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?

What Are We Missing?

Leaders, Civil Rights Leaders, People, what are we missing?

And how is it we don’t seem to understand that “narrowing the curriculum” translates to lost opportunities to learn — particularly in impoverished communities? Those communities were the ones previously targeted by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB). Those schools were the reason ESEA exists.

equal-right-quotes-5Federal education law did not come into existence to dictate testing.

So here are some facts that seem to be missing in the discussion of yearly standardized testing as it applies to reauthorization of No Child Left Behind/now the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA):

The original ESEA set this goal.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals desired in federal education law as stated by President Kennedy.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals first stated by President Kennedy.

The only “accountability” and testing associated with this law was this:

"Appropriate" was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

“Appropriate” was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn and staying focused on the “educationally-deprived” children.

Measurements of progress were used to assess effectiveness of federal dollars in meeting children’s learning needs. As one citizen recently expressed to me, these were state and locally created “measures.” …But back to the past,… in 1966, the first review of ESEA was released.

This council was required by the 1965 ESEA to advise the president and congress.

Yearly, the council was required to advise the president and congress. This council  focused strictly on the children the law intended to help and advised we do the same.

This assessment of the problem led their thoughts on standardized testing.

This assessment of the problem, by this council, highlighted their thoughts on standardized testing.

This council understood that these children were coming to school already “disadvantaged” when it came to standardized test scores. Out-of-school factors played a role.

In other words, commercially-designed standardized "achievement" tests point at opportunity to learn gaps.

In other words, commercially designed standardized “achievement” tests point at opportunity-to-learn gaps.

A point made in The Coleman Report that is really what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre.

Important to think about: the report was really titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.”

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Variation within a school is greater than between schools. We have to think about children from low-income families as children with fewer opportunities – unless their community provides them more.

Also in 1966, the Coleman Report said that family background and socioeconomic factors play a role in “achievement” – but it was interpreted to mean that “school resources” don’t matter.

However…….a point made in The Coleman Report that really is what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre ones is the concentration of poverty….if not properly addressed.

Fortunately, the 1965 ESEA was designed taking into consideration both in-school and out-of-school factors and later research by James S. Coleman would prove that an out-of-school safety net of opportunities (social capital) was a factor behind the success of the private Catholic schools that he studied. But as the story of testing goes….

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Analysis and intervention must be focused on student learning – in the school where variability between students is largest.

Convinced that all students can learn, Ronald Edmonds looked at schools that began seeing student success regardless of their high-poverty rates. He not only analyzed the common factors in these “effective” schools, he looked at what they did to improve.

Edmonds did not shy away from standards and testing but his bigger focus was on instruction and learning….in the school.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 4.10.05 PM

Good-quality teacher-created tests focused on learning objectives in line with clear, locally acceptable standards should be considered as the alternative to yearly commercially-created standardized tests. Then, what gets taught gets tested.

So in light of the fact that the role of the federal government is to ensure our civil (citizen’s) right to equal access, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is one appropriate tool for assessing national or state achievement/opportunity gaps. We should not change something that has worked well as one indicator of our nations slow but steady progress.

Today, we must consider looking at the real core of the problem that national civil rights groups are having with the idea of giving up yearly standardized testing. We need to consider: when the biggest variable is within a school, when success is really defined by individual student success, student success can only be measured at the school level. The “accountability” measure must be determined by parents, teachers, and communities. Monitored by NAEP to assess inequality, yes. But any further national testing for this reason is not justified and is an overstep.

In federal program evaluations to satisfy “accountability” for dollars, the same data (measures, assessments, indicators) that are used to identify a problem should be used to determine whether the problem has been reduced or eliminated.

And one last lesson from the past that we may have missed, from No Child Left Behind, was that yearly standardized testing narrowed the curriculum to what was tested – it did harm – and instructional time was lost because of test preparation. Limiting learning opportunities in schools is most devastating for children whose parents can’t make up for those lost opportunities. I know this because I saw it with my own eyes.

I hope in the weeks to come that a set of meaningful indicators of educational quality and opportunity come out of the legislative debate on ESEA reauthorization. Yearly standardized achievement tests for all students should not be among them. 

Education Counts. Let's measure what matters.

Education Counts. Let’s measure what matters.

#TruthBeTold The civil rights movement marched on a different path to obtain equality in educational opportunity.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Congressional representatives, particularly those charged with re-writing NCLB, do you understand?

(UPDATE: they did not demonstrate understanding when they changed NCLB to ESSA – the Every Student Succeeds Act)

We are at a crossroads where the standards movement that has dominated education policy since the 80’s intersects with the almost forgotten educational history of the 60’s and 70’s that saw the natural progress of effective schools take root because the influential in education policy THEN understood poverty and saw a way that education law could remedy a longstanding injustice – unequal access to quality education.

It is a problem we can solve.

Again.

Again. YES, EVERY 5 YEARS WE NEED TO REAUTHORIZE ESEA.

What Teachers Need

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) understands that the cultural setting or environment where “accountability” is expected to take place (schools and classrooms) must be a place based on “mutual trust and support.” They laid down “the conditions under which accountability needs to take place.” Here is a summary of their NSTA Accountability declaration. (Best copy available. “Step 1” is wrong because the premise that setting standards and testing for them increases student achievement has been proven not to be true.)

Teachers must FIRST be given:

  • The appropriate resources,
  • Access to quality educational opportunities,
  • The time necessary to develop skills,
  • The opportunity to participate in development of accountability measures,
  • Information about the plan and timeline for compliance,
  • And the opportunity to address accountability issues within a local network.

Let me use Idaho as an example. Voters – the People – rejected a “pay-for-performance” law. In the process, the Idaho legislature ordered a study looking at issues that affect our Idaho teachers and schools.  When they looked at teacher preparation (summary, pgs. ix-x), three requests for improvement stood out — all having to do with teacher’s opportunities to learn and resources, some of the same things the students need.

We don’t have to look far for solutions.

 

But Idaho ignored their own research to continue on the path of standards, testing, and teacher accountability tied to student outcomes (standards-“based” education, outcome-based “reform”). Our whole nation does not have to make that same mistake.

We have an instrument for improvement – federal education law – that was called No Child Left Behind (ESEA). It became the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 without fixing what was wrong with NCLB.  What must be known is that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was not intended to be an accountability law. It was to strengthen and improve the education of all those involved with educating children.

Better “public” education will make a better public school system. But before we go putting teacher preparation on center stage, let’s be fair. We need “opportunity to learn” indicators for teacher preparation and continuing education in place FIRST. Measurements matter, right?

Repeatedly, parents have voiced their support for their own child’s teachers and they trust them. Will lawmakers continue to ignore the People’s voice?

PDK/Gallup Poll

PDK/Gallup Poll

 

Fixing the National Accountability System: Based on Fact?

Part 3: Is the Marc Tucker Plan “a Fact-Based way forward”?

“Fact” according to Tucker: One of the most important conditions necessary to provide for professionals “is the design of the accountability system.” ?????? Who knew?

From my perspective as a professional, I never knew I needed to be concerned about an “accountability system.” And as many know, “In Finland, that word isn’t part of the education lexicon.”

But Mr. Tucker is an acknowledged “systems thinker” and an international expert whose opinion holds weight in D.C.. Surely he knows the truth about the country that has led the world in reforming their education system.

“The two most important factors explaining the success of the Finnish education system are: education has been a national priority for decades, and the system operates on trust.”

Truth is, the public trust in the U.S. public education system has been systematically eroded by political agendas and the propaganda to match it.

But on to another Tucker fact which actually has a broad base of agreement: The test-based accountability system
 we have in the United States—resulted in “very low teacher morale” and “has narrowed the curriculum for millions of students to a handful of subjects…” Tucker even went on to say:

“If we want broad improvement in student performance and we want to close the gap between disadvantaged students and the majority of our
students, then we will abandon test-based accountability and teacher evaluation as key drivers of our education reform program.”

It is great those facts were acknowledged, but the Tucker Plan DOES NOT abandon test-based accountability at all. It promises “tests would be much higher quality tests”… “And these high quality tests would cover the whole
 core curriculum, so subjects like history, literature, science, social studies, music and the arts would not be slighted.”

…Would not be slighted from being tested???!?!… This is “fixing” the problem?

More “facts” according to Mr. Tucker:

“When the ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called No Child left Behind] was first passed in 1965, the Congress assumed that, if they voted additional money that could only be used to aid in the education of poor and minority students, educators would know how to use that money effectively and the result would be improved student performance. ….In other words, if the students were not learning, the fault lay in the background of the students, not in any lack of competence or commitment in their teachers, and if more funds could be provided to teachers to cope with the students’ cultural disadvantages, then they would learn.”

Having studied the 1965 ESEA in much detail with information from a variety of sources, I can say this with certainty – NOT TRUE!

Tucker misrepresents the original law and then goes on to blame Congress for being mad about a lack of results when he says himself – in this paper – “data showed that the ESEA had indeed led to major gains for disadvantaged students.” (Koretz, Dan. “Educational Achievement: Explanations and Implications of Recent Trends”, Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office, August 1987)

Real facts about ESEA: The money did not go directly to teachers for them to spend as they saw fit. And the money was not only for “poor and minority” students. It was to address the needs of low-income students knowing that they tend to be concentrated in poorer communities, poorer states, and tended to be minority students.

There were five interconnected pieces supported through federal funding to the county and involved agencies:

  • Title I – financial assistance to local education agencies (schools) in support of children from low-income families,
  • Title 2 – money for school library resources, textbooks, and other instructional materials to provide access for all students in the State,
  •  Title 3 – supplementary educational centers and services to be made available to the entire community to provide services not currently offered in underserved areas but deemed vital to having kids ready to learn,
  •  Title 4 – The Cooperative Research Act to support educational research and training targeted at improving the quality of teaching, counseling, advising, and parental and community engagement practices to improve student achievement, and dissemination of that information,
  • Title 5 – State Departments of Education funding through this title is “to stimulate and assist in strengthening the leadership resources of State educational agencies” to assist states in identifying “educational problems, issues, and needs in the State.

(More details available here)

If Congress was led to believe that money went to teachers to use as they wished and it didn’t “work,” then the policy advisers in D.C. were ignorant or disingenuous and the history of the law distorted beyond recognition or understanding. I’m truly surprised that Mr. Tucker doesn’t know the history of ESEA any better than what he stated in this newest diatribe of his. His rendition was simplistic and erroneous.

So this topic of “national accountability” comes back to the fact that there is no reason for a test-based national/federal education accountability law. That is not what ESEA was – and in my humble and unheard opinion, nor should it ever be. We need to do away with the very idea that we can hold students and teachers “accountable” through high-stakes standardized testing dictated from above…..but let’s continue considering “facts.”

Another “FACT” as stated by Tucker is that;

education is a monopoly, so we need other ways of ensuring that the people delivering the service have strong incentives to work hard and deliver high quality at a reasonable cost.”

Monopoly means “the exclusive possession or control of something.” Who has had exclusive control over public education? There has never been a single person or entity possessing “exclusive control.” There are multiple “controllers”; some good, some bad. But public education has never been a true monopoly. The word “monopoly” has been used as a propaganda tool.

davekoller.com

davekoller.com

Currently, it is the powerful and their lobbyists that are controlling education policy.

And we are coming dangerously close to allowing the public education system to be controlled by a handful of individuals — a private monopoly by way of the international giant in education, Pearson Inc. with their cozy relationship to Mr. Tucker.

At this point, I’d like to know a fact or two myself (but I’m not really expecting answers); who made Marc Tucker King of Education Reform? How many share the throne with him? And why would we allow a non-representative of the People to direct education policy?

That is “Education without Representation.”

In a system that should operate on trust, we should NOT give power to the untrustworthy. All of those who have pushed the test-based accountability scheme should be dethroned.

To move forward based on facts, truth requires that we abandon our test-based federal accountability system, NOT fix it.

THE END

Reason for Hope

Leaders — NOT the ones you see and hear about in the news but the kind that I saw in action last week at a local high school. There are men and women in the trenches of real school reform that should give us all reason for hope. These are leaders that embrace solutions.

First step – open your arms wide. Take in the community. Connect.connect-20333_150

School principals have a responsibility to “work with the teachers … and serve our kids and their families” (to quote another common person).  These are the people that make real reform happen. They have the responsibility to improve education for every student but they don’t always have the power, control, and freedom to do it. This is why “we” need to better define the governing roles in our education system.

The principal IS the most important person in the hierarchy of school administration – in my opinion. And in too many cases that I have witnessed, they aren’t being treated as such or allowed the time to do their jobs effectively.

So last week having witnessed a principal working to develop community partnerships by first stressing that the focus is the students was uplifting. And watching him acknowledge through actions and words that it will take teachers, counselors, other staff, and the community to create opportunities for students should serve as a reminder that it is this philosophy of practice that policy and funding should support.

I hope readers out there won’t be fooled again by the language (messaging) associated with the re-writing of No Child Left Behind (called ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). When you hear the words “restore local control,” ask; “how exactly?”

When principals embrace positive change and have education laws supporting them, great things will happen!

The Crossroads of Opportunity

The modern-day march towards equality has always been — at least partially — about public education.

When educational inequality was studied by James S. Coleman, they used tools —surveys and tests— to determine outcomes. And those that saw equal educational opportunity being established in high-minority and high-poverty schools looked further into the means by which educational quality was being improved.

Since researcher Ronald Edmonds and others made their observations known, no one has been able to definitively dispute them. The correlates for effective schools have been expanded; they have been rewritten and renamed; they have been reorganized and re-researched — and they stand as guiding principles.

Edmonds had followed in the footsteps of the leaders of the community school movement. Father of the concept, Frank Manley, drove the idea as far as he could and handed it over to Frank (Francis) Keppel who wrote the essence of it into law as best he could.

Jefferson's express of the need to educate the common people.

Jefferson’s express of the need to educate the common people.

Now, we stand at a crossroads in education law. What principle will we stand upon in order to do right by the children of this country? Will we side with what has proven itself effective, or go with what so many desperately want to make “work”? Will we repeat mistakes of the past only to discover it leaves children behind? Or will we travel the hard but proven path of equal opportunity?

Does a rising tide lift all boats?

It is only when you stand on the shoulders of giants that you can see what they saw. Understanding the concepts of standards, testing, community education, and the personal and shared responsibility of educating a nation of children is the ladder that can take us high enough to see the best way.

The opportunity we have now is to use the law —the reauthorization of ESEA currently called No Child Left Behind— to put in place the foundational principles of equal educational opportunity, the principles of effective schools.

Part 9 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.

Principles as a Foundation

What principlesfundamental truths upon which we act— do we stand upon when judging education laws and practices?

In the 1960’s, the country saw the value in improving the quality of education and believed all children in America deserved access to educational opportunities, equally.

Many understood that civil rights mean citizen’s rights – even our youngest citizens were included in the consideration of equal rights under the law. Thus, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encouraged desegregation of schools as a means of equalizing opportunity.

Segregated schools were discouraged - equality was encouraged.

Segregated schools were discouraged – equality was encouraged.

Back then, we believed we were capable of delivery on the ideal of equal opportunity, at least to children. And the lawmakers of that time saw a different way, other than forced busing, to do it.

Education law stood on this fundamental truth; it is deemed imperative to put in place within the system the dissemination of “promising educational practices” to better ensure their use.

So the “educational brain trust” in Washington D.C. at that time, including longtime Republican and founder of Common Cause, John W. Gardner – along with other lesser-known people from both political parties – wrote the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Title I, the touchstone of ESEA, is a particularly complex idea. The federal funding was for assistance of “children of low-income families.” But the architects of the law understood that it was more than just the low-income children affected by low-income community schools because schools in poverty-ridden areas are “inherently unequal” when compared to schools in more affluent areas —the children in them are disadvantaged. But they also understood that the focus must always stay on meeting the needs of the identified children.

When you add in the other educational supports of ESEA—material resources, additional applicable services, proven practices, teacher and counselor development, and training to develop responsive state leadership—you do improve the quality of education for all but it begins with addressing a known disadvantage, poverty.

But with each reauthorization of ESEA, the law was modified further and further from its original focus – disadvantaged children living in poorer communities.

Today, I’m not sure that we stand on the ideal of equal opportunity at all. I’m not sure we understand what equal educational opportunity means. I don’t think the country has any vision for what that concept might look like, or, mean for them, or, its importance for the United States.

Part 8 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.

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’s 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 personally can’t help with deciphering everything but I can help with one item of reform that we should all sincerely try 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. The policy sttod on the principle 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 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 and all children could have a shot at being fully educated to the limits of their potential.

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?