A Declaration of Devotion

11647261_10153134009193020_1077395906_nAre Americans ready to declare their devotion to ensuring that the public education system continues to exist and prosper? We have rallied to support our troops, but, failed to consistently support our public schools. We have questioned why we always have money for war, but, we have not demanded the same for education.

Have we ever made a declaration of devotion to a national goal for public education? In the 1960’s, Francis (Frank) Keppel, the architect of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act wrote something similar to what follows here, but his words were never heard nationwide.

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A  Declaration of Devotion to Educational Excellence

We the People of the United States, in Order “to strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunity in this Nation’s elementary and secondary schools” will act in accordance with the principles and practices that will guide and support our efforts to ensure excellent education for all.

Our goal is to achieve and maintain an education system that offers maximum opportunities for all students to learn while holding the highest expectations for the individual pupil and all those that are responsible for supporting students. This system will continuously strive to improve public educations’ role in serving the needs of our free, fair, and democratic republic.

To accomplish our goal, the expectation set for the system is that all those governing, employed by, and voluntarily supporting our public schools will function based on mutual respect for each other and all stakeholders in an effort to earn and maintain the trust of the People.

We Recognize that it is in the best interest of the nation to assure equal opportunity to be educated to the fullest of an individual’s potential and that goal can best be realized by maintaining a strong and effective public education system.

  Action   Provide equitable and adequate resources with the knowledge, guidance, and oversight to use those resources wisely to solve problems.

We Recognize that to improve means we must consistently and accurately assess current conditions of our schools based on appropriate data that aligns with our national goals.

  Action   Establish a report card for the nation that uses indicators of what the public deems important and make the findings know in an annual State of the Nation’s Schools with corresponding State of Our State schools reports.

We Recognize that to ensure the strengthening and improvement of local schools requires a strong and capable Department of Education nationally and in every state.

 → Action Reaffirm the commitment of the U.S. Department of Education to its original purposes, identify the states seen as chronically low-performing, and support the training of those state department personnel in effective school improvement processes.

We Support community organizing efforts to engage parents and the community in youth support activities, programs, and their schools.

Action → Enlist the Cooperative Extension Service to educate and train volunteers, disseminate proven practices, and assist in coordinating efforts to use locally available resources more efficiently and effectively.

We Support research, development, and diffusion of effective practices.

Action →  Invest in our existing public institutions of higher education focusing on improving teacher, counselor, and leader education; and reinvest, reclaim, and refocus the function of regional education laboratories to maintain integrity, relevance, and responsiveness in research aimed at seeking solutions for communities’ education problems; and establish the outreach and extension of research findings to ensure their use in educational improvement practices.

We Support those schools that have been identified as chronically low-performing by providing federal emergency assistance, immediately, in cooperation with state and local education agencies.

Action  Provide a federal support team (also called “success teams”) to help facilitate school and community members in a guided improvement process.

We will:

  • maintain local responsibility shared through the democratic governing of schools,
  • depend on state accountability with shared knowledge of measurable results and costs,
  • and, rely on federal oversight, guidance, and support through the practices of the U.S. Department of Education and through responsive and responsible federal policy set by Congress and the President of the United States.

Federal education law must be written with the understanding that effective execution of the law depends on local education personnel with public participation and support. In order for all who wish to assist their schools in fulfilling the promise of maximum educational opportunities with the highest expectations, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act must be reduced, simplified, and made to once again address the needs of the educationally deprived children of this nation.

(This is a modified excerpt from addendum 1 of The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present: Education’s Missing Ingredient 2nd edition © 2012 Victoria M. Young)

I hope all of you will take the time this July 4th holiday to reflect on what is important in your lives and crucial to the life of this nation.

Happy Independence Day, America!

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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.

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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.

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.

What Teachers Need

The National Science Teachers Association 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 declaration.

Teachers must 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.

http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDKGallupPoll_Oct2014.pdf

http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDKGallupPoll_Oct2014.pdf

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 is currently called No Child Left Behind (ESEA). 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

 

What Parents Desire

What parents desire for their children’s schools has been largely ignored in the education policy debate for decades. So was this recent article.

Laurie Levy’s community differs from my own (hers more affluent while mine is poverty-stricken) but our desires, as parents, seem almost universal. She wrote her article based on what other parents had written in a response to two questions: What conditions promote learning? And, what is an optimal learning environment? (Italics and “bolding” is mine.)

  1. Make space and time for kids to pursue individual, passion-based learning projects.
  2. Incorporate much more movement throughout the day, especially in winter.
  3. Make history and literacy assignments culturally relevant.
  4. Ensure that kids have enough time to eat lunch every day. The break for lunch and recess should be a minimum of an hour per day.
  5. Focus on building community, both within classrooms and within the whole school.
  6. Provide opportunities to drink water during the day. Some teachers still don’t let kids get water, which obviously makes learning hard. (OMG on that one!)
  7. Set up “quiet corners” or areas where kids can go when they need a break.
  8. Make classrooms well-organized, so kids feel comfortable and safe. It’s time to de-clutter some spaces.
  9. Consider what we are forcing our children to endure in order to cram them full of testable content to satisfy the insatiable maw of the “education” industry. The kids need more art, more recess, less testing, and less lecturing.
  10. Target and celebrate learning for all types of learners. Maybe pieces of the current curriculum don’t work well for some learners (e.g. the language heaviness of Everyday Math).
  11. Have more free time where kids can just be kids and run around…a calm, stress free environment where learning comes naturally.
  12. Remember what the “square-peg child” needs to learn: more child-driven, open-ended time and spaces; quiet spots to take a break from the intensity of being with other kids all day long; more hands-on materials and activities.
  13. Put away the standardized testing, except in the most minor way, until middle school. If it has to be done, don’t put so much time into preparing for it.
  14. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Developmentally appropriate practice/methods (meaning the material keeps in mind the capacity of children’s working memory at different ages i.e. more concrete learning and explanations for younger learners, moving gradually toward abstract concepts and the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as they approach middle school) where learning is broken into reasonable time segments with frequent breaks to improve attention throughout the day to better facilitate long-term memory.
  15. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Classrooms are created by teachers that are educated, supported, and coached in classroom management best practices that create a warm supportive, safe, secure, community environment where students are given attainable tasks based student interest, learning style, and strengths to make learning engaging, meaningful, and naturally motivate students to succeed. They create a place where success is a model to be emulated and assessments are what teachers use to measure if students understand and then instruction is adjusted accordingly.

This was Ms. Levy’s summary of what parents want:

  • less time spent on teaching to standardized tests and fewer of those tests,
  • learning environments that actually are conducive to learning,
  • their kids to be viewed as unique individuals with differing needs and to see their learning styles supported and respected,
  • learning environments to promote physical and mental health, with sufficient breaks for play and exercise,
  • their children to feel less stress and anxiety about school,
  • their kids to love learning and have the tools to go wherever their curiosity takes them.

All in all, my take is that parents seem to be saying that they want assurance (accountability) for a standard of educational practices that will provide high-quality learning opportunities in an environment that fosters development of their child’s talents and allows them to explore their interests.

If there is anything that we should have learned from the failure of standards-based reforms – and the No Child Left Behind law – it is that high quality learning experiences are much more important than “meeting” any set of standards we have ever developed. We can have standards-referenced curricula without the detrimental unintended consequences of our current standards-based federal accountability scheme.

Repeatedly we hear said that parents are important but education policies do not reflect that fact. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) parental piece was without substance.

Parents matter.

Parents matter.

Let’s focus on the children this time in the re-writing NCLB.…Let’s focus on giving all children the best opportunities to learn. Let’s give the parental voice the respect it deserves and quit putting policies in place that create stress in families. Respect the family unit. Respect the child.

Parents, do your jobs well and expect the same from all those involved in your child’s education – including policy-makers.

What parents might not realize is that what they desire can be collectively seen as quality in the child’s classroom experiences and school environment. Those are elements of the “opportunity to learn” standards. There are indicators for judging their quality and availability!.….That’s what parents want from an accountability mechanism.….Time to start making that demand?Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 4.57.47 PM