Once again states are scrambling to jump on the carousel and grab that golden ring – a waiver from sections of the No Child Left Behind law. They may find it’s made of dross not gold.
For the past three years Duncan has been trying to embed the core of the Race to the Top competition in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind, aka, NCLB. ( the name was changed in the 2001 reauthorization). Both houses of Congress have pushed back, representatives from inner city communities are wary of school closings, others think these matters are best left to the states, they aver the federal government is overreaching its constitutional authority. For the Republicans why not wait till after the 2012 elections, they may control the presidency and both houses.
The Obama-Duncan waiver plan is an end run – since no bill seems likely to emerge the administration is offering waivers – in exchange for concessions by the states the feds will lift other requirements.
NCLB has put too much emphasis on a single standardized test on a single day. This is teachers’ biggest complaint about the law. They feel pressure to prepare students for those tests, leading to an unintended narrowing of the curriculum and an emphasis on the basic skills measured by standardized tests. NCLB’s accountability system doesn’t help drive and shape a well-rounded curriculum that challenges students to excel academically.
Great – so we can abandon the test every year from the third grade on … avoid multiple choice monstrosities? Not quite.
ESEA flexibility will let States make accountability decisions based on student growth and progress, as well as other measures of student learning and school performance. They will consider more than a single test score measured against an arbitrary proficiency level. States will be able to look comprehensively at how schools are serving their students and communities, in areas like school climate, access to rigorous coursework, and providing a well-rounded education.
To quality for a waiver states must adopt the Common Core standards, and 47 states have done so, and, join one of the two consortia. New York State belongs to PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). PARCC has just released dense draft content standards in ELA and Math – take a look at the ELA standards here – two years down the road PARCC will proffer exams to assess students on these standards.
Where is the “flexibility”?
Can a state choose not to use the PARCC assessments and use a teacher judgment based assessment similar to what is utilized in Finland? Will any state have the temerity to write such a waiver?
ESEA flexibility also will support States and districts in fixing the broken teacher evaluation system. States will begin to use multiple measures to evaluate teachers, including peer reviews, principal observation, portfolios, and student work. Improving teacher evaluation systems will support a learning culture where teachers can target instruction towards the needs of students, and will encourage a well-rounded curriculum. These improved evaluations will also consider student growth, to help focus on what really matters – the annual gains of students – and to recognize, reward, and learn from the schools and teachers that are accomplishing this hard work.
To claim that teacher evaluation systems are broken is an insult to the folks who currently supervise teachers. The failure is a system in which half the employees leave within five years, and, in high poverty, inner city schools the attrition is much higher. The imposition of a student growth metric will drive teachers away from high poverty schools, and, of course, if we are going to measure teachers by student growth don’t we need a test? Isn’t this call for “flexibility” in testing a canard?
Why are states scrambling to get on board?
First: the possibility of avoiding Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI) status for subgroups. Currently if a subgroup: i.e., Afro-Americans, students with IEPs (with disabilities), English Language Learners(ELL), do not achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals the entire school is considered a SINI school. With rapidly growing ELL populations schools are falling into the SINI category; rather than concentrating on the special needs of subgroups school boards would rather change the rules to avoid subgroups driving schools into SINI status.
Second: the lure of the Supplementary Education Services (SES) dollars. After-school tutoring for eligible students in SINI schools is provided by outside vendors approved by each state – hundreds of millions of dollars nationally. There is no evidence that these programs are successful and plenty of anecdotal evidence that they are waste of money. The programs vary: some offer online packages, others use college students, or whomever, to provide the tutoring services. The tutor and the classroom teacher rarely interact. The waiver allows the state to write a plan that eliminates outside vendors In a period of drastic cuts and a future of even more cuts the specter of these tutoring dollars being driven directly to schools is attractive.
The benefit for the state:
* avoiding accountability for subgroups
* SES dollars supplementing school budgets
The benefit for Duncan:
* tying state/schools to what is in essence a national testing program
* forcing states to adopt student progress data as a teacher evaluation tool.
The downside for the states:
* hopping onboard a program that might die with the next election.
* adopting student testing and teacher evaluation programs that are deeply unpopular among parents, teachers and principals, and, which may drive teachers away from the neediest schools.
New York State was a winner in the Race to the Top competition. What is happening to the “golden ring,” the $700 million dollars? Have you noticed any RttT funded teachers in your school?
Half the dollars are being used at the state level: to develop statewide student data collection systems, to design and implement the teacher-principal evaluation law, to support the adoption of the Common Core, to support “clinically rich” teacher-training college programs, etc. At the district level: developing technology.
The growing revolt among principals: fifteen percent of the principals in the state, and growing every da,y have signed a letter sharply critical of the teacher-principal evaluation and the revolution is growing. Usually compliant school leaders are pushing back – the claim of a failed evaluation system is a direct attack on their competency.
Sometimes more is less.
Chasing after the ring may just result in getting dizzy, not rich.