Why Comply With A Bad Education Law?

And just because lawmakers say they are giving “autonomy” to states and local schools doesn’t make it so.

Why comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) when it is as bad as the law it replaced — No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ? Worse really.

Most teachers feel they must comply. Most parents don’t know what the law does. The general taxpaying public? They should care. Billions have been wasted in the false promises of reforms.

I’m part of the general public. The “why comply” question began to plague me because I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears how compliance with the ESSA requirement for “meaningful” consultation with parents was not at all meaningful.

This teacher clarifies what happened when we complied with NCLB. We knew it had “unintended consequences” by year five of its existence. It did harm without doing what it promised. But we kept on complying for another decade. Why?

Here’s the problem: ESSA still contains everything that made NCLB a law detrimental to the education of disadvantaged children. Plus it is a federal law designed to defund existing public schools.

Is the promise of ESSA to “restore local control, and empower parents” really what it does?

This is how the House of Representatives presented this law to the public. Truth?

Well? We hear more about state control, don’t we? And as many know, state lawmakers have been a cheap date for organizations like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

I would love to avoid being critical of my state, but I’m watching the same scenario unfold as I did with NCLB.

Why comply with NCLB’s “replacement” when it is based on the same failed theory? Lessons learned?

“What NCLB has demonstrated, 15 years in, is something policymakers already knew—that standardized test scores are strongly correlated with a student’s family income.”

Photo by Bradley

Well, here’s how the NCLB replacement law, ESSA, rolled out in my state.

At an early November (2016) meeting here in Idaho, the first draft of our ESSA State Plan was presented. With “meaningful consultation” with stakeholders about the state plan being part of ESSA, the compliance recommendation was met — in theory.

The word “meaningful” is used abundantly in the law. Among other things, ESSA promises “meaningful choice” to parents, “meaningful parent and family involvement,” “meaningful communication between family members and school staff,” and “meaningful teacher leadership.” You get the idea.

But eleven months after the passage of the new law, the draft of our state plan did not have even ONE INDICATOR of school quality decided. So, how meaningful could the meeting be? Isn’t input about school quality what most parents would like to voice?

But does it matter what the state presented “to stakeholders”? Other than teachers and administrators who happen to also be parents, how many parents attend these meetings? This particular meeting was in a school in my district that was designated under NCLB as “Needs Improvement,” and under the NCLB Waivers and now ESSA as a “Focus” or “Priority” school.

If there was to be meaningful involvement concerning school improvement issues, this should have been the place.

But meaningful parental involvement in a “reform” planning process doesn’t happen when you don’t give notice of the meeting, don’t have anything relevant for parents to comment on, and don’t give a presentation that is substantive. And when you schedule more meetings to occur over the holidays, a meaningful contribution by regular-ole parents is highly unlikely.

Truth is, parental input in my state has historically been selective.

How Compliance Eats Up Time and Money

Those of us attending this meeting were told that the Idaho State Department of Education took the first three months to read and translate the law.

We were told that from the time we adopted Idaho Core Standards (Common Core Standards) to the development of the assessments that correspond to those standards was 18 months.

Can’t we see how much time and money has been wasted on new standards and tests to give us a correlation to family income?

Meaningful Input?

Then, to add salt to my open wounds, a young state department of education employee stated,

“Children learn while taking assessments.”

Hello! THAT’s right! And that is one problem with computer-adaptive standardized tests. Remember, the promise was local control. Testing corporations are not “local” for most of us.

The local curriculum —what and how things are taught in the classroom— is not under local control. There is no meaningful consultation with parents. Parents have no clue what their children are being taught through the tests…..no matter what the “high” standards say.

So in Idaho’s plan, our assessments stay the same as they were under No Child Left Behind… with the addition of computer adaptive tests. Like them or not, parents comply regardless of how those tests are affecting their children. Or are parents not aware of the problems?

One thing is certain: When policy makers and school administrators
are basing more and more high stakes decisions on the results from assessments, we are obligated to explore and find a solution to the growing problem of test anxiety for all modes of testing administration.”

 

Plus, we were told at this local ESSA meeting that assessment scores for math, reading, and language arts would be heavily weighted in our new accountability plan. The new plan is just like the joke that was NCLB “accountability.”

Can it get worse?

The night of this meeting I didn’t get all my questions answered. But I heard enough to know ESSA is No Child Left Behind all over again — with some extremely damaging additions. CHARTER FUNDING, CHARTER FUNDING, CHARTER FUNDING is written in all over this law.

The danger? Federally funded, state “controlled” corruption. (So much for accountability.)

And this law continues to pretend to be a “reform” law. It’s standards-based (not standards guided) — revolving around “challenging” State academic standards. It still requires annual standardized testing based on those “challenging” standards. Therefore, this continues to be an outcome-based system exactly like NCLB but using different language.

ESSA puts test scores ahead of children’s learning needs. This is the opposite of the anti-poverty law it used to be.

So, the bulk of our federal education money is going towards standards, assessments, data-collecting technology, accountability systems, and “choice.” ESSA stands upon the principles of NCLB and the direction set by the National Governors Association back in 1988 (credit Lamar Alexander, Bill Clinton, and many others).

1988 – Restructuring schools (dismantling) was really the first step in restructuring public schools for use in the “knowledge economy.”

And all over the country, good people are trying to make a bad law “work” just like they did under NCLB. They comply.

Never mind that the 15-year experiment called No Child Left Behind produced overwhelming evident that how “high”, “challenging”, or “rigorous” the standards are has little correlation to student achievement. Yet we comply.

How can we even say with a straight face that we require “evidence-based” programs for education reform? The law itself isn’t based on evidence. It goes against the evidence.

Why comply?

Why not #Resist bad law? Why not take over the Quiet Revolution with our own #PublicEdRevolution ?

Our schools; our rules?

Stuck in the Muck: Trapped in Outcome-Based Reforms that Don’t Work

If President Trump drained the swamp, we would still be stuck in the muck.

Cartoon provided by Ben Garrison. Visit his site at GrrrGraphics!

Still waiting on leaders to fix health care? And how many decades have we listened to talk about fixing the education system? But, did you know that both these systems are suffering from the same problem?

“Make America great again”? We can’t do that without understanding what changed America. Until then, we spin our wheels, dig ourselves in deeper, and allow the expanding swamp to be refilled.

The problem? We switched drivers — from leaders believing in progress to those driven by outcome-based data, money, and their own arrogance. Our drivers own the world and dictate the rules.

We the People? We don’t know which way to turn. But even if we did, we can’t move forward because we’re stuck in the muck.

Health care, social security, the justice system, the environment, education, on and on — all the major social problems are being kicked down the road. And we are stuck in debt up to our eyeballs while our social safety net develops ever-widening holes.

Most of the holes were created by us and what we don’t know.

In the health care debate, what aren’t we hearing?

“The physicians say the increased use of quality metrics to assess provider performance is having a negative impact on quality of care. Far fewer (22 percent) see quality metrics as having a positive impact on quality.

Nearly half (47 percent) of physicians and just over a quarter (27 percent) of nurse practitioners and physician assistants say the recent trends in healthcare are leading them to consider an earlier retirement.”

Source: NPR Suicides are up. Tracking outcomes isn’t what these people needed us to do.

Physicians and teachers are facing the same problems.

Where we once had community hospitals (schools), we now have health care (charter) management organizations. They control a data-driven system with an eye towards cost-cutting through technology. The technology industry and health treatment (education market) industries are flourishing.

People? We aren’t doing so well. Not only are teens and middle-aged men killing themselves at alarming rates, Americans in general are not as happy as we once were.

We know we need to address heath care. But we seem unaware of how desperately we need to consider real education reform as a national priority.

If we can’t gain control of our own local school systems, what hope do we have of solving our other more complex problems?

When leaders put Standards Based Reforms (SBR) in federal education law, we were trapped in the education metrics of outcome-based reforms.

Once we drop the fallacy that Standards-Based Reforms are a silver bullet, true education reform will be possible.

Statistics now prove what many believe. Standards don’t ensure student achievement. The focus on monitoring outcomes ignores the problems created by separate and unequal schools.

The misconception is that setting “higher, better” standards improves schools. It doesn’t.

Do you know why No Child Left Behind (NCLB) didn’t improve schools? SBR. And the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) perpetuates the same problem. SBR.

“Now we risk setting national curriculum standards instead of recognizing that children need us to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses and work with them to attain a level of mastery of the classroom curriculum as outlined in a locally agreed upon instructional framework.

This isn’t a philosophy that gets away from being held accountable to a standard; it’s one that is responsible for meeting the needs of the individual student along with educational standards.” The Crucial Voice of the People

That is a description of standards-referenced education, not standards-based (NOT the Outcome-Based Theory).

But the country is stuck because our tax dollars for education continue to be spent on SBR, not invested in us.

“We’re stuck because our focus, our funding priorities, and our personal beliefs and attitudes are failing to serve our country.

We are stuck in the standardization of children ditch because we set test scores as our goal—in law and in the minds of Americans.” The Crucial Voice of the People

Metrics rule. Plus, we have not listened to people with a passion for teaching and compassion for children.

“In the last several years, with the continuing emphasis on using data to drive instruction, I find myself increasingly skeptical about what we do to ‘benefit’ students. …

Data seems to be the driver of much educational policy today, even when it means we force students into increased time with their weakest subjects, and excluding content that might intrigue them.  We marvel at the lack of engagement while we simultaneously impose rigid interventions…

I’m very concerned that our fixation on data has become more important than the engagement of students in topics that might lead them to important self-realizations of competency…  It often feels like teachers are working in a system designed for disengagement, while at the same time being evaluated on their skill at maintaining engagement!

Regardless of my knowledge or enthusiasm, I’m still expected to march as a good soldier with what I see as an archaic system…

Our current models mean we–teachers, administrators, and students–fixate more on ‘grades’ than learning.  I can no longer grow as an educator when I feel confined by parameters that fail to prioritize self-discovery and lifelong learning–for all of us.” — Cindy McDonald (A Now Retired Teacher)

We are losing compassionate and passionate public servants. Our public services are trapped in the metrics of Outcome-Based Reforms because we aren’t controlling how our money is spent.

The more automated our human services become, the less service we are providing to humans. People are getting frustrated and blaming the government.

But consider this. The government is not run by people representative of us. Our government is run by the rich, ultra-rich, and the greedy who are willing to look the other way when it comes to using our lawmaking process for their own benefit. Palms are being greased. The “grease” keeps the swamp slimy.

And it is the arrogance of these ultra-rich people, telling us what is best for us, that we should no longer tolerate.

We’re the ones that need to roll up our sleeves and drain the swamp.

To clean House, we need an election revolution every two years until we’re no longer stuck but rather making real progress again.

Start in The House.

In writing about the House of Representatives, James Madison said, “They in a word hold the purse” (Federalist No. 58).

The Constitution: Article I SECTION. 7 “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives…”

“The greater the power is, the shorter ought to be its duration” (Federalist No. 52: Madison). Thus, Article I SECTION. 2 “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People…”

One solution offered in Restoring American Happiness is greater public financing of health and education. And we must invest wisely.

We need to control the purse…

“As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power” (Federalist No. 49: Madison), we are central to our own progress as a nation. And to restrain the House requires “above all the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it (Federalist No. 57: Madison).”

Call it an electoral revolt or call it an election revolution. Call it what you will. It is what our nation’s fathers directed us to do. It will nourish progress.

We filled the swamp; we can drain it. And we can refill it with representatives that will invest in the human side of both health care and education….or we drain it again…in two years time.

Rise to the Challenge

When I last posted a blog, I was challenged. The challenge was to THINK…AND DO!

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 8.14.53 AMI responded…Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 8.15.47 AMWell, life doesn’t lend itself well to being put on hold, but I did my best with the time I had and produced an alternative for Congress to consider. The problem is, Congress never wanted to consider any of the good ideas concerning No Child Left Behind that have been put before them over the last 15 years. My last attempt here, I’m calling the People’s Alternative.

AND I’m passing on Gloria’s challenge to all of you who will accept it – THINK and DO.

~~~~~~~~

The People’s Alternative turns back the clock to a time when ESEA was NOT an attempt to dictate an accountability system from the federal level.

The People’s Alternative offers a federal law that supports children in urban and rural slums in states unable to provide adequate educational resources.

Through the people he brought to D.C., JFK kept alive ideas in a law that he didn't live to see. - ESEA Both NCLB & ESSA kill the ideas. Compare.

Through the people he brought to D.C., JFK kept ideas alive in a law that he didn’t live to see. – ESEA …Both NCLB & ESSA kill the ideas. Compare.

The People’s Alternative is based on the principles written into law by the architects of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act with the addition of successful practices from the decades that followed. The law then got RESULTS.

~~~~~~~~

Both No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the current proposal before congress, “The Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA, S.1177), are based on the politically motivated theory known as outcome-based education. They are NOT based on scientifically researched best practices in education.

NCLB mandated a national system of accountability based on State academic standards for reading or language arts and mathematics and the testing annually of all students nation-wide in all public schools to assess “adequate yearly progress” (AYP). It was the largest and longest-lasting experiment in outcome-based (market-based) theory in the history of the United States. The other two periods of testing this theory ended when detrimental results were seen after only a few years.

ESSA is based on the same theory as NCLB only it is executed through a federally approved mandate for state accountability. Compare the descriptions  —

“ The statewide accountability system shall be based on the challenging State academic standards for reading or language arts and mathematics to improve student academic achievement and school success. (ESSA, pg.80)”

~~~~~~~~

The People’s Alternative builds on the idea that the local community must have access to information necessary for them to support and improve their own public schools. The Alternative respects the research demonstrating that the local school must be the focus of analysis and intervention to improve student performance. The Alternative supports the continued random use of this nations most respected national test for monitoring the achievement gap. Mandating additional testing, in federal education law, of every pubic school student in every school every year is unnecessary for the federal government to serve its purposes or the purposes as originally laid down in ESEA.

~~~~~~~~

NCLB sold the nation on the idea that yearly standardized testing of all children provided necessary information when in reality the results from the random use of the long-established National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) continues to provide consistent national monitoring of student academic progress.

ESSA continues to see the federal government as the national assessment authority giving the Secretary the power to use federal dollars for State assessment purposes, which in reality are a state financial responsibility.

“The Secretary may provide a State educational agency, or a consortium of State educational agencies with the authority to establish an innovative assessment system (ESSA, pg.222).”

~~~~~~~~

The People’s Alternative designates use of federal education dollars in:

Title I – using a comprehensive needs assessment process, funding is targeted at meeting the identified needs of children from low-income families and other disadvantaged groups, and for the already identified Priority Schools, supplying additional family and community engagement personnel and specialized training for principals, the first year, and other personnel in the following years based on needs.

Title II – establishing summer institutes within existing public institutions of higher education with funding increasing educational opportunities for all education professionals and high-needs service scholarships providing opportunities for experienced education professionals wishing to advance their education to fill identified needs in high demand subjects as well as high-needs schools and locations.

Title III – based upon information gathered during the comprehensive needs assessment process of Title I, funding is to supply student supports that are vital to educational improvement but absent from the community identified as in need, including library resources.

Title IV – funding is to support educational research and the dissemination of scientifically researched practices that have proven to be effective beginning with those necessary for successful implementation of this law.

Title V – to strengthen those state departments of education most in need of helping because the inequality that exists between states is a long-standing problem and funding improvements at that level helps move them closer to fulfilling their responsibility in providing a quality system of public schools.

~~~~~~~~

NCLB funding was money spent on annual standardized achievement testing, accountability mechanisms based on the outcomes of those tests, reporting of compliance with the law, and school choice being offered as a solution — all packaged and sold to the country as “flexibility.”

ESSA funding supports more experimentation with assessment and accountability systems with a new emphasis on “comparability,” as a requirement, as well as offering grants for assessment audits (assessments of how many assessment we are using).

Charter Schools (independent governance with state and federal funds) win out over Magnet Schools (local control) by $270,000,000 to $94,000,000 and states applying for these charter school grants are required to “establish or enhance” a per-pupil state “facilities aid” program. Plus, there are many grants to the “cottage industries” of the charter movement.

It gets hard to keep these all straight and follow all the dollars! (ESSA, pg. 572)

It gets harder to follow all the dollars$$$$$$ (ESSA, pg. 572)

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 11.56.04 AM

(ESSA, pg. 519)

Oh, we should not forget preschool charters….

$$$$ New Start-Ups $$$$$ (ESSA, pg. 520)

$$$$$ New Start-Ups $$$$$ (ESSA, pg. 520)

…. and never mind that we can’t control for quality!

And the biggest new federal program in ESSA is the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program being sold as “providing greater flexibility to enhance support for students and schools.” There are a number of tempting options offered but it is blended learning, digital learning, and online learning that jumped out at me suggesting that the technology industry may be the big prize winners in this 1.65 BILLION $$$ “enrichment” program.

~~~~~~~~

With the original 1965 ESEA being a mere 35 pages, the NCLB law being 670 pages, and ESSA weighing in at 1,059 pages, there is much, much more that could be said if the country ever desired to have that conversation — and were given the opportunity.

~~~~~~~~

Rise to the Challenge.

Challenge Congress and President Obama to THINK and DO the right thing.

STOP S.1177 The Every Student Succeeds Act

The Public’s Choice

Parents, educators, and politicians moved forward with the illusion of reform based on individual “choice” without considering the public good.

If public education is a public good, what choice does the public have in deciding its direction?

If public education is a public good, what choice does the public have in deciding how it is provided?

We put choice into education law without really having a conversation about our choices.

The Power of the Word

In Understanding the Psychology of the American Idea of Choice, researchers noted that Americans respond more strongly to the word “choice” than people from other countries. They found that when we think about our lives framed in terms of choices, it …

  • “reduces our support for public policies that promote greater equality,…
  • leads us to feel less concerned about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor,…
  • leads us to feel less empathy towards others who have experienced negative life events,…
  • [shifts] attitudes in favor of policies that promote individual freedom.”

At the heart of the issue of “choice” is our strongly embedded love of freedom. There’s nothing wrong with that, except, these findings may very well have been used against us. Overall, researchers found the effects that the word “choice” has on us seems “to bode poorly for solving social problems that require cooperation.”

Public education of children is a cooperative effort.

Choice Laws

The education law of the land, No Child Left Behind (now 12/5/15 called Every Student Succeeds Act), is a law promoting school choice.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 5.30.00 PM

It didn’t used to be. It used to be a law promoting quality and equal opportunity.Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.52.56 PM

But even if we eliminated the big bad hand of the federal government in education reform laws, state charter laws abound and ALEC is ready for the State to control education reform.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is advancing the “principles of free markets” and makes claims that they promote…

“public private partnerships between America’s state legislators and concerned members of the private sector, the federal government, and the general public.”

ALEC is looking out for the general public?

ALEC supports “more choices in education both as a matter of principle and as a promising solution to the increasing challenges facing America’s K-12 education system.”

With charter laws in place across the country, here’s ALEC’s smorgasbord of other “solutions” to choose from ….Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 7.41.11 PM

But is “choice” a solution for the American K-12 education system?

The Assumption of Choice as a Reform

The basic assumption is that ALL parents are very savvy and their school choices will be well-informed. They will be able to judge the schools accurately and won’t get sold on advertising gimmicks similar to how the country was deceived by test score comparisons.

I admit my bias here; I volunteered in classrooms for 11 years and saw these same kids with their families in different settings in my community. This is my opinion…

The ignorant crack head is not “savvy”; the single working mother struggling to get everything done in a 24 hour day doesn’t have time to adequately do her homework on schools, she isn’t “savvy”; the homeless but proud (and yes, I can put a face to them) can only use the library computer for a limited time, not enough opportunity to become “savvy”; and those parents whose children are their translators have a real barrier to becoming “savvy.”

Put another way in “Choice or Commonality” by Martha Minow, a law professor and inspiration to a young Barack Obama,

“if educational responsibility remains solely on the immediate family, ‘choice’ may take place in a world of insufficient numbers of quality schools, inadequate information about the stakes and alternatives, and large numbers of people unable to use the choice system effectively. This state of affairs means choice for some and not for others, and whether a child’s educational needs are met will depend on her parents’ ability to choose.

So with federal education law originally meant to support the public education system in order to break the “poverty-ignorance-ignorance-poverty cycle” by providing ALL children with quality education, we know “choice” cannot logically get us to equal educational opportunity.

What problem is fixed by “choice” through charters?

Quality? You can put the word “quality” in front of “charter” in law but it doesn’t make it so. In the new federal law set to replace No Child Left Behind they use the term “high quality” while others say “high-performing”; still, words don’t make it so. Only 17% of charter schools perform better than traditional public schools. Unequal quality isn’t fixed and that is the major problem.

While the problem being fixed by choice through charters is illusive or non-existent, the growing troubles are well documented in this Washington Post article, A Dozen Problems with Charter Schools.

  1. Most are not helping kids.
  2. Some are actually hurting kids.
  3. Far too many are cash cows.
  4. The industry is rife with fraud and corruption.
  5. Lack of transparency and accountability.
  6. Skimming and weed-out strategies.
  7. Contribute to the re-segregation of U.S. education.
  8. Drain resources from struggling districts.
  9. Closing traditional public schools.
  10. Lack of innovation.
  11. Hard to get rid of the bad ones.
  12. Charters promote “choice” as solution.

As the curtain goes up on all the complications with charters, that will not slow the Choice Movement. Look at Nevada and their Universal School Choice.mistakes

Is this informed choice? What are the risks? And really, what is the difference between shopping for a charter and shopping for education products with public money in hand? How informed will parents be, how inefficient is the system to become, how unequal will the quality be, and who will be responsible to the children left behind in the end when their parents don’t make good choices or are fooled into bad choices?

The choice to leave a school never improves that school. For certain individuals, a different school than the one they are assigned is appropriate, but those situations must be handled at the local level. They are the exception, not the general rule.

The choice this country was never given is the one to continue to strengthen and improve all schools through proven methods. The choice we never got was to put in place the best practices we know that match our students’ needs. The choice we never got was to improve the teaching profession as a nation. The choice we never got was to fund schools in a manner that is fair and reasoned.

When all reform is based on responsiveness to the needs of community members, continuous improvement happens. That’s what we have always needed, always will.

Choice is a very powerful propaganda weapon; choice is not a reform. School choice is not a solution. To create more equitable educational opportunities, continuous school improvement of every public school is the only logical solution.

But I’m not the one making this choice.

personal-choice-quotes-3The public must choose. Do you want public education to be a public service provided by our government, or, a commodity provided by private individuals or organizations paid for by tax dollars? This is about control. This is about how we govern our schools.

This is a BIG choice. We urgently need to 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 )

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.

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.39.22 PM

 

 

 

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

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.40.22 PM

 

 

…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.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.40.48 PM

 

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

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.51.31 PM

 

 

 

… 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.

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?