NCLB

California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address
last week got the anti-reform crowd all atwitter (and a-Twitter) when he called
for scaling back testing and reducing the federal and state roles in California
education. Diane Ravitch swooned, writing in a blog
post
that Brown and his Sunshine State compatriots “may provide the spark that ignites a national revolt against the current
tide of bad ideas.” In one respect, both Brown and Ravitch have it right:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top and conditional NCLB waivers
mark a high-water mark for federal intrusion in K-12 education and it is
understandable for governors to chafe at such strong-arming from Washington.
But California is hardly the place to look for good ideas. Its student achievement results trail other states’ by
a mile, and its poor and minority students are doing terribly compared to their
peers in other, more reform-minded states. (Texas and Florida come to mind.) We
have no qualms with mid-course adjustments to the reform agenda (getting test
results back in an expedited manner, for example—something Brown championed).
But let’s not just toss all school reform efforts into the Sacramento River,
either.

Brown
differs sharply from Obama on education policy
,” by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2012

 ...

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Fresh off his South American adventure (seriously!), Rick reunites with Mike to catch up on what he missed: NCLB reauthorization, tough talk in New York, and the fall of Tim Tebow. Amber explains why the latest value-added study really is a big deal and Chris describes a teacher scandal that really will leave you asking, “What’s up with that?”

In
the discussion about ESEA reauthorization, people on both sides of the aisle
have recognized the importance of setting rigorous standards aligned to
college- and career-readiness expectations. The Obama Administration has, for
instance, required that states adopt college-
and career-ready standards as part of its ESEA waiver process. Similarly,
Republican-sponsored ESEA reauthorization proposals (which Mike wrote
about in a post
yesterday) also ask states to set college- and
career-readiness standards for students.

While
this focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient. After all, if we’ve learned anything from 10 years of
NCLB implementation, it’s that the act of setting standards doesn’t translate
to increased student achievement unless those standards are meaningfully implemented
in the classroom. And, one of the most important things for states to do to
ensure strong implementation is to hold students accountable for actually
learning the content laid out in the standards.

While
the focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient.

Unfortunately,
over the past 10 years, too many states—even those with reasonably rigorous
standards—have asked very little of students on statewide assessments. In fact,
Fordham’s 2007 “Proficiency Illusion” report found that “the central flaw in
NCLB is that it allows each state to set its own definition of what constitutes
‘proficiency.’” And so, as we look towards...

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Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration,
on Capitol
Hill
, in advocacy
groups
, and in think
tanks
—are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization
proposals
released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be.
While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one
would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill
and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his
colleagues. In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three
years now
, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers,
Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a
mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac
and the System Defenders.

But while there are significant differences among the
players, a clear path toward a workable, maybe even bipartisan, package is
still visible. In short: all roads lead to Lamar. Not only does the Alexander
package represent smart policy, it also serves as a sort of mid-point between
the Senate bill that passed out of committee and the House GOP bill that is
likely to do the same. Let’s tackle the five big issues:

  • Requirements
    for standards and tests.
    The Administration and the Senate (including
    supporters of both the Harkin-Enzi and Alexander measures) want states
  • ...
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House Republicans have released two more bills in their effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act piece by piece. The draft legislation proposed last week seeks to
provide superintendents and state departments of education with more
flexibility about how to spend federal dollars, dramatically remaking the
American school finance system in the process.

The first gift the committee wants to give districts is
increased flexibility to transfer categorical funds aimed at one underserved
population into Title I. (You may recall that Mike called for something very
similar
more than a year ago.) This could wind up being a huge plus for
children in these programs, enabling the funding of whole-school programs to
address the needs of underprivileged youngsters without the mountains of red
tape that currently accompany these dollars.

Second, the proposed law would repeal the so-called
"maintenance of effort" requirement, which makes certain federal
grant funds contingent on states and localities continuing to spend the same
amount of their own money on education. This is becoming increasingly difficult
to do in light of other budget pressures, including rising health care costs
(both in Medicaid and on public worker payrolls).

On a whole, the House committee's proposals seem like a step
towards more sensible school finance system.

Maintenance of effort requirements also hold federal grant-giving
hostage to the fallacy that education simply costs what it costs, year in...

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The Education Gadfly

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the No Child Left
Behind Act, and Fordham’s redesigned website offered plenty of commentary and
analysis this week to help make sense of the NCLB decade:

  • Mike broke down the highlights—and
    lowlights—of NCLB here on Flypaper, before offering his thoughts on the next
    stage of federal involvement in education.
  • At Common Core Watch, Kathleen explained why the
    constantly
    evolving iPod
    offers important insights into where NCLB went wrong.
  • On Thursday, Fordham hosted Mark Schneider, Eric
    Hanushek, and Charles Barone for a discussion of the legacy and future of the
    accountability movement. Get caught up by watching the replay of “Has
    the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?
    ” in its entirety and reading
    Schneider’s recent
    analysis
    of math performance in the era of accountability-based reform.

In other news…

  • Kathleen accepted Diane Ravitch’s challenge
    to take a standardized test and publish the results, reflecting on why testing
    is valuable.
  • Over at the Ohio Gadfly Daily, Bianca examined
    the Dayton Public Schools’ latest
    financial mess
    .
  • Chris made the case for granting principals greater
    flexibility
    in setting their teachers’ pay on the Stretching the School
    Dollar blog, while Peter lauded D.C.’s trailblazing merit
    pay program
    on Board’s Eye View.
  • Peter also analyzed Andrew Cuomo’s State
    of the State Address
    and wondered whether New York has the nation’s next “education
  • ...
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iPod Sad Face
Photo by Joel Washing

Two months ago, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of the
release of the iPod. Sunday, we will “celebrate” the 10th birthday of NCLB.

The iPod is universally seen as a game changer—something
that not only transformed the way we listen to music, but that changed the
music industry itself.

Few would say the same about the transformative power of
NCLB.

Yet, what if the iPod hadn’t evolved in the ten years since
its initial release? What if, after Steve Jobs released the 2001 version—the
first-generation iPod—the different divisions at Apple couldn’t come to
agreement about how it should evolve?

As one tech-expert explained:

[The iPod] debuted in the fall of 2001 as a Mac-only,
FireWire-only $399 digital audio player with a tiny black-and-white display and
5 GB hard disk. The iTunes Store didn’t exist until April 2003. The Windows
version of iTunes didn’t appear until October 2003—two years after the iPod
debuted! Two years before it truly supported Windows! Think about that. If
Apple released an iPod today that sold only as many units as the iPod sold in
2002, that product would be considered an enormous flop.

The transformative power of the iPod was unleashed not by
its...

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The federal law that everybody loves to hate turns
ten on Sunday. Here’s what to think about it:

  1. It worked! The Accountability Plateau coverAs Mark
    Schneider shows in his recent
    paper
    for Fordham—and as Eric Hanushek and others demonstrated
    before him—poor, minority, and low-achieving students made huge progress in
    math, and sizable progress in reading, during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
    Their most recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress
    indicate all-time highs for most grades and subjects. These students are
    typically performing two grade levels ahead of where their peers were fifteen
    years ago in math, and are reading at least one grade-level higher. So how to
    explain these historic gains? While we can’t draw causal conclusions from NAEP,
    we can make educated guesses. What’s clear is that states that adopted
    “consequential accountability” in the nineties saw big test-score jumps, and
    the late-adopter states saw similar progress once No Child Left Behind kicked
    into action. So, while other factors could
    have been in play, too (such as efforts to reduce class size or the cessation
    of the crack-cocaine epidemic), there’s a pretty good case that testing and
    accountability succeeded in spurring higher student achievement, at least at
    the bottom of the performance spectrum.
  2. But it couldn’t
    work forever
    .
    As Schneider argues, the
  3. ...
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“Consequential accountability,” à la No Child Left Behind and the high-stakes state testing systems that preceded it, corresponded with a significant one-time boost in student achievement, particularly in primary and middle school math. Like the meteor that led to the decline of the dinosaurs and the rise of the mammals, results-based accountability appears to have shocked the education system. But its effect seems to be fading now, as earlier gains are maintained but not built upon. If we are to get another big jump in academic achievement, we’re going to need another shock to the system—another meteor from somewhere beyond our familiar solar system.

So argues Mark Schneider, a scholar, analyst, and friend whom we once affectionately (and appropriately) named “Stat stud.” Schneider, a political scientist, served as commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics from 2005 to 2008, and is now affiliated with the American Institutes for Research and the American Enterprise Institute. In a Fordham-commissioned analysis released yesterday, he digs into twenty years of trends on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), aka the “Nation’s Report Card.”

We originally asked Schneider to investigate the achievement record of the great state of Texas. At the time—it feels like just yesterday—Rick Perry was riding high in the polls, making an issue of education, and taking flak from Secretary Arne Duncan for running an inadequate school system. We wondered: Was Duncan right to feel “...

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