TuesESEAOk, first let’s compliment the folks on the US House Education Committee for getting a few things right with the ESEA re-authorization bill.

1. Elimination of redundant and abundant federal education grant programs is a good thing. Making sure to eliminate the positions that supported those programs is also good fiscal policy.

2. Reiterating that federal law cannot impact state laws dictating parental rights is a good thing.(a)

3. Repealing federal requirements for teacher certification is a good thing. (b)

4. Elimination of School Improvement Grants (SIGs) as well as a repeal of mandates for school improvement mechanisms are both good things.

(a) The bill’s requirement that districts test 95% of their students, however, means that they aren’t truly respecting parental rights to direct their child’s education. Schools will force parents to make their child participate in testing. They will use the section on district grading, which bases 1/3 of the district’s grade on attendance, to force the parents to send the child to school on testing days. The intent of the section may have been good, but the follow through in all sections of the bill is not.

(b)  The bill still forces states to have plans in place that include specific tools that will affect personnel decisions (recruitment programs, incentive pay, performance pay etc.) which means the feds are exerting control over local hiring, firing and placement decisions.

Unfortunately, most of these good things are out weighed by a number of other provisions that would in fact not restore local education. I encourage you to read the rebuttal by Truth In American Education to the press release put out by the House Education and Work Force Committee here.  It covers many of the problems we have with this bill which stem from the fact that, despite everyone’s current agreement the NCLB was bad policy, they are still starting with that framework and trying to tweak it. They should sunset that cumbersome, micromanaging piece of legislation and start with something fresh, like block granting the money back to the states to use as they deem necessary to address the education problems they have identified.

I want to highlight two areas mentioned in that rebuttal as examples of how the bill still includes onerous and proveably ineffective measures that do not keep the federal government out of education.

I. The  bill still dictates states use a system of school improvement interventions for poorly performing schools one of which is the failed turn around model for poorly performing schools.  School turnaround efforts have been shown not to work. Arne Duncan should know this because a major study democracy_vs_turnarounds  looking at the turn around schools in his old district in Chicago concluded that,

“Given the meager academic progress of Elementary Turnaround Schools and their high teacher turnover rate, which undermines the basic culture of the school, the researchers conclude that the resources devoted to Turnaround Schools can be better spent by supporting alternative research-based strategies.”

The erasure method, of throwing out everyone and everything in low performing schools in order to “start from scratch,” actually hindered children’s academic progress as school became this chaotic place populated by a stream of unfamiliar faces who did not know their students well, who had little cohesiveness as a teaching team, and who did not know the community they were serving.

Conclusion 6 from the report indicated that “related research shows that effective elementary schools have dedicated strong Local School Councils, strong but inclusive principal leadership, effective teachers who are engaged in school-wide improvement, active parents, active community members, and students deeply engaged in learning and school improvement.” This does not happen with a turn around model that throws out locally elected boards and institutes new policies and procedures without parental buy-in.

Most significantly, the study concluded that “high-scoring schools carry out engaging instructional activities that help students master demanding standards, while low-scoring schools focus on various form of test preparation.”  Therefore, the continued focus on student test scores in the Student Success Act will provide the incentive to do the latter which has proven not to increase student performance.

 

2.  The SSA  directs Secretary of Education to work with Institute or Education Sciences (IES) to perform evaluations on federal education initiatives. Let’s look at this entity which was created in 2002 when Congress passed the “Strengthening Education through Research Act’’.  The purpose of the Act was to “strengthen the Federal education research system to make research and evaluations more timely and relevant to State and local needs in order to increase student achievement.”  We’ll have to set aside the fact that the federal government Constitutionally has no role in education and simply work from a concern for fiscal accountability in making sure that the oxymoron of “federal education dollars” are spent wisely.

The mission of the Institute is to “provide national leadership in expanding fundamental knowledge and understanding of education from early childhood through postsecondary study, in order to provide parents, educators, students, researchers, policymakers, and the general public with reliable information about—

(A) the condition and progress of education in the United States, including early childhood education and special education;
(B) educational practices that support learning and improve academic achievement and access to educational opportunities for all students; and
(C) the effectiveness of Federal and other education programs.

Providing information to the public about the effectiveness of various educational practices is fine until you start to look at the conditions under which programs are evaluated. The IES is directed to “compile statistics, develop products, and conduct research, evaluations, and wide dissemination activities in areas of demonstrated national need (including in technology areas) that are supported by Federal funds appropriated to the Institute and ensure that such activities: (A) conform to high standards of quality, integrity, and accuracy; and (B) are objective, secular, neutral, and non-ideological and are free of partisan political influence and racial, cultural, gender, or regional bias.

Any effective programs that suffer from any of the above mentioned biases aren’t even considered for evaluation. In general, they look at programs that fit within the current model of education delivery, which we know doesn’t allow the flexibility to really address the needs of certain subsets of the population, and decide which of those work best within the restrictive framework. This does not sound like a system set on delivering the best education possible to meet the needs of a diverse student population.

The 15 member  National Board for Education Sciences is appointed by the President and should consist of “not fewer than 8 researchers in the field of statistics, evaluation, social sciences, or physical and biological sciences, which may include those researchers recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.” The NAS is one of three advising entities who can suggest people to the President to appoint. The other two are the National Science Board, and the National Science Advisor. These science organizations will be the sole initial guidance for a system that affects all education. Hmmmm.

The board is also supposed to have “Individuals who are knowledgeable about the educational needs of the United States, who may include school-based professional educators, parents (including parents with experience in promoting parental involvement in education), Chief State School Officers, State postsecondary education executives, presidents of institutions of higher education, local educational agency superintendents, early childhood experts, special education experts, principals, members of State or local boards of education or Bureau-funded school boards, and individuals from business and industry with experience in promoting private sector involvement in education.”

Here is the current board make up.

  • Dr. Anthony S. Bryk, President of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Stanford, California
  • Dr. David J. Chard, Dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University
  • Dr. Darryl J. Ford, Head of School for William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Adam Gamoran, President, William T. Grant Foundation
  • Dr. Robert C. Granger, independent consultant, former president of William T. Grant Foundation
  • Kris D. Gutiérrez, Professor of Literacy and Learning Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Dr. Larry V. Hedges, Board of Trustees Professor of Statistics and Social Policy and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University
  • Dr. Susanna Loeb, Barnett Family Professor of Education, Stanford University
    Bridget Terry Long Academic Dean and the Xander Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  • Dr. Margaret R. “Peggy” McLeod Deputy Vice President for Education and Workforce Development at the National Council of La Raza
  • Dr. Judith D. Singer, James Bryant Conant Professor of Education and Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity at Harvard University
  • Dr. Robert A. Underwood, President, University of Guam
  • Dr. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education, New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

You can read their bios here. I don’t see a parent, elementary or secondary school teacher or principal, or local school board member on there.

The reason I highlighted this particular section of the bill is because the House and Senate are simultaneously working to quickly pass a revision to SETRA this week as well which was discussed in yesterday’s post. By requiring the Secretary of Education to work with IES, the SSA will ensure that student data collection will continue in the name of accountability, the federal government will continue to grow.

Because so many aspects of NCLB are retained in the SSA (you can read the entire SSA here) a Congress committed to local control and reducing the size of the federal government should not support the SSA. They should sunset NCLB and draft a bill that is much less proscriptive for everyone of what states need to do to qualify for supplemental funding (typically 10% or less) to help only with their most struggling students.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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