The Obama administration passed the halfway mark last Friday in its ongoing effort to dismantle the most vexing accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, one waiver at a time. By exempting Wisconsin and Washington from the ever-unattainable goal of reaching near-universal math and reading proficiency by 2014, the Department of Education brings the grand total of liberated states to twenty-six, with ten more (plus D.C.) eagerly awaiting word on their applications from Arne Duncan. Yet despite its importance in reshaping the federal role in education, the waiver program defies easy labels. Forget EduJobs or Race to the Top: ESEA flexibility is likely the Obama administration’s greatest contribution to education policy, but it may also prove to be a political liability in this fall’s election. Despite being driven by a Democratic administration in Washington, it’s welcomed by many Republican governors relieved to escape requirements dictated from D.C. It’s at once a necessity given congressional gridlock but also illegal given its end-run around the legislature. It purports to offer flexibility but in many ways ratchets up federal rulemaking. Unless Congress can make any headway in reauthorization, however, the real legacy of the waiver policy won’t...

Curriculum nerds

Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.

Amber's Research Minute

School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School by Sarah C. Fuller & Helen F. Ladd - Download PDF

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Rejecting Iowa's waiver: political courage or political suicide?
Photo by US Department of Education.

With barely four months to go until Election Day, every single Obama administration decision is inevitably viewed through the prism of presidential politics. Which is why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s rejection of a request from Iowa for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is particularly perplexing. Do Duncan and the White House politicos not understand that he’s handing Mitt Romney a handy campaign issue in an up-for-grabs state? What’s most remarkable is the reason the administration is turning down Iowa’s waiver request: Because the state legislature refuses to enact a statewide teacher-evaluation plan. As you may recall, such evaluations are one of the mandates (er, conditions) placed on states that want flexibility from ESEA’s broken accountability requirements. And as many of us have argued, such conditions are patently illegal. There’s nothing in ESEA that indicates that the Secretary has...

Special-education students, it turns out, may stand to benefit if accountability systems cease to treat them as particularly special. States around the country jumped at the Obama administration’s NCLB waiver offer this year for many reasons, but the opportunity to streamline that law’s accountability requirements by lumping different subgroups together was certainly a draw. The practice raised the ire of many special-education advocates, however, who fear that that the needs of students with disabilities (SWDs) may get lost in the shuffle with the rise of “super subgroups” that lump these youngsters in with ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic minorities. The data in a new IES report, however, suggest that viewing SWDs separately may actually do them a serious disservice. The study analyzes how well schools with substantial special-education populations educate their students and assesses whether NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements led schools to adopt improved practices, thus bumping educational outcomes for their SWDs. For the forty states with relevant data (2008-09), 35 percent of schools were accountable for SWD test scores—up ten percentage points since 2005-06—meaning that they had enough disabled pupils to qualify for accountability under NCLB’s Title I and “subgroup” rules. Further, in 2008-09, just 14 percent...

In Ohio’s NCLB waiver, the state proposes a new accountability measure—the gap closure indicator—which would hold schools accountable for narrowing achievement gaps. Referring to the well-known disparity in Black/Hispanic and White/Asian test scores, the gap closure indicator would measure how well students from different racial groups perform on its standardized tests.[1] In a data simulation of how Ohio schools would fare under this new accountability measure, the Ohio Department of Education found that 890, or one-quarter of schools, would receive a 100 percent rating.

In a blog earlier this month, we wondered aloud about whether these extremely high ratings (100 percent) for so many schools accurately reflect how well these schools narrow racial achievement gaps. We posed the question: Could some of these schools have an all- or mostly-White student population—with simply no achievement gap to close in the first place? It’s conceivable that, without multiple racial subgroups, all-White schools could receive a 100 percent rating with little or no effort, so long as its White students perform well.

To answer this question, we dig deeper into the racial composition of these 100-percent-rated schools.  Using a random number generator, we randomly sampled 89 of...

With barely four months to go until Election Day, we are well within the “zone”—that time period in which every single Administration decision is made through the prism of presidential politics. Particularly in swing states, not a grant gets issued, not a speech gets uttered without someone in the White House weighing its potential electoral impact.

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Arne Duncan's rejection of the Hawkeye State's request for an NCLB waiver was a bold move in an election year.
Photo by US Department of Education.

So I was amazed, befuddled, dumbstruck, bemused (choose your own adjective) to learn that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has rejected a request from Iowa for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. What political courage! What political suicide! Did Duncan and the White House politicos not understand that he’s handing Mitt Romney a handy campaign issue in up-for-grabs Iowa?

What’s most remarkable is the reason the Administration is turning down Iowa’s waiver request: Because the state...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Total recall

Mike and Janie discuss the fallout from the Wisconsin recall election and teacher unions’ image problem, while Amber explains what we can learn from the best CMOs.

Amber's Research Minute

Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from Charter Management Organizations by CRPE & Mathematica DOWNLOAD PDF

The U.S. Department of Education recently granted Ohio relief from No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) most ponderous mandates. (Note, while the USDOE has approved this waiver the Ohio General Assembly has not yet passed the necessary legislation to make this all real). To receive relief from NCLB, Ohio was required to present a school accountability plan that would put its 1.75 million students on a college- and career-ready path. Ohio’s NCLB waiver promises a revamped accountability system based on three indicators of school quality: (1) student achievement, (2) student growth, and (3) achievement gap closure. The three indicator scores (reported as percentages) are summed and averaged—each given equal weight—to determine a school’s overall performance.[1]

The proposed system’s third indicator, gap closure, is a newly-conceived measure of how well nationally-defined student subgroups (e.g., racial, economically disadvantaged, special education, English language learners) perform on standardized tests compared to a state-designated baseline test score—an annual measureable objective (AMO). All school buildings have at least one student subgroup; however, schools are only accountable for subgroup scores if they have 30 or more students in any of the nine NCLB-defined subgroups.[2]

To gauge how well schools would perform under the proposed...