Migrating from AYP

Virtually every state in the union is working to get out from under No Child Left Behind and its measure of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  Thanks to the U.S. Department’s efforts to offer “NCLB waivers” most states have submitted applications to do just that, veer away from the AYP standard established a decade ago and chart a new path that still demonstrates forward progress.

Over at Education Week, Andrew Ujifusa has a piece outlining the plans many states are crafting for their post-NCLB existences.  From letter grades to stars, many states are looking for new ways to demonstrate progress to both policymakers and parents, in a way that put there districts and schools in the best light possible.
Take, for instance, the plan offered up by Ohio.  According to Education Week, Ohio’s plan is as follows:

  • A-F letter-grading system, based on 4 points. A school with 3.67 points or more earns an A, and a school getting 0.67 points or below earns an F.
  • A school cannot earn an A on the “achievement and graduation gap” portion of its score if one of four groups (all students, white non-Hispanic students, disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities) earns a C, D, or F.
  • Based on 2011 data, under the new A-F system, 24.8 percent of 3,103 traditional public schools (charters not included) would have earned A’s, 33.2 percent would have earned B’s, and 23.9 percent would have earned C’s.

Will it work?  Most states will likely win their NCLB waiver requests, thus giving these states and others the ability to enact their versions of AYP 2.0.  But how many years will it take before we know if this latest version of accountability works or not?

Happy Birthday, Nicklebee!

Yes, we are now smack in the middle of celebrating the 10th anniversary of our beloved No Child Left Behind.  As we should expect from something that has been on the “out” list the past three or five seasons, many of the birthday wishes are focusing on the failures or shortfalls of the law.  Yes, shocker!

So over at the National Journal Education Experts Blog, Eduflack focuses on some of the strengths of the law — those positive specifics that we must continue to improve and build on.  Accountability.  A strong focus on achievement gaps.  A commitment to evidence-based decision making.  Choice.  All made enormous steps forward in the NCLB era, and all are essential if we are to improve public education in the post-NCLB era.  After all:
At the end of the day, NCLB will best be remembered as an unfinished legacy, one with great promise, but real challenges in delivering on those promises. But we cannot deny that NCLB succeeded in moving K-12 education away from a discussion of process and inputs (as it had been for so many iterations of ESEA before it) and towards a focus on outcomes. We have started to see students and families as the customers in the process, with providers (the public school system) improving the quality of their product. And now, parents can look at test scores and other achievement measures to determine the return on investment for their local education dollar.

Ed Reform Power Rests with the States

Now that the dust has settled and we’ve been able to take the weekend to reflect on the lessons learned from last week’s U.S. Senate mark-up of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, what are the major takeaways and lessons learned?

That is the big question asked by the National Journal on its Education Experts Blog.  Check out my full post here.  For those looking for a little taste …
We will continue to look to our nation’s capital for bold rhetoric on education reform and for targeted funding for pilot efforts and the incubation of new ideas. But last week’s hearings (as well as much of the last decade) has made clear that real reform needs to come from state capitols, not from Washington, DC. States (and by extension, localities) are the captains of our educational fates.  

As always, the National Journal Blog is worth checking out, and the posts will just keep coming.

The Perfect, The Good, or The Unacceptable?

All week, we have seen the kabuki theater that is the Senate HELP Committee debate the latest version of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  From Sen. Harkin (IA) negotiating against himself by weakening teacher accountability provisions before the markup even began to the reams of amendments intended by Sen. Paul (KY) to Sen. Sanders (VT) intending to place scarlet letters on the chests of any educator who didn’t experience four or six years of a traditional education school experience, it was theater to say the least.

This week, Eduflack debuts over at the National Journal’s Education Experts Blog.  The topic?  Harkin’s ESEA draft.  Check out my thoughts on how this is no longer a “perfect being the enemy of the good” deal, particularly when the proposed accountability provisions serve as a significant step back.

ESEA: It’s Finally Here (sorta)

The day has finally come.  This afternoon, Senate HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) officially unveiled his draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The bill offers the sexy title “Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011.”

The highlights: Adequate Yearly Progress is history.  Race to the Top and i3 are woven into the tapestry of ESEA.  HQT is gone, replaced by a plan to better evaluate teachers.  
Alyson Klein over at EdWeek’s Politics K-12 has a great summary of the bill and why we were offered what was released today.
Even in advance of the release, civil rights organizations expressed concern about the ESEA draft, worried that the death of AYP provides the potential for turning back recent accountability measures and expanding some already dreadful achievement gaps.  You can see the full letter sent by six civil rights orgs today to Senator Harkin here.  That drumbeat is likely only going to get louder as the language is further sliced and diced.
One big question remains — Is it necessary?  At this stage of the game, NCLB is known mostly for its testing provisions, and most of those remain in the draft.  Replacing AYP with another tool and funding RttT and i3 on an annual basis are steps the EdSec can take, with or without a new ESEA (as long as he has a congressional checkbook to support the latter).  And we won’t even raise the issue of how this fits with House Education Chairman John Kline (MN)’s piecemeal approach to reauth.
So while this finally puts a flag in the edu-ground for Harkin and Senate Democrats, no one should be rushing to schedule a bill signing any time soon.  And if we truly want to get it on the calendar now, there are probably some lovely openings in the spring of 2013 just waiting to be booked.  That sounds about right for an ESEA reauth signing.
But we have to start somewhere, don’t we?

“Trust”-ing Ed Accountability

At this point in time, only the truly cockeyed optimist believes that ESEA reauthorization will be moving any time soon.  After missed deadlines, political roadblocks, budget showdowns, and the enacting of executive authority, it seems a safe bet that honest to goodness, comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act won’t be a reality until 2013.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot focus on some of the key issues embodied in the reauthorization fight.  Chairman John Kline (MN) and the House Education and the Workforce Committee are trying to pick off specific policy topics, one by one, with the most recent action coming on charter schools.
In Getting it Right, Ed Trust reiterates the need for true accountability in K-12 education, whether such efforts are established through congressional reauthorization, administration waivers, telethon or local bake sales.  In refocusing our attentions on accountability at a time when so many states are struggling with meeting AYP, Ed Trust reminds us that good intentions are not enough in public education.  We need to get it right, close the gaps, and do what it takes to have every child succeed (or get out of the way).
Among the reccs coming from Ed Trust:
* Fix what the current law got wrong, including a better balance of federal, state, and local responsibilities.
* Preserve what current law got right, especially its laser-like focus on raising student achievement and closing gaps.
* Build on the real-world lessons of high-improving schools to establish challenging, yet realistic, goals for states.
In her letter releasing Getting it Right, Ed Trust President Kati Haycock noted:
In preparing for our second reauthorization in 2001, Ed
Trust looked hard at lessons learned from leading states and our work in
schools and districts. We also probed the limited data on student achievement
patterns that were available at that time. This research and preparation
suggested that the law’s provisions in two particular areas needed improvement:
accountability, on the one hand, and teacher quality and assignment patterns,
on the other. In the former category, which is the subject of this paper, we
sought to end the widespread practice of sweeping the underperformance of
certain groups of children under the rug of school-wide averages, ensuring to
the extent possible that the law held schools accountable for improving the
performance of all their students.

These are important words from an organization, and an executive, that were instrumental in moving the current ESEA into practice, particularly in historically disadvantaged communities that ESEA had long ignored.  Despite all of the chatter in recent years on the problems with accountability, the call to roll back current accountability provisions and the like, Ed Trust is clear that the debate is not more or less accountability.  The real issue, if we are concerned with our kids and the achievement gaps that separate them, is the quality of our accountability.
Whether the future of ESEA is one governed by congressional reauth or executive edict, accountability must remain front and center.  Federal and state, local and school, classroom and parent, all must be held accountable for the quality and outcomes of our public education system.

The ESEA Doomsday Scenario

After years of “will they/won’t they.” it appears the U.S. Department of Education is finally ready to move forward with its Plan B for reforming No Child Left Behind.  In a release sent out over the weekend for public consumption today, ED announced its intention to “fix” NCLB.  The announcement can be found here, courtesy of Politico.  Also note the Politico story on the matter.

Back in June, when EdSec Arne Duncan first raised the possibility of a regulatory Plan B for reauthorization, Eduflack was one of the few that actually saw it as a possibility/good idea.  Since then, little has changed.  Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) is still primarily focused on the higher ed side of the education coin.  House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (MN) is still looking to break ESEA into small chunks that can be consumed by members of his committee.  And the education space, as a whole, is still demanding real changes to components of the current law, most notably the accountability provisions (the dreaded AYP).
So with Duncan long promising reauthorization before the start of a new school year (and Eduflack still believes such reauthorization can happen, before the start of the 2013 school year), the EdSec had to act.  And he seems to be acting from the best script he could find, using terms like “flexibility, reform at state and local level, bridge.”  And for good measure, Duncan and White House DPC Director Melody Barnes are even tying these moves to “America’s future competitiveness.”
In the public statement, Barnes even makes not of accountability flexibility provisions coming down the pike, with each and every state in the union having the opportunity to “apply” and “succeed” for states seeking “flexibility” with regard to accountability.
Suffice it to say, this morning’s announcement will likely not go over well with Congress.  Many will see this as an end run around our legislative branch, essentially giving the executive branch the power to make law, at least with regard to ESEA.  But we’ve been waiting on congressional reauthorization of ESEA since 2007.  It is now 2011.  If Duncan and company are prepared to live with NCLB as it is mostly written, and make a few changes to address specific issues or concerns from states and localities, it is their prerogative to give it a go.  It will then be Congress’ job to either codify those changes or reverse them.
Duncan is one again declaring “game on,” trying to make education a central focus of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy agenda.  While few can think that weakening the accountability provisions is a sexy issue that will capture the hearts and minds of voters, it is a move that is responsive to a particular constituency, demonstrates a real change from the previous administration, and shows some leadership with regard to education policy.  Only time will tell if such an approach is effective, both in addressing the growing challenges in our schools and as a means of jumpstarting some real K-12 action in Congress.