Tag: Florida

When Accountability Isn’t

There is little evidence that states will do a better job of holding districts and other school operators accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act than they did under the…

There is little evidence that states will do a better job of holding districts and other school operators accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act than they did under the Adequate Yearly Progress provision of the No Child Left Behind Act. If anything, based on what we are learning so far, states are more-likely than ever to let districts perpetuate harm to poor and minority children. And despite what some reformers want to say, there is way to sugar-coat this reality.

No one can blame you for thinking otherwise if you only pay attention to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s analysis of state rating systems proposed in ESSA implementation plans released this week. From where it sits, seven states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Washington) will implement rating systems that clearly label how well districts and schools are performing, requires a “focus on all students” by looking at test score growth data instead of proficiency levels, and, through growth measures, fairly assess how districts and schools are improving achievement regardless of the children they serve.

Two-thirds of the states reviewed all clearly label district and school performance to Fordham’s satisfaction, and 37 states focus on student growth instead of just on improvements in student proficiency, ensuring to the think tank’s satisfaction that the “high-achieving students” it cares most about are being served. Declares Fordham: “states, by and large, seized the ESSA opportunity to make their school accountability systems clearer and fairer.”

Your editor isn’t exactly shocked about Fordham’s happy talk. After all, the conservative think tank long opposed Adequately Yearly Progress because it focused states on improving achievement for the 64 percent of children (many of them poor and minority) who are poorly-served by American public education. This despite ample evidence that focusing on achievement gaps helps all children — including high performers — succeed academically. So it isn’t a shock that Fordham favors accountability systems that focus less on how well school operators are helping the most-vulnerable. Put simply, Fordham continues to embrace neo-eugenicist thinking long proven fallacious (as well as immoral) that fails to acknowledge that American public education’s legacy practices are not worth preserving.

The flawed thinking is more than enough to render Fordham’s analysis suspect. But there are other problems with the analysis that render it all but useless.

For poor and minority children, strong accountability tied to consequences and clear, high-quality data, matters a lot.

There’s the fact that the rating systems may not actually be as “clear” in identifying school and district performance as Fordham wants to think. This is because the think tank didn’t fully look at how the underlying formulas for measuring achievement will actually play out.

Consider Maryland, the home state of Dropout Nation (as well as that of Fordham President Michael Petrilli, his predecessor, Chester Finn, Jr., who now sits on the state board of education there, and former colleague Andy Smarick, who is president of that body). Fordham rates the Old Line State’s proposed rating system “strong” for being simple and clear with a five-star system that “model immediately conveys to all observers how well a given school is performing”.

But as Daria Hall of the Education Trust noted at a conference last month, a district or school in the state can still receive a five-star rating under the state’s ESSA plan despite doing poorly in improving achievement for Black or Latino children under its care. One reason: Because neither proficiency nor test score growth count towards more than 25 percent of a district’s rating, effectively hiding how districts are actually improving student achievement. Another lies in the fact that while the state will measure all subgroups, it doesn’t explain how it will account for each within the ratings.

Then there’s Maryland’s Plessy v. Ferguson-like proficiency and growth targets, which essentially allow districts to not work toward 100 percent proficiency for all children. The state only expects districts to improve Black student achievement from 23.9 percent in 2015-2016 to 61.9 percent by 2029-2030 (versus 52.9 percent to 76.5 percent over that period for White peers). This means that districts are allowed to subject Black and other minority children to the soft bigotry of low expectations. Add in the fact that the Maryland’s ratings don’t account for how districts and schools are preparing kids for success in traditional colleges, technical schools and apprenticeships that make up American higher education, and the rating system is not nearly as clear as Fordham declares.

This lack of clarity isn’t just a Maryland problem. As Bellwether Education Partners notes in its review of state ESSA plans, the addition of multiple measures of district and school performance (including chronic absenteeism indexes that aren’t broken down by subgroup) means that the rating systems will likely be a muddle that ends up hiding how well or poorly school operators are serving children. This muddle is likely the reason why only Tennessee and Louisiana were able to provide data showing how their ratings would identify failure mills, as well as improvements in student achievement for poor and minority children, in real time.

Another problem: Many states are using super-subgroups (now called supergroups under ESSA), a legacy of the Obama Administration’s shoddy No Child waiver gambit, that essentially lumps all poor and minority children into one category. Because super-subgroups lump children of different backgrounds into one category, the measure hides a district’s failure to help the worst-served children succeed and thus, allows it to not address its failures. Put simply, a state rating system can be simple and clear and yet still not tell the truth about how districts and schools are serving every child in their classrooms.

Accountability is more than just a school rating system. Consequences must be tied together with data and standards for children, families, and taxpayers to be served properly. [Image courtesy of the Education Trust.]

One state using super-subgroups is Florida, whose school rating system uses super-subgroups instead of thoroughly accounting for Black, Latino and other poor and minority children. Essentially, without accounting for either proficiency or growth for each group, the ratings will not fully inform anyone about how well districts are serving children.

The deliberate decision to ignore how districts and schools serve the most-vulnerable (along with the Sunshine State’s request to not use test data from its exams for English Language Learners in accountability) has led Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, along with a group that includes EdTrust, NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, and UnidosUS, to ask U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to reject the entire proposal. By the way: Fordham ranked Florida’s school rating system as “strong” in two out of three categories it analyzed.

But the biggest problem with Fordham’s analysis is that continues to embrace a flawed theory of action: That mere transparency suffices as a tool for accountability and, ultimately, holding school operators (and ultimately, states) responsible for fulfilling their obligation to help children succeed.

This approach, which Fordham first embraced during the implementation of Common Core reading and math standards, is based on the idea that only high-quality data on district, school, and even teacher performance is needed for policymakers and others within states to hold bad actors accountable. Essentially, there will be no need for the federal government to force states to fulfill their responsibilities to children, as it did through No Child’s AYP provision.

But as seen with the failed effort to implement Common Core-aligned tests produced by the PARC and Smarter Balanced coalitions, transparency-as-accountability only works if the mechanics are in place. School rating systems aren’t useful if the underlying data doesn’t actually reflect what is actually happening in schools. This will clearly be problems in Maryland and Florida, and will be just as problematic in other states. California, for example, was dinged by Bellwether in its recent round of reviews for failing to longitudinally measure student achievement, a better way to account for changes in school populations over time. [This, in turn, is a result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s moves over his tenure to sabotage the state’s school data system.]

School rating systems and other forms of transparency are also insufficient in spurring accountability if there aren’t consequences for continuous failures to meet the grade. Accountability as Sandy Kress, the mastermind behind No Child, points out, is a three-pronged approach that includes consequences as well as high-quality standards on which school ratings (and the measuring of improvements in student achievement) are to be based. Few states have explained in their ESSA plans how they would force districts and other school operators to overhaul their schools or shut them down altogether and let children go to high-quality charter and district options.

The high cost of the rollback of accountability will be felt by the next generation of children — and even harm the beneficiaries of No Child’s now-abolished Adequately Yearly Progress regime who are now in our high schools.

Few states are going beyond the federal requirement to identify the lowest-performing five percent of schools. Louisiana, for example, plans to go above and beyond by identifying (and forcing the overhaul) of the 17 percent of schools that are failure mills, while New Mexico requires districts to use an array of approaches to turn around low-performing schools. California, on the other hand, hasn’t even submitted a plan on how it will identify failure mills much less hold them accountable. [It supposedly plans to do so by January.]

It gets even worse when it comes to how states will ensure that districts provide poor and minority children with high-quality teachers. As the National Council on Teacher Quality details in a series of reports released Tuesday, just seven states offer timelines on how it will improve the quality of teaching for Black, Latino, English Language Learners and other vulnerable children, as well as the rates by which it will improve teacher quality for them. Given that teacher quality isn’t even a measure in any of the proposed school rating systems, states have missed an important opportunity to bring transparency and consequences to their public school systems.

Given that so few states are being concrete about how it will help kids stuck in failure mills succeed, the school ratings will be little more than some stars and letters on computer screens.

Two decades of research have proven that accountability works best when there are real, hard consequences for districts and schools failing to improve student achievement. No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress provision, which worked alongside accountability systems states either already developed or had put in place after the provision was enacted, spurred improvements in student achievement that have led to 172,078 fewer fourth-graders being illiterate in 2015 than in 2002, the year No Child became law.

Yet what ESSA has wrought so far are school rating systems that are likely to do little on behalf of children who deserve better. The benefits of clear data tied with real consequences have now been lost. If accountability is only toothless transparency, then it is neither sufficient nor necessary to help all of our children succeed in school and in life. There is no good news to be had. None at all.

Featured illustration courtesy of St. Louis Public Radio.

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Race to the Top: The Long View (Round One Edition)


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Seven delayed thoughts on Race to the Top so far: At the very least, Race to the Top’s competition model is clever and has potential to work. I’ll explain more…

Photo courtesy of AP

Seven delayed thoughts on Race to the Top so far:

  1. At the very least, Race to the Top’s competition model is clever and has potential to work. I’ll explain more later this month in my report in the May edition of The American Spectator‘s print edition. Let’s just say if George W. Bush embraced this approach, the No Child Left Behind Act– which successfully shed light on gamesmanship by states and school districts, exposed the reality that even suburban districts are mediocre in academic quality, and revealed the nation’s dropout crisis in stark terms — would have been even more effective.
  2. The two states selected out of Round 1 — Delaware and Tennessee — aren’t the worst of possible choices. Tennessee actually took some huge steps such as eliminating most of its restrictions on the growth of charter schools and allow for the use of standardized tests in evaluating newly-hired teachers for tenure.
  3. But this means that strong school reform states may not gain funding because they won’t gain support from NEA and AFT affiliates. The good news is that the Obama administration (led by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) didn’t select undeserving states that happened to be politically vulnerable from the Democratic National Committee perspective (Illinois for one). But in rejecting Florida (the leading school reform and teacher quality reform state in the nation) in the final leg and dismissing Indiana out of hand, the administration signals it prefers systemic consensus over strong reform.
  4. For school reform to actually work, it means aggressively taking on the status quo. Race to the Top, in selecting Tennessee and Delaware, for the moment, seems to lean towards muddle and half-measures. Not a good thing. If school reform is to work, it will only come after reformers admit that sometimes consensus won’t happen. It means digging in, taking on systems of compensation and instruction that are failures, and upsetting a few constituencies (who may deserve being afflicted) along the way.
  5. The hope lies in the possible Round III. If Obama gets his wish, reform-minded school districts will be able to submit applications. It will be hard for the administration to reject D.C. (home to the biggest experiment in teacher quality reform and evaluation) or a New York City (the most reform-minded district in the nation), then argue that it supports school reform. The administration must walk the walk on this.
  6. Meanwhile Race to the Top could be so much more. But in order for this to happen, the administration must make parental engagement a much-bigger part of the game; this means encouraging Parent Trigger measures and even engaging parent-centered grassroots organizations into the competition. Allowing for winning school districts to become educational enterprise zones — an approach similar to the Reagan-era reform measures for local cities to spur economic growth — would also help. This means exempting them from the state laws governing teacher-district labor activity — including collective bargaining, tenure and dismissal — that often hinder their reform efforts.
  7. And make school choice an even higher priority in Race. This would likely mean embracing voucher programs, and requiring districts and states to allow students from all schools — not just the worst districts — to attend any school within a district or state. The Obama administration certainly won’t consider this. But they should. And then go into action.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Steps Toward Developing Better Teachers


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I take a look at the effort in Florida to end teacher tenure and explain how that move, along with tying student test performance…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I take a look at the effort in Florida to end teacher tenure and explain how that move, along with tying student test performance to teacher evaluations, are only two of many steps needed to improve the quality of academic instruction in America’s schools. Contrary to what some say, this isn’t a sign that public education is “under attack”. But these steps will be meaningless without addressing how teachers are trained and how districts manage human capital.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod or MP3 player. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast Network and Zune Marketplace.

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Ignoring the canaries in the coal mine


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Although one can appreciate Mike Petrilli’s argument that school systems should focus more on developing strong systems of academic instruction over finding talented aspiring collegians to teach (I’ll explain more…

Should she be ignored by her teacher?

Or should she?

Or should he? (Photos courtesy of Adobe Systems)

Should he be ignored by his teacher?

Although one can appreciate Mike Petrilli’s argument that school systems should focus more on developing strong systems of academic instruction over finding talented aspiring collegians to teach (I’ll explain more of this tomorrow, with the help of The American Spectator), the reality is that the quality of instructor matters as much as the quality of instruction.

As pointed out so often by teaching guru Martin Haberman, it is important for a teacher to care about the children in his care as it is for that teacher to have strong instructional skills and subject-matter competency. All the instructional systems won’t matter if the teacher doesn’t know his subject and doesn’t care as much about the children lagging behind — either because the student’s learning style doesn’t

match the teacher’s instructional style or because of poor academic instruction before he reached that particular classroom — as for those landing on the student honor roll.

Exemplifying this reality is the poor advice given to teachers by Huston over at Gently Hew Stone, who tells teachers to not bother thinking about improving the performance of the laggards in their classroom. From where he sits, Huston thinks that “we can’t afford to dwell on those who choose to fail.”

And this teacher is absolutely wrong.

The teacher should especially care about the laggards — most notably the ones that are dramatically failing class — because they are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine: They alert teachers to the other students that are lagging behind, but aren’t given much attention because they aren’t misbehaving or they are barely skating by with Cs and Ds. Given the reality that a quarter of America’s students are failing to graduate from school — and that a large portion of those who do graduate will need remedial math and science once they reach college — the need to pay attention to every early warning indicator is crucial to keeping kids in school and on path to graduation.

The failure isn’t always the fault of the instruction given by the particular teacher (although, along with weak curriculum, is often part of the problem). The kids may need different kinds of instructional methods — and instructors — in order to get back on track. Or may need to be held back and given new settings in order to improve their performance. The kids may be struggling with Dyslexia or another learning disability and therefore, needs a new academic setting. Or the kids may come in from atrocious schools and are struggling in better-performing settings. And if the problem lies with the teacher’s instruction, then he — along with the principal — can take the steps needed to improve his methods or core subject knowledge.

What is needed — and the improvement for which Huston and Petrilli or should advocate — is expanding the amount of individual student data available to teachers. This can help them — and administrators — tailor instruction and lessons for each student. As I have discovered as part of another project on which I am working, school data systems often don’t extend beyond the central offices of school districts; even when schools are connected to the systems, access to information is limited to the clerical personnel and administrators charged with data processing work. As a result, teachers at the elementary level know little about their students save for the information they gather during the time the student is with them and the gossip shared with them in the faculty lounge. States should follow the path of Florida, which is now attempting to allow each teacher to access individual student data as part of the expansion of its school data system.

Collaboration at the middle- and secondary-school level is also key. A student’s academic problems are often not limited to one subject or teacher. Schools are attempting to do more of this, but it will take time to become a wide-spread — and well-done — practice.

Either way, a teacher should pay attention to those falling behind. Because it is a sign of deeper problems among the student body that aren’t always manifested in flunking out.

(Photos courtesy of Adobe Systems)

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