Title I & ESEA Reauthorization

Does Congress and President Obama understand how Title I money was meant to be used? Looking at what they have proposed to date, it is a question in need of a good, clear answer.

A requirement in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was that a president-appointed advisory council report yearly to the president. The National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children was to review the laws’ progress with the programs and projects Title I funding supports.

In turn, the president was to report the findings to our Congress along with comments and further recommendations.489596

To do this responsibly and hold our government “accountable,” we all need to understand Title I. Title I is the touchstone of the original ESEA.

The federal formula funding was distributed for assistance of “children of low-income families.” The directive was to address the needs of “educationally deprived children,” which the architects understood would include more than just the low-income children given that the schools where the most funds would flow were “inherently unequal.” Needs are going to vary from community to community but potentially all students in schools in low-income communities are at risk for being underserved.

Title I was to address the disadvantages CHILDREN face — economically, educationally, mentally, or physically “disadvantaged”— that were being ignored, or in some cases created, by state and local agencies.

The goal of ESEA was to provide equal access to quality education — that is how “equal opportunity” was defined.

To do so, we have to recognize the barriers “disadvantaged” students and their families face in our communities, schools, and classrooms and fully address those problems directly. Title I dollars flowed to meet the needs of CHILDREN from low-income families….PERIOD. The other five titles of ESEA addressed the needs of low-income schools, communities, and states.

This is our ESEA history. In 1966, less than a year into ESEA’s implementation, President Johnson received his first report from the Council. They reviewed and summarized the programs. They gave examples including one district reporting that health examinations had been conducted for the first time showing that 45% of the children tested were anemic.

Now, how do we expect these disadvantaged children to have the same standards-based outcomes at the same time as healthy children?

As President Obama expressed in Selma,

“Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity,…”

To fulfill our duty to America’s children, effective schools must be established in every community where they do not currently exist. Understanding that those communities with the highest concentrations of poverty have children at greatest risk of being educationally underserved, their needs should be our first priority.

At President Obama’s request, we have identified the lowest performing schools throughout our land. It is our responsibility as a nation to support their improvement, as a short-term goal, while providing a long-term strategy to prevent the wide gaps in opportunities, and therefore educational achievement, that we have experienced in our past and that continue to plague our nation’s children today.

In addition to providing the best in educational opportunities to every child, now is the time for a plan that views appropriation of funds as a national strategic educational investment and expects communities to make wise use of all education resources.

And let it be acknowledged that the urgent need of children begs for some emergency measures.

Let us not lose sight of the purposes of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA):

* To establish equal access to quality education,

* To strengthen and improve all schools.

Here’s the beginning of an alternative a plan to what Congress currently is cooking up:

Title I – Education of Children of Low Income Families to provide formula-funded financial assistance to local education agencies in support of children from low-income families in order expand and improve community efforts to meet their learning needs.

Execution: To address learning needs requires a “needs assessment.” School staff (principals, counselors, aids, and teachers) and parents (or other adults involved in these high-needs children’s lives) will be the first to collectively identify those needs. Those identified needs will then be brought to the attention of the larger group of community stakeholders (civic, non-profit organizations, foundations and concerned individuals) to be further defined, measures for success indicators established, and existing resources in the community identified. “Gaps” in resources will be identified and brought to the attention of state education officials so that no identified need goes unaddressed. State officials will be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success and to continually monitor and report on their ability to meet their responsibility. Needs assessments will be done using the existing government assessment tools.

Emergency measures: Those Title I schools now designated as chronically low-performing or “priority” schools will be guided through the assessment and improvement processes with cooperative funding (“set aside” Title I money) and staff from the state and local districts with a “support team” provided through the U.S. Department of Education.

Schools identified as chronically low-performing need strong, effective, democratic leadership to take these schools through a successful school improvement process. A federal leadership program (Academy) will be

“designed to enable people who are already experienced principals and other school leaders, knowledgeable about how schools work and the special problems they face, to learn how to turn around the expectations, beliefs and practices of school stakeholders in low-performing schools. The expected focus of the Academy would be on how to improve instruction and change schools’ culture” (Ratner, The “Lead Act,” H.R. 5495/S 3469: Briefing Paper).

Accountability: Using the indicators of success as designated for targeted results through the school improvement process, the “appropriate objective measurements” will be used to judge the “effectiveness of the programs in meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children.” Local and state officials will have established the parameters (what and how often) of those measurements and will make those facts transparent to the community and state, respectively. An accounting of expenses and results of the uses of Title I money will be reported to federal officials for review. National monitoring of achievement gaps through the random use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will continue unchanged. Results of progress by the nation and cost /benefits will be reported annually to the President, Congress, and the Nation.

Currently, with ESEA reauthorization discussion being more about a “national accountability system” and “choice,” and less about disadvantaged children, I worry that we have lost our way on the march towards equal educational opportunity.

But then I remember — “WE the People” and the “highest of ideals” that were put into law in 1965 — there is hope.

[The preceding was a modified excerpt from addendum 1 of The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present: Education’s Missing Ingredient, second edition, by Victoria M. Young, © 2012]

Accountability of Administration

Each layer of administration in our education system — in schools, on school boards, at the district level, in state’s departments of education and the United States Department of Education — exists for a reason and to serve a purpose. As institutions designed to serve the public need, how are they being held “accountable” to the public?

Many education officials seem to have become more “accountable” to federal or state authorities for record keeping purposes rather than for the real purposes for which they exist. And too many times administrators are ignoring the people they are supposed to serve — students, parents, and society.

The responsibility for public education is seen as a “states rights” issue – or so we believe. But what does it really mean when the courts imply that they are not responsible for “quality” education such as they did in Detroit?

“…the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 7 the State of Michigan has no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students in the struggling Highland Park School District.”

No legal obligation? That just blows me away! We are forced to test, label, close down schools, and move students all over the place but no one is responsible to ensure quality education is offered in all schools so that all schoolchildren can have equal access.

That is the problem and should be the focus of the solution!

We know there are huge disparities in this country.B8Uj_hlIMAAZ2XB.jpg_large

I happen to live in the state with the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. Has our (or your) state defined: what are adequate funding levels? Do we have a funding formula designed to obtain more equitable funding? Do we have expectations for student “performance” to improve and “achievement gaps” to narrow? (SURE) Have we defined what resources they need to get there?????

We say we have higher “expectations.” Where are the quality indicators for all levels of the system and where is THE report card showing the progress institutions are making towards equitable learning opportunities? Or aren’t they really responsible for that?

Fair play would be for the public to have higher expectation of accountability for the system.

Fair play would be for the states to show us the indicators they use to prove they are being responsible stewards of our education system.

We have reached the moment when we should be able to see that ….

“We need an accountability system where there is local responsibility, true state accountability, and  a federal duty to monitor progress for the purpose of providing guidance and support.”… “School improvement must be a local responsibility shared through the democratic governing of schools. States must ensure accountability of their system through shared knowledge of measurable results and financial accountings of adequacy and equity. The federal government must return to its role of oversight, support, guidance, research and development, and dissemination of information, and serve when needed to protect and provide for the national interest.” (From The Crucial Voice of the People)

 We need to better understand the role of government in education.

State officials will be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success and to continually monitor and report on their ability to meet their responsibility.” … “The Federal Government has the primary responsibility to identify the national interest in education. It should also help fund and support efforts to protect and promote that interest. It must provide the national leadership to ensure that the Nation’s public and private resources are marshaled to address the issues discussed in this report [National Commission on Excellence in Education]. A Nation at Risk

I understand the federal role in education as originally described in The Smith-Towner Bill of 1918, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and in the purposes of the U.S. Department of Education as listed in 1979:

  • to ensure access to equal educational opportunity;
  • to supplement and complement the efforts to improve the quality of education;
  • to encourage involvement of the public, parents, and students;
  • to promote improvements through research, evaluation, shared information;
  • improve coordination;
  • improve management and efficiencies;
  • increase accountability of federal programs to the President, Congress, and the public.

Yes, we have some things to work on!

What I do not understand is how we have gone for so long ignoring the fact that some states are NOT living up to their responsibility. Why are we hunting for witches while the elephant is trampling everything in sight?

Are we blind to the parasites destroying us ? Or have we just been fooled for so long that the lies became our truth?

Why aren’t we asking for clarity on the disparities? And right now, why are we not talking about the problems with No Child Left Behind – AS A NATION.

If we want schools to improve, we must have state, district, and local accountability that focuses on implementation of the elements of school improvement. It is the only way we will ensure equitable resources. It is the only way we get real and lasting improvement. … a continuous improvement process with indicators that match what matters.

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Update: December, 2015, No Child left Behind was changed to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The wording has changed; the problems remain.

Unequal Access

Unequal access to quality education is what used to define the Great American Education “Reform” War. It was a civil rights issue. So now, let’s redefine the sides in those terms — give all of America’s children equal opportunity, or not.

The Brown v. Board of Education decision that went into law on May 17, 1954, stated, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” That is a truth. At the time the issue was clearly a racial one – the law ended legal segregation of public schools based on color.

The truth stated in law, then, still stands today — “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” And that tendency will always exist. But as James S. Coleman pointed out, inequality exists within schools also. So we must recognize the barriers to equality in our schools and classrooms and fully address those problems directly as well as the inequality between communities.

So what can I say to convince you that federal education law exists because it was the next necessary step in the march towards equal opportunity for children?

Over a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was written because it was recognized that where poverty exists families and communities are less able to offer the quality of education that richer communities can do for their children. Separate facilities are inherently unequal. Without assistance and support, disadvantaged schools are less likely to offer quality learning opportunities.

The chief architect of ESEA, Francis Keppel, felt that equality in education would only become reality when we provide quality education in all our schools. Simple, not easy. Federal law could help but the final solutions can only happen in schools themselves. For the children’s sake, it is in our schools where the barriers to equality must be recognized.

Keppel went on to write The Necessary Revolution in American Education. He meant a “quality revolution.”

If education is the civil rights issue of our time — like many continue to say — and we know that quality matters, what barriers must we overcome to finish this fight? Children across America deserve better. There is nothing acceptable about inaction when we know there are better policies and practices that we can follow.

For the nation’s sake, we must change the test-based accountability education law — No Child Left Behind (NCLB)— because it is now a barrier; it is nothing like the anti-poverty, quality-based, federal investment in equality that the 1965 ESEA law was.

Take a step back 60 years, then a step forward to 1965. Ask every one of your federal and state representatives and candidates to do the same. Consider the Three R’s. Roll back, Review,and Reaffirm a commitment to quality and equality. Ask your representatives to do the same.

What will it take?

What will it take?

Every decade, every year, that policy makers drag their feet on NCLB is a sign that they don’t care that children are being denied access to quality education.

The proof is their inaction.

Reflections: Finish the Fight

“… for far, far too long we have closed the doors of our classrooms so as not to see the inequalities occurring within them. We closed the doors behind us as we met in our committees to argue the wording of our new plans. And our representatives closed the doors to the People and ignored the daily struggles of parents just wanting a fair shot at what they believe is best for their children, a quality education. The children are seated, today. That is the ‘fierce urgency of now.’

What makes us think it is alright to cram students into over-crowded classrooms where maintaining discipline may end up being nothing more than making them sit like a dog? What makes us think that it is acceptable to offer some students activities that stimulate the love of learning and not offer similar opportunities to all? What makes us think that inequality in opportunity is acceptable for America’s children? It isn’t. Voices have risen and been ignored. It is time to stop accepting the unacceptable!

These were my own words and today, I reflect.

I hope you will also; The March Begins

A Reflective Lincoln

A Reflective Lincoln

The Quest for Clarity

How do we have conversations and bring about clarity of ideas when we don’t speak the same language? I’m talking about the language of education reform. It is too full of codes and triggers. The general public, the people whose education system we are talking about, can’t possibly be clear about what is really happening to their system. And how can they possibly crack the “code”?

I know that I personally can’t help with deciphering everything but I can help with one item of reform that we should all try real hard to understand – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. I will say right up front, Harold “Doc” Howe II, the commissioner of education in charge of enacting the law said, “I doubt that anyone could have dreamed up a series of education programs more difficult to administer . . . but ESEA was not designed with that in mind.”

It was designed to provide equal access to quality educational opportunities. It was going to “level the playing field,” as we like to say. And it was going to accomplish this by addressing the needs of children from low-income families. I believe this would be along the lines of the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When we improve the educational opportunity for the under-privileged, we improve opportunity for others in the process.

But the “process” can’t be explained in a blog or a three minute testimony.

So, please don’t get thrown by a person’s choice of words. “Turnaround” doesn’t ALWAYS mean the Race to the Top ways, “indicators” or even “assessments” don’t ALWAYS mean standardized tests, and even “always” rarely really means “always.” You get my drift. And also keep in mind that if you are talking to a teacher, they have been hyper-sensitized; they have been in the trenches of the education reform wars for far too long.

Right now, the right education battle is the one for clarity. We win that battle; all children could have a shot at being a winner.

When someone pulls your trigger or you find yourself wondering “what is this person talking about?” – my advice is to slow down. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Isn’t that the very thing we would expect from good students?

Are You Listening Secretary Duncan?

“The problem here is not what the precise policy shall be but rather how shall decision on that policy be reached.” — Francis Keppel 1966

When the process of “reform” targets improving schools that need improving, it shouldn’t begin with a statement by Secretary Duncan that he stands firm on the idea of “competition” and that he is “holding the line” on what he has already set down for the nation. How does that work when he has also said he will listen? Listen, get people’s advice and input, but, proceed with what has already been decided? Is this how decisions shall be reached? This is a common on-going problem – nationally and in my state of Idaho.

In Idaho, voters turned down the “reform” ideas set by our legislature. So now, the governor is setting up a task force — but citizens need not apply. Only the “stakeholder groups” will be represented in the decision-making process. It appears all levels of government have forgotten their roles in education.

The U.S. Department of Education exists because there has always been unequal access to quality education and it was felt to be a national necessity that our citizens be properly educated. A highly-functional public education system is a proper and necessary function of our government. How does competition produce equal access when those most in need of assistance are dysfunctional when left to their own devices? The very existence of chronically low-performing schools is the proof.

And in a state like Idaho, where we underfund education and continue to document chronically low-performing schools, how can we think that putting the same warring factions together and excluding the public in the conversation will produce better policy? The process matters.

Are you listening Secretary Duncan?