The Common Core Conspiracy

It’s good to remember that opinion pieces, such as “The good and bad of all those tests” by Joanna Weiss, are “just” opinions. Technically, so are the words written here except that mountains of documents stand behind this opinion.

ConspiracyWeiss parrots a familiar tune by evoking the idea of “conspiracy theories” and associating it with the anti “high-stakes testing” movement.  Her words arouse an image of “pitchforks aimed at Common Core.”

Conspiracy? Based on documents produced by those who concocted the Common Core State Standards Initiative, my opinion would be —yes!

The two non-profit, private trade organizations —National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)— conspired with other individuals and groups to set common standards, common tests, and to use the student data collected to produce common educational products in the name of “efficiency.” In their documents, not only are “all those tests” considered products but the development of “human capital” is also. (Benchmarking for Success, 2008)

Some groups intimately involved with the rise of Common Core, such as the NewSchools Venture Fund, call themselves “philanthropic venture capitalists.” (Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds for Student Success, 2009)

Data is a BIG commodity.

Was there an intention to concentrate and control data at a single point —in the U.S. Department of Education? Yes — the CCSSO wrote that intention in their “new deal” plan for the reauthorization of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA, then dubbed “No Child Left Behind.” (ESEA Reauthorization Principles and Recommendations, 2010) (UPDATE NOTE for 2015: Current name is now the Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA/NCLB 2.0)

At Common Core’s immaculate conceptionwas there an intention to track student data from preschool to the workforce for workforce development purposes? Yes. (State Implementations of Reforms Promoted Under the Recovery Act, 2014)

Was there an intention to attach student “outcomes” to teacher’s data and develop a system of teacher tracking that follows teachers across state lines? Yes — it is in the CCSSO document “Our Responsibility, Our Promise.”

At the time, Idaho’s chief education officer,Tom Luna, was president of CCSSO and chaired the committee that produced that document. And Idaho’s Governor Otter later organized a “Task Force for Improving Education” where “group think”—collaboration—led to adoption of the “Our Responsibility, Our Promise” plan, in total !!?!?!conspiracyDefined

Conspire or collaborate? It’s all in a word. The bottom line is, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is not “just standards.” This is a package deal. It is a well-designed, well-documented plan for training parents, school board members, administrators, teachers, and policy-makers to accept “education reform” that is more focused on workforce development than student development. Opinion?

Joanna Weiss pointed out that “poor districts tend to spend the most time on test prep.” Then she stated “what fuels the conspiracy theories” is a “fear that this new system will harm the students it’s meant to serve.” She then went on to state, “ideally” students that fail the tests “will get the help they need before they graduate.” THAT is the false assumption of the “outcome-based theory” of education reform. Who are the theorists here?quote-that-s-not-a-conspiracy-theory-it-s-history-james-dye-341744

Standards and testing don’t ensure student success. That’s a fact.

And it is a fact that during the pit of the Great Recession, with school budgets cut deeply, our Recovery Act dollars supported the infrastructure — state longitudinal data systems and other costly technologies — which created the capability to turn our public schools into a full-fledged workforce development system for the global economy. It isn’t a theory. It’s the truth.

Screen shot from a district newsletter.

Screen shot from a district newsletter.

I am only working to bring this to the public’s attention because I’d like to know, is this America’s choice?

Public schools are grounded in the public’s trust in the institution. We trust people to do their jobs in an honest and transparent manner. My state of Idaho failed in that regard. Under the Luna administrations, due diligence over contracts and agreements were not thorough and transparent. Incompetence or conspiracy? It doesn’t matter. Either way, this is the wrong process upon which to base education reform.

Process matters because trust in the institution of public education is essential.

Unfortunately, Idaho had an over-sized hand in the national politics of education reform because of Mr. Luna’s position in the trade organization, CCSSO. My apologies go out to the nation for Idahoans’ inability to see and rein-in their own chief education officer.

Sadly, the Common Core plot is far from over.

As then Superintendent Luna said, “I am looking forward to playing an instrumental role in shaping the future of public education across Idaho and our nation in the coming years as we work on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind and other critical issues.”

That reauthorization is underway and flying under the radar. (Update 2015: It flew. ESSA replaced NCLB) The process is avoiding the discussions we need to have in order to protect and better serve children, particularly in states that are using corrupted political processes instead of doing what is right for children.

Our laws are “their” tools. That is my informed opinion of the Common Core conspiracy. An opinion of a conspiracy theorist or one person among many that are thinking critically? Please consider digging deeper into the facts before you decide.

Opportunity in America

As a nation, we demanded an accountability system for our public schools; President Bush gave us the accountability law “No Child Left Behind.” And he didn’t change it.

President Obama asked us to identify our lowest performing schools; we did. And the change we needed didn’t happen.

NOW, will we continue to allow the dismantling of the public education system —through the plans of well-financed lobbying groups— by keeping in place current policies that failed us. Will the country turn its back and walk away from “under-achieving schools”— knowing that the system failed to best serve a generation of students?

OR, will we fight like hell for the children left behind by the misguided decisions of our leaders?

It is our responsibility as a nation to not just identify and label schools, but to address the needs of our students throughout our land.

Despite what some want to believe, “equal educational opportunity” has never been offered in America. I believe that too many Americans have a hard time defining what it means and envisioning what it looks like. If I’m correct in that assumption, wouldn’t it make sense to stop rushing ahead without first establishing a vision for OUR education system?d894a74dd1d729fdd5438740d86b4b20

We can begin as a nation by going back to the idea of providing excellent education for all as envisioned by the creators of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. It provides a framework for what we now need. We need federal education law that we can all read, understand, and be a part of executing effectively and efficiently.

Americans seem to understand that children living in poverty have unmet needs that directly affect their ability to learn — such as those expressed by President Kennedy —“poor diets, unaddressed speech, dental and visual disorders.”

Meeting known resource gaps between the children of the poor and those of higher socioeconomic classes was precisely the main focus of ESEA.

Americans seem to understand that in most communities there are children from a spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds and that it isn’t fair to offer opportunity to one group while undercutting another. Equal opportunity means offering them all a fair shot at obtaining a quality public education. Isn’t that why most of us want a public education system to exist?

Meeting the grander twin goals of quality and equality in educational opportunity was the primary guiding principles, the original aim, of ESEA.

indexAmericans seem to understand that the educating of a child occurs in a variety of community settings, that each community is unique, and that it makes sense to use resources that already exist while recognizing the need for assistance when and where it is necessary.

Meeting the need for a wide range of learning opportunities within a community, based on the belief that community improvement leads to educational improvement, was the philosophical basis of ESEA.

Americans seem to understand that a public system of public education requires a strong public institution that is both responsive to ever-changing educational needs and responsible for continuous improvement to safeguard against institutional entrenchment.

Meeting the needs of this large and diverse nation requires that all public education personnel —the public servants of the system, from teachers to counselors to leadership at all levels— be well-educated, trained, and informed in order to strengthen and improve the functioning of the institution. That was the method by which ESEA could guide fulfillment of our duty to establish and ensure equal educational opportunity in America.

The vision and framework are historical.

What is necessary right now is for each of us to call or write our U.S. representatives and request they reinstate the original aim of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.52.56 PM

For America, this is what opportunity looks like.

The opportunity afforded us by the reauthorization of ESEA provides US with the chance to get it right.

(End note: A similar essay was published in Education News as ESEA and Opportunity in America )

Common Core Tests & Teachers

One piece of the Common Core “system” is the Common Core “next generation” tests. It was the creators’ intention that test scores be used in teacher evaluations. It is high-stakes testing.

To understand why I came to this conclusion, it’s essential that people clearly understand the words used in official documents.

“State assessments” means Common Core assessments unless otherwise designated. “College and Career Ready” now means Common Core aligned. “Local control” means control over what local people are allowed to have input on after the schools have complied with federal and state laws. Your local school board? That is another topic.

“Autonomy” in the face of a system controlled by profiteers working the political strings means nothing.

Early on in the Common Core States Standards Initiative (CCSSI), the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) accepted money for purposes they outlined very well. Their document Educating & Training Parents to Support Education Reform looks and sounds great on page one. Page two begins to layout the system. Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 1.55.36 PM

Think about it. Outreach to the parents and the public to “increase awareness”? Alright. Plot to align Common Core Standards to curriculum, assessments, policies, budgets, college admissions and financial aid? The initiative was about more than national standards.

And we can’t forget accountability. “Accountability systems” are brought up repeatedly. But, what does that mean?

Ask the architect of Common Core, David Coleman. When he was the head of The Coalition for Student Achievement group, there was a gathering in Washington D.C. to decide how to use OUR American Reinvestment and Recovery Act dollars. In addition to common standards, it was decided that “…at least 50% of teacher ratings…” should be based on “academic progress.” Many state policymakers jumped aboard that train.

If teachers are “rated” individually by student progress on Common Core aligned assessments, don’t we have to do these assessments at least twice a year to measure real growth due to a teacher? Double the testing money?

But when this group left their little meeting in D.C., it was the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governors Association (NGA) who brought this “initiative” forward as “state-led.” Here’s the BIG GUN in the Common Core plan.

It was quite a meeting of the minds in the Spring of 2009 in D.C.

It was quite a meeting of the minds in the Spring of 2009 in D.C.

CCSSO and NGA prepared their ESEA Reauthorization Principles and Recommendations. What’s the big deal?

They called it their "new deal."

They call it their “new deal.”

Once revisions to ESEA (currently called No Child Left Behind) are put in place, it will be extremely difficult to change. My proof? No Child Left Behind was due to be rewritten in 2007. It didn’t happen even in the face of knowing with certainty that it was detrimental to a generation of already under-served children. Change? Outcry? Action? By the People, yes. By Congress? Not soon enough.

If CCSSO and NGA are allowed to be leaders of the pack on ESEA, one principle upon which this law will stand for another decade is that ESEA will “set the baseline for state policy (in assessments, accountability, consequences, etc.)…”Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 11.51.06 AM

Thus far, it appears these ideas are leading Federal and State “leaders.” The House Student Success Act (H.R.5) still mandates yearly “state” testing and now shifts “accountability” and teacher evaluations to the State. The draft Senate version applies the same “guiding” principle. This policy ping-pong (partnership), I’ve seen played before when outcome-based education hit the States before being federalized in No Child Left Behind.

So, will the federal government set “baselines” or “just” require federal approval of all state plans? Will federal law mandate that “All accountability systems includes student academic achievement and growth”?

Is federal law being used to uphold a very controversial private/somewhat public partnership “initiative” that the majority of the public did not know was being put in place?

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The addition of “critical thinking skills” has been a major selling point. Working to encourage children to think critically is nothing new to education.

But back to our teachers and include school leaders as these familiar groups did.

CCSSO, with their buddies at NGA, wrote Our Responsibility, Our Promise that aligns all teacher and principal development with the Common Core. These are two non-governmental trade associations. Don’t you think the preparation for teachers and school leaders FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS should be based on the standards and principles upon which WE —the public— want, believe, stand upon, respect, and trust to guide us well?

When the people behind the development of Common Core and the Core plan decided to transform the system to do their bidding, they needed to set the agenda in motion, drive adoption throughout the system, and accelerate results through divisive action especially if they felt the need to get this done while the Great Recession had the public’s attention. Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 3.30.01 PMYou see —I hope—that the same people behind the curtain of our TOO BIG TOO FAIL epic story of BIG MONEY laughing all the way to the bank and leaving THE LITTLE PEOPLE scraping by, are some of the same people behind the revolving door of Common Core. Could we please HIT PAUSE?

There are people who see the Common Core standards as just standards because of the “facts” they have heard.

Please stop and ask that person that is so passionately fighting against Common Core what it is that stirred their passion. Please stop and listen to them. Will they mess up some details? Chances are they will because the truth has been hard to find.

But ask yourself, are these “just standards”?

Teachers, are you sure you know what “they” have planned for your profession?

Accountability & ESEA Reauthorization

“Accountability is not a bad thing, but it can be done badly. And that’s where we find ourselves now…No single idea, policy or solution can begin to address all the challenges in 50 states, 15,000 districts and 90,000 public schools…we need accountability for the entire system.” — Dennis Van Roekel, President of NEA, 6/10/14

Accountability in ESEA reauthorization needs to take into account all the major issues involved in student performance.

Accountability in ESEA reauthorization needs to take into account all the major issues involved in student performance.

When you look at the visual provided here, it’s easy to see that our myopic focus on student outcomes as the basis of accountability for No Child Left Behind set us on a tragic course destined to sink the U.S. education system.

To attempt an explanation of how accountability for the entire system is possible, I elected to begin with a statement from this, October 28, 2014, letter from key civil rights organizations.

To: President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Congressional and State Educational Leaders:

Re: Improving Public Education Accountability Systems and Addressing Educational Equity.

“…many struggling school systems have made little progress under rules that emphasize testing without investing.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.48.00 PMThe focus on “testing without investing” can very simply be brought to a halt. If the government won’t stop this, parents will have to take the law into their own hands as they are doing with the United Opt Out Movement.

If those continuing to insist on forced yearly testing are doing so because they do not trust state and local officials to work towards equal opportunity, that is understandable. But IF Congress cannot “fix” their mistakes now, after being aware of them for a decade, a two-year federal moratorium on all federally mandated testing except NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) is reasonable given what we know.

We know we created a lost generation in education and in our economy. We tested without investing in real school improvements. We ignored much while focusing only on the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s the problem:

“Common sense dictates that in order for students to achieve they must have appropriate opportunities to learn.” Wendy Schwartz – Opportunity To Learn Standards, 1995

The concept of “opportunity to learn assessments” isn’t something that the public hears much about but as Schwartz explained, they are “used to indicate overall educational quality, and, more specifically, the availability and use of education resources.

Hopefully that helps people better understand the concerns of the civil rights groups and their requests to Congress and the Obama administration. The eight points below are theirs; the elaboration on them is mine. Their emphasis was on providing “productive learning conditions for all students in each school” using measures of educational inputs and outcomes based on eight requirements for effective accountability:

  1. Appropriate and Equitable Resources to ensure opportunities to learn,
  2. Multiple Measures of both inputs and outcomes,
  3. Shared Responsibility – from the community to the classroom to all levels of the system – to fulfill their obligation to support learning for all students,
  4. Professional Competence requiring proper preparation, continuing education,and professional learning opportunities for all,
  5. Informative Assessments that are indicators of continuous improvement of both the students’ progress and the systems’ responsiveness to identified problems,
  6. Transparency requiring that the indicators of improvement be specific, targeted, meaningful, and easily accessible and readable,
  7. Meaningful and Responsive Parental and Family Engagement must be made a priority in funding and practice,
  8. Capacity Building should be the focus of all interventions whether it is for the student, school, or system because it is only by strengthening and increasing an individuals’ or institutions’ capability to perform that we ensure a strong foundation for progress.

HOW?

The structure for a responsive and responsible accountability mechanism was recommended in 1991 by the Special Study Panel on Education Indicators and presented to the Acting Commissioner of Education Statistics, Emerson J. Elliott, then Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, and Assistant Secretary of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement Diane Ravitch.

The panels’ goal was to “develop a comprehensive education indicator information system capable of monitoring the health of the enterprise, identifying problems, and illuminating the road ahead” which meant they were looking at leading indicators as well as an evaluation of the systems’ current status.

The panel began by clarifying that “unlike most other statistics, an indicator is policy-relevant and problem-oriented…but indicators cannot, by themselves, identify causes or solutions.”

Understanding that “information requirements of the federal government have little in common with those of the school superintendent or principal,” the panel anticipated the need for indicator systems corresponding to federal, state, and local needs.

Their first step was to define “the conceptual framework” and “fundamental principles” by which to create and guide an education indicator information system to meet the demands of the public and policymakers.

These fundamental convictions were outlined and explained:

  • Indicators should address enduring issues. We should assess what we think is important, not settle for what we can measure.
  • The public’s understanding of education can be improved by high-quality, reliable indicators.
  • An effective indicator system must monitor education outcomes and processes wherever they occur.
  • An indicator system built solely around achievement tests will mislead the American people.
  • An indicator system must respect the complexity of the educational process and the internal operations of schools and colleges.
  • Higher education and the nation’s schools can no longer be permitted to go their separate ways.

The panel set down a framework around six issues and the main factors contributing to success in those areas. They expressed the concept as “clusters of indicators” designed to give us the best understanding of these complex issues.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 6.50.01 PMIn essence, this panel was encouraging us to develop a “mixed model of indicators — national indicators, state and local indicators, and a subset of indicators held in common.”

But — always a “but” — in 1991, the public and this panel still held the belief, and clearly pushed it forward, that international comparison data was “the ultimate benchmarks of educational performance.” It wouldn’t be until 1993 that a brief glimpse at the Sandia National Laboratories report on education put the interpretation of international test scores, and standardized test scores in general, in perspective. “The major differences in education systems and cultures across countries diminish the value of these single-point comparisons.”

Sandia researchers critically evaluated “popular, not necessarily appropriate” measures of performance and in the end stated that the available data was collected for such “specific purposes” that it was “often used in unintended and sometimes inappropriate applications.” They warned, “this practice may result in poorly focused actions, with disappointing outcomes.” On that point, both of these groups of researchers were in agreement.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.38.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.39.03 PM

 

To avoid too narrow a focus yet not be overwhelmed by statistics or the collection of them, the 1991 Panel on Education Indicators went for a “comprehensive” issue-focused approach.

 

 

 

For each of the six issue areas, they further detailed the system with subsets.

 

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They did the same with issues of “leading indicators” particularly changes in society affecting a child’s readiness for school…

 

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…and the supports necessary for student success.

 

 

 

The panel stressed that “the most powerful system of indicators will start from the perspective of what consumers and the public expect and need from education” understanding that “the people of the United States also clearly expect the nation’s schools and colleges to advance certain national values above and beyond the benefits education provides to individual students.”

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To accommodate the public, these two issues were included: education and economic productivity, and…

 

 

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… equity in American education.

 

 

Is this doable? Could a “mixed model of indicators” be used to assess all the elements laid out in the civil rights letter? For our large and diverse country, would this system better fit our needs than the test-based accountability of No Child Left Behind?

The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was NOT an accountability law until the No Child Left Behind version of it. ESEA was one of a group of anti-poverty laws.

Do we want to return ESEA to its original goals? Should accountability be set nationally in a manner such as outlined here, but, maybe under its own law? Now would be the time to decide.

What we know with certainty is that current federal education law, as it stands, has neither served us well nor protected children from the harmful effects of politics-gone-wrong.

Our lawmakers have proven themselves incapable of responsible decision-making in the arena of education policy. It is time for the People to make demands.

Choices to consider: 1) Push Congress to make the law right, 2) call for a moratorium on testing if they can’t produce a reauthorization we can live with and prosper by, 3) boycott testing now. Unfulfilled promises of action are no longer good enough.

PARENTS: submit your tests refusal letters now. The parents that came before you in the standards, testing, accountability movement waited for lawmakers to act. They didn’t; you must.

CITIZENS: what happened to leaving a place better than you found it? The public education system is systematically being dismantled. Get off the sidelines!

To read more about accountability at the different levels, see Accountability Where It Matters Most, Accountability for School Quality, and Accountability for Administration.

We aren’t short on ideas; we are stymied by the corrupted politics of education.

Update 5/6/2015 PLEASE view the accountability summary chart now under the Federal Education Law drop down menu. Thank you for considering.

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]

Keeping PACE & ESEA Reauthorization

“We must support families, communities, and schools working in partnership to deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.”482045From A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), 2010

Sounds great! But the Blueprint was written to fail. Parents became an afterthought, the funding was backwards, and privatization was stamped all over it. The plan designated formula funding for wants, experiments, and pushed a political, ideologically driven, education industry agenda while leaving student needs to be filled through competitive grants. And the time-proven, research-based, essence of the original ESEA was hidden behind verbiage sure to raise political conflict. Written to fail.

But, never mind. The Blueprint isn’t really a big obstacle because the real responsibility for ESEA reauthorization is in the hands of Congress. The best thing that could happen right now would be for the people in this country to decide if they agree or not with the proposals coming out of the House and Senate.

And we deserve to know if the president is clear in his own mind as to what principles he stands upon. When the law lands on his desk, by what standards will he judge it? He has given us mixed signals.

Does the Obama administration firmly believe that education is a “shared responsibility”? Will policy reflect that concept? Does the administration comprehend how parents, families, and communities were once central to federal education policy? Do they know how parents are treated in dysfunctional districts, the under-performing ones that they say they want to “turnaround”?

In education policy in general, we parents have not just been directed to the back of the bus, we’ve been shoved out the rear door and left on the curb.

The reality over the years has been that parental “involvement,” “engagement,” “participation” — whatever the flavor of the year happens to be — has been more of a sound bite than sound policy. In too many districts, No Child Left Behind’s parental participation requirement was implemented on paper only — schools meeting rule compliance without doing the right things.

Knowingly or not, President Obama clearly expressed a focus for ESEA reauthorization — to support partnerships that deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.

Then under the heading Rigorous and Fair Accountability and Support at Every Level (p9), the presidents’ Blueprint went on to state;

“States and districts also will collect other key information about teaching and learning conditions, including information on school climate such as student, teacher and school leader attendance; disciplinary incidents; or student, parent, or school staff surveys about their school experience.”

In those words, we have a new beginning for an accountability structure originally envisioned in Education Counts.

“The information system needed to develop education indicators should be organized around major issue areas of enduring educational importance.”

If parental, family, and community support for students isn’t of enduring educational importance, I don’t know what is.

So with a focus and a way to monitor improvement, all we need is a research-based proposal to finally make right the school improvement portion of ESEA to ensure it is truly inclusive of parents, families, and communities.

That’s where “Keeping PACE” comes in. The Keeping Parents and Communities Engaged (PACE) Act was sponsored in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) by former Senator Edward Kennedy. It was introduced into the Senate Education Committee and never went any further.

The problem with Keeping PACE as it was proposed is that, like the best ideas in the Obama Blueprint, it was a competitive grant proposal for something that impoverished communities badly need — it’s not a want; it’s not an experiment. It is a need. Parent and community engagement must be given the priority that only adequate and fair formula funding can do.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 5.11.23 PMWe have research-based best practices for family and community engagement. Research shows there is “…strong and steadily growing evidence that families can improve their children’s academic performance in school. Families also have a major impact on other key outcomes, such as attendance and behavior, that affect achievement.”

Fund what works!

The basic idea of Keeping PACE is this: Title I money is used to hire Parent and Community Outreach Coordinators to coordinate already existing community resources to support students, their schools, and their families making schools the centers of communities through education and services focused on a community’s identified needs.

“It isn’t just about more programs. It’s about leveraging existing resources to help students succeed in the classroom.”

“Wise use of existing community resources” was one of the basic foundational philosophies of the community education concept that was the essence of the 1965 ESEA.

Fund what works!

One of the faulty assumptions of No Child Left Behind is that struggling schools “just lack motivation” so they need punishment and competition to spur them to improve. Not true. They lack the resources to build a strong foundation for success. They lack the “capacity” to do their jobs.

Capacity building is any process that increases the capability of individuals to produce or perform; it enables all stakeholders to carry out their tasks to the best of their ability.”

To enable federal education law to support improvement in the struggling schools in this nation, we need publicly trained and educated leadership who understand the community education concept so they will work WITH families and communities. Plus, we need our U.S. Department of Education to disseminate information that has been researched with the utmost integrity so that it does NOT have to carry a disclaimer like this:

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

Bottom line, we need the big money out of education policy and we need to take “meaningful, practical” steps like Senator Obama suggested in 2008.

With a resurrected and improved Keeping PACE Act, a new emphasis on leadership training, and renewed prominence of dissemination of “research-based” best practices in community organizing for improvement, we can take a giant leap forward in building community partnerships that support and serve students.

We the People need to demand that Congress and President Obama make the most important student supports — parents, family, and community — a priority in ESEA reauthorization. Speak Up!

The American Education Wars

In politics, we have witnessed the detrimental impasse of rigid ideologues unable to legislate responsibly no matter how dire our needs. In the education wars, the sides are no different — unyieldingly stubborn —but the education wars are on many fronts. There continues to be new vs. old math, whole language vs. phonics but now we have our modern “education reform war” with all it twists and turns.

One result of the education wars thus far is the takeover of our education policies and practices at the exclusion of “us” in the process. So now we have a full-blown greed-driven, politically motivated power struggle pitting those wishing to end neighborhood public schools, as we have known them, against those wanting to preserve and improve them.

The high level of frustration produced by the education wars has made easy pickings for those looking to make a buck off of us, the government of the people. That’s the bad news.

The good news? We have the opportunity to end this war by making the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) right —again.

The top-down education mandates for accountability tied to higher “achievement” scores, through No Child Left Behind (NCLB*) only furthered our resistance to change, made a bad situation worse for many, and escalated the education wars.

(*Note: NCLB was formerly ESEA and now called the Every Student Succeeds Act since 2015)

Scholars, politicians, and pundits are fighting over issues most citizens can’t fully comprehend while many patrons are growing frustrated and walking away. Still others are spending their time and energy protesting and actively working to gain back some control of the legislative process. Many of these people are mothers and fathers whose time should be focused on their children.

This war appears to have started over the question, is there a crisis in education? Well, there is now. The war has been smoldering beneath the surface for 30 years and now has parents fighting for their rights while trying to obtain a good education for their children. Through all this one fact remains certain, over the last three decades of attempted education reform, children have fallen through the cracks while adults fight about who is right.

End this war!

Did political and business leaders take over education policy and now dictate classroom practices because they found “the establishment” educators inept and unwilling to listen? Or did they take over as part of a plot to undermine our republic through standardization and privatization of our schools? Frankly—I don’t give a damn if it was the chicken or the egg that started this. Both “sides” are doing harm to children’s opportunity to learn and to what was once revered as the best system of free public schools in the world.

The “education reform wars” have got to stop. This tug-of-war over opposing political agendas is leaving behind teachers, students, and their families as collateral damage. It is time to stop fighting against each other over the smaller problems we can solve at the local level and take on the far more threatening problem — national education reform policy.federalism-timeline-19-728

The national education policy process is flawed because the conversation and debate is being controlled — the voice of the people excluded. And the law has not been about the children. If it had been, it would have been changed on time in 2007 when we knew with certainty that it was doing harm.

This fight will only be for the children if we make it so. Now is the time. The reauthorization of ESEA in 2015 failed to change what needed changing. That door of opportunity closed. Now it is up to us to end the American Education Reform Wars our way.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Frederick Douglass

Did We Set the Wrong Goal for Education?

Quote from the presidential debates. www.hlntv.com

Quote from the presidential debates. www.hlntv.com

President Obama has said all along that the goal of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the right one. He also said he would listen.

Please consider these words:

“An Act

To close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind.”

That is the official wording of NCLB. “To close the achievement gap” is the main goal. How is the “achievement gap” being measured? Standardized test scores. Predictably, that process has been corrupted into insignificance. Why?

It’s Campbell’s Law (paraphrased):

The more an indicator is used for decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption and the more likely it will be to distort and corrupt the processes it is intended to monitor.

Educating children – the educational process – was corrupted due to the intense and limited focus on test scores because the law set that singular goal.

Now consider, what are the chances that President Obama has an in-depth familiarity with the creation of federal education law? That history isn’t even taught to professional educators!

So this is probably what President Obama doesn’t know or fully grasp:

“An Act

To strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunities in the Nation’s elementary and secondary schools.”

That is the aim of the first federal education law in this nation, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and NCLB was the first version of that law to change the goal.

Strengthening and improving educational quality and opportunities is a far-reaching goal. Flexibility was inherent in ESEA because of its broad objectives. The individuality of states and schools was naturally protected because of the general nature of the law and because its writers were guided by President Kennedy’s words about the federal role in education.

“Let us put to rest the unfounded fears that ‘Federal money means Federal control.’”

“Control” —the governing of our schools— was a state and local responsibility and the federal government was willing to partner in ensuring equal opportunity through financial support, dissemination of information, and assistance in training education personnel.

“Accountability” was based on “assessments” of projects and students, which naturally varied depending on the identified needs in a given area of the country. There were many commonly identified problems but there was nothing “standard” about their solutions in individual classrooms for individual students. Testing was tailored to track progress and it was not “high-stakes.”

Standardized “achievement” tests alone can never do justice to the complexity of judging educational quality or in monitoring equal opportunities.

President Obama does know this:

http://www.epi.org/publication/perspective_on_standardized_tests/

President Obama’s Perspectives on Standardized Tests Commentary • April 1, 2011

Today, “…the fierce urgency of now” are words that should be echoing across our country.

The clock is ticking on the end of No Child Left Behind. Both the House and Senate are fast-tracking bills that do not make this law “right” for school children. If Congress can not be stopped (which I would encourage people to try), President Obama is our last hope. What will he base his judgment on?

Should the president insist that the goal be reset and that “accountability” will not occur based on yearly-standardized achievement tests controlled from the federal level?

If he listens what will he hear — chatter and confusion, or a clear message?

Kill No Child Left Behind & Do An Autopsy

If we kill No Child left Behind and do an autopsy, buried deep in its bowels you will find the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Over time the guiding principles of ESEA have become obscured with almost 1000 pages of ideologically and financially driven “projects.” From venture capitalists looking to pocket more public dollars through products and services, to our military gaining access to student data for easier and targeted recruiting, to the establishment of national standards without really talking about who controls them — the No Child Left Behind Act has been the place to put the devils details. When ESEA was 35 pages long, this was not a problem.

At the heart of ESEA is Title I. Its purpose was to even the playing field for our nation’s youngest citizens.

The signing of ESEA into law by LBJ, 1965

The signing of ESEA into law by LBJ, 1965

By investing federal funds to meet the needs of “disadvantaged” children, it is known as one of many “War on Poverty” laws because the original funding formula focused on children from poverty-stricken families. That flow of funds, like the major vein coming into the heart, enabled ESEA to function.

The autopsy reveals a couple of large strictures in that main vein.

The original formula funding used each state’s average dollar per student and allotted half again as much to focus on meeting the educational needs of those children living in poverty. The formula was quickly changed to using the national average in order to better help the “poorer states.” However in 1968, only three years after passage of ESEA, the formula funding was made “conditional upon availability of sufficient appropriations” (Congressional Quarterly. Congress and the Nation: A Review of the Government and Politics During the Johnson Years, Vol. II, 1965–1968, p710. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1969).

Availability of federal funds for investment in education took a backseat to the funding for the Vietnam War. The law was crippled but did not die.

Through the shear fortitude of the people willing to keep the dream of equal opportunity alive, the law underwent attempts to make it right with “reauthorization” occurring every five to six years. But in 1978, the focus of funding shifted to whole schools instead of remaining dedicated to meeting the needs of disadvantaged children.

Forgotten it seems was this 1966 warning by the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children:

“…it is important to keep the purpose of Title I in sharp focus…The efforts of Title I should not be merged at this time with general aid for schools…in the administration of the Title, it is important to insist that its objective is to help children, not institutions.”

Warning: Simply focus on children.

Today, there is no sign of rectification. This is where we stand –Title I, Part A .

“(ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.”

The focus is blurred and the money is seen as general aid to schools.

Title I is crippled and blinded but ESEA had four other titles.

Like the oxygen-poor blood coming into the heart is incapable of sustaining life without the rest of the circulatory system working effectively, funding alone is not enough to improve access to “quality” education. To improve overall educational quality so as to ensure equal access, the other titles were to be guided by the identified needs of impoverished communities. Never forgetting that Title I is the heart of ESEA, improving and strengthening the whole public education system was the bigger purpose of the other ESEA titles.

Title II focused funding on instructional materials including textbooks and school library resources, which benefitted all students. Title III filled “services” gaps as identified by community needs assessments. Title IV, known as the Cooperative Research Act, was designed to provide research, training, and dissemination of information aimed at improving the quality of teachers and counselors. And Title V was “to stimulate and assist in strengthening the leadership resources of State educational agencies” because the writers of ESEA understood that the states failing to improve at a satisfactory rate lacked the competence to improve themselves.

The lawmakers back in 1965 recognized that disadvantages of various kinds led to the inequalities in educational opportunities. No single artery or vein of improvement improves the viability of the system. Every part needs to serve its purpose.

Through materials and services that support teaching and learning, better university training of teachers and counselors, and better distribution of “best practices” to the states and the communities who need them the most, the 1965 ESEA attempted to bring social justice to the education system by focusing federal funding on the needs of impoverished children. The country invested in them.

At the heart of ESEA are strong, reasoned, and researched-based concepts.

But with the current ESEA reauthorization now being narrowed to pre-determined topics of discussion and fast-tracked after an eight-year delay, the People need to scream for a halt to the process. The autopsy is not complete. It has only just begun.

The public hears that federal education law, NCLB/ESEA, didn’t work to improve education but until the people understand what went wrong in the past, the country is doomed to continue allowing the diseased portions of the law to kill the system.

Does it sound to you like the law ever had a fair shot at addressing the unique educational needs of poverty-stricken children?

And there is much more to consider.