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Posts tagged ‘NCLB’

Congress Approves Historic Bill to Create Greater Opportunities for Students to Succeed

“We applaud Congress for getting the job done—passing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—and doing what is right for students, teachers, and public education,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “ESSA represents a new beginning for students who have suffered too long under Connecticut’s failed policies of top-down reform and a broken system where excessive test prep and standardized testing rules the classroom.”

The U.S. Senate today passed ESSA after it passed the House last week. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law tomorrow. Read CEA’s news release here.

“ESSA gives students new opportunities, support, tools, and time to learn,” said Cohen.

The bipartisan bill reauthorizes the federal education law known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The most recent version of ESEA, known as No Child Left Behind, was signed into law by President Bush in 2002. Read more

Connecticut Teachers Urged to Continue to Speak Out to Get ESEA Right

NEA Government Relations Director Mary Kusler spoke to CEA members about ESEA reauthorization at the start of the 2015 CEA Summer Leadership Conference.

NEA Government Relations Director Mary Kusler updated CEA members on ESEA reauthorization at the start of the 2015 CEA Summer Leadership Conference.

NEA Government Relations Director Mary Kusler told Connecticut teachers gathered this morning for the start of the CEA Summer Leadership Conference that the Congressional Conference Committee finalizing an overhaul of federal education policy will make key decisions after Labor Day.

“We can start the school year with optimism that we can get this done,” Kusler said. She stressed, however, that strong teacher activism is necessary so that U.S. Senators and Representatives can send the best bill possible to President Obama’s desk.

“We have waited for 15 years for No Child Left Behind and its punitive measures to go away,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “We have made an important start this year, and we need to continue to advocate on behalf of our students.” Read more

Tell Congress to Get NCLB Re-Write Right

NCLB ESEA rewriteCongress is working on a re-write to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Educators know firsthand how important it is that a new version of the law allows students to learn rather than focus on high-stakes standardized tests.

This is an important moment for American education. As educators we must make sure Congress gets new legislation right.

  1. Sign an NEA petition to share a new vision for public education and show Congress that educators and voters are paying attention.
  2. Contact your members of Congress and tell them that ESEA must promote opportunity for all and time to learn. Call 866-331-7233 or email your representatives and ask them to focus on three core goals.
  • Create a new generation accountability system that includes an “opportunity dashboard” to ensure all students receive a quality education.
  • Reduce the amount of mandated standardized testing, and allow more time for students to learn and more time for teachers to teach.
  • Ensure every student has a qualified educator who is empowered to lead.

Standardized Tests and the Future of No Child Left Behind

The debate over mandated standardized testing took center stage today as the Republican-controlled 114th Congress gets ready to make its mark on education policy. At issue is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and whether the nation’s education law should include a requirement that states annually test their students.

ESEA reauthorization is long overdue. The law hasn’t been reauthorized since 2001 when it was christened No Child Left Behind, and the consequences of its most recent iteration have been called off for most states due to waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Republicans have begun work on a rewrite to ESEA, and one aspect of the draft legislation that’s getting attention from President Obama’s administration is a proposal to end federally required annual testing. The legislation would instead allow states to design their own testing schedules. Read more

Scores Are a Tribute to Hard Work, but Federal Standards Dictate Even More

Continuous improvement is the mantra of today’s classrooms.  Even when you’re trying your hardest and doing your best, the drumbeat of NCLB keeps reminding you, there’s even more to do.  That’s the case with today’s release connected with federal NCLB standards of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  The State Department of Education issued a press release today. You can also see lists of schools and districts that did not meet AYP. The bottom line on today’s results:  Students are generally performing better than last year on the statewide tests (CMT and CAPT).  However, that improvement is not good enough for NCLB.

A hypothetical case demonstrates how NCLB targets are periodically increased, making it more challenging for schools to meet AYP as time goes on.   Consider a school that, for CAPT reading, had 81 percent of its students at or above proficiency in 2010, and this year had 84 percent of its students at or above that level (a 3 percentage-point increase). That school would have failed to meet the AYP target of 2011 on the merits of these scores, even though it made AYP last year and its overall performance on the test improved.

National policymakers have promised to revisit NCLB, but there has been little action, leaving educators and students with a flawed law.  Blogger Bob Murphy offers his insights on what needs to be done below.

The Current State of NCLB: Stalemate

By Bob Murphy

The State Department of Education has released its latest AYP Report and we have no reason to believe that the widely documented flaws in the law will be corrected anytime soon. The law has been eligible for reauthorization for over four years now.  Congress seems incapable of facilitating a democratic bipartisan process, even in an area so clearly connected to the nation’s future economic well-being as its public education system.

Earlier this summer, Secretary Duncan announced that more than 80% of the nation’s schools would fail to make AYP in 2011 if Congress did not complete reauthorization by September.  The secretary’s prediction is higher than that estimated by CEA in a study done in 2006 projecting AYP trends in Connecticut.  The inevitability of the eventual failure of nearly all of America’s schools by June of 2014, however, is no longer a matter of dispute. yet stasis continues to be the order of the day. Is it any wonder that in a recent ABC/Wall Street Journal poll only 13% of Americans approve of the performance of Congress? Arne Duncan threatened to begin issuing waivers to states if Congress failed to step up to the plate, and, of course, they did. The only one who appeared surprised by this was Secretary Duncan.

Many states have been pleading for regulatory relief in lieu of reauthorization. In an August letter NEA urged the President to grant regulatory relief. Indeed, since the law’s inception, over 600 waivers have been granted by the Secretary of Education, but what Duncan proposes is a very different type of waiver, because it will require a quid pro quo similar to Race to the Top. In order to receive a waiver, states will have to meet certain, as yet to be determined, conditions consistent with the administration’s education reform agenda. Even without the details, many states have expressed interest in applying, including Connecticut. The Center on Education Progress (CEP) has set up a “Waiver Watch” on its website. This is their best estimate of who may seek waivers.

There has been little debate over whether or not the Secretary has waiver authority. The point of contention is the imposition of conditions that are beyond the scope of the current law. California, in its request for a waiver, raised this objection:

Finally, the conditional nature of the waivers presents problems for California. I understand that waivers may be granted only if a state commits to certain policy priorities of the Administration, including adopting college- and career-ready standards, imposing a differentiated accountability system, and adopting a teacher/ principal evaluation system that incorporates student test results. These policy priorities would mark dramatic deviations from the existing policies required under NCLB. States would be asked to make commitments beyond NCLB with no commensurate funding to provide the state capacity to implement such requirements. The appropriate forum for consideration of any new legal mandates is through the reauthorization process involving transparency and Congressional democratic debate.

If the Administration is unable to support robust state-determined accountability systems prior to ESEA reauthorization, I urge you to ensure that states are not held hostage to new and under-funded policy requirements in order to receive necessary relief from the unrelenting march toward mislabeling hard-working and effective schools for improvement, corrective action, and restructuring.
[Emphasis added.]

We should all share the concerns raised in the California letter. There is a fundamental issue in all this. It is all about how the federal role in state and local education is determined: through legislation and regulation (as in ESEA) or through competitive coercion (as in Race to the Top and now through the conditional granting of waivers). In the guise of congressional inaction a new reform agenda is taking root in America unburdened by the messiness of public discussion or democratic process. The old agenda was all about testing and winners and losers, the new agenda is all about teachers: how they are paid, how they are evaluated, and how they are incentivized to perform and, oh yes, even more testing. Meanwhile, the march to mythological Lake Wobegon continues unabated.

The Blueprint: A Rose by Any Other Name

The Obama administration officially conveyed it’s blueprint for reauthorization to Congress last week, even while seeking ideas from teachers. So what else is new, you might ask? Apparently, while seeking input, the plan was also being written, as I have suggested in the past, jaded cynic that I have become.

Secretary Duncan told the House Education Committee last week that these ideas did not come from Washington “experts,” but rather from teachers and principals and other stakeholders. I think it would be more accurate to say that “these ideas represent our interpretation of what we heard from teachers, principals, and other stakeholders.” That is quite different.

The Blueprint is a 41 page concept paper laying out the administration’s vision for replacing NCLB. I have many problems with what I read, and I can’t be too far off base since both the NEA and the AFT have expressed deep concern and disappointment with many elements of the plan. You should download the plan and read it for yourself and share your reaction with us.

The media and inside the beltway education policy wonks have already declared that there is initially broad-based bipartisan positive reaction, and that the primary opposition is coming from the teachers unions. This is generally how the script unfolds in the contemporary education reform debate. What is different in this instance is that two important voices in the debate have expressed deep concern with the proposal: Diane Ravitch (NYU historian) who I wrote about in a recent post, and Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University) whose recently published book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future has been deemed a significant roadmap for the future.

The combination of the Obama budget proposal and the Blueprint envision a radically different tilt away from formulaic distribution of federal education dollars to one which forces more and more competition for desperately needed money in a far from level playing field.

These are first impressions, but here are a few substantial concerns. If you have read any recent posts of mine you know I am not a great fan of Race to the Top. The Blueprint treats RTTT as revealed truth and has become the basis for the administration’s proposal. It mistakenly presumes that the fundamental philosophy imbedded in NCLB – the notion that rewards and punishment are the only pathway to change – is really not a bad thing, but rather misapplied. That if we correct the misapplication of identifying too many schools as failing and apply a more focused flogging on the teachers in a smaller percentage of “persistently  underperforming schools” – let’s say 5% – that we will have made things better. Well, no, that is not what has been said. Flogging never changed any workforce for the better. As one blogger characterized it (Diane Ravitch cited this recently), they can’t fire poverty, so they decided to fire teachers.

The problem with the Obama administration on education, is that they are proving again how wise our mothers were when they often told us, “It’s not what you say that is important, it’s what you do.”

The most fundamental flaw in our education system is the unevenness of it all. Equity, a level playing field, is the only true foundation that will provide a springboard for transforming our system. According to Darling-Hammond, the nations to which we look as top performers, such as Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, have taken a totally different approach to transforming their schools.  The focus on teachers has been real rather than rhetorical, as has been the focus on curriculum and pedagogy.

Finland’s approach should be instructive.

Finnish education policies are the result of four decades of systematic, mostly intentional development that has created a culture of diversity, trust, and respect within Finnish society, in general, and within its education system in particular … Education sector development has been grounded on equal opportunities for all, equitable distribution of resources rather than competition, intensive early interventions for prevention, and building gradual trust among education practitioners, especially teachers. (Sahlberg, Finnish analyst, as quoted by Darling-Hammond, The Flat World and Education, p.168)

Consider the last four tumultuous decades of reform in the United States and what the descriptors might be if we had to write a paragraph to capture it. We have, as our critics frequently lament, gone in the opposite direction. But the cause of the decline cannot be laid upon the backs of teachers for, unlike the nations mentioned above, teachers in our country have never been professionally empowered. I am in the midst of reading Linda Darling-Hammond’s book and have found it to be incredibly useful. She was my candidate for education secretary and her book only underscores our loss.

Her book carefully lays out the current reality in public education. She examines three states as exemplars of approaches to reform: Connecticut, North Carolina, and California. Connecticut broke new ground in the 80’s with the Education Enhancement Act, by elevating the quality of its teaching force, developing strong standards and assessments. We know the story. She also examines three high fliers on the world stage: Finland, South Korea, and Singapore. What Connecticut shared with these three nations, at least in the 80’s and into the 90’s, was the enlightened notion that the best path to transformational change, genuine systemic change, is the slow and steady approach.

There is much more to say on the so-called Blueprint, and as the poet said, “There will be time.” In the meantime, after you read Diane Ravitch’s book, go out and get a copy of Linda Darling-Hammond’s book. It is well worth the effort.

ESEA Blueprint Proposal Disappointing

On  Saturday the Obama administration announced the release of its blueprint for reforming the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Read the blueprint and find more information from the Department of Education here.

“We’re surprised that the Obama administration’s first attempt to rectify the problems in NCLB appears so inadequate.  For starters, there’s no serious proposal to involve parents in their children’s education,” said CEA Executive Director John Yrchik.

“Instead of inspiring citizens, this proposal raises concerns.  Student need has always played a significant role in delivering federal dollars to local communities.  With the proposal, however, the Administration seems intent on turning its back on some students’ needs by insisting on competition on an unprecedented level.  When it comes to children, the Administration should not be setting some of them up to be financial losers.”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel testified today before the House Appropriations Committee.  He raised an alarm over the big jump in competitive grants in the Obama administration’s proposed education budget, saying it could compound the economic squeeze in many school districts.

On the plus side, he said, the Obama budget calls for increased overall funding. But “those increases would not reach all students, districts, and states.”

Find out more about ESEA reform from NEA here.

Crossing the Rubicon: Central Falls High School

I couldn't resist clipping this ironic juxtaposition ... two different approaches to accountability (CBS website).

We were all shocked by the decision made in Central Falls, RI last week to fire the entire staff of its high school. For many of us who are “long in the tooth” there may even be a sense of deja vu if you look at this as an impasse in a highly charged collective bargaining process.

It appears that, as an alternative to the more draconian proposal of closing and reopening the school, a longer school day and tutoring were proposed, and the union rightfully sought compensation. We don’t know all the facts, but it appears that the superintendent disagreed and the school board, in essence, says, “a pox on all their houses – we’ll fire them all.”

I hope that we were also shocked that Secretary Duncan almost immediately rashly  issued the equivalent of a profile in courage award to the Central Falls Board of Trustees. Let’s hope that he recants his comment as at best premature, or even a misstatement, as he did when he recently suggested that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that has happened to public schools in New Orleans.”

In any event, the Central Falls decision puts a face on what we can expect when decisions are made affecting the future of 5000 of America’s lowest performing schools. I was reminded of a meeting of an NCLB advisory committee convened by then Commissioner Ted Sergi, probably in 2002, to talk about how Connecticut would deal with the implementation of the new law. We were looking way down the road to when schools reach the restructuring sanctions. I recall reflecting to the group that day that there would be no greater test of our mettle as an education community than how we implement this provision. It seemed like a long way off, but here we are.

Secretary Duncan has committed to turning around 5000 of the lowest performing schools in the United States over the next five years. The good news is that there is serious money in the School Improvement Grant for perhaps the first time. The bad news is that the same administration that described NCLB as too prescriptive has put the prescription on steroids.

School turnarounds of the kind approved in Central Falls have little in terms of a track record, in fact, there is a body of evidence suggesting that, where tried, they have not worked. There is no question that these schools need a dramatic change of direction accompanied by a dramatic infusion of resources, but let’s hope that the most important lesson that we take from the unfortunate process in Rhode Island is that how we make these difficult decisions is almost as important as what we decide.

Connecticut thus far has taken a different approach to the difficult work of turning around underperforming schools. CEA, for its part, initiated the broad coalition that advanced the CommPACT Schools legislation: a demonstration that true collaboration can advance the ball.

The School Improvement Grant guidelines, adopted by the federal Department of Education, are intended to encourage draconian solutions, in spite of much comment pointing out the lack of a research base in support of these approaches. Charter school operators around the country have indicated a reluctance to get into the business of turning around the most difficult schools because they know how great the challenge is. Secretary Duncan, in his zeal to advance his agenda, damaged his credibility with teachers and their unions. Let’s hope that the shameful process in Rhode Island does not become the template.

We should know better and can certainly do better. Only time will tell.

Sanctions v. Incentives: False Choice for Teachers?

It is great that CEA has asked teachers why they chose to teach.  It is an important question to ask, particularly given the shroud of cynicism surrounding the profession going back to the release of A Nation at Risk, and reaching a high point in the first term of George Bush. Teachers need to share their stories to put a face back on our profession.

These are big questions. Why do people choose to teach? What are the circumstances that cause them to stay in teaching? And particularly pertinent to the current engine of reform – increasing teacher effectiveness – what motivates teachers to improve?

NCLB was, and continues to be, the “stick without the carrot” approach to motivating a workforce. Now we are embarking on what may well prove to be an excessive reliance on the “carrot,” particularly if the pay for performance crowd prevails.

In preparation for this next era of federal intrusion, we ought to be asking the next question: “What keeps you in teaching?” Not that we haven’t asked before: we have. If James Carville were writing this he’d probably say, “It’s the working conditions STUPID.”  And I’m not talking simply about “wages, hours, and conditions of employment.”  Rather, in addition to these, that complex amalgam of conditions  which enhance a teacher’s ability to become increasingly more effective. You know what I am talking about.

The merit pay narrative relies on a powerful mythology about how workers in all other sectors of the economy are paid and what motivates  them to perform.  Recent (and also not so recent) research debunks these myths.

The latest edition of Harvard Business Review offers 10 Breakthrough Ideas for 2010.  The first breakthrough idea is about motivation:  What Really Motivates Workers: Understanding the Power of Progress.  Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer “reveal what their research shows is the true key to employee motivation.” Among the findings from their analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries by knowledge workers who made daily ratings of their motivation and emotions, progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is most frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation. The authors further indicate that “The key to motivation doesn’t depend on elaborate incentive systems. In fact, the people in our study rarely mentioned  incentives in their diaries.”

Another interesting finding that has some resonance for me is that those who manage these workers, when asked what they thought most powerfully motivated their employees, got it wrong.

Ask leaders what they think makes employees enthusiastic about work, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms. In a recent survey we invited more than 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors commonly considered significant: recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals. “Recognition for good work (either public or private)” came out number one.

In the study, the knowledge workers ranked recognition low among the factors motivating their performance. Wait a minute, didn’t President Obama and Secretary Duncan recently say that “recognizing and rewarding teachers” will be a major driver in their proposal to revamp ESEA?  In fact, they have proposed a whopping quadrupling of the monies in the Teacher Incentive Fund. Could they possibly be barking up the wrong tree in the quest to improve teacher effectiveness?  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Consider the notion of progress. What has been the biggest criticism of Adequate Yearly Progress? The goal keeps moving – making the achievement of progress increasingly difficult until it reaches a point of impossibility. Is it any wonder that gradually, over the last decade, teachers find themselves in an existential vacuum? Anthony Mullen, one of the more articulate and thoughtful National Teachers of the Year, and also a CEA member, alluded to this recently in his blog Road Diaries (see the posting Teacher Tales).

Here’s one more recommendation as you think about what it is that motivates teachers and if we are out of line with the worldview of our brothers and sisters in the private sector. Check out the recent work of Daniel Pink, who recently published a book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motives Us.”  As Publisher’s Weekly puts it, “Pink cites a dizzying number of studies revealing that carrot and stick can actually significantly reduce the ability of workers to produce creative solutions to problems.”

Below watch Dan Pink explaining some of his ideas on motivation in an interesting and entertaining presentation from