Monday, October 1, 2007

Not every educator is opposed to NCLB

President Bush's landmark education law -- No Child Left Behind -- is worthwhile for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its requirement that schools be judged in part on common standards and measurable results

Many educators do not like being measured because any measuring system is going to be imperfect in some way or another. And they don't like someone else determining what will be measured, or what the measuring standard will be.

With that in mind, the following article from Jay Mathews caught my eye:

Washington Post: Superintendents Suggest Fixes For 'No Child' (10/01/07)

(Note: You may need to sign up for a free Washington Post account if you don't already have one. And if you don't have one, then get one because you're missing out on reading the insightful education articles from Jay Mathews!)

Setting a national standard for education is a scary proposition. But I'm not sure it's any scarier than leaving it to local school boards, who by and large simply rubber-stamp a watered-down curriculum with low standards.

It's sad that this discussion and debate even needs to take place. But keep in mind if school boards were getting the job done on their own, then nobody would give national standards a second thought.

Here is the article in case the link doesn't work:

Superintendents Suggest Fixes For 'No Child'
Some Support National Testing Standards

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 1, 2007; B01

The superintendents of the Washington area's two largest school systems say national standards are needed to measure achievement among public school students, a sharp contrast to other educators who are asking that the federal government have less involvement in the schools, not more.

The support for national tests from the superintendents in Fairfax and Montgomery counties, as well as the superintendent and School Board of Arlington County, is one of the most surprising messages being sent to Congress by area educators hoping to influence efforts to revise the five-year-old No Child Left Behind law.

Interviews with Washington area school leaders and a review of their statements show them in sympathy with nationwide public school support for rating schools by individual student progress, giving more time to bring non-English-speaking students up to annual benchmarks, providing more freedom for parents and teachers to decide how much students with learning disabilities need to improve, and spending more federal dollars to improve teaching quality and increase instruction time.

But by supporting national testing and learning standards, a position that Congress has rejected in previous years, some Washington educators are giving new life to a movement whose most outspoken supporters have been academics and pundits, not school administrators.

"I've never figured out why in the world we wouldn't have a national education standard," said Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. "We have standards for toys and everything else."

Congress might vote on whether to revise No Child Left Behind this year. With criticism of the law ratcheting up, changes are likely.

Jack D. Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County schools, called the current system "incoherent, contradictory and inconsistent." Arlington's School Board, using an argument advanced by Superintendent Robert G. Smith, said No Child Left Behind "provides neither high consistent standards nor consistent measures for accountability."

Some local school leaders say they would like to expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally financed sampling of student progress, to create a national learning standard. Arlington officials suggest that a revised federal law include a much larger sample of students so that the achievement tests would be given to all school systems and every school. This year's test was given to about 700,000 students.

Dale wants to turn the No Child Left Behind system upside down. Instead of states creating individual tests and the federal government devising the sanctions and supports for low-scoring schools, he would prefer that the federal government provide the tests. Every school could see where it stood on a national scale, and each state could decide what to do to encourage improvement in low-performing schools.

The views of Dale, Smith and Weast are at odds with many in Congress, who agreed to the unprecedented federal intrusion into schools only because each state retained the power to create testing standards and determine to a great extent how many of its schools would miss the new learning targets. Supporters of a more nationalized system say their views are influenced by the difficulty in figuring out what works with so many different state standards.

What is left unsaid is that in part because of unusually high household incomes and education levels in such school systems as Fairfax and Montgomery's, students in those counties will look very good, on average, on any national scale. And students in poor districts in all likelihood will be at a disadvantage.

Local educators are also asking that annual school assessments focus on how much each child has improved, instead of how much this year's students improved as a group compared with last year's.

"Current testing methods do not gauge or quantify growth over time," said Prince George's County Superintendent John E. Deasy. "In order to know if students are truly not being left behind, we must track the progress of the same students as they move from grade to grade and provide supports, if needed, to improve."

Emphasizing the improvement of each child, sometimes called the "gain score" or "growth model," is a part of a package of revisions suggested by the Alexandria-based National School Boards Association. "Growth is a more accurate measure of success, particularly for students who are traditionally at risk," an association report said. The association's proposal has been endorsed by school boards in Frederick, Howard, Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, as well as Manassas and Fredericksburg.

Several local educators said they support a revision of the law that would make it less likely that schools would miss federal targets just because a few students had missed a few questions on one test. Frederick County school board member Bonnie Borsa called the current setup an "all-or-none" system and said it "does not take into consideration the number of students who do not show proficiency or by what degree they missed the mark."

Several local school leaders said the law also puts too much emphasis on labeling schools that missed the mark as "needing improvement" and too little emphasis on helping them improve. "The data is being applied arbitrarily and used as a hammer and not as a way of improving achievement," said Dennis Kellison, superintendent of Winchester public schools in Virginia.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said: "Instead of relying solely on tests, we must meet the demands of our low-performing schools with intensive assistance and support. We must support especially the social, emotional and intellectual needs of students and find innovative ways to engage parents in the education of their children."

Many local educators said they were unhappy that students with learning disabilities often have to take exams given to students without disabilities and be judged by standards considered inappropriate for them by their parents and teachers. Dale has suggested to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a co-author of the No Child Left Behind law, that such students be judged by their progress in meeting the goals in their individualized education plans, drawn up by their parents and teachers, and not by federal benchmarks.

Some parents of disabled students have said, however, that without the federal benchmarks, school systems would have fewer incentives to give children the challenging lessons they need. Weast said he was also concerned about "watering down our expectations."


Steve Sutton said...

I disagree. Federal interference in education is much scarier than leaving it to local school boards. And it’s unconstitutional. NCLB is a horrible law for the following reasons:

- Unconstitutionally expands federal involvement in education
- It creates a common standard

Do you really believe that the federal government can define realistic and effective common standards without politicizing the entire process? These politicized standards get applied to all 50 states. If (when) the standards are found to be generating the wrong incentives, we end up with one massive country-wide failure. The alternative is to leave the states to experiment. Fifty laboratories are better than one. Failure is limited. Multiple chances for success are created.

Do I trust my local school board to make the right decisions? No. But at least I can be a loud vocal critic that generates some attention. That beats having to lobby 535 congressmen and begging for change.

Ideally control over education would rest in the hands of each parent through vouchers or tuition tax credits. Fix education by pushing control to the people rather than concentrating it in Washington.

Anonymous said...

If you read many of the posts here you will find common themes.

Local boards who are accountable to local voters are "stooges" and we need BIG government to fix the "local" problem.

But the problem is a fabrication by the host.

I don't fear NCLB but I want to see it fulfill the promises made.

Where are the competitive data so I can compare my district with the whole nation and or the world?

There is no standard applied across the whole system as promised.

Until we get the standard and the data, these demagogues are free to make any statements of fact or fallicy.

Mike Reno said...

First of all, I don't believe NCLB promised any national standard. If you read the article, you'll see that these superintendents are advocating for a national standard.

But NCLB did provide a requirement to establish statewide standards and make test data public. The problem is that local boards don't act on it.

ACT scores are lackluster at best. School boards set no meaningful priorities for academic achievement. The spending habits of school boards are nothing short of reckless and irresponsible.

I think the facts speak for themselves... there's no fallacy here.

NCLB is shining a spotlight on the weaknessess of school boards, and as time goes on the public is becoming more aware of misinformation they've been fed by school boards.

I'm no fan of big government, but the problem has gotten bad enough that some short-term oversight and intervention is appropriate.

A handful of school boards have gotten the message and are working to clean up this mess. And there are other boards where the public has elected reform-minded trustees that are helping to break the cycle of mediocrity. But it's a long process. School boards put roadblocks in the way, such as keeping their private May elections and moving to six-year terms. And the MEA PAC contributes heavily to trustees that support the status quo. There is a well established, deeply entrenched machine designed to protect the status quo. In fact, you are part of it, Marty.

Legislative intervention can jump start or accelerate this inevitable process of change.

The MESSA reform is an excellent example. School boards allowed the MEA to bully them into an insurance program where they had no control of their health care costs. MESSA refused to provide anonymous claims data in order to allow competitive bids. But rather than take action, school boards cower and allow our tax dollars to be funneled into needlessly expensive benefits.

The legislature's recent action is viewed as a step that will empower school boards to better control health care costs. But in reality, the power was there all along. School boards are simply lack leadership and are ineffective.

This legislation was needed because local boards would not take action on their own.

That is the kind of intervention I believe is appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Mike; you have now written above exactly what I have been hoping to hear from you.

Reform is a long process!

We just don't agree on the form and time frame of this reform.

You are quick to call me a supporter of a "status quo", but in reality you are just too impatient to work with people like me.

You squandered your first years on this board trying to force changes. You employed methods that angered many like me. What did you expect?

I will say that for the first time since Summer of 2004 I feel compelled to help you again.

But there you go accusing me of supporting things thatI do not.

What I will promise is that if you continue in your movement toward being serious for the long term, I will work toward similar goals with you.

But you still want to fight things.

The MESSA costs cited above are a great example.

Many like me knew about this over ten (10) years ago. One of my first questions of the Rochester board in 1999 (when I got involved), was "what kind of insurance do we have here", MESSA or our own"?

I can't change the rest of the state so I concentrate here.

With respect to the standards of tests for comparison, I do believe that Washington promised me and everyone else a method of comparison and a standard in NCLB.

When I saw the limited Terra Nova results last week we (RCS) were not in that 95%.

That is a wake up call for me and will be vigorously addressed going forward.

So you can keep up the name calling and false accusations or get serious about sticking in this for the long slow change process.

With our without you on this board, I'm not quitting!

Mike Reno said...

Any help would be appreciated.

You can start by sharing your thoughts with those board members with whom you associate.

You heard the discussion, and know those that would prefer to stick with the MEAP.

==> Mike.