It’s interesting how President Obama in his speech yesterday referred to  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as a failed program with no mention of Race to the Top (RTTT) which was the same but worse. Some of us refer to RTTT  as NCLB on steroids and it seems that at this time most people have recognized that RTTT is also a failed policy. It was a policy of forcing school districts to align to a specific set of standards and if the standards were not met, the school was “turned around”, meaning either the school was closed permanently, half the staff fired or the principal removed. The other option was for the school to be turned into a charter school and staffed with uncertified and inexperienced teachers including Teach for America, Inc. recruits. It was an ill-conceived idea developed by a few wealthy venture (vulture) capitalists who knew nothing about education and everything about how to make a buck. Unfortunately school districts wanting some of that RTTT money complied with disastrous results.

Neither NCLB nor RTTT  addressed the basis of low achievement, mainly poverty. 21% of our children live in poverty and that number is increasing every day with unemployment increasing and no end in sight.

Maybe now the Washington State PTA will seriously consider removing merit pay for teachers out of their platform. It looks like it’s no longer the darling of those in power.

Is this truly going to be the beginning of the end to the Federal demand for merit pay, school turnarounds, exhaustive testing and charter schools? We’ll see.

Either way, the next thing that President Obama needs to do is fire Arne Duncan. With him as an albatross around the president’s neck, it would make it even more difficult for President Obama to be re-elected.

I have reviewed what is a rather sketchy outline of this new “flexibility” that Obama is allowing each state and find the following phrases interesting. The first one is:

A State will no longer have to set targets that require all students to be proficient by 2014.  Instead, a State will have flexibility to establish ambitious but achievable goals in reading/language arts and mathematics to support improvement efforts for all schools and all students.

The stated goal initially by the Obama administration was that all students in all states would reach a specific level of achievement by 2014. I guess they got a reality check on that after a few years.

For a State’s lowest–performing schools — Priority schools,  generally, those in the bottom 5 percent — a district will implement rigorous interventions to turn the schools around.  In an additional 10 percent of the State’s schools — Focus Schools, identified due to low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or low student subgroup performance — the district will target strategies designed to focus on students with the greatest needs.

They are still targeting the “lowest performing” 5% of schools to intervene and “turn the schools around” but I am assuming they are not referring to the specific requirements of “school turnarounds” which was the dictum of RTTT.

In the paragraph below, it seems that they want to shift the power of decision-making to the state which could still lead to disastrous effects. Imagine our state legislators trying to dictate how each school district is to address school policy. On the other hand, if Randy Dorn with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and his staff were to make the decisions regarding education in our state, as was the purpose of the office, that would make sense. Imagine what would have happened if the ed reformers in our state had gotten what they wished for in the last legislative session and had the office of OSPI dissolved and the decision-making power placed in the hands of one person, our governor.

I believe that each district should be able to determine school policy and have the funding to support all schools successfully in the manner that they determine appropriate. Oh course, there is the question of money or lack thereof which gets us back to where all of this started, there is not enough funding to support our schools and hasn’t been for at least a few decades.

States, districts, and schools will receive relief from a system that over-identifies schools as “failing” and prescribes a “one size fits all” approach to interventions.  Instead, States will have the flexibility to design a system that targets efforts to the schools and districts that are the lowest-performing and to schools that have the largest achievement gaps, tailoring interventions to the unique needs of those schools and districts and their students.  States will also have flexibility to recognize and reward both schools that are the highest-achieving and those whose students are making the most progress.

And then this paragraph:

States, districts, and schools will gain increased flexibility to use several funding streams in ways they determine best meets their needs, and rural districts will have additional flexibility in using their funds. Funds to meet the needs of particular populations of disadvantaged students will be protected.

I love the phrase “several funding streams” when describing where the money is to come from for this idea of closing the “achievement gap”. I suppose this means that Arne Duncan no longer will be getting billions of dollars to throw around conning states to follow his ideas of ed reform with or without proper funding. So what are these “revenue streams”?

And in this paragraph, the document refers to the state having the responsibility of developing plans for dealing with inequity in schools.

To receive flexibility through these waivers of NCLB requirements, a State must develop a rigorous and comprehensive plan addressing the three critical areas that are designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps and increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.

This is starting to sound more and more like NCLB all over again, requirements with no funding, only mandates.

And now, regarding teacher evaluations;

Each State that receives the ESEA flexibility will set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.  The State and its districts will develop these systems with input from teachers and principals and will assess their performance based on multiple valid measures, including student progress over time and multiple measures of professional practice, and will use these systems to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve instruction.

No more merit pay based on test scores? No more needless testing? I am skeptically optimistic.

In reading the fine print under “Definitions”:

  1. 1.       Student Growth:  “Student growth” is the change in student achievement for an individual student between two or more points in time.  For the purpose of this definition, student achievement means—
  • ·         For grades and subjects in which assessments are required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3):  (1) a student’s score on such assessments and may include (2) other measures of student learning, such as those described in the second bullet, provided they are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.
  • ·         For grades and subjects in which assessments are not required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3):  alternative measures of student learning and performance such as student results on pre-tests, end-of-course tests, and objective performance-based assessments; student learning objectives; student performance on English language proficiency assessments; and other measures of student achievement that are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.

Sounds like more unnecessary testing and more money required for expensive computer centered exams. Well, at least someone will profit from this edict.

We’ll see how all of this all plays out.

I will end with this video featuring one of our own, Karran Harper Royal, a founding member of Parents Across America who lives in New Orleans and fights the good fight every day.


Post Script: September 27, 2011

I just received a description of the NCLB waivers written by the National School Board Association.

It goes as follows:

Conditions for Relief
In order for states to qualify for the waivers, they must meet the following three conditions:

  • Adopt and implement college- and career-ready standards and assessments.

Administration officials said that states don’t have to use common standards or assessments, but these standards and assessments have to be college and career ready and that states must show they are taking steps to implement them in the classroom.

  • Develop an accountability system that differentiates schools based on their performance.

They must target the lowest performing 5 percent schools with rigorous interventions, such as those identified in the School Improvement Grant program; must also focus on additional 10 percent of schools that have low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or poor subgroup performance. The Department of Education officials emphasized that the remedy for these schools will be “locally designed,” but the expectations will be “unequivocal.”

  • Set guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems to support teaching.

These systems will be developed with input from teachers and principals and will assess performance based on “multiple valid measures”, including student progress over time. They will be used to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve teaching. The Administration’s plan is silent on how much of the evaluation should be based on student growth and whether the data will be used for rewarding teachers or tenure decisions.

NCLB Waivers
In return, states can request waivers on the law, including the following three key provisions:

  • States would not have to meet the 100 percent proficiency requirement for 2013-2014.

States can instead set “ambitious but achievable” goals in reading and math.

  • States would not have to identify schools as failing under the current law.

Instead they have the flexibility to develop an accountability system that targets the lowest performing schools and school districts and tailors interventions to specific students in need.

  • States would be able to use the currently required 20 percent set-aside local Title I funds for choice and supplemental tutoring services to instead fund other activities that support learning.

This would free up $1 billion for school districts and schools to use for other school improvement strategies—where the state seeks the waiver.

States should notify the Department of Education by Oct 12, 2011 for their intent to apply for the waivers. There are two application windows:

• Submit requests by November 13, 2011 for December peer review.
• Submit requests by mid-February, 2012 for Spring review.

Action At The State Level
The extent to which waivers are granted and what local school districts will need to do to meet the conditions for relief will depend on the content of the state application. Working through their state associations, local school boards can have an avenue to influence the content of those applications.