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Suggestions to Obama for Refocusing Education Efforts

The Center for Education Reform, the nation’s leading voice for structural and substantive change in education, congratulates President Obama on his reelection. We praised the President in his first term for reminding the nation of our serious problems with K-12 education, and for working energetically to spread the word and seek change. We were concerned the Administration was too beholden to the national teachers unions, and that this support was an impediment to meaningful reforms that could lead to better schools and more educational choices.

We offer the following suggestions for the President in his second term:
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We Need More Than Charm

What Has Arne Done For Us?
by Fawn Johnson
National Journal
October 29, 2012

If nothing else, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made waves. In the last four years, he has brought about incredible changes in education policy, no thanks to Congress. That’s a point that education writer Richard Colvin (a contributor to this blog) makes in a recent column in Kappan magazine. “The breakdown of the legislative process hasn’t prevented the U.S. Department of Education from pursuing what may well be one of the most far-reaching education reform agendas ever,” Colvin writes. Duncan shepherded $4 billion for Race to the Top competitive grants and created No Child Left Behind waiver program for states. Let’s not forget also that the Common Core State standards are now…well…common.

This has not made everyone happy, particularly conservatives who don’t want to see new education policies put in place by fiat. Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli (whose boss Chester Finn is also a contributor on this blog) argued in reaction to Colvin’s article that the White House could have pushed for legislation instead of the NCLB waivers, even if it didn’t like where Congress was going. “Both the Senate and House passed reauthorization bills out of their respective committees, and had the administration wanted to get them across the finish line, it could have pushed for it, and I think achieved it,” Petrelli said in an e-mail. Had that happened, NCLB would have been more or less dead. But it would have been a sound legislative process.

It is debatable whether Congress would have been able to pass any bill reauthorizing the complex elementary and secondary education system. It is also worth asking whether the administration did the responsible thing in responding to the gridlock, which had real consequences for states, with its “We Can’t Wait”

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Two NCLB Rewrite Bills Approved

The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed 2 bills, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, part of a package intended to overhaul No Child Left Behind. These 2 bills were introduced by Chairman Kline in hopes of enhancing school accountability, improving flexibility, and supporting effective teachers. The legislation awaits a vote from the full House.

So how do these bills relate to No Child Left Behind?

The Student Success Act (HR 3989) eliminates federally mandated NCLB interventions for failing schools and replaces Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) with state-determined accountability systems. It does, however, maintain that states and districts release annual report cards with disaggregated data, meaning subgroup accountability doesn’t fall by the wayside. “Maintenance of effort” requirements that stipulate that districts will forfeit federal funding if their expenditures are less than 90% of the previous year’s expenditures is also wiped out according to this act. One can only hope this means the practice of spending frivolously just to reach certain levels will slow down, if not end. Finally, HR 3989 also eliminates “highly qualified teacher” requirements. Effective teachers make a tremendous difference in students’ lives, but the means by which “highly qualified teachers” were identified and distinguished, along with mandating they appear in classrooms, is why this measure failed to live up to original expectations. Not to mention the increased scrutiny on teacher preparation programs and colleges of education for failing to prepare teachers as best they should.

Perhaps it is because of this that the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (HR 3990) shifts focus to how teachers are doing in the classroom. HR 3990 requires teacher evaluation systems to be locally developed and implemented to include student achievement, incorporate multiple factors, and include feedback from all stakeholders.

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More States Ask For NCLB Waivers

“No-Child Law Faces Wave of Opt-Outs”
By Stephanie Banchero
Wall Street Journal
February 29, 2012

Twenty-six more states asked to be excused from key requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, an exemption that would curb the education law’s impact considerably.

The states, from Washington to Mississippi to New York, were joined by the District of Columbia. Last month, the Obama administration granted waivers for all 11 states that applied in the first round. If it grants waivers to all the new applicants, three quarters of the states would be exempt.

Signed into law with bipartisan support in 2002, No Child Left Behind is now reviled by Republicans, who say it gets the federal government too involved in education, and by Democrats, who complain that its rigid definitions of performance have seen almost half the nation’s schools listed as failures. But Congress has been unable to agree on an overhaul. In response, the administration decided to let states get around central tenets of the law, such as ensuring that 100% of students pass reading and math exams by 2014.

Republicans have complained that the exemptions usurp congressional authority. On Tuesday, Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved two bills that Chairman John Kline (R., Minn.) said aim to “shrink federal intrusion in classrooms and return responsibility for student success to states and school districts.”

States seeking waivers have to adopt education policies favored by the administration, such as linking teacher evaluations to student test scores and adopting college- and career-ready standards. In exchange, they can create their own targets for annual student achievement and craft their own policies to help the lowest-performing schools.

“The best ideas to meet the needs of individual students are going to come from the local level,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. These applications

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Jeanne Allen: NCLB Waivers Putting A Nation at Risk, Again

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
February 9, 2012

Jeanne Allen, President of The Center for Education Reform, released the following statement regarding today’s announcement that ten states have been granted waivers from ‘No Child Left Behind’ requirements:

“Imperfect as NCLB may be, its value to our schools and the country lies in the long-term spotlight it has thrown on the persistent failure of the system to provide even an adequate education for our children.

“Many are uncomfortable with this continuous revelation, and they should be. That’s the point.

“For decades, the actual state of student achievement was masked behind a school or district’s averaged results. Muddled with a commonly held belief – by the public and policymakers alike – that ‘good schools’ had money while ‘bad schools’ were impoverished, sweeping generalizations regarding the efficacy of the public school system belied the granular truth. NCLB’s data-demands unearthed a different reality and have allowed us to remove the comfortable excuses that helped prolong a damaging achievement gap.

“Since it’s inception, NCLB has been the target of relentless opposition from districts and Superintendents whose voices only grew louder as mandates for data collection revealed little improvement and, in too many instances, continuous failure.

“Now, ten states have been granted a waiver from the requirements of the law. These states actually believe they will succeed where so many others had failed for decades, as if commitment, passion or resolve will fix our problems. In reality, they may just turn the clock back to the decade when we were ‘A Nation at Risk’ and neither carrots nor sticks had a place in our schools. To understand that, one must truly understand the history of reform. Our newest leaders on the scene have not taken the time to look back.

“Providing states money and

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Congress Backslides on School Reform

By Kevin Chavous
Wall Street Journal
November 15, 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the sweeping school-reform law better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB): The debate over reauthorization has spawned a political alliance between the tea party and the teachers unions. These strange bedfellows have teamed up to push for turning teacher-evaluation standards over to the states—in other words, to turn back the clock on educational accountability.

On the right are tea party activists who want the federal government out of everything, including establishing teacher standards. On the left are teachers unions who bridle at the notion of anyone establishing enforceable teacher standards. And in the middle is another generation of American kids who are falling further and further behind their European and Asian counterparts.

Numbers released last year by the Programme for International Student Assessment showed that out of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the numbers an “absolute wakeup call for America” and urged that we face the “brutal truth” of our children’s ability to compete in the global arena.

Yet Washington deals continue to ensure that the people who stand in front of our nation’s classrooms never have to answer for their students’ performance.

Earlier this year, Mr. Duncan told Congress that four out of five schools would fail to meet their goals under NCLB as currently written, so he pushed for the law to be overhauled with waiver packages that allowed states to circumvent the law’s strict provisions on standards. When President Obama also went on record criticizing NCLB’s “one size fits all” school requirements for the nation, the stage was set for a

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Less Freedom with Waivers

Gene Hickok, former Deputy Secretary of Education, weighs in on President Obama’s plan to grant waivers for NCLB requirements to states that agree to certain education reforms. Hickok cautions that these waivers are unconstitutional and illegal, and will not give states more freedom, but in fact, force them to comply with more mandates. Some waivers include eliminating some of the tutoring and parental choice policies instituted in NCLB, which is illegal to do. Hickok urges parents and choice advocates to study what these waivers will really do and let others know.

Subject: Eugene Hickok: When a “Wavier” is an Unconstitutional, Illegal, and Immoral Mandate

Dear Colleagues,

Two weeks ago, President Obama announced his plan to grant “waivers,” from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The plan, however, is a misnomer. The “waivers” plan does not give states more freedom. Rather, the plan forces states to comply with nearly 40 new government mandates. This is the nationalization of education policy. It would deny parent-driven tutoring to hundreds of thousands of low-income students trapped in failing schools. And it would force school choice and parental empowerment from cornerstones of education reform to afterthoughts.

In short, waivers are Unconstitutional, Illegal, and Immoral.

In undermining Congress’ role in legislation, waivers are unconstitutional. See a letter from Senator Marco Rubio to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan making that case here.

In undermining parental participation and involvement, waivers are illegal. NCLB expressly denies the Secretary of Education the right to waive the parental participation and involvement it contains. In other words, the Secretary cannot waive school choice policies, and he cannot waive common sense tutoring provisions which encourage parental engagement. By explicitly waiving these policies, the Secretary is exceeding his authority under the law. The United Farmworkers of America made this compelling case directly to the

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Lessons for US and Our Children From 9/11

Everyone has a story about what was happening ten years ago, on that originally beautiful morning that soon turned into the nightmare we now know as September 11, 2001. I was watching live coverage of then President George W. Bush, who sat in a public school classroom in Florida, as he sought to mobilize people behind a consensus that our school crisis needed a major national initiative to ensure accountability for results at an unprecedented level.

After the tap on the shoulder from his chief of staff, the news people interrupted and the rest, as they say, is history. Weeks later, Bush would begin anew with the late Senator Edward Kennedy, House education chair John Boehner, house education ranking member George Miller and others as they forged a new consensus that money without strings, and without a requirement for student results, would no longer be the way our government conducted business.

As No Child Left Behind took hold over many contentious days and nights of negotiation, eventually, and in large part owing to the new found camaraderie that sprang out of the tragedy of 9/11, a new law was born.

Despite its many detractors and some flaws, NCLB then, as now, continues to shine sun on an outrage that should upset the American public at its core, on a regular basis. That outrage — that fewer than half of ALL of U.S. children are not proficient in basic, needed elements of education, and that children of color lag by another 30 percent — is something that we should approach not much differently than as if a foreign power was attacking us right here on our own soil.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we were reminded that generations of students lack a fundamental understanding of history. Evil acts aside, most Americans did not understand

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Lessons for US and Our Children From 9/11

Everyone has a story about what was happening ten years ago, on that originally beautiful morning that soon turned into the nightmare we now know as September 11, 2001. I was watching live coverage of then President George W. Bush, who sat in a public school classroom in Florida, as he sought to mobilize people behind a consensus that our school crisis needed a major national initiative to ensure accountability for results at an unprecedented level.

After the tap on the shoulder from his chief of staff, the news people interrupted and the rest, as they say, is history. Weeks later, Bush would begin anew with the late Senator Edward Kennedy, House education chair John Boehner, house education ranking member George Miller and others as they forged a new consensus that money without strings, and without a requirement for student results, would no longer be the way our government conducted business.

As No Child Left Behind took hold over many contentious days and nights of negotiation, eventually, and in large part owing to the new found camaraderie that sprang out of the tragedy of 9/11, a new law was born.

Despite its many detractors and some flaws, NCLB then, as now, continues to shine sun on an outrage that should upset the American public at its core, on a regular basis. That outrage — that fewer than half of ALL of U.S. children are not proficient in basic, needed elements of education, and that children of color lag by another 30 percent — is something that we should approach not much differently than as if a foreign power was attacking us right here on our own soil.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we were reminded that generations of students lack a fundamental understanding of history. Evil acts aside, most Americans did not understand

Read More …

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Creative Non-Compliance

I usually like this term. It means we might as well bend some rules, if the need justifies it, and normally, this term is associated with good deeds. But, Secretary Arne Duncan’s attempt to start creatively non-complying with NCLB may not be about good deeds, as much as he suggests it is. Throughout the weekend, news reports screamed that Duncan will be granting waivers to a law carefully and painfully put in place to guard against the kind of data abuses and lack of transparency that plagued the nation prior to NCLB’s enactment.

Sure, NCLB is not perfect, and Congress and the past president made lots of mistakes. But the fact is that without NCLB, we simply don’t have a clue how schools or students are performing. We can argue some bars are lower and some higher, that some schools that get labeled do so unfairly. For the most part, however, it works. It shines sun on the dirty little secret of even the best schools that neglect their neediest students. And it captured our attention and put the establishment on the defensive. Most important, it gave parents a tool to use as a lever for change. (more…)

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