NCLB

In this study on the potential impact of No Child Left Behind on student achievement and education inequality, analysts John Chubb and Connie Clark bite off a big topic that’s perhaps more than they can chew. First they demonstrate that the nationwide gains on the NAEP exams (in math and reading in grades four and eight) in the NCLB era (2003–11) were over twice as large as those during the pre-NCLB era (1992–2000). (By omitting 2000–03, they avoid NCLB’s transition years—which also happened to be a time of explosive progress in achievement.) Black, Hispanic, and low-income students made particularly large gains. Then Chubb and Clark turn to state-by-state differences and note that progress varied widely—ranging from almost fifty-point gains (in Maryland and D.C.) to nearly no growth or a loss (Iowa and West Virginia). Controlling for socioeconomic status and starting test scores, the analysts find a gap of forty-five scale points between the largest and smallest gainers—showcasing an oft-ignored state-to-state achievement gap, according to Chubb and Clark. From there, they take a qualitative look at ESEA waivers from states that have made lots and little progress on NAEP during the NCLB era. They conclude that being serious about reform—such as implementing tough accountability systems and benchmarking assessments against other measures of college readiness—is what makes the difference. (In fact, the authors posit that the historically high achievers have built these smart reforms into their waiver applications while the low achievers have not—a point that worries Chubb and Clark, as they...

Antonio Gramsci
Sometimes, it helps to just laugh.
Photo by Nomadic Lass

The ESEA-reauthorization bill released by Senate HELP committee Chairman Tom Harkin this week is advertised as getting “the federal government out of the business of ‘micromanaging’ schools’” and offering states significant “flexibility.” As I told the New York Times, that claim is laughable. Here are forty policy questions which Chairman Harkin could have let states or local school districts answer, but didn’t. (In contrast, Senator Lamar Alexander’s bill remains silent on all forty, leaving these issues to the states or localities.)

Early Childhood Guidelines and Standards

1.   States must adopt “early learning guidelines” that address “infants, toddlers, and pre-school age children.”
2.   The guidelines must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development” for “each age group.”
3.   The guidelines must “address the cultural and linguistic diversity and the diverse abilities of young children.”
4.   States must also adopt “early grade standards” for Kindergarten through third grade.
5.   The standards must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development.”
6.   The standards must also “address cultural, linguistic, and ability level diversity.”

...

GadflyThe D.C. charter board has rejected the application for the proposed One World Public Charter School, whose high-status organizers include a former Sidwell Friends principal—due in part to “multiple grammatical and spelling errors” in the application. The board also rejected six other applications while okaying just two: a Montessori elementary and an adult-education program, both of which had been turned down in previous years and came back with stronger applications. Hat tip to the D.C. charter board for showing us how quality authorizing is done.

The online-education provider Khan Academy—with a little help from a $2.2 million Helmsley grant—has announced a plan to develop online, Common Core–aligned math tools for teachers and students. Hat tip number two!

After a bit of competition from within the ranks, the always-controversial Karen Lewis has been reelected to lead the Chicago Teachers Union. You get the champagne, we’ll get the party hats, and CTU will break out the celebratory lawsuits.

On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that three more states—Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia—will be granted NCLB waivers, bringing the tally to thirty-seven. This is another win for Hawaii, which (finally) eked out a teacher-contract deal just last month—and which just might get to keep its Race to the Top dollars, too. In the meantime, seven states remain in “waiver...

Philly’s Schools Phuture?

During the research for my book, one of the most interesting and depressing tidbits I uncovered was that the handful of high-performing, high-poverty traditional public schools described in No Excuses had not been grown by their districts. The central recommendation of my book is that the “four principles of chartering” should be applied across all three sectors; that includes growing great schools of all types (charter, private, and district). Charter growth has been happening via CMOs for more than a decade now, but the Philadelphia Schools Partnership has found a number of district schools to expand. Interesting development.

Addressing Non-urban Poverty

It appears that, slowly but surely, the education-reform community is paying more and more attention to the needs of low-income kids in rural areas (more on this from Bellwether soon). For years now, the primary focus has been on America’s cities. Maybe it should come as no surprise that Teach for America is stepping forward; TFA has long had a number of non-urban outposts. Its new program is designed to train TFA alum for school leadership positions in rural America. This is a tiny program, at least initially, but it’s a start.  Good luck, and well done.

Impervious to Competition?

Probably the bitterest pill I’ve had to swallow as a conservative ed reformer is that competition (from charters and choice programs) has had a positive but negligible influence on urban school districts. Ten years...

A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.

Due in large part to this report, we now judge a school by whether its students are learning rather than how much money is going into it, what its programs look like, or its earnest intentions. Education reform today is serious about standards, quality, assessment, accountability and benchmarking—by school, district, state and nation. This is new since 1983 and it’s very important.

Yet we still have many miles to traverse before we sleep. Our students still need to learn far more and our schools need to become far more effective.

To recall the impact of A Nation at Risk these past three decades and to reflect on what lies ahead, watch this short retrospective developed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute: A Nation at Risk: Thirty Years Later.

I get lots of emails from aspiring ed-policy wonks, so this first bullet is for that wayward crew. Understanding the annual federal-budget dance is key to your decent into wonkery. The pre-release, behind-the-scenes process is really quite interesting—e.g., negotiations between the Department, White House, OMB, and other associated agencies. That culminates in a series of documents (from formal congressional submissions to accessible fact sheets) that provide a picture of the administration’s priorities, or at least what the administration wants to public convey as its priorities. (This is just Phase 1; Congress takes over from here.) You might want to spend 30 minutes familiarizing yourself with these products and their contents—you can get your feet wet on this annual ritual and impress your friends at dinner parties! (“Once again, ED’s trying to make a go of TLIF, huh?”)

Per the budget request itself, the initial documents are generally purposely gauzy and vague; this is, after all, partially a public-relations exercise. So there’s only so much we can know until all of the gory details are released. But here are some quick thoughts: More for i3? Quietly chugging along but very interesting ARPA angle. Money for charter replications? Great, but how about the DCOSP? High school redesign? Start new schools, don’t remake old ones. Flat-line-formula grant programs (Title I, IDEA)? Meh. Another push for TLIF? I’m a TIF fan, and these changes are generally good with me. More turnaround money for dysfunctional districts? Egad.

I met the...

The U.S. Department of Education is on the verge of making an unprecedented and unwise decision.

Classroom

Unless Secretary Duncan can be prevailed upon to reconsider, decades of education policy will be overturned and a federal agency will have assumed authority that should remain squarely in the hands of Congress and the states.

A group of California districts have jointly applied for an NCLB accountability waiver. So far only states have had proposals approved. It’s not the consortium’s application that’s noteworthy; it’s that the feds are taking it seriously. (Duncan evidently encouraged them, and the submission has been forwarded to peer reviewers.)

There’s very good reason to deny the application on the merits. The proposed accountability system relies too heavily on non-academic measures; sets the expectations bar too low; has weak interventions; and, most troublingly, trusts districts to hold themselves accountable. (Grave concerns about the plan’s achievement-gap implications have been raised by, among others, a former Bush administration official and Ed Trust’s head.)

But regardless of its content, this application—and similar district-accountability-waiver requests—should be denied for two reasons.

First, for years America has maintained an intricate K–12 accountability framework, with states playing lead. I never realized how critical this was until I worked for a state education agency.

Under state constitutions, state governments have responsibility for public education. Districts are creatures of state...

GadflyAfter attracting criticism for his description of how sequestration would impact schools (most notably, his comment that schools were already sending “pink slips” and that 40,000 teachers would be out of a job), Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized for his “choice of words,” but emphasized that the cuts are still a big problem. Apology accepted—though we still miss the Arne Duncan who used to say that “doing more with less” was “the New Normal.”

After a school board election with a price tag in the millions, Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy’s job appears to be safe, at least for now. The board president, Deasy ally, and two-term incumbent Monica Garcia, won her district handily despite fierce opposition of the unions, though one-term incumbent and union ally Steven Zimmer won a close race versus a reform-y newcomer. Whether or not the reformers maintain a voting majority will be determined by a third race, which is headed to a runoff. Back to the trenches!

In an unprecedented move, Georgia governor Nathan Deal removed six members of the dysfunctional DeKalb County school board—and a federal judge upheld his right to do so. The case is likely to move on to the Georgia Supreme Court. But in the meantime, the search is on for six...

Effect of ESEA Waiver Plans on High School Graduation Rate AccountabilityThis new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education offers a troubling diagnosis: The thirty-five “NCLB flexibility” waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) may have had the unfortunate side effect of allowing states to skirt 2008 regulations that standardized the graduation-rate measurements and held schools accountable for raising those rates. Trivial this is not: Prior to these changes, reported graduation rates were often inflated and always difficult to compare (just like proficiency rates). The 2008 regulations set parameters for consistent, common graduation-rate calculations across schools, districts, and states. Through their ESEA waivers, however, eleven states have re-incorporated “alternative” measures of high school completion (e.g., the GED) in their graduation-rate tracking and reporting, possibly incentivizing schools to “push students towards a GED rather than a standard diploma.” The 2008 policy exposed the low graduation rates of pupil subgroups (minorities, English language learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities) that had previously been masked by averaging the student population; but eleven state waivers contain weak or no strategies for subgroup grad-rate accountability. An intriguing question—not considered here—is whether the 2008 regulation was responsible (at least partially) for the recent uptick in the national graduation rate—and whether the waivers will send that rate tumbling again. The permanent policy question remains: Which aspects of American education should...

Bill Gates just released his foundation’s annual letter, and he summarizes the edu-important parts here. He focuses on the findings of the gigantic MET study. While I’m happy that he is personally publicizing what they learned about teacher effectiveness, this short piece only underscores the concerns I raised here. Implementing the study’s findings is the tough part, but his only reference to that is a glancing blow about budgeting. I really hope they have a detailed, coordinated plan in place.

Check out a smart piece by Checker on the very important issue of cut scores for common assessments. This is one of the issues that, if mishandled, may contribute to the centrifugal force pulling the testing consortia—and Common Core—apart. (Cost may prove to be another.) If you think I’m mother hen-ing this thing, consider Alabama’s recent decision to drop out

According to Politics K–12, a number of House GOP leaders are charging that the Administration is standing in the way of students hoping to participate in the D.C. scholarship program. This program, which allows a small number of D.C. kids to choose nonpublic schools, seems to always be on its last legs. Kudos to Speaker Boehner et GOP al. for continuously patching it up and fighting for the kids it might serve. As my book, The Urban School System of the Future, shows, there is wide variation in the quality...

Pages