NCLB

Anne Hyslop

As a premed student in college, I grew accustomed to being evaluated on just a handful of marks—two midterms and a final exam made up the entire grade. With so few assignments, the stakes to do well on each test were high. But there were a couple of professors who upped the ante even more. They’d toss out your shoddy midterm grades if you aced the final, no questions asked. Did you have too much fun homecoming weekend before that physics midterm? Fraternity brothers kept you out too late during “hell week” to study for the bio exam? No problem. There’s always the final exam—a chance for redemption.

If states’ requests for waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) three years ago were the first midterm, and last year’s slew of monitoring reports from the U.S. Department of Education and the waiver extension requests that followed were the second, then the upcoming waiver “renewals” are the final exam: the last chance states will have to negotiate with the department on the terms of their waivers. It’s also the last opportunity for Secretary Duncan to evaluate states’ progress and cajole them to implement key reforms before his...

Anne Hyslop

As a premed student in college, I grew accustomed to being evaluated on just a handful of marks—two midterms and a final exam made up the entire grade. With so few assignments, the stakes to do well on each test were high. But there were a couple of professors who upped the ante even more. They’d toss out your shoddy midterm grades if you aced the final, no questions asked. Did you have too much fun homecoming weekend before that physics midterm? Fraternity brothers kept you out too late during “hell week” to study for the bio exam? No problem. There’s always the final exam—a chance for redemption.

If states’ requests for waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) three years ago were the first midterm, and last year’s slew of monitoring reports from the U.S. Department of Education and the waiver extension requests that followed were the second, then the upcoming waiver “renewals” are the final exam: the last chance states will have to negotiate with the department on the terms of their waivers. It’s also the last opportunity for Secretary Duncan to evaluate states’ progress and cajole them to implement key reforms before his...

Every child should be in a school where he or she can learn effectively. That’s not a controversial goal in itself, but the methods meant to accomplish it can become hot buttons. That was the case with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which made the goal a national policy. It’s also becoming the case with the Common Core, under which states commit to educate children to rigorous standards.

Actions taken in pursuit of the goal are controversial because they are inevitably difficult and complicated. There is a lot of work of many kinds to be done: improving teacher training, experimenting with more effective methods, and continuously enhancing learning opportunities for children. Moreover, none of these tasks are enough by themselves. What ties them together is accountability—the use of standards, measures, judgments, and remedies to ensure that students are making significant progress over time and, if some are not, to ensure that they have access to better opportunities.  

Accountability is where the rubber meets the road. And, thanks to NCLB, we have unprecedented data about schools, students, and teachers. We have a sharper focus on students who are failing...

Since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind era, most schools in all 50 states have been given an evaluation of student performance and an overall rating. While crafting a thoughtful and nuanced accountability system is a frequent topic of discussion on The Gadfly (and is really what matters most), here I simply want to discuss the label that sums up a school's overall evaluation. Some might say it's wrong on principle to label schools. Others worry (and sometimes justifiably so) that a nuanced view of schools get lost when we attempt to boil it all down to a single school rating. Moreover, some may see these labels as nothing but a value judgment about "good" schools and "bad" schools when it's clear that parents value many different things about a school. From academics and facilities to safety and course offerings, even the "best" school might not be best for all kids. 

However, we can make objective judgments in some areas.  In addition, use of these labels is not only widely supported, it's also ingrained in federal policy through both NCLB and waivers. So the question is: If we're going to put schools into categories, what should those categories be called?  A few ideas to consider:

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photo credit: afsart via photopin cc

Last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal sued the U.S. Department of Education over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with a particular focus on the role that Race to the Top (RTTT) played in encouraging their adoption. And three days later, rumors arose that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin might haul that same agency into court for revoking its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver. Together these two suits bring some of the most criticized recent federal education policies under legal scrutiny. But President Obama’s conditional waivers are much more vulnerable to legal challenge than is his Race to the Top initiative. Here’s why:

Jindal’s lawsuit claims that the federal government has used legislation to incentivize state adoption of the CCSS. The complaint asks the court to (1) declare that these actions violate the United States Constitution and a number of federal statutes and (2) enjoin the federal government from continuing. There are a number of lenses through which the court could view these actions.

Let’s first look at the constitutional claim, which has virtually no chance of success. Louisiana alleges...


photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

It’s too soon to guess TIME Magazine’s person of the year, but a clear favorite has emerged for Common Core person of the year: the man, woman, or group that has done the most to advance the adoption and implementation of Common Core State Standards in the U.S. 

Ladies and gentleman, for meritorious service to further the cause of rigorous academic standards and educational excellence, please put your hands together for the governor of the great state of Louisiana, Common Core Man of the Year, Bobby Jindal!”

Jindal, as I’m sure you know, is suing the federal government over Common Core. And for this, he deserves enthusiastic cheers and undying gratitude from supporters of the Common Core State Standards. He has thrown into profound jeopardy the most effective talking point that their opponents have: that the feds forced national standards down the states’ throats and that Uncle Sam is illegally dictating what schools will teach. If this were true, any number of states, districts, or other stakeholders would have been in court ages ago. But they haven’t. The blunt fact of the matter is that...

Neerav Kingsland

Marc Tucker is the author of an important new report: Fixing Our National Accountability System. You can find the executive summary here.

Although Marc and I disagree on the promise of Relinquishment (most specifically on charter schools), I agree with much of this thinking.

But, in this report, Marc makes a strategic mistake in dismissing choice-based reforms.

To put it another way: if there is a grand bargain to be made that significantly increases student achievement in the United States, it could look like this:

  • Reduce testing frequency and increase testing rigor
  • Improve the quality of the teaching force
  • Increase charter schools and choice

Why could this bargain work? Because both Democrats and Republicans might actually support all three strategies.

Why might Marc’s vision not be realized without a charter strategy? Because, without charters, his reforms reduce testing accountability and increase spending, without increasing any elements of choice, competition, or entrepreneurship.

This is likely a nonstarter for many Americans, especially centrist and conservative policy makers.

Seventy percent of the public supports charter schools. Urban charter schools outperform traditional schools. And countries such as South Korea have shown that...

I have a complicated relationship with testing. I refuse to pretend that it’s caused no mischief in our schools—narrowing curriculum, encouraging large amounts of ill-conceived test prep, and making school a joyless grind for too many teachers and students alike—but neither can any fair-minded analyst deny that there have been real if modest gains in our present era of test-driven accountability, especially for low-income black and Hispanic children, particularly in the early grades.

What to make, then, of Secretary Duncan’s widely heralded concession that testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and his offer to states of a year-long delay in making test scores part of their evaluation systems?

“There’s wide recognition that annual assessments—those required by federal law—have done much to shine a light on the places and groups of students most in need of help. Yet in too many places, it’s clear that the yardstick has become the focus,” Duncan wrote in a lengthy blog post Thursday.

We at Fordham have been among those pleading for some reasonable flexibility in this area, particularly as new standards and assessments kick in, so the secretary’s message is welcome. Some...

Yesterday’s big news (regarding ObamaCare’s subsidies in states with federal exchanges) is that the judiciary actually expects the executive branch to pay attention to the clear language of laws passed by the legislature. (Update: At least, the D.C. Circuit does.) That this lesson in Civics 101 is news at all tells you something about the disrespect the Obama administration has shown to our Constitutional system. Congress may be semi-paralyzed, but the White House and the federal agencies still aren’t allowed to write the laws themselves.

Yet that’s exactly what Arne Duncan and his Department of Education continue to do when it comes to their interpretation of the waiver authority in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). He has the right to offer greater flexibility to the states when it comes to the law’s “adequate yearly progress” measures and other parts of its accountability system. What he has no constitutional right to do is dream up new mandates out of thin air and make flexibility contingent upon their embrace by supplicant states.

Let’s follow the example of the D.C. Circuit and examine the clear language of the applicable law. Section 9401 of ESEA plainly states that “the Secretary may waive...

Today’s big news (regarding ObamaCare’s subsidies in states with federal exchanges) is that the judiciary actually expects the executive branch to pay attention to the clear language of laws passed by the legislature. (Update: At least, the D.C. circuit does.) That this lesson in Civics 101 is news at all tells you something about the disrespect the Obama administration has shown to our Constitutional system. Congress may be semi-paralyzed, but the White House and the federal agencies still aren’t allowed to write the laws themselves.

Yet that’s exactly what Arne Duncan and his Department of Education continue to do when it comes to their interpretation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s waiver authority. He surely has the right to offer greater flexibility to the states when it comes to the law’s “adequate yearly progress” measures and other parts of its accountability system. What he has no constitutional right to do is dream up new mandates out of thin air and make flexibility contingent upon their embrace by supplicant states.

Let’s follow the example of the D.C. Circuit and examine the clear language of the...

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