Tag Archives: ESSA

Should Research Precede Program Creation/Implementation?Is It Too Much to Expect That Education Decisions Are Guided by Evidence?

Two of the foremost education thinkers have written about one of my favorite topics: the eagerness of policy-makers to jump into the frying pan without checking the temperature. The creation of a policy based upon a hope and a philosophical belief rather than evidence. The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does require evidence-based approaches to defining accountability. Tom Kane at Harvard and Doug Harris at Tulane argue for evidence, research, at the local level; I couldn’t agree more.

From pharmaceuticals to retail sales, innovators test their ideas before scaling them up. In a new article for Education Next, Thomas Kane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education argues that, similarly, education research must make a fundamental shift toward small-scale, district-level intervention studies in order to support sustained improvement in student achievement.

States should adopt a simple goal: any major initiative involving more than 100 classrooms should be subject to a local pilot test before being rolled out.

Doug Harris expands and suggests that the research take place as close to schools as possible,

… build a new cadre of researchers employed by school districts, state agencies, and local nonprofits. This new army of researchers, with master’s degrees and certificates, would have many of the skills of Ph.D. researchers, especially the ability to design and carry out randomized trials and rigorous quasi-experiments.

*  there would be far more of them

 the in-house researchers would be more connected to practice

 in-house researchers will be able to help education leaders interpret outside research and understand whether the results apply in their contexts.

* in-house researchers would generally be trained by Ph.D. researchers at universities

* by working within the education agencies that actually make decisions, the in-house researchers would also have the relationships to ensure that research is at the table—at strategy meetings with superintendents and school board meetings.

Kane and Harris argue for research at the state and district level; in addition, I argue for action research projects in schools,

[Action Research] is a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions …. action research is always relevant to the participants. Relevance is guaranteed because the focus of each research project is determined by the researchers, who are also the primary consumers of the findings.

For me the key to effective school leadership or effective classroom teaching is taking ownership of your practice. One of the key rules of personal and institutional change is participation reduces resistance. In New York City funds are driven directly to schools, principals, in theory, have wide discretion. Unfortunately it is commonplace for the leader at the top of the policy chain to select what the leader thinks is the best program, and, one size fits all does not always fit. The State maintains a checklist, and struggling schools are “rated” on their compliance to the checklist.

The State visited a middle school in a high poverty high crime neighborhood. The State evaluator asked, “Why don’t you have an after school tutorial program?” The principal explained his kids pick up younger siblings from a nearby elementary school, and wouldn’t stay for the program and kids feel safer walking through the gang turf together. He proudly explained the school had a “lunch and learn” alternative. The teachers tutored the kids, a 3:1 student teacher ratio, during lunch. The teachers were paid, and, the data was excellent,  he had conducted an action research project. The State evaluator had no interest in the data – the alternative wasn’t on the checklist.

Occasionally schools carve out a space within the bureaucracy. Eric Nadelstern created a school for English language learners and working with the staff and the union received a portfolio waiver from the State. The alternative instructional methodology was successful and over the years, with support from external foundations grew into the International Network, fifteen schools in New York City and others beginning across the nation. A seed that grew, based upon research, into a movement.

My former school district was committed to school based decision-making and school-based budgeting. With the support of the district schools crafted a variety of instructional and organizational strategies. I sat in on a number of planning meetings. Some of the schools were totally engaged, they created schools within schools, creative uses of Title 1 dollars, a range of strategies. The only “requirement” from the superintendent was a method of evaluating the effectiveness of the school strategy. Watching teachers grapple with creating an assessment tool is the best kind of professional development.

I worked with a not-for-profit that provided training in school-based action research and a modest grant to pay teachers per session for planning time. The schools explored how to increase parent involvement, comparing “pull out” or “push-in” Title 1 teacher results, exploring whether using Title 1 dollars to extend the school day  is more effective than traditional reading and math Title 1 teachers, etc. Collaboratively creating a research design model, collecting data, assessing, drawing conclusions, making changes in the original model based on their own research.

Guess what?  The “powers that be,” the compliance monitors at Central nixed a number of the programs effectively stifling creativity.

The leaders of education in New York State support integrated special education classroom instead of self-contained classrooms and have been urging/demanding that school leaders move to integrated classrooms. What is the evidence? The State points to national data, principals point to data from within their schools. Why not teach schools/school districts how to design a research model?

Superintendents were superb principals and excellent teachers; however, what worked for the superintendent in their prior professional life may not work for the next generation of school leaders. The “teaching them to fish” allegory also fits into creating school models.

I worked with a superintendent who had conservative views (“order precedes learning”) and also recognized the power and creativity bubbling within school leaders and teachers. He both encouraged and supported school leaders, do what you think is best, my staff will work with you to implement whatever you and your staff design, we’ll figure out an assessment tool. If it’s a bomb, you do it my way!!!

At the April Regents Meeting the members will make significant changes in the teacher preparation regulations. Six years ago former Commissioner John King forced changes to the regulations, four exams, without any data as to the outcomes. Regents Cashin and Rosa asked whether it was possible to pilot the exams, nope, the exams became a reality. Now five years later, enrollment in teacher education programs is sharply down, colleges are beginning to shrink programs, with no evidence that the exams produced more productive teachers.

Here’s a thought: math scores are low, many high schools don’t even offer the intermediate algebra regents, should prospective elementary school teachers take more math courses? Do kids do better in classrooms when the teacher had more college math courses?

Why not identify the potentially impactful questions, create a pilot, and test out the options?

Sweet memories …

ESSA, Martin Luther King and Accountability: Will the New York State Plan Address Fiscal Inequalities?

Learn baby learn, earn baby earn.” Martin Luther King, 1967

Early this morning I donned my winter bike gear and pushed off, a light snow had fallen; it was crisp, really crisp, with the rising sun low in the eastern sky; a glorious morning to greet Martin Luther King’s birthday.

I spent last night listening to MLK speeches; I had never listened to his 1967 speech to the students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia entitled, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” Take fifteen minutes and listen to the speech here – it is as relevant today as it was a half century ago.

A year ago we were jubilant, a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act promised a new era, the end of the notorious “test and punish” No Child Left Behind.” The new law returned to the states the power to set education policy within broad guidelines set by feds.

Tomorrow the Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, who has spent her career and political dollars, with considerable success, opening unregulated charter schools in Michigan. Her vision of education is a return to the pre-Brown v Board of Education days, a voucher system that would return to schools segregated by race, class and parental income; a repudiation of the essence of King’s life work. A few days later the inauguration of Trump: dark clouds hover over our nation.

ESSA, our new education law, passed Congress with wide support across party lines, a rare example of truly bipartisan legislation. As the regulations have been promulgated the fifty states have begun to craft their required accountability plans: the essence of the new law. New York State, after a slow start is fully engaged drafting the plan.

A simple question: How will the plan impact the lives of classroom teachers and students?

We currently live in a world driven by annual English and Mathematics tests in grades 3-8 and exit exams in high school. The unintended consequence was to create a narrow, rigid “test and punish” system. For superintendents and principals the goal was “proficiency:” how many students scored in the proficient realm.

School resources were targeted to kids “approaching proficiency” and ignored kids far below or far above proficiency. The Arts, physical education, school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and enrichment programs fell victim to the targeting of resources to a narrow band of students. Race to the Top dangled dollars if states fully implemented the Common Core State Standards and, New York State was the first state to both fully implement the CCSS and move to Common Core tests.  Standards are not a curriculum, they are skills; while curriculum is the responsibility of the school district the State produced Curriculum Modules on their Engage NY site;  modules that were adopted by schools districts around the State. Since the state produced the tests and the modules it would be foolish not to adopt the modules regardless of what you thought of them.

ESSA allows states to decide how to define accountability, and the change can drive education in a different direction: it all depends upon the New York State plan.

The state can decide to move from proficiency, a score on a test, to growth, comparing scores over time.

A few examples: a new principal came into a very low achieving school, the students made impressive progress, no one cared, and the school was still below proficient. What was he doing differently? What organizational and/or instructional changes had taken place?  The school was below proficient; the school district was only interested in high achieving schools. Another school had a steady flow of new immigrants, scores were very low; however, the kids in school a few years were doing quite well, the students were below proficient; that’s all that mattered.

Under a growth accountability system, or a combination of proficiency and growth, both schools would receive recognition for their hard work.

This year the Commissioner and the Regents have had a laser focus on educating themselves, reaching out to all constituencies and collaboratively creating an ESSA accountability plan.

Each meeting of the Board of Regents has been a learning experience – experts from across the nation presenting ideas, warning about pitfalls, describing what other states are doing and making a range of suggestions.

Check out the presentations, high quality Power Points below:

ESSA Law Explained: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa.html

ESSA State Plan Development Activities (10/16): https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/ESSA.pdf

SED High Level Concepts for Draft Plan (10/16): http://www.nysed.gov/news/2016/state-education-department-proposes-high-level-concepts-draft-every-student-succeeds-act

Linda Darling-Hammond Papers on ESSA (4/16): https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/pathways-new-accountability-through-every-student-succeeds-act

Michael Cohen, Achieve, College and Career Readiness, Equity and ESSA (11/16); http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/Full%20Board%20Monday%20PM%20-%20MCohen.pdf

Scott Marion: Opportunities and Challenges in the Design of ESSA Accountability Systems (12/16): https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/FB%20-%20Monday%20ESSA%20Assessment%20and%20Accountability%20for%20RegentsSMarion.pdf

Update on the Development of a State ESSA Accountability Plan (12/16): https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/FB%20Monday%20-%20ESSA%20Commissioner.pdf

Linda-Darling Hammond Presentation at the Jan, 2017 Board of Regents Meeting: https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/FB%20Tuesday%20-%20Building%20an%20Accountability%20System.pdf

All the presenters suggested moving away from proficiency only, to multiple measures, called a dashboard, a range of indicators to both define and measure “success.”  In other words, you have to define accountability before you can measure accountability. Yes, the law requires annual grades 3-8 tests; however, the law does not proscribe or define a test. Some states are exploring performance tasks or portfolios of student work; a complex path: how do you assure inter rater reliability? Should the five regents exams be the only path to a diploma? Should we substitute AP exams? Industry certifications in CTE areas?

Other states are exploring the dashboard concept: in addition to proficiency and growth using attendance, parent and student surveys, as well as other possible questions: Can we “measure” non-cognitive behaviors? Should resilience in post-secondary education impact a school?  Should English language learners in their first few years and some students with disabilities be “measured” differently than all other students?

When the dust clears, the State ESSA plan will define accountability and identify the bottom five percent for intervention. This is NOT Lake Woebegone where all children are above average.

In her slide deck Linda Darling-Hammond reached that moment of truth: describing “Support for Intervention.”

* Teams of expert educators trained to work with struggling schools.

* School pairs and networks for learning.

* Content collaboratives/ subject matter projects

* Trained curriculum coaches.

* Wraparound services including extended learning after school and in the summer.

* School redesign initiatives based on research and best practices.

I don’t want to be discouraging – haven’t we been doing some or all of the above?  Does school and district leadership have the capacity to carry out the supports described, and, a question asked by a number of Board members: equity. Where do schools and school districts get the funds to carry out the interventions?  Vice Chancellor Brown asked if the issue of equity can be included in an ESSA plan. Linda Darling-Hammond gave a hesitant “yes.”

Should plans acknowledge that kids don’t start from the same place and by continuing a pattern of extreme inequality in funding aren’t we exacerbating inequality and undermining any plan?

Fifty years after the MLK speech referenced above we are still asking kids to compete on unequal grounds.

High potential; however, a long complex path; can the Commissioner require schools and teachers, who have the ultimate responsibility to enact the new law,  to move forward without an even funding playing field?

Trump, ESSA and Education Policy: Musing Over the Future of Public Education

Unlimited power is … a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, only God alone can be omnipotent … no power on earth is so worthy of honor for itself; or for reverential  obedience to the rights which it represents that I would consent to admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority.

In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise … from their weakness but from their overpowering strength; and I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the very inadequate securities which exist against tyranny.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.

A year ago the Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor to the much reviled No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The new law was the result of a few years of behind the scenes negotiating, the bill was bipartisan with Senators Lamar Alexander (R) and Patty Murray (D) leading the way.

While the law still requires annual grades 3-8 testing and the public reporting of the results states are given wide discretion in the design of accountability metrics.  States are currently deeply engaged in drafting plans that must be submitted to the feds by September, 2017. Some states are working with Linda Darling-Hammond at the Learning Policy Institute, others with Michael McGee at Chiefs for Change (See advocacy here) or the Council of State School Officers (See CCSSO guide here). States are grappling with designing accountability plans: how you measure and report student outcomes? Stick with the current pen and pencil, or computer-based testing, move to performance tasks, portfolios or other types of “authentic” assessments, and, as the law requires, are these new tools evidence-based in their reliability and validity?

The law itself, hundreds of pages of dense legal jargon must be reduced to regulations and the process is lengthy and tedious. The negotiated rule-making process, the posting of draft regulations, a lengthy public comment period and the final release of the regulations within the last month.

How will the new administration, the new Secretary of Education, implement the rules, and, can she change the regulations?

Betsy DeVoss has been one of the leading proponents of choice in the nation. Ideally choice means that each parent would be provided with a voucher, or coupon, or whatever term you use that is equal to the cost of education in a state and the parent could present the voucher to any school: public, charter, private or religious. Education; however, is a state function; over 90% of funding for schools is generated through local property taxes or state revenues, the feds on provide Title I dollars and other federal grants. DeVoss cannot impose vouchers; although she can hang the bait of increased dollars for those who take the bait.

Janelle Scott, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in a recent peer-reviewed article challenges the assertion that choice produces better outcomes. Read the essay here.

Even though ESSA is the law of the land and the regulations have been established the Secretary still interprets the law. The Secretary may issue “Dear Colleague” letters clarifying elements within the law and regulations (See examples of Dear Colleague letters here). “Dear Colleague” letters undermine the intent of the law or regulation.

How can the Secretary influence the distribution of federal education dollars?

The largest pot of federal dollars are Title I funds based on poverty metrics, distributed to states, school districts and schools. (See a detailed description of Title I here). Charter and religious schools also receive Title I funding under federal statutes. The formula for the allocation of federal dollars is complex and the Secretary plays a role; although, the states play the major role in determining cut scores for eligibility. For example: how do you measure poverty? Free and reduced lunch forms? federal census family income data? Should you concentrate the dollars: meaning should fewer schools receive more dollars?  These are debates that have been ongoing for years.

DeVoss will attempt to both reward charter and religious schools and encourage vouchers. Let us not forget that Arne Duncan offered competitive grants under Race to the Top to encourage Obama-Duncan policies, example, charter schools, Common Core, teacher evaluations plans, etc.

Will the Secretary decide how ESSA is applied to opt out schools?

The answer is yes, if she wants to play a major role. ESSA, and its predecessor required a 95% participation rate on the required standardized grades 3-8 tests. The purpose was to discourage/prevent schools from conveniently excusing kids who were likely to do poorly on the test; no one envisioned the opt out movement. Some states specifically prohibit. or specifically allow parent opt outs whiles others are completely silent. (Read description here). In January, 2016 the feds sent a letter to all states setting forth potential actions against states with low participation rates,

In addition, an SEA has a range of other enforcement actions at its disposal with respect to noncompliance by an LEA, including placing a condition on an LEA’s Title I, Part A grant or withholding an LEA’s Title I, Part A funds (see, e.g., section 440 of the General Education Provisions Act). If a State with participation rates below 95% in the 2014−2015 school year fails to assess at least 95% of its students on the statewide assessment in the 2015 − 2016 school year, ED will take one or more of the following actions: (1) withhold Title I , Part A State administrative funds ; (2) place the State’s Title I , Part A grant on high-risk status and direct the State to use a portion of its Title I State administrative funds to address low participation rates; or (3) withhold or redirect Title V I State assessment funds.

New York State, by far, has the largest number of schools/parents with low participation rates; there are a number of other states, i. e., Illinois, Maine, Connecticut, California, Colorado Idaho, North Carolina Delaware Wisconsin Washington and Rhode Island.

The law is clear, the feds can reduce Title 1 funding to states with low participation rates; to complicate many of the opt out school do not receive Title 1 funding, or receive relatively little Title 1  funding. Does the state allow Title 1 students to receive fewer dollars or does the state transfer funds form opt out to Title 1 schools?

I suspect the choice forces will do everything possible to fracture public education. Deepen the moat, sharpen the pikes, the next few years will be parry and thrust.

Meandering Toward an ESSA Plan: Can the Commissioner/Regents Satisfy the Electeds, Parents, Teachers and Create a More Equitable Learning Environment?

Where you ever driving down a dark road, lost, you keep on driving, maybe, just maybe you’re not as lost as you think you are, and, it’s a long drive back … unfortunately I fear the folks at State Ed are on that road.

At this point in the process of constructing an ESSA plan the state has identified 36 “High Concept Ideas” and seven questions that it is asking the education community. (Read the High Concept Ideas and Questions here).

The first High Concept Idea:

To ensure all schools are provided with accurate measurement of their students’ academic proficiencies, NY proposes to determine a State-designed rigorous action that will lead to improvements in the participation rate of schools that did not test 95%of their students (as opposed to an action designed by USDE).

So, the most important High Concept Idea, the idea that leads the list is an “idea” that might reduce the number of opt out parents. I understand, we live in a political world, and, it is the political side that votes budgets; increasing the participation rate, in theory, will make the governor, the legislature, and the activist parents happier.

Will Johnny and Mary and Jose and Jamaal learn to read better and calculate better and think better?

The process of creating an ESSA plan forces the state to take a look at itself: have we been moving in the right direction? Are our students ready for post-secondary education, be it college or career? And, if not, why not? And, how can we change direction? And, what direction?

The Union Leader, a New Hampshire newspaper has a relevant article. New Hampshire is in the midst of a major change in direction, moving away from the age-old standardized test to performance tasks and project-based pedagogy.

… when we do hire new employees we find many are ill prepared for the 21st century workplace. Young workers who lack strong communication skills, who struggle with spreadsheets and many who lack the math skills needed to be successful in the world of work today. This challenge is felt in every sector from advanced manufacturing to health care to professional services.

The problem is an outdated understanding of what graduates should be able to do when transitioning from school to the job market.

Business has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and skills that are needed now are far different from those just a short time ago. Think of social media managers, app developers and cloud based engineers – positions that were not heard of 10 years ago. Teamwork, problem solving, technical and critical thinking skills are in high demand, but many employers are having a hard time finding these qualities in graduates from schools that up to now have been focused on old education models of lecturing and exams.

In every classroom, in every school and district the prime emphasis is the grades 3-8 tests and in high schools graduation rates; which equates to passing regents exams. The Work Group on Regents Exams also reported at the Regent Meeting; one of their recommendations was an appeals process for students who failed regents exam: the local district, upon a review of the student’s record could change the failing grade to a passing grade!!  The Work Group chair bemoaned kids who failed regents numerous times; instead of asking why the student failed, instead of perhaps modifying the instruction, for example teach Algebra 1 in a four-term sequence rather than a one year course, the Work Group simply wants to pass the student along to the next teacher in the higher level course. Repeating the course numerous times is foolish, the “answer” is asking ourselves what we can do to intervene so that the student doesn’t fail in the first place.

Later in the day Michael Cohen, the president of ACHIEVE and Linda Darling-Hammond leader of the Learning Policy Institute made presentations to the Board of Regents.

Read presentations:

Michael Cohen, ACHIEVE, “College and Career Readiness. Equity and ESSA,” (http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/Full%20Board%20Monday%20PM%20-%20MCohen.pdf)

Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute,” ESSA and Equity – Opportunities to Close the Opportunity Gap,” (http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/Full%20Board%20Monday%20PM%20-%20ESSA%20and%20Equity_0.pdf)

Cohen compared New York State with other states and took a deep dive into New York State data; his first slide lays out a troubling picture.

* Too many NY students leave high school poorly prepared for college and career

* There are significant “preparation gaps” based on race, ethnicity and income.

* State policies can help improve preparation and close gaps – but not as NY has designed them.

Darling Hammond is clear and concise,

* States are expected to adopt challenging Academic Standards for all students

* Assessments must measure “higher order thinking skills and understanding.”

* These may include “portfolios, projects or extended performance tasks.”

* Scores must be based on multiple assessments during the course of the academic year rather than single summative assessments.

When teachers use and score performance assessments, they [the teachers] can develop a deeper understanding of academic standards and student learning, which translates into more effective teaching and thereby enhances equity.

Take a few minutes and read the presentations from Cohen and Darling-Hammond.

The final plan will not be submitted until mid-July, many months to continue to craft a plan. The process is a unique, states  rarely have an opportunity to make “mid-course corrections,” unfortunately states are like ocean liners, it takes many miles to even change course; and. of course, the problem of Newton’s First Law of Motion  – momentum.

“Why do you do it this way?”

“This is the way we’ve always done it.”

Moving from the traditional classroom to a classroom described by Darling-Hammond is a huge jump that requires buy-in from school districts, school leaders, and, most importantly, the teachers. The lesson from the Common Core, hopefully learned, is the commissioner is not Moses, s/he cannot simply hand us the new Ten Commandments.

Vermont is moving towards adopting performance tasks in lieu of standards tests, the phase-in is in Year 3, each year another cohort of districts entering the process.

On one hand I’m concerned, on the other optimistic; we have a long road ahead of us.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

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.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Convention: Days 1 and 2: Hillary, Randi, ESSA, Governors, Senators, Debate and Guests.

Wow!! What a day…

Sunday night: The convention begins with a Progressive Caucus meeting; over a decade ago there were opposing political caucuses within the AFT, currently the majority, the vast majority caucus is the Progressive Caucus. Although the Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) defeated an incumbent slate in Chicago, at the AFT most of the Chicago delegates are in the Progressive Caucus, the same for the Los Angeles (UTLA), the union president defeated the incumbent slate; however, at the AFT his local is inside the Progressive Caucus umbrella. About 2/3 of the delegates are within the Progressive Caucus – the opposition caucus, from what I can see representing teachers in Berkeley and a few in Detroit is very small in number; although, they speak on the floor every chance they get. The Progressive Caucus took positions on about a dozen of the ninety-one resolutions.

Monday morning: A UFT delegation breakfast meeting at 7 am over watery scrambled eggs and lukewarm bacon Mulgrew gave an update and a preview. The union and the Department still have to negotiate a teacher evaluation plan, without the use of student test scores in grade 3-8 by the end of the year, or, lose half a billion dollars in state aid: probably SLOs, MOSLs and the like … Although there are now almost 150 PROSE schools many other schools struggle with school leadership, especially school leaders who fail to include the union chapter in the planning of educational policies – the union contract, Article 24, calls for mediation if the school leader fails to involve the chapter – the clause was only used three times last year. The union will pursue a major initiative to increase teacher participation at the school level.

Off to the first convention session: Randi Weingarten’s State of the Union address. One of Randi’s best speeches, she spoke about her path to becoming a passionate advocate, the role of her mother who was a teacher, her father who was laid off from a job as an engineer, and introduced her partner, Sharon Kleinbaum, the rabbi at the largest LGBTQI congregation in the nation. For those of you who have heard Randi speak at times she begins to shout, almost shrill, she simply said that’s the way she is … and wondered whether male speakers received the same criticism. The core of the speech:  the most critical election of our lifetimes.  Watch and listen to the speech on the AFT.org website.

Off to the Divisional Meetings, the AFT represents, in addition to teachers, health care workers, colleges and universities, school-related personnel and other public employees. Linda Darling-Hammond, at the K-12 session, hopefully the next Secretary of Education in a Clinton Administration described her new gig – CEO of the Learning Policy Institute : the goal is to publicize evidence-based approaches to the major issues confronting schools, authentic assessment of student performance as well as teacher assessment/evaluation.

The Learning Policy Institute has been created to answer this new moment’s call to action. The Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness.

Next, the thirteen committees meet to debate the ninety-one resolutions. This year the Education Issues committee attracted about 800 delegates, I chair the International Affairs Committee, usually quite rambunctious, this year much milder. The committees concur, concur with amendments or recommend non-concurrence to the convention and select the three priorities that will be debated on the convention floor.

Waiting for Hillary:  the 4:30 Hillary speech is delayed, she is coming from the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati. About an hour later the Minnesota Senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobushar speak to the convention – both played major roles in dumping NCLB and crafting the new ESSA law. BTW, they’re wonderful speakers – Franken is self-deprecating, and, as you would expect, funny. Klobushar’s mother was a union teacher in Minnesota who worked as a classroom teacher until she was seventy!

We later find out Hillary was meeting with the family of the food-services worker, Phil Castillo, who was murdered at a traffic stop in St Paul, before her address to the convention. As I entered my hotel I was amazed by a sign. “No firearms allowed on this premise,” Minnesota is a concealed carry state!

Hillary’s speech was “workmanlike,” she covered all the bases, addressed every issue, and was interrupted endlessly by spontaneous applause. At the beginning of the speech some Black Lives Matter folk, it turns out guests, not delegates, were chanting slogans. My Bernie friends were totally on board, the critical nature of November was apparent to all. The convention endorsed Hillary with enormous enthusiasm; with the Republican convention in the process of endorsing Trump a Hillary victory is clear to everyone. Whatever reluctance or Bernie pangs are gone – the defeat of Trump is the goal.

The convention adjourned about 8 pm – a long, long day.

 

Tuesday: Day 2

 

The Tuesday agenda: speeches, videos and business.

 

Governor Mark Dayton – a wonderful governor who has been a spectacular supporter of public schools with a close relationship with the teacher union in Minnesota – a merged NEA-AFT state. Leo Gerard, the president of the Steelworkers Union, the AFT and the Steelworkers are working together on infrastructure projects around the nation. School building average age is 43 years – Gerard supports a major investment in school infrastructure.

 

Representatives from organizations with which the AFT collaborates spoke and gave examples of collaborative initiatives across the country: the Color of Change http://www.colorofchange.org/about/ and the Alliance to Reclaim Our School (AROS).

 

A resolution to endorse Hillary Clinton: speaker lined up at the eight microphones with passionate plea after plea – a generation defining election. One speaker, a teacher from Detroit, opposed endorsing any candidates and I think supported militant, disruptive opposition. The resolution passed with only a handful of dissents. Some of the most adamant Bernie supporters gave vigorous endorsements to Hillary.

 

A couple of committees reported out and we adjourn – closing in on 7 pm – another long day ends.

Who Are the Opt Out Parents? Why Has The Movement Accelerated So Quickly? What is the Future and the Impact?

This week kids in grades three through eight in New York State will begin taking federally mandated tests that are used to assess school progress, or, lack thereof. The results can be used to transform, redesign or close schools and layoff teachers, or, reward schools and teachers with additional dollars.  Many parents will opt to have their kids skip the tests.

In the years ahead sociologists, political scientists and doctoral candidates will explore the phenomenon of opt out parents.

The parents of one in five students opted their children out of taking state tests last year; tests that were routinely administered for a dozen years.

Tests are deeply embedded in history; Chinese Imperial examinations  originated in the Han Dynasty and the system spread to other Asian nations.

…  the exams were based on knowledge of the classics and literary style, not technical expertise, successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, one shared even by those who failed. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule.

While the Imperial exams ended in 1905 the respect for education and an exam system is alive and well. Stuyvesant High School, an elite high school in New York City that requires a rigorous entrance examination, is overwhelmingly Asian. The school is 72% Asian and less than 1% Black.

No one opt outs of the bar exam.

The passage of the New York Bar Exam is required to practice law in New York State – in 2015 79% of test takers passed, the lowest percent in a decade. The Bar Exam has been frequently criticized,

For too long the unregulated monopoly of the testing industry has masqueraded as the self-appointed guardian of professional standards.

Many argue that a student’s GPA is a far better indicator of knowledge than the score on a bar exam; however, the bar exam remains the essential credential required for the practice of law.

Prior to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law all students in grade 4 and 8 took English and Math exams, the city also gave exams as did school districts.

The state exams school scores were published in major newspapers and schools with declining scores faced close scrutiny. In the late eighties the Board of Education began to close low performing schools and create replacement small high schools. The staffs in the closed schools could apply for positions in the successor schools or choose to be excessed to a cluster of schools of their choice.

For a decade every student in grade 4 through 8 took the required English and Math tests, I never knew that there was the possibility of opting out. If the participation rate in the school and in sub-groups in the school were lower than 95% the school faced undefined sanctions.

Teachers have been arguing that the annual testing regimen is simply unnecessary.

Standardized tests are unnecessary because they rarely show what we don’t already know. Ask any teacher and she can tell you which students can read and write.

On the other hand the civil rights community avers that annual testing, especially of the poorest children, children of color and children with disabilities is essential. Wade Henderson, the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights testified at a congressional hearing on the reauthorization of ESEA,

Federal investments are unlikely to result in meaningful gains unless they are accompanied by unequivocal demands for higher achievement, higher graduation rates, and substantial closing of achievement gaps … … This is why it is so important that ESEA continue to include strong requirements for assessments and accountability … Accountability is a core civil rights principle …

…high quality, statewide annual assessments are needed. It is imperative that parents, teachers, school leaders, public officials and the public have objective, unbiased information on how their students are performing. ESEA must continue to require annual, statewide, assessments for all students (in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school) that are aligned with, and measure each student’s progress toward meeting the state’s college and career readiness standards.

The civil rights community strongly supports the continuation of annual tests and the newly passed ESSA law continues annual testing.

With the administration of the 2015 round of testing the opt out movement exploded across New York State as well as in other states: what changed?

Who are the opt outs?

The parents choosing to opt out are in suburban, white, higher achieving schools as well a small number of white, higher income, higher achieving schools in New York City.

What triggered the opt out wave?

The NYS Commissioner of Education John King imposed Common Core state exams, the seventy plus percent proficiency scores on the previous tests nosedived to thirty plus percent proficiency rates.  2/3 of students “passing” suddenly became 2/3 of children “failing.” As parent outrage bubbled over King decided to go on a listening tour – first stop: Poughkeepsie. The raucous meeting  was a disaster (Watch highlights here) and the commissioner canceled his listening tour and blamed outside agitators.

Why the passion and the anger?

An Afro-American commissioner who was in his thirties, who sent his children to a private school was telling parents that their kids were failures; was telling parents that superintendents, principals and teachers, who they liked and trusted were failing their children.  I believe parents felt disrespected, their parenting skills were being challenged.  The pent-up anger exploded.

Did the frustration over the perceived failures of government trigger the anger? Why should dysfunctional politicians in Washington or Albany tell us how to run our schools? Why should they be able to brand our children as failures? And, by the way, will these tests prevent our kids from getting into the college of their choice? Just as many in the electorate blame Wall Street and the banks for the economic ills of the nation was the vast testing industry manipulating policy to enrich themselves?

How does the Opt Out movement impact politics?

The opt out parents are not Republicans or Democrats – they are simply anti-testing, and, testing is beyond the ability of local or state electeds to impact. A frustrated state elected official asked me, “Is there a bill number? How do I satisfy these parents?” The governor, after aggressively interfering in education has backed away, the Democratic leader of the Assembly has passed the baton to new members of the Board of Regents.

So far, opting out has had no consequences, the feds have ignored the fact that schools in New York State are below the required 95% participation rate.

Will the opt out movement continue to build momentum, or fade away?  Will the feds accept competency-based testing (CBE) as “annual testing”? While the exams are required will the opt outs make the exams de facto voluntary?

The test results will be available in July, numbers of opt outs probably in June.