Tag: Adequate Yearly Progress

Betsy DeVos’ Deliberate Ignorance

Between 2002 and 2015, the years under which George W. Bush and Barack Obama presided over federal efforts to spur systemic school reform that included the now-abolished No Child Left…

Between 2002 and 2015, the years under which George W. Bush and Barack Obama presided over federal efforts to spur systemic school reform that included the now-abolished No Child Left Behind Act, the number of functionally-illiterate fourth graders, those reading Below Basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, declined by 172,078 children. In that same period, the percentage of functionally-illiterate Black fourth-graders declined by 12 percentage points in that same period (from 60 percent to 48 percent) while the percentage of Latino fourth-graders struggling with literacy declined by nine percentage points (from 43 percent to 34 percent), and a 10 percentage point decrease in the number of fourth-graders on free- and reduced-priced lunch programs reading Below Basic (from 54 percent to 44 percent).

The percentage of fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels — essentially at and above grade level — increased by five percentage points between 2002 and 2015. This included a five percentage point increase in the number of Black fourth-graders reading at and above grade level, a six percentage point increase among Latino children, and even a four percentage point increase among children on free- and reduced priced lunch programs, the poorest children in America.

Meanwhile the percentage of functionally-illiterate eighth-graders  on free and reduced-priced lunch plans declined by three percentage points within this period, while there was also a nine percentage point decrease in the number of Latino eighth-graders struggling with literacy. At the same time, the percentage of Black eight-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by two percentage points in that same period while the percentage of Latino eighth-graders reading at and above grade level increased by five percentage points. Even better, the percentage of low-income eighth-grade students reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by three percentage points within that period.

These improvements resulted in part from No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress provision, which required states to meet their obligations under their own constitutions to provide children in public schools with high-quality education and hold districts and other school operators accountable for failure mills and dropout factories they run. Suburban districts could no longer continue to commit educational malpractice against poor and minority children. School operators had to focus on achieving measurable results instead of damning kids to low expectations. Data became critical to providing all children with high-quality teaching, curricula and cultures.

As Thomas Ahn of the University of Kentucky and Duke University’s Jacob Vigdor determined in a study of North Carolina schools released last year, No Child’s accountability measures have helped the Tar Heel State improve achievement and even helped families in failing schools move into better-performing ones. On average, a North Carolina school failing AYP for the first time improved its math performance by five percent of a standard deviation. A poor-performing Tar Heel State school under Needs Improvement for a fifth consecutive year (and forced to develop a restructuring plan) improved reading performance by six percent of a standard deviation, while math achievement improved by nearly three percent of a standard deviation.

Under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, fewer children were functionally illiterate and more went on to success in adulthood. This is unlikely to happen during the Trump era.

The improvements in education didn’t come just through efforts in traditional districts. As part of their reform efforts, the Bush and Obama administrations continued the effort first began under Bill Clinton to provide more children with opportunities to attain high-quality education they need and deserve. This includes the opening of 4,179 charter schools between 2002-2003 and 2014-2015, according to the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the launch of school voucher programs in Florida, Indiana and Louisiana.

Thanks to high-quality charter schools in urban communities, children in those schools gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 41 additional days of learning in reading compared to peers in traditional districts. More importantly, as seen with charter school operators such as the Knowledge is Power Program, charters have improved the chances of poor and minority children graduating from traditional colleges, community colleges, technical schools and apprenticeship programs (usually run through community colleges) that make up American higher education.

The point in citing these facts? That contrary to the assertions made yesterday by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the reform efforts led by Bush and Obama (and their education secretaries) that began with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and accelerated with Race to the Top achieved measurable and quantifiable results that improved the lives of so many of our children.

From the accountability provisions that forced states to focus on achievement gaps, to the expansion of charter schools, vouchers and other forms of choice, to support for implementation by states of Common Core reading and math standards first developed in the first decade of this century, to the efforts under the Obama Administration to end the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline (as well as criminalization of youth), both Bush and Obama spurred reforms (including the charters and vouchers supported by DeVos herself in her previous role as a school reform philanthropists) that have helped more children gain the knowledge they need to succeed in adulthood.

This is not to say that the efforts were unqualified successes. Nothing done by man will ever be. No Child’s focus on basic literacy and numeracy, a reflection of the mission of the school reform movement for most of its modern history, no longer suffices in an age in which some form of higher education is critical to economic, social, and political success. The Obama Administration’s No Child waiver gambit, which began the evisceration of accountability that continued with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act two years ago, was arrogant policymaking and sloppy implementation that has harmed systemic reform. Just as importantly, as Dropout Nation has consistently pointed out and as exemplified by the latest edition of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the need to continue systemic reform remains paramount.

Yet the data (along with the long history of  proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bush and Obama administrations successfully embraced the federal government’s necessary, constitutional and life-affirming role in ensuring that every child, especially poor and minority children served poorly by American public education, get a chance at high-quality education. The administrations achieved measurable results that are important steps in helping all children succeed — if DeVos and the Trump regime (along with congressional leaders and those at the state level) bother to do their parts.

Barack Obama didn’t always get it right on education policy. But his administration got it right a lot of the time. Which is saying something.

DeVos’ sophistry, however, isn’t shocking. After all, she gave her speech at an event held by the American Enterprise Institute, whose education czar, Rick Hess, has long opposed focusing on stemming achievement gaps and has generally been, to say it kindly, not all that interested in building brighter futures for the poor and minority children harmed the most by the failures of American public education.

More importantly, DeVos’ dismissal of the need for a strong federal role in education policy and protecting the civil rights of Black and Brown children is reflective of that of the administration in which she serves.

As we already know, President Donald Trump spent the last week doubling down on his White Supremacist rhetoric when he called several African nations which account for the bulk of immigrants to the United States (as well as Haiti) “shitholes”, expressed his preference that the nation bring in more emigres from Norway and other European (White) countries, and dismissed concerns from the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members represent Black and Latino children (as well as their communities) on Capitol Hill.

The statement, which came during a meeting over an increasingly-unlikely deal to stop the deportation of 760,000 youth, young adults and classroom teachers previously covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, once again highlights the reality that the Trump Administration’s long-term goal is what can best be called low-grade ethnic cleansing against immigrants and Native-born Americans who aren’t Caucasian.

DeVos, along with erstwhile school reformers working at the Department of Education, have been willing collaborators in the administration’s war against poor and minority communities. This includes moves to weaken and end Obama-era efforts to stem overuse of suspensions (as well as use of restraints and seclusion practices that harm children condemned to special ed ghettos), to supporting the expansion of 529 college saving accounts for K-12 expenditures that does little for poor and middle class families.

Meanwhile her unwillingness to condemn Trump’s rank bigotry and demagoguery demonstrates that she has little concern for the most-vulnerable children her agency is charged with protecting. Her allies will argue that her past record of advancing school choice proves otherwise. But her record since her nomination for the nation’s top education policy job makes lie of those claims. This is even without considering her general unfitness for her role.

One thing is ultimately clear: Neither Betsy DeVos nor her boss will be the champions for children their predecessors were. For that, and their general indifference to facts and truth, they should both be ashamed.

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Gutting Accountability: The Price of Hankering for Reauthorization


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Last month, I clearly stated some reasons why the Obama administration shouldn’t bother pursuing the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act — and why school reformers shouldn’t bother…

Two kids attending the Bronx Charter School for Better Living

Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News

Last month, I clearly stated some reasons why the Obama administration shouldn’t bother pursuing the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act — and why school reformers shouldn’t bother pushing it either. The most important reason of all had to do with the reality that there was ultimately more for the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and other defenders of traditional public education to gain from reauthorization than for school reformers; the proceedings would give them opportunities to weaken the Adequate Yearly Progress accountability provisions within No Child that have helped shine light on the academic mistreatment of poor black, white and Latino children.

Since then, the Alliance for Excellent Education and other groups have pushed even further for reauthorization. And, depending on whether the Obama administration continues to sink into a political quagmire by pursuing health care reform and more-liberalized immigration (the latter of which I strongly support, but know is a tough sell even in good times), they may get reauthorization. But in the process, the Obama administration has shown far too much willingness to ditch AYP and turn the clock back on accountability altogether. President Obama formally announced yesterday his plans to do so — and to the virtual applause of defenders of traditional public education.

This is understandable in light of the administration’s political considerations. Having angered the NEA and AFT over Race to the Top (which has strongly encouraged states to link student test score performance with teacher evaluations, and is helping to lift restrictions on the expansion of charter schools), Obama and congressional Democrats must throw these important constituencies a bone; the NEA and AFT, after all, bring more than $66 million a year in much-needed campaign donations to the table at a time in which Democratic control of Congress is not only not assured, but may actually be lost by November. Considering that Obama has also been critical of AYP while on the campaign trail — and that Republicans post-G.W. Bush are divided about No Child (with many, notably the ranking Republican on the House education committee, strongly opposed to much of what No Child stands for altogether), the administration apparently thinks AYP is not worth keeping.

But by ditching AYP and leaving it up to states and school districts to decide how to remedy pervasive academic failure, the very progress the nation has made in improving the prospects of the nation’s poorest children and racial and ethnic minorities to gain high-quality education will be lost. States and school districts have proven that they will do little to address the achievement gap and improve teacher quality without federal intervention and activism. By gutting accountability, these children — the one’s most-neglected by traditional public education — will wind up back on public education’s proverbial short buses. Without strong accountability, without AYP, the efforts by Alliance and other groups on college readiness will be meaningless; you can’t be ready for college if you can’t read, write or multiply.

Common Core standards will also be meaningless without AYP accountability; so long as schools aren’t held accountable for implementing them in reality, the proposed standards will be little more than ink on paper. Anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t thinking. It doesn’t matter how much support Arne Duncan gives to Common Core (and honestly, NAEP offers a much-better way to bring states under one national standard than the admirable hodgepodge currently under consideration).

School reformers likely feel like they have been sold out. But this is the price they pay for not paying full attention to the politics driving Obama’s activities. Having overreached on far too many big reform efforts — almost all, save for education reform, aren’t embraced by the public — and failing to deliver on the Employee Free Choice Act, his administration is faced with the loss of congressional majorities and anger from labor unions and activists within the party who have expected more from him. He can no longer ignore teachers unions or other traditional defenders of public education, who bring more money to the political game than they do (even with the powerful dollars of Bill Gates and Eli Broad). They also bring the ground troops the Democrats will need to keep their seats. Why not some bad education policy in exchange for maintaining control of Congress?

The best solution for school reformers is to forget reauthorization this year. In fact, push against any decision until 2011, when Obama will need their support for his own re-election. After all, No Child’s provisions will remain in effect for this year. Which means the status quo remains ante. And for the millions of young children benefiting from AYP, this is the best possible scenario given the political climate.

By the Way (2:44 p.m. EST): Eduflack and Andy Smarick offer dueling and differing views on where accountability stands in the proposed reauthorization. Eduflack understates the impact of the changes, but notes that there is much for the NEA and AFT to dislike about the plan — even though without accountability, it is much harder to hold teachers or schools accountable in a meaningful way. Smarick says he’s conflicted; he wants the feds to play a much-smaller role in education reform and regulation, but realizes the damage that will come from the loss of the AYP provisions.

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The Read: Better teachers edition


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The dropout nation at a glance. Updated continuously throughout the day (new stories and updates marked with an *): Time for alternatives to teacher licensing? So suggests the San Francisco…

New solutions must be undertaken if we want high-quality teachers in the classroom, especially in order to turn around the nation's dropout factories.

New solutions must be undertaken if we want high-quality teachers in the classroom, especially in order to turn around the nation's dropout factories.

The dropout nation at a glance. Updated continuously throughout the day (new stories and updates marked with an *):

  • Time for alternatives to teacher licensing? So suggests the San Francisco Chronicle, which peers into the licensing and test requirements for becoming a teacher in California and find it a tad onerous. The paper’s solution: Audition each teacher to see if they are qualified, something similar to the method teaching guru Martin Haberman uses to determine whether a teacher should be a candidate for his Star Teacher program.
  • Although I agree with the Chron that the licensing requirements are a little much, the test-taking makes sense; you want teachers who have the subject-level competency needed in order to assure that every child gets a high-quality education. The real issue is that so much of teacher recruiting, training, licensing and recertifying in many states (actually, in all states to one degree or another) has little to do with actual instruction and subject-competency in the first place. Fifty-four percent of America’s teachers are trained in schools of education that are generally of low quality, according to former Teachers College president Arthur Levine in a 2006 report; the SAT score requirements are low as are other admission requirements, so the aspiring teachers (and the schools of education) are basically not ready for prime time. And most states don’t require teachers to actually take a subject-competency test before entering a teaching program; this means that many teaching students are coming in without having a strong knowledge base from which to educate students.
  • Then there are the license renewal requirements: Thirty states require teachers to gain a master’s degree in order to have their licenses renewed; this, despite there being no research showing that earning an advance degree improves academic instruction or student academic performance, according to the most recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (disclosure, I am a co-author of the report). Eighteen states require districts to give raises to teachers based on additional graduate work, even though, again, there is no proof that such busywork will improve student learning. So teachers spend less time on improving their instructional skills and knowledge base and more time on gaining paper that will yield them better salaries and keep them employed. And you wonder why the quality of K-12 instruction is not where it should be.
  • Teacher licensing should be focused on assuring that people with strong subject knowledge, polished in instruction and caring about children should be in the classroom. But this means restructuring schools of education, licensing renewal requirements and salary structures in order to make this happen. If you want more math and science teachers — both of which are in short supply — states must structure compensation to include salary differentials that can lure at least some aspiring math and science students into the field. At the same time, alternative teacher training programs that target baby boomer professionals looking for a second career after retirement, must also be part of the teacher supply landscape.
  • *At the same time, the teacher compensation system — which rewards seniority and degree-accumulation over improving instructional method, subject-level competency and willingness to work with the hardest-to-teach students — must also be restructured. Simply raising salaries, as DC schools chieftain Michelle Rhee is attempting to do (in exchange for the elimination of tenure) isn’t enough. The problem isn’t simply a matter of money: There are shortages of teachers in math, science and special education positions; paying more for an indiscriminate number of teachers no matter their subject doesn’t solve the problem. Higher salaries need to be paid in high shortage positions while the entire compensation structure must be aimed towards improving instruction and knowledge base. Until those things are done, students will never get the kind of high-skilled teachers they need.
  • *Speaking of Rhee: Fast Company has a profile of Rhee and her efforts to turn around the nation’s most pervasive academic failure complex. Thanks to Erin O’Connor and Critical Mass for the tip.
  • Adding options for New York children: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg polishes up an otherwise mediocre legacy as mayor with his pioneering work on education; this time, he is expanding the range of school choices for the city’s students and parents. Eighteen new charter schools will open this year, reports the New York Times, adding to the 50 schools currently open for business; 51 charters have been started since Bloomberg took office seven years ago.
  • Who should prevail in accountability: Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act seven years ago, California has insisted on operating two different accountability systems — the federal AYP mandates and the state’s own Academic Performance Index — that don’t fully match up with one another in terms of expectations and performance indicators. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office takes a look at both AYP and API and find them wanting. It, instead, wants an accountability system that focuses on how school districts actually get the schools they oversee — especially those that are dropout factories and academic failure mills — up to speed. [Update: Link fixed per Jacqui Guzman. Thanks Jacqui.]
  • Why running a school district ain’t easy, Volume 500: The Monitor in the Mexican border town of McAllen, Tx., takes a look at the tenure of outgoing district superintendent Yolanda Chapa. From accusations of forcing out a predecessor to complaints about her not having a doctorate (as if having a graduate degree results in tip-top school leadership) to the programs she started, one gets the sense that Chapa will be happy to get out of dodge and let someone else handle the mess.

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