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Posts tagged ‘reauthorization of ESEA’

New Year Brings Only Uncertainty For ESEA

As the new Congress settles in after the so-called wave election sent a strong message to Washington, it remains to be seen just what the message was. For public education it seems even more complex and paradoxical. The last of the stimulus monies are being spent and the much talked about day of reckoning – the inevitable cliff – is here. If there is a single area of education reform that has been least discussed, it has got to be school finance. So now we are slowly clawing our way out of the deepest recession of our lifetimes and things are uncertain in our hometowns.

Could things possibly get worse?

The Obama administration has managed through the powerful influence of a handful of policymakers and philanthropists to extort states to make changes as a price of admission to the controversial Race to the Top competition. These included signing on to the Common Standards effort, facilitating the unfettered growth of charter schools,  and allowing for the possibility of including student test standardized test results in evaluating teacher performance. In the end, even through two rounds of competition few states received funding for their efforts.

Two years into his first term, having faced down the daunting economic situation and faced with new balance of power in the Congress, ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, has yet to be reauthorized. Pundits are all over the ball bark in speculating as to the prospects for reauthorization. I tend to side with the skeptics. Secretary Duncan in a recent OpEd piece (Washington Post Jan 3) expressed optimism and apparently the administration sees ESEA as a fertile prospect for bipartisan cooperation.

Secretary Duncan cites the dissatisfaction  with the “one size fits all” nature of NCLB and the “teaching to the test phenomenon” and makes note of the effort to construct a new and improved testing regimen to which 44 states have given an initial nod of approval. He acknowledges that the teacher quality approach taken by NCLB is deeply flawed and applauds efforts to institute new and more sophisticated methods of teacher evaluation based on multiple measures of effectiveness. The fundamental question remains as to what the appropriate role should be for the federal government in public education. Has the escalating intrusion of the federal government over the last two decades netted any significant transformative effect educational achievement? Will the new Republican majority in the House bolstered by an ambitious core of less-government, less-spending Tea Party realize that they are the party of local control? And finally, after the success of the Obama administration in the lame duck session, will there be a willingness to hand over yet another victory to the president in education.

There will be much to talk about in the weeks and months ahead.

New School Year Brings Both Hope and Uncertainty

I’ve laid low this summer, mostly watching the long drawn out run up to final passage of the so-called EduJobs bill in the Senate.  Secretary Duncan has kept his promise of moving swiftly to get the money out and posted a simple application earlier this week, but governors still sit in the driver’s seat.

Yesterday Governor M. Jodi Rell formally ap­plied for the $110.4 million coming to Connecticut. The money will be dedicated primarily to maintaining current staffing levels and avoiding layoffs. NEA estimates this could save 1,500 jobs in Connecticut. The State Department of Education expects the funds to be disbursed to Connecticut in early September.

State officials decided to use the same formula used to distribute Educational Cost Sharing dollars to disperse the Education Jobs money.   Click here to find out how much your town will receive.

Connecticut, as you know, did not make the final cut for Race to the Top (RTTT) funding affirming misgivings that Commissioner McQuillan and many others have had all along regarding the efficacy of yet another federal education program that creates winners and losers. Secretary Duncan believes that RTTT has already been a great success since it has caused so many states to do wonderful things in pursuit of innovative reform. I disagree. Most states made these changes because they were the price of entry. Or, in some cases, states saw this as an opportunity to run ramshod over teachers and their unions. Fortunately, changes made in Connecticut were achieved through consensus.

On July 30 Commissioner McQuillan sent a letter to Senator Dodd expressing his concern with the shifts from formula driven distribution of federal education dollars to competitive grants in the Obama “Blueprint for Education”.  Similar, but broader, concerns were raised recently by a coalition of civil rights organizations including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, NAACP, the National Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the National Council for Educating Black Children, and the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

In a press conference organized by the Lawyers Committee just prior to the annual convention of the Urban League the coalition released a 17 page document, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn Through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” Apparently, according to Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, the administration had been meeting with civil rights groups for several weeks prior to the release to attempt to deal with their concerns. To their credit, these groups decided to release the document anyway. Neither President Obama, nor his education secretary showed any signs of retreat from their positions on charter schools, or competition as a vehicle to leverage reform in separate appearances before the Urban League delegates.

So why is this important? For me the statement brings the civil rights community closer to the positions espoused by the “Broader, Bolder, Approach” coalition. While some have criticized these civil rights groups for having the temerity to criticize our first black president, they have missed the point: this is a debate that is vital to the future of public education in the United States and, with increasing dissent over many elements of the Obama Blueprint, it looks like it may happen after all. Are you ready to participate?

Some recommended reading (with an admitted bias):

A New Vision for Education (Nation June 14, 2010)

Why I Changed My Mind by Diane Ravitch (Nation June 14, 2010)

Restoring Our Schools by Linda Darling Hammond (Nation June 14, 2010)

The Black White achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley (ETS White Paper July 2010)

There’s No Such Thing as a Reading Test by E.D. Hirsch and Robert Pondiscio (The American Prospect June 13, 2010)

False Impression: How a Widely Cited Study Vastly Overstates the Benefits of Charter Schools by Marco Basile (Economic Policy Institute August 9, 2010)

Year Ends With Uncertainty: House May Vote on Education Jobs Today

As summer officially arrives and schools have closed, many questions about what the future holds remain unanswered. Funding from the federal government to support educators’ jobs remains uncertain but the latest word is that the House Rules Committee is discussing the process for a vote today on education jobs funding.   Please call or email your member of Congress and ask all your friends and colleagues to do the same.  Call 866-608-6355 or send an e-mail using this link. It will only take a couple of minutes of your time.

The possibility of reauthorization of ESEA before the end of this session consequently seems increasingly remote, particularly with the addition of the Gulf disaster into the mix, which should make the issue of dealing with an energy bill more compelling.

Although the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions has held a series of hearings on reauthorization, most pundits indicate there is no bill, and just below the surface lie many conflicting opinions. Recently Secretary Duncan and Melody Barnes, domestic policy advisor to President Obama, met with key House and Senate leaders from both parties to discuss the progress on reauthorization.  According to Alison Klein at EdWeek no specific commitments to a timeline were made.

In spite of the stalemate in Congress on reauthorization, the administration has made significant progress on implementing its agenda primarily through the vehicle of desperately needed stimulus money. States were required to pledge progress on certain areas of reform in order to get the money last year and these demands were made more specific by the requirements to compete for Race to the Top money. Secretary Duncan said “jump” and many state legislatures said “how high?” Connecticut legislative leaders, to their credit, worked to build a consensus by bringing stakeholder groups to the table. This was not the case in many states and laws were changed in support of controversial reforms such as merit pay and teacher evaluations heavily weighted on test scores — ostensibly to enhance their state’s competitiveness in the RTTT  competition.

There is growing dissent over many of the administration’s proposals as being either overly prescriptive in approach, or unsupported by research, or both.

Remember the Rhode Island disaster. The highly controversial firing of the entire staff at Central Falls High School, which was praised by both President Obama and Secretary Duncan, was reversed through a mediation process in May. All the teachers were rehired. Ultimately the collective bargaining process worked as was described in a joint statement issued by the district and the union.

“Both the school district and the union agree that, while this has been a difficult process for everyone involved, the negotiations resulted in a newfound appreciation for shared responsibility, and a solid commitment to bring lasting solutions that will improve teaching and learning at Central Falls High School.”

In the spirit of “things could always be worse”, read this lament of one Florida teacher talking about his “Worst Year in the Classroom.” The letter was written to Diane Ravitch and the teacher allowed the Washington Post to publish it on their education blog, The Answer Sheet.

Teachers would be well advised to ensure that their batteries are fully charged over the summer and return ready to face a huge backlog of unresolved issues. Better yet, stay tuned throughout the summer.

Congressman Courtney Discusses ESEA Reauthorization with CT Education Leaders

A group of education stakeholders met with U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney and State Representative Tom Reynolds Tuesday morning in Hartford to discuss the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Courtney sits on the House Education and Labor Committee and Reynolds is Assistant Majority Leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

The Obama administration released its blueprint for revising ESEA March 13.  Obama has called on Congress to pass a bill this year, and Senator Harkin, chair of the Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee, has said he’d like to get legislation through the Senate this summer.

Courtney met with education leaders to hear their priorities and concerns for education in Connecticut prior to federal debate about ESEA reauthorization.

Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year, Kristi Luetjen, a West Hartford kindergarten teacher, commented that she and other state Teachers of the Year were disheartened after a recent meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other Department of Education officials.  She said that one of the first things she noticed looking at the blueprint was that preschool was only mentioned once in the entire document.  “Clearly teachers were not overly involved in writing [the blueprint].”

Mary Loftus Levine, CEA Director of Policy and Professional Practice said, “Here in Connecticut, the chairs of the state’s Education Committee brought education stakeholders together and worked on consensus in connection with state legislation that would support Connecticut’s second application for Race to the Top (RTTT) funds.  This collaboration is a good thing that has never happened before.  In contrast, the competitive tone being set by Washington has got to stop – it’s showing up again in the blueprint.”

She added that Connecticut is being penalized because we didn’t win RTTT, but the state is still doing a lot of great things.  We have the most progressive teacher induction program in the country and we’re working to raise certification standards. The CommPACT schools program is a research based reform model that is already showing strong results, yet the state was ready to throw away three years of work and research because it doesn’t fit Secretary Duncan’s vision of how to turn around a school.

Several attendees raised concerns about Secretary Duncan’s role as the highest profile education secretary the country has seen, and the way in which federal mandates have been steadily encroaching on state’s rights to make their own education policy decisions.  Reynolds responded that, in his opinion, the current and growing role of the federal government in education is out of line with its constitutional role.  He said that it is “excessive and inappropriate to offer such overly prescriptive mandates to the states.”

Courtney agreed that over time the federal government’s role in education has increasingly been crossing the rubicon, from IDEA to ESEA and NCLB.  He said that he and other members of the Education Committee will likely look into limiting the  policy discretion the Department of Education has recently enjoyed.

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.

House Makes First Move Toward Reauthorization

Last week the House Education Labor and Pension Committee issued an announcement that it would begin a bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). They issued the following statement:

Today, we’re announcing a bipartisan, open and transparent effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind – a law that we all agree is in need of major reform. It will start with a series of hearings in the coming weeks to explore the challenges and opportunities ahead as we work to ensure an excellent education is available to every student in America. With a real commitment to innovation, we invite all stakeholders who share our serious interest in building a world-class education system to email us their suggestions.

The first hearing will be this Wednesday, Feb. 24, on the topic of charter schools. The focus of the hearing will be H.R. 4330 All Students Achieving Through Reform Act, a bill filed in December by Rep. Jarid Polis D-CO. The bill would provide competitive grants for the expansion and replication of certain charter schools.

The fact that the House is moving on reauthorization is no guarantee that the Senate, given its current state of disfunction, will get to ESEA anytime soon. This does not mean that the education community should ignore the invitation that Chairman Miller has extended to email suggestions for what should be included or excluded from the reauthorized version of the law. The email address is and the deadline is March 26, 2010.

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

President Wants ESEA Reauthorized This Year

I’ve been “offline” for over a month enjoying a bit of the freedom that comes with retirement.

On the national education policy front January was a relatively quiet month as over 40 states scrambled to meet the onerous demands of finishing the application for the Race to the Top competition. Connecticut was one of those forty states reaching for the brass ring for much needed monies. Connecticut is in a tier of states eligible to receive up to $175 million if the judges deem their application worthy of an award.

In the meantime, President Obama in his State of the Union message gave strong support to public education followed up with a budget proposal that asks Congress to approve a dramatic increase in ESEA funding – note that it has become fashionable once again to refer to the law by its actual name the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This has been promoted by Secretary Duncan, who frequently indicates that NCLB has become a “toxic brand” for the education law. Both President Obama and Arne Duncan have been talking up the possibility of reauthorizing the law by year’s end. So it seems reasonable to assume that soon the games will begin in earnest. If chatter on the blogosphere is any indicator they have already begun, and now is the time for educators to turn their eyes toward Washington. Read more

National Research Council Issues Caution on Value-Added Assessment

The Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council released a report on the Race to the Top (RTTP) Fund.  (Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund released on Oct. 7, 2009.)  The report was undertaken as a result of concerns with testing-related elements in the the department’s proposed Regulations for use of RTTP funds.

Of significance to all educators should be the cautions the Council issued regarding the premature use of so-called “value-added methods” in making high stakes decisions about teacher performance, particularly through the evaluation process. They confirm the well-known, but often ignored, fact that there is simply too little evidence at this point to support the validity of these methodologies.

While the Council supports the further development of data collecting systems that can link students and their teachers, they see this “as essential for conducting research related to the full range of potential approaches for evaluating educators and for developing pilot programs for evaluation approaches that will one day become operational.”  They expressed concerns that the departments proposal “places too much emphasis on measures of growth in student achievement (1) that have not yet been adequately studied for the purposes of evaluating teachers and principals and (2) that face substantial practical barriers to being successfully deployed in an operational personnel system that is fair, reliable, and valid.”

This 13 page “letter” is a valuable summary of key issues and principals related to testing and assessment that may easily be lost in the entrepreneurial fervor of doling out $4.3 billion in Race to the Top Funds. Notions such as the use of multiple indicators, the appropriate use and limitations of NAEP results,  and the distinction between high stakes standardized tests and formative tests used to drive instruction are significant issues that will need to be addressed in the reauthorization of ESEA. I would strongly recommend giving this brief report a read.  It is available in PDF form for free.