based on an implicit assumption that increased educational achievement is the route out of poverty for low-income families and individuals. NCLB stands in the place of policies like job creation and significant raises in the minimum wage which—although considerably more expensive than standardized testing—would significantly decrease poverty in the United States...

    ...For more education to lead to better jobs, there have to be jobs available.
    However, there are not now, nor have there been for more than two decades, nearly
    enough jobs for those who need them. Labor economist Gordon Lafer demonstrated
    that over the period 1984 to 1996—at the height of an alleged labor shortage—the
    number of people in need of work exceeded the total number of job openings by
    an average of five to one. In 1996, for example, the country would have needed 14.4
    million jobs in order for all low-income people to work their way out of poverty.
    However, there were at most 2.4 million job openings available to meet this need;
    of these, only one million were in full-time, non-managerial positions (2002).

    Furthermore, the jobs the U.S. economy now produces are primarily poverty wage
    jobs—and only a relative few highly paid ones—making it increasingly less
    certain that education will assure that work pays well (Anyon, 2005). Seventy-seven
    percent of new and projected jobs in the next decade will be low-paying. Only a
    quarter of these are expected to pay over $26,000 a year (in 2002 dollars). A mere
    12.6% will require a college degree, while most will require on-the-job training
    only. Of the 20 occupations expected to grow the fastest, only six require college
    degrees—these are in computer systems and computer information technology
    fields, and there are relatively few of these jobs overall (Department of Labor, 2002)...

    ...NCLB is part of this process of socializing the costs of poverty. When the Act
    assumes—even implicitly—that poverty is a result of low scores on standardized
    tests, rather than on the fact that there are not enough decently paying jobs, it lets
    the business community off the hook. It saddles the poor with unrealistic expectations
    and the rest of us with unwitting support of corporate irresponsibility...

    I'm speechless.

    Statement: AASA on State of the Union Address

    Read this from the Association of School Administrators.

    “We are disappointed in President Bush’s plans for education, which he mentioned in his State of the Union message last night. The President reiterated his plans to ‘stay the course’ with his badly flawed program created by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. He claims the program has been successful, when teachers, parents and children know that its main success has been in diverting attention and energy away from real learning and a comprehensive curriculum. While the President acknowledged that changes needed to be made to the law and flexibility would be required, his overall approach failed to consider the destructive elements of his policy and how they might be addressed differently in the future.

    “The President holds fast to the idea that ‘accountability’ must be pursued by a coercive process of federal oversight built upon a few rewards and a great deal of punishment, and his unbending belief that student achievement is the equivalent of a single test given to every child every year. It should be noted that other countries that are economic competitors have found ways of shaping accountability to be a process of continuous improvement carried out in a collaborative manner...

    Read the whole thing. We need more organizations to come out like this.

    Wasta: Goals of NCLB the issue

    I can't believe that the last time I posted was before Christmas! Things seem to be heating up in the NCLB news department. Here is a great story from Bristol Connecticut. A few quotes:

    Bristol school Superintendent Michael Wasta is quoted as saying:

    "According to No Child Left Behind, by 2014 100 percent of all students will be proficient or higher in reading, writing and mathematics. Is that a worthy mission statement? Absolutely. But as an actual goal for people to meet, with their livelihoods on the line? Ludicrous."

    "The special-ed requirements are the ones I feel most strongly about. Membership in that group is defined as being not academically proficient. If you become proficient, you're moved out of that group. So by definition, there's no way the special-ed group can become proficient, and then if they're not proficient the school is penalized."
    Some students in special education programs are physically incapable of achieving academic proficiency; for example, a microcephalic child born without a cerebellum can no more learn to read than a child born without legs can become a professional marathon runner.
    Does NCLB recognize the existence of such students?
    "Yes," said Wasta. "Two percent. It used to be 1 percent, but now the rule is 2 percent. You can identify two percent of your students as belonging to that group ... even if 40 percent of your students were born without a brain, you can only exclude 2 percent. It's ludicrous."

    "If you go to the average man on the street and ask him, 'do you think special-ed students should be held to the same standards as regular students,' he'll say 'Of course not. That's stupid.' Anybody can see how unrealistic these NCLB laws are."

    "By 2014 the law will be abandoned," said Wasta. "That's my opinion, anyway...

    I want to believe he is right.