First, I am not a fan of what states and even the local school districts have done to public schools. So I don’t get too excited about eliminating the federal part of the equation. Arne Duncan and Co. are not the only drivers of draconian school reform.
Governors signed off on Common Core State Standards, and most states have backed terrible high-stakes testing regimens. Many states adore charter schools. Children in the early grades are pushed harder than ever before to achieve. And students with disabilities are losing services like nobody’s business. You can argue they are forced to behave this way, but I don’t buy it.
So what does it really matter if you kick Arne out of the house when the whole family is dysfunctional?
Also, the federal government, if it worked right, should be there to fill in gaps and assist states and local education associations. The three, in my opinion, should work together for the betterment of our public schools. Unfortunately, this is but a dream at this point. The Act might look like something for everyone, but I don’t see where it is all that different from NCLB.
I also am not entirely convinced by this Act that the federal government is taking a back seat to education.
I will write about what concerns me the most.
- High-Stakes Testing
- Common Core State Standards
- Special Education
- English Language Learners
- Schools of Education
- Privacy Rights
- Charter Schools
States get to develop accountability systems, but it seems clear that they will still do a lot of testing. States would have the option of using one big summative test or lots of smaller test essentially combined to reflect a single summative assessment. Will states continue to throw tests at kindergarten and the early grades? And will they still tie teachers to the test scores? They can if they want.
They still talk a lot about data. And consider that states must include graduation rates, which likely means they will continue to make students take the test to prove they are worthy of a diploma. AP classes (College Board), a nonprofit, gets a nod too.
They say this is all for parents, teachers, and other stakeholders. Emphasis other stakeholders. Well what about the parents and teachers who don’t want so much testing? When policymakers say states will be given additional flexibility, they are talking about piloting innovative assessment systems in school districts across the states. I immediately think of PARCC, Smarter Balance and Next Generation Science, or who knows what else they, or Pearson, have in mind.
These accountability systems will be entirely state designed but must meet federal parameters, including ensuring all students and subgroups of students are included in the accountability system, disaggregating student achievement data, and establishing challenging academic standards for all students. The federal government is prohibited from determining or approving state standards. So if they still want the data, how are they going to get it? What is really going to change about high-stakes testing? Just because the federal government doesn’t seem directly involved doesn’t mean high-stakes tests are going away. Neither is Common Core.
Common Core State Standards
Where does Common Core fit into all of this? The bill affirms that states decide what academic standards they will adopt, without interference from Washington. The federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, including Common Core. States will be free to decide what academic standards they will maintain in their states.
This sounds well and good, but the Common Core train left the station a long time ago. States that want it (CCSS) will keep it, states that don’t won’t, and states on the fence will probably run with it. Or, like Florida, they will call it a different name.
However, I cannot get giddy when I read that the state will take over standards. I don’t think it matters what states think or say about the Common Core. In the long run, unless you halt the College Board, every state will have to use Common Core. Why?
The fact that the SAT and ACT tests will be aligned to the Common Core State Standards is what’s important!
Will students who graduate high school who have not been prepared for the Common Core Aligned SAT and ACT tests still get into any of the 8 Ivy League schools they desire? What about state schools? These tests are the gatekeepers to most universities. Debating about who is in control of the standards is a moot point. Unless these tests are addressed, this country, and that means every single school with college ready to go students, is stuck with Common Core.
Saying they will also offer federal grants to states with evidence-based interventions also is a red flag. From Education Week: In addition, the bill would authorize a comprehensive state literacy program, which has been a big priority for Murray [Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.], since funding for the Striving Readers and Early Reading First programs has been on and off the chopping block since 2011. Early Reading First? Will it be reminiscent of the old Reading First? Have we not heard this story before?
The bill supports a state level cap of one percent on students with the most significant cognitive disabilities tested on the alternate academic achievement standards. This provides school districts with flexibility, as long as the number of those proficient scores does not exceed one percent of all students in the state.
This special ed. capping is right out of NCLB. What if there are more students than the cap permits? This matches Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s language that all students with disabilities should master grade-level content. Here. Ultimately, the school will be penalized due to low test scores, and many students will fail the test and lose services. Certainly there is a way to please parents and assist all students. While some advocacy groups believe the cap will help students with disabilities stay on the college track, why not allow for the IEP to determine how a test is used with the student?
Also, is there any mention of incentives for gifted education?
English Language Learners
Most of what they say about ELL doesn’t sound bad until you get to this English learners, including immigrant children and youth, develop both English language proficiency and meet the same challenging academic standards that all children are expected to meet. I think this is similar to the use of students with disabilities to bring down scores. There doesn’t seem to be any individual consideration. All students must master the same standards. So what else is new?
Schools of Education
The bill is supposed to help states support teachers, but if you read between the lines I think it involves something different. They say using funds for high quality induction programs for new teachers, ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers, and programs to recruit new educators to the profession. Call me paranoid, but I think this opens the door to the Relay Graduate School of Education. This group will dissolve the College of Education in any university where it is set up.
Daniel Katz wrote an excellent HuffPost article, “Does Anyone in Education Reform Care if Teaching Is a Profession?” about Relay in New Jersey.
Student and Family Privacy
Parents and students have been bombarded in recent years with worrisome questionnaires asking questions many believe are too personal.
All this involves closing public schools. They use the word “intervention” which probably means taking the lowest performing schools in a district and turning them into charter schools. Next, there will be another crop of lowest performing schools, until there are no real public schools left!
This is a big part of what the new ESEA is all about. Funding new charter school buildings and opening more. Duplicating those that are out there already! One can just see legislators transferring public schools into charter businesses like those of us in the south are now watching spring pollen cover the earth. They even include transportation!
The rest of the issues surround the homeless, early childhood education, Native Americans, and rural schools. I cannot find anything troubling there. And Title I money can’t go to vouchers, I guess that’s a good thing. There is even a little talk about class size.
They mention grants for evidence-based magnet school programs. This sounds interesting. I actually believe magnet schools might be the key to bringing students together, but it won’t be complete if we don’t also have good public schools for all children.
I did not have much hope for a grand redo of ESEA or NCLB. Politicians in both parties want to privatize public schools. Now I guess it will be called ECAA. Thirty years ago, maybe even earlier, the grand design to privatize public schools began. We are still on that trajectory, in my opinion, and this new act does nothing to change that. Of course, I hope I am wrong.