A Quiet Revolution: The Education Law, ESSA, May Change the Face of Education (If You’re in the Right State!!)

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

One of recurring themes in American history is the conflict between the powers of Washington versus the powers of the states. The 10th Amendment underlines powers “delegated” to Washington and “reserved” to the states; however, over time Washington has inexorably eroded the powers of states, especially in education.

In Brown v Board of Education (1954) the Court decided, ”separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and in the Court’s second decision in Brown II only ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provided funds to primary and secondary education.in high poverty schools; Title 1 of the statue emphasizes equal access to education and accountability. In addition, the law aims to shorten the achievement between students by providing each child with “fair and equal opportunities to achieve an exceptional education.”

The courts and the federal government were intruding where the states were failing in their responsibilities.

The 10th Amendment Center reports, “Since 1980 (the establishment of the US Department of Education), during the Carter Administration, America’s K-12 education system has come under increasing control by the dictates of the federal Department of Education (DOE) with failing results, taxing states and filtering the money through Washington to return a portion of it back to the states.”

The Brookings Institute calls the 2002.No Child Left Behind “… the most important legislation in American education since the 1960s. The law requires states to put into place a set of standards together with a comprehensive testing plan designed to ensure these standards are met. Students at schools that fail to meet those standards may leave for other schools, and schools not progressing adequately become subject to reorganization.”  The bipartisan law was praised across the political spectrum. As the years progressed the law was increasingly criticized, especially the testing regime required sanctions.

The Obama administration continued and expanded the federal role, the Common Core State Standards, sponsored by the National Governors’ Association, and adopted by 46 states, resulted in the formation of two testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balance, with funding from the feds. In effect, we now had a set of national standards.

The Race to the Top, over $4 billion in competitive grants required schools to commit to the Common Core, expand charter schools and create a student test score-based teacher evaluation system

Every classroom was influenced by Washington imposed regulations and parents, teachers and school leaders pushed back. In New York State twenty percent of parents opted out of the state tests. The opposition, supported by teachers and their union, bled into day-to-day politics. Electeds and candidates jumped on board sharply opposing the Obama education initiatives.

Slowly the opposition to Obama and NCLB resulted in the creation of bills, at first Republican bills in the House that died in the Senate, Senators Patty Murray (D) and Lamar Alexander (R) crafted a Senate bill that crept through both houses and was signed by the President. The law, the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) rolls back the federal role in education policy-making.

While the law continues the required grades 3-8 testing the law delegates to the states the creation of school accountability plans. The fifty states are in the process of creating plans; while the law grants states wide discretion the plans must meet rigorous evidenced-based standards.

Read draft ESSA regulations: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/05/31/2016-12451/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965-as-amended-by-the-every-student-succeeds.

New York State started quickly, targeting the March submission date, and, at the October Board of Regents meeting slowed down, agreeing to move to the July date.

The Commissioner has created a ESSA Think Tank made up of a wide range of stakeholders to participate in developing pathways. View the October Regents Meeting PowerPoint description of the process to date:  http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/ESSA.pdf

Read a lengthier description of the process:  http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa.html ,

ESSA retains many of the core provisions of No Child Left Behind (the previous reauthorization of ESEA) related to standards, assessments, accountability, and use of Federal funds. However, ESSA does provide states with much greater flexibility in many areas, including the methodologies for differentiating the performance of schools and the supports and interventions to provide when schools are in need of improvement.

View the beginning of the state plan: the Guiding Principles, the Characteristics of Highly Effective Schools and the High Concept Ideas at the links below.

Draft Guiding Principles

Draft Characteristics of Highly Effective Schools

High Concept Ideas

Among the controversial sections of the draft New York State plan is the question of proficiency versus growth. Should schools be “judged” based on the percentages of students, and subgroups of students that meet state-established proficiency or should growth play a major role: the percentage of students who show year to year growth on the state tests? Or should the accountability metric combine proficiency and growth, and, if so, what should the mix look like? For example, 85% proficiency or 85% growth?

The proficiency v growth issue is being hotly debated among the stakeholders and the advocacy community. For example, Education Trust – New York is supporting a proficiency-based model as well as vigorous interventions at the school level.

Ensure that academic achievement drives school performance determinations and improvement strategies. This should be done by maintaining high standards; ensuring that academic measures represent more than 75 percent of a school’s rating; and limiting the number of accountability indicators.

Require immediate action when schools are not meeting rigorous expectations for any group of students. Ambitious performance and gap-closing goals should be set for all groups of students, and — following a needs assessment and with school district and, where necessary, state support — evidence-based strategies implemented when those goals are not met.

See Ed Trust position papers here  and here.

At the October UFT Delegate Meeting UFT President Mulgrew supported the growth concept. He asked, “Why punish teachers in high poverty schools if the children are making progress?”

This will be a major point of contention as the Regents move toward crafting a final plan.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has produced a valuable document, a look at what a number of states and advocacy organizations are working on and advocating.

View Overview of Proposed Accountability Models: http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2016/ESSA/OverviewofProposedAccountabilityModels.pdf

Another organization, Chiefs for Change is working with fifteen states, in the creation of state plans. In a policy paper entitled, “ESSA Indicators of School Quality and Student Success” the Chiefs explore the research, for example, student attendance, teacher attendance, student suspensions, school climate, non-cognitive skills, etc., how do they impact student achievement? The Chiefs also have an interesting paper on evidence, ESSA requires that all plan meet high standards of evidence and Chief’s explore the question of what constitutes evidence. View paper: http://chiefsforchange.org/policy-paper/3096/

New Hampshire continues to move toward performance tasks in lieu of state tests, Vermont will explore portfolios, in the 1990’s they abandoned plans, an outside evaluation reviewer criticized their plans; it was not possible to create inter rater reliability. Will a portfolio reviewer in Scarsdale grade the same as a portfolio reviewer in East New York?

From coast to coast states are exploring evidence-based accountability proposals. Some will stick with the current PARCC or Smarter Balance tests or tests developed specifically for the individual states, some will move away from proficiency towards growth, a few will explore performance tasks and other authentic assessments. All have to pass the stringent evidence-based requirements of the law.

Perhaps for the first time in many decades educational decisions, reserved for the states, will be made by the states.

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2 responses to “A Quiet Revolution: The Education Law, ESSA, May Change the Face of Education (If You’re in the Right State!!)

  1. Seems pretty much like the same old “reform” stuff or as you have previously referred to it, “deform” stuff. From a conceptual vantage point, teachers are evaluated on the performance and or growth of student grades on standardized assessments – if I have this right, add district or school developed assessments that pass the mustard of standardization – not sure if this is accurate or just my interpretation. Then the assessment of all students or sub-groups is similar to previous initiatives – setting up some kids for an endless school career of remediation/interventkion that misses the mark and doesn’t work. Sending in state or central office troops to evaluate weak performers and to “help” them meet “their” quality goals has never proven effective – so I guess it makes perfect sense to continue with this tradition of harassment and pretense. The days of testing and the wellbeing of bulletin boards taking precedence over uniform and credible curricula (content and skills/standards), the use of proven instructional methods that engage pale to the cosmetic use of carpets and collaborative groups, and the wave of approval of growth models that have shown themselves to be ineffective and downright inaccurate all seem to prevail in this ‘new’ but quite familiar and uninspiring paradigm. Can you image the progress we would make if we were serious about focusing on using solid grade level curriculum, training teachers in the most powerful instructional methods and lesson planning techniques to advance student learning of the curriculum, training supervisors to support this work, even having institutions of higher learning – teacher preparation programs advance these elements as the focal points of their work? Can you imagine – me neither. If I have this all wrong, please correct my perceptions. I haven’t been totally up-to-date since I retired – it would be nice if we were on a positive track for a change.

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    • Heywood – You are not wrong. Reformers will continue to distract from any real benefit that could accrue from ESSA which, IMO, can only come from removing high stakes accountability from the results of a single standardized test poorly conceived and based on poorly conceived standardized curriculum which is worse than valueless because of its secrecy.

      As for doing something beneficial (and evidence based) like improving teacher prep and essential professional development, the reformers are way ahead of us on that too. Along with Chiefs for Change disastrous ESSA plan is their Teacher Prep Plan. As always, sounds good with its year long mentorship program, but designed to include the quickie alternate certification “private providers” like TFA smoke screen Relay Grad School of Ed. NIET has reawakened and reinvested in its TAP standardized teacher prep. For all the worst of it watch LOUISIANA and its Chief For Change leader our state superintendent John White smooze and bully his way through it.

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