Recently released by the Aspen Institute, the Commission on No Child Left Behind's report contains several recommendations for how to improve NCLB at its reauthorization. Considering that NCLB seems to have bipartisan support, I am afraid that it will ultimately be reauthorized. So let’s look at what the Commission, co-chaired by Tommy G. Thompson (R, former Governor of Wisconsin and former Secretary of Health and Human Services under GWB) and Governor Roy E. Barnes (D-GA) have to say. It can’t be that bad...can it?
Funded by the Gates Foundation, Kauffman Foundation, Joyce Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation, the Commission was set up to investigate the workings of NCLB. Knowing what we all know about NCLB, I expected a bipartisan committee of fifteen "leaders in education" holding 6 hearings with 46 witnesses to at least take a step in the right direction, away from unrealistic goals, a narrow view of education, and incredibly heavy-handed punishment for dealing with failure to meet the aforementioned goals. The Commission asks that the recommendations presented be considered as a whole, that all components investigated and outlined by the Commission are necessary in order to move "Beyond NCLB" as their theme suggests. Their premise is that NCLB might not be educating our children the way it was intended.
Sounds good, right? Let’s see what these twenty recommendations are.
(note: I numbered them for my own sanity, but otherwise the recommendations are direct quotes from the executive summary)
- The Commission recommends requiring all teachers to be Highly Qualified Effective Teachers (HQET)- teachers who demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom.
The idea is that teachers must be required to show growth in their students over a three year period. I’m not going to be able to express my displeasure with each recommendation, because I’ll wind up repeating myself a lot, so pick your jaws off the floor and move right along to the next item.
- The Commission recommends ensuring comparability of access to quality and effective teachers by requiring that Title I and non-Title I schools have similar expenditures for teacher salaries and comparable numbers of HQETs.
So poor schools need to spend as much on teachers as wealthy schools. That makes sense.
- The Commission recommends enhancing school leadership by establishing a definition of Highly Effective Principal (HEP).
- All principals should meet this new definition, but we recommend requiring it as a condition of working at a Title I school.
Again, this will be defined in the same way as an HQET- principals must be certified, demonstrate necessary skills, and "most importantly, produce improvements in student achievement that are comparable to high-achieving schools with similar children facing similar challenges." Again, I’ll swallow the bile in my throat and save criticisms to the end.
- The Commission recommends improving the accuracy and fairness of AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] calculations by allowing states to include achievement growth in such calculations.
This would let schools count as proficient those whose trajectory would have them meet proficiency levels in three years, assuming they continue to make gains at the same rate. I’m not really sure how they expect to accomplish this.
- The Commission recommends holding schools accountable for the achievement of all students by restricting the minimum subgroup size to no more than 20 and confidence intervals to no more than 95 percent. In addition, we recommend improving the rules for including students with disabilities in AYP calculations.
Right now if a subgroup has less than 45 members it doesn’t have to be counted as a subgroup. All subgroups need to be proficient, in addition to each school and system. This recommendation would mean that if there are 21 Native Americans in your school, if a certain percent of them aren’t proficient, your school can be flagged as a target school, no matter how well everybody else does.
The second part of that statement isn’t good, either. It looks like they are recommending that we have different standards for disabled students, more flexibility. Actually, the opposite is true. They recommend reducing the 2 percent policy for students with disabilities (not the ‘portfolio kids’, the 1 percent of students with severe cognitive disabilities) to 1 percent, meaning that 1 percent of students can be assessed with modified achievement standards, in addition to the 1 percent of cognitively impaired kids. So 98% of kids take the same test, even if 19% of your school is SPED (like my school). This is worse, not better, IMO.
- We recommend strengthening the procedures used for determining which children are included in these categories and improving the tools and resources available for IEP teams to make those decisions.
This looks contradictory to me. They want to make sure "children with disabilities are assessed in the most appropriate manner," and at the same time reduce the number of students that can be assessed in the most appropriate manner. Alrighty then.
- We recommend that parents and other concerned parties have the right to hold districts, states, and the US DOE accountable for faithfully implementing the requirements of NCLB through enhanced enforcement options with the state and the US DOE.
Here’s a can of worms. Here’s a can opener. Let’s see what happens.
- The Commission recommends a comprehensive approach to expanding the availability and quality of options for students in schools that do not make AYP. This approach should include the following:
*Schools that make AYP must make available a number equal to 10 percent of their seats for transfers from schools in which students are eligible for choice.
*An annual independent audit of the space available for public school choice transfers.
*If a school district is unable to accommodate all of its requests for public school choice (as demonstrated in an annual audit), the school district must offer SES [Supplemental Educational Services, what we would call tutoring] to eligible students.
*Schools should be required to offer space in school facilities for private providers of SES if those schools offer the use of school facilities to other non-school-affiliated entities.
*Districts must provide enrollment periods several times a year to ensure that all eligible children have the opportunity to participate in SES.
*Districts must identify and publicize a person or office that would operate as a point of contact for assisting parents in learning about options available for their children.
It was at this point in reading along that I decided this was nonsense. I would like to meet one of the 46 witnesses that were interviewed by the Commission and ask them, calmly but firmly, "What the frick?!?"
And we’re not even halfway home.
- We recommend the US DOE use a portion of Title I funding to study the nationwide effects of SES on student achievement and that states evaluate the impact of their SES providers on the achievement of children.
In what has become typical of the federal government, they are suggesting that we require SES services be made available, at the same time they are exploring the efficacy of SES, spending preciously limited money on providing SES at the same time they spend even more money seeing how much improvement SES can produce. Outstanding work.
- We recommend that schools in corrective action be required to select a comprehensive set of interventions designed to have a systemic impact, rather than the one option presently required. We also recommend that schools in corrective action have a full school year to implement such interventions before facing more serious sanctions.
- We also recommend strengthening the capacity of states and districts to help chronically low-performing schools by increasing the amount of federal funds set aside by states for school improvement and by allowing districts to focus their restructuring efforts on the lowest-performing 10 percent of their schools.
- Additionally, we recommend boosting research and development on school improvement by doubling the research budget for elementary and secondary education at the US DOE’s main research arm- the Institute of Education Sciences.
I guess they didn’t get the memo that GWB wants to cut $890 million out of education funding in order to pay for His War.
- The Commission recommends maintaining existing federal support for assessment development and targeting those funds to several new assessment priorities such as:
*Improving the quality of assessments.
*Providing alternate assessments for students with disabilities and English language learners.
*Developing science assessments currently required under the law and the 12th grade assessment recommended by the Commission.
*Improving test delivery and scoring technology.
I can think of several ways to improve the quality of their assessments, but I don’t think I’m thinking what they’re thinking.
- The Commission recommends that districts be permitted to use a portion of their Title I funds to develop or acquire and implement high-quality formative assessments and be required to use such assessments in schools that are identified for school improvement.
These assessments are allegedly intended to help parents and teachers see how the students are making progress towards achievement goals, and are not intended to be used for accountability purposes...but that doesn’t mean they can’t be.
- We recommend that states assess their reading or language arts, mathematics and science standards against requirements for success in college and in challenging jobs.
So we’re supposed to align our achievement tests with requirements for college. I don’t see any limitations of scope there, such as students who go to culinary school or diesel college after high school.
- We recommend the development of voluntary model national content and performance standards and tests in reading or language arts, mathematics and science based on NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] frameworks.
Anyone so gullible to think that voluntary national standards would remain voluntary probably can’t find anything wrong with the first 16 recommendations, either.
- We recommend requiring districts with large concentrations of struggling high schools to develop and implement comprehensive, districtwide [sic] high school improvement plans.
There’s only one high school in my district, but in the two large districts near where I live I can already imagine problems with developing one plan for all high schools, because the high schools are dramatically different.
- The Commission recommends creating complete assessment systems by requiring states to add an additional assessment in grade 12 to enable measures of student growth in high school.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I was thinking that the reason there weren’t any more assessments in high school was because they already have to pass their Gateway exams to graduate, and they already have to graduate, and the last two years should be spent on more career-specific coursework. I guess I was wrong.
- We recommend requiring all states to design and implement a high-quality longitudinal data system within four years of the enactment of a reauthorized NCLB.
The Commission adds that the federal government should provide grants for assistance with this research. Which is nice, because otherwise the money wouldn’t be anywhere near where it needed to be. Even still, its easy for me to imagine requiring many tasks of school systems while making it optional for the government to offer financial assistance. It’s easy for me to imagine this because public education has been putting up with this for decades.
There really is too much here for me to comprehensively criticize. It is definitely taking something harmful to children and to education as a whole and systematically making it worse. There wasn’t a single recommendation offered by the Commission that I think deserves to be in the reauthorization of NCLB.
Which is why I’m writing all this.
This report was sent to me as a member of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). We believe that these recommendations will be closely considered by Congress. These recommendations, by no coincidence I’m sure, are closely aligned with those proposed by Secretary Spellings two months prior to the release of this report (PDF Link).
If Congress has no other input than this Commission report and Secretary Spellings, then we’re in for a rough reauthorization, which is bad for anyone with a stake in public education. Which is everyone.
It’s not enough to just sign the petition this time (although you can do that, too, if you haven’t already).
Call, write, email your Congresscritters. Make sure these aren’t the only voices they hear before repeating and adding to the mistakes of the first act. Pick whichever of the recommendations fires you up the most (or all of them if that's the case), tell them why you think it's a very bad idea.