Please Read this Penetrating Indictment of the Every Student Succeeds Act by Jan Resseger

Fellow public education advocate and education blogger Jan Resseger posted an important article today about the problems associated with the Every Student Succeeds Act.  ESSA, as it is called, replaced the ill-fated No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top federal initiatives. Both NCLB and RttT institutionalized the destructive corporate education reform policies that are turning our public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories dedicated to “test prep” around a narrow curriculum, rather than a broad-based, comprehensive education the ensures every child is provided with the knowledge and skills they will need to live more fulfilling lives,

As we are now learning, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues these failed policies and, in some ways, is even worse than its predecessors.

Jan Resseger is absolutely right, please do read this Penetrating Indictment of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Participating earlier this week in one of the Ohio Department of Education’s stakeholder meetings about the plan Ohio will be developing to submit to the U.S. Department of Education to comply with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I watched as many people tried valiantly to frame their objections to the test-and-punish policies that have dominated federal and state education policy for more than a generation. Most people have a clear sense that something is very wrong, but framing their objections in specific policy terms is much harder. On Monday, Valerie Strauss published among the most lucid explanations I have read of what’s wrong, how the new law reproduces much of the same policy as the old No Child Left Behind, and what those of us who value our nation’s system of public education ought to be saying as we respond to these policies.

In Monday’s column, Bill Mathis and Tina Trujillo are promoting the new book they have editedLearning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act. (This blog has covered that book here and here.) The book was published by the National Education Policy Center, where Mathis is the managing director. Please read Mathis and Trujillo’s column carefully and then plan to consult the academic research collected in this important book.

In this week’s column, Mathis and Trujillo set the context for the new Every Student Succeeds Act: “Washington was euphoric. In a barren time for bi-partisan cooperation late in 2015, both Democrats and Republicans were happy to get rid of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The K-12 education law was almost universally excoriated as being a failure—particularly in that most important goal of closing the achievement gap. Looking at long-term trends from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, gains were seen in some areas but the achievement gap was stuck. NCLB provided no upward blips on the charts. Thus, it is stunning that the successor law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed by Congress last December, is basically an extension of NCLB. Fundamentally, ESSA maintains the same philosophy and direction. It is still a standardized test-driven system that is punitive in nature. The main difference is that states are now responsible for designing the enforcement systems—which must be approved by the federal government. But states will not likely make many fundamental changes. They have invested heavily in their systems, as have local schools and districts. Test-based accountability has been the law of the land for the past 30 years—which means that it is the only system that many educators have experienced. Furthermore, vendors, textbook manufacturers, testing companies, consultants and the like have a strong bias toward protecting their investment—even while acknowledging that it didn’t work.”

What are the specific problems with No Child Left Behind-style school policy?  “First, children who are hungry, suffering from malnutrition and live in substandard conditions are highly unlikely to score well on tests. We will never close the achievement gap until we close the opportunity gap… While giving considerable lip service to the plight of poor children and children of color, we have not backed-up our rhetoric with our actions… The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (of which NCLB and ESSA are the latest versions) has always been intended to address these disparities, but it has never been adequately funded.”

“Second, test-based accountability does not improve learning.  Psychologist B.F. Skinner taught us more than 60 years ago that negative reinforcement has unpredictable and undesirable consequences. Yet, we embarked on a path of test and punishment whose inevitable outcome was sadly predictable.” Mathis and Trujillo add that third, the various punishments including the prescribed school turnarounds failed. These included firing teachers, closing schools, and changing public schools into charter schools. Fourth, “The invisible hand of the market was to be the solution primarily through charters and privatizing schools… A growing body of literature shows that charter schools do not perform better than traditional public schools and they segregate schools by race and by socio-economic status.”

What about the underlying assumption of the whole scheme—that we have the capacity accurately to measure school quality?  There is a big debate going on right now about whether states should provide a single summative “grade” for the state’s schools and school districts. Here is Mathis and Trujillo’s analysis: “The problem is in defining what should be measured, how it should be tallied, and how multiple scores can be combined into one… The challenge is that schools have many purposes and each would lend itself to a different way of measuring and weighing… The companion difficulty is trying to validly represent an important feature with an imperfect measure….  What is a valid combination and weighting of… measures?  Or does one exist?  Should the math scores be double the ELA (English Language Arts) scores?  Should they be divided by the attendance rate?  Such decisions are central but are not empirical. They are based on our underlying values.” And, “We learned that evaluating teacher and preparation programs creates a false scientism by placing too much trust in too weak a measure.”

Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms is a collection of peer-reviewed academic studies and is organized conceptually into sections. In this week’s column, Mathis and Trujillo summarize the conclusions of the academic research in each section of the new book.  I believe the first is the most important: “The Opportunity Gap—The primary finding was that students must have opportunities, funding, and resources sufficient to meet what the state requires of them. There have been some 70 or so state adequacy studies and with very few exceptions, they have indicated we are not meeting the needs of students.”

Mathis and Trujillo’s conclusions are sobering, and they reflect much of what I heard earlier this week at my round-table discussion at the Ohio ESSA stakeholder meeting I attended.  I wonder if the people collecting the comments from all the table-by-table conversations will tease out this message, even though I heard it reinforced in dozens of ways throughout the evening:

“The greatest conceptual and most damaging mistake of test-based accountability systems has been the pretense that poorly supported schools could systemically overcome the effects of concentrated poverty and racial segregation by rigorous instruction and testing. This system has inadequately supported teachers and students, has imposed astronomically high goals, and has inflicted punishment on those for whom it has demanded impossible achievements.” “This diverse nation and our common good require all students to be well educated. Yet, we have embarked on economic and educational paths that systematically privilege only a small percentage of the population. In education, we invest less on children of color and poor families. At the same time, we support a testing regime that measures wealth rather than providing a rich kaleidoscope of experience and knowledge to all. And we do not hold ourselves responsible for the basic denial of equal opportunities.”

I urge you to read and then re-read Mathis and Trujillo’s commentary published on Monday by Valerie Strauss.  It is a discerning indictment of the public school policy that now pervades our society.

You can read Jan Resseger’s outstanding blog at – https://janresseger.wordpress.com

Congress Fails – Again – This time on the re-write of National Education Policy

The George W. Bush/Barack Obama legacy of destroying public education in the United States will continue thanks to the “bi-partisan” re-write of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Republican and Democratic leaders, along with the Corporate Education Reform Industry and the leadership of the teachers’ unions are heralding the new system which continues the effort to privatize public education, turn schools into little more than testing factories and undermine teachers and the teaching profession.

The most substantive difference is that rather than the federal government “mandating” these dangerous and damaging policies, the federal government will “mandate” that the states do the dirty work in their own name.

Both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate will be voting on the Every Student Succeeds Act in the coming days.  The President will certainly sign the legislation since it ensure the education reform industry continues to drain off billions of dollars in scarce public funds.

The following are links to some of the latest articles on the bill;

Warning! ESSA Threatens Special Education  (From Diane Ravitch)

How schools would be judged under ‘Every Student Succeeds,’ the new No Child Left Behind (From Washington Post)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): More Observations (From Mercedes Schneider)

ESEA Reauthorization – Ramming Through a Bad Deal for America’s Children (From Truth in American Education)

BATs Respond to Every Student Succeeds Act (Report from the BATs organization)

Numerous questions about the impact of the new law remain but on the opt-out issue it appears that Congress will require states to notify parents about the Common Core Testing scheme but will continue to require that states mandate that 95% of students participate in the destructive tests — “or else.”

The “or else” may be left to the states, but as we know from the experience in Connecticut, pro-education reform governors like Dannel Malloy have no problem lying and misleading parents into believing that they lack the fundamental right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests.

Look Out — Congress is about to replace the No Child Left Behind Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act (NCLB will now be ESEA)

Who could possibly be against a law that mandates “Every Student Succeeds!”

The United States Congress is in the process of re-writing the historic (and destructive) No Child Left Behind Act.

The public relations geniuses have even renamed the law, to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The United States House of Representatives may vote as early as tomorrow.

Of course, using standard operating procedure, a “final” draft of the bill was only issued yesterday which means few legislators will even know what they are voting on in the 1,000 page bill.

Fellow education blogger, Mercedes Schneider is not only one of the nation’s most important voices for public education, but she has probably been following the development of this new law closely.

Schneider, the author of “Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.” And “Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?” has posted numerous articles about the legislation which can be found on her blog – https://deutsch29.wordpress.com.

In her post yesterday Schneider writes,

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization that has flown through conference committee and continues on its speedy trek to the House for an expected vote on December 02, 2015.

The document is 1,061 pages long. The public was able to see it for the first time on November 30, 2015.

Zoom, zoom.

I read much of it and skimmed the rest for particular issues of interest. This post includes my notes on my rapid reading of the ESSA document. (Rapid in this case is several hours, but it was a quick read given the document length.)

Here we go.

Pages 7 and 8 declare Duncan’s NCLB waivers “null and void and to have no legal effect on or after August 1, 2016.”

Page 47 notes that for states to be eligible for Title I funds, they must have “challenging academic content standards” that have corresponding, “aligned academic achievement standards” that have at least three levels of achievement. Also, states must demonstrate that their standards are “aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State and relevant State career and technical education standards.”

ESSA states that nothing in the Act is to be taken as meaning that institutes of higher education are to determine a state’s standards.

States can develop a set of alternative academic content standards for students with the most severe disabilities (page 49).

The US Secretary may not control the state-level standards setting process (page 51):

PROHIBITIONS.—
(i) STANDARDS REVIEW OR APPROVAL.—A State shall not be required to submit any standards developed under this subsection to the Secretary for review or approval.
(ii) FEDERAL CONTROL.—The Secretary shall not have the authority to mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision over any of the challenging State academic standards adopted or implemented by a State.

On page 130, the Secretary is not allowed to promote the Common Core:

VOLUNTARY PARTNERSHIPS.—A State retains the right to enter into a voluntary partnership with another State to develop and implement the challenging State academic standards and assessments required under
this section, except that the Secretary shall not attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce State—
(1) adoption of the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative or any other academic standards common to a significant number of States, or assessments tied to such standards; or
(2) participation in such partnerships.

And now, for assessments (page 52):

The state is to administer math, reading/ELA and science assessments to all students in the state, and these assessments are to be the same assessments for all students except for those with the most severe cognitive disabilities (these students are limited to one percent of all students in the state, but the limit can be waived if necessary– see pages 61 and 65).

It’s the same grade 3 thru 8 admin for ELA and math and once in grades 9 thru 12 (page 54).

Assessments “may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks” (page 54).

The assessments are to “be used for purposes for which such assessments are valid and reliable” (page 52)– which logically would rule out measuring teachers using student test scores. I have yet to see a testing company offer empirical research or any other guarantee backing the use of student achievement tests for measuring teacher effectiveness.

The tests are to “be tests that do not evaluate or assess personal or family beliefs and attitudes, or publicly disclose personally identifiable information” (page 52).

The tests are supposed to be accompanied by reports that allow parents, teachers, principals, and other school leaders to understand and address the specific academic needs of students and that are provided to parents, teachers, and school leaders, as soon as is practicable after the assessment is given, in an understandable and uniform format, and to the extent practicable, in a language that parents can understand” (page 57).

Results are to be reported by group (e.g., racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, disability, ELL) (page 58).

Regarding the rights of parents, ESSA includes a “rule of construction,” or a statement about how the ESSA assessment requirement is to be taken, or “construed” (page 76):

(K) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS.—Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.

Then, there is this “testing transparency” requirement connected to Title I on page 144-145:

(2) TESTING TRANSPARENCY.—
(A) IN GENERAL.—At the beginning of each school year, a local educational agency that receives funds under this part shall notify the parents of each student attending any school receiving funds under this part that the
parents may request, and the local educational agency will provide the parents on request (and in a timely manner), information regarding any State or local educational agency policy regarding student participation in any assessments mandated by section 1111(b)(2) and by the State or local educational agency, which shall
include a policy, procedure, or parental right to opt the child out of such assessment, where applicable.

The “rule of construction” and testing transparency” sections are sections that I see as leading to future lawsuits. Some will take the rule of construction statement as the federal government saying, “Don’t blame us” for a state or local laws regarding opting out. In order to meet federal requirements for Title I money, some states and localities can logically be expected to not formally provide for parental rights to opt out for fear of losing federal funds. However, the big question is whether the federal government would win in court if community groups challenged the federal government’s attempting to bypass the reality of its influence over state and local opt out laws via this rule of construction disclaimer. Of course the question remains regarding what the federal government would actually do in the face of state and local opt out laws. Will it refuse Title I funding to such states? Will it penalize states for sending Title I funds to districts with parental opt out procedures in place?

If states and localities pass parental opt out provisions and the federal government threatens Title I funding, the states or localities have leverage to sue the federal government by virtue of the fact that ESSA includes the rule of construction. In other words, by including the rule of construction, the federal government is acknowledging the leverage it holds over state and local opt out policy by virtue of the fact that it holds the Title I purse strings.

The requirement that a state “annually measure the achievement of not less than 95 percent of all students… who are enrolled in public schools” (page 88) on the annual assessments is still in place. The federal government is trying to force the testing without taking responsibility for forcing the testing. Now, there is the creative option for parents (or districts) to un-enroll their children during testing and re-enroll once testing is over.

With the continued testing mandate in this ESSA, the federal government should anticipate an opt-out showdown.

Page 80 begins a section on “statewide accountability systems.” There is no direct mention of grading teachers using student test scores, nor is there any direct mention of using letter grades to label schools. The annual tests must be used in state accountability; four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates are to be used, and extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rates may also be used. Improvement for subgroups of students who are behind must also be incorporated (hence, the ersatz gap-closing).

Page 87 refers to states using their accountability systems to identify 1) at least the lowest five percent of all Title I schools and 2) all public high schools with graduation rates below 33 percent, for “comprehensive support and improvement” beginning in 2017-18 and at least once every three school years thereafter.”  The comprehensive support is not automatically as punitive as under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), though a state could make it just like NCLB (firing staff; closing schools; replacing with charter schools). This ESSA “comprehensive support” will never end given that some schools must always be in the lowest five percent on the statewide assessments.

I performed a keyword search for “opt out” and read on page 847 that parents have the right to opt out of having student information provided to military and higher ed recruiters.

Regarding Title II and teacher prep (starting on page 298), there are grants available for alternative certification that read friendly to Teach for America (i.e., alternative certification for high-achieving college grads in other fields). Nonprofits are listed among the organizations that might train teachers. Too, there is encouragement to develop teacher evaluation systems that include student achievement, which means tying teacher effectiveness to student test scores.  There are also hints of merit pay for teachers and principals in high-need areas (page 320) and in general (page 348-350, 358).

Regarding student mental health services under Title IV (21st century Schools) (page 447), no mental health services will be delivered without “prior written, informed consent from the parent of each child who is under 18 years of age.” There are some exceptions, such as situations of immediate emergency and those in which the parent does not respond to written notice (see page 448).

As to ESSA’s promoting charter schools (page 518): Nothing new here. The federal government wants to expand charters and continue to assure them a “high degree of autonomy” (page 539). There is no evidence that the federal government acknowledges the proliferation of charter school scandal and mismanagement. Peppering this section with the word “quality” appears to be the best assurance of quality that the feds are willing to offer.

In closing, it seems that the incredibly fast creation and movement of ESSA bespeaks the numerous behind-the-scenes political arrangements that likely already guarantee ESSA passage. The document continues the trend of NCLB test-heaviness. ESSA is not as punitive as NCLB, but its worn-out test-centrism will accomplish little as it prompts states to seek creative ways to retain Title I money in the face of an increasing public resistance to the very testing on which corporate reform depends.

A lot more information will be coming out about the legislation in the days ahead.

Blumenthal and Murphy vote NO on parents’ right to opt out of Common Core testing

In an astonishing display of utter disregard for Connecticut’s public students and parents, Connecticut’s two United States Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, voted against an amendment that would have recognized a parents’ right to protect their child from the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scam.

Although a day doesn’t go by that Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy don’t hold a press conference, issue a press release, send out an email or Tweet some statement about how they are fighting for Connecticut’s citizens, when they had the opportunity to stand with Connecticut’s parents and public school advocates they voted NO!

Blumenthal and Murphy VOTED NO to an amendment that would have required school districts to notify parents about federally mandated assessments (the massive common core testing program) and would have made it clear that parents may opt their children out of the test.

Refusing to recognize a parents inalienable right to protect their children from a testing scheme designed to fail the vast majority of Connecticut’s public school children, Blumenthal and Murphy both voted NO on Senate Amendment 2162 to Senate Amendment 2089 to S. 1177 (Every Child Achieves Act of 2015).

In addition to requiring that parents be notified about the testing, the language of the amendment stated;

“[U]pon the request of the parent of a child made…for any reason or no reason at all stated by the parent, a State shall allow the child to opt out of the assessments described in this paragraph. Such an opt-out, or any action related to that opt-out, may not be used by the Secretary, the State, any State or local agency, or any school leader or employee as the basis for any corrective action, penalty, or other consequence against the parent, the child, any school leader or employee, or the school.”

According to the Washington Post story entitled, Senate rejects plan to allow parents to opt out of standardized tests

“Current law requires school districts to ensure that 95 percent of children take the exams, a provision meant to ensure that administrators don’t encourage low performers to stay home on exam day. The Senate bill mandates 95 percent participation of students who are required to be tested, but allows states to decide whether children who opt out are among those who are required to be tested.

But under the House bill, parents who opt their children out of tests would not be counted in the participation rate of any state, effectively removing them from the accountability system altogether. Democrats and civil rights groups opposed that provision, saying it opened a loophole to hide achievement gaps.”

With different versions in the House and Senate, a Conference Committee will be needed to negotiate a final master bill.  That piece of legislation will then come up for a final vote before going to President Obama for his signature or veto.

It is beyond disturbing that self-described “champions of the people” would vote against such an important and fair amendment.

A MUST READ on Common Core Testing Mania by John Bestor

Published in today’s CT Mirror, John Bestor’s commentary piece entitled “Connecticut’s lawmakers must see through the ‘edu-profiteers’ and testing maniais a MUST READ!

John Bestor writes;

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is, as a public school employee and practicing school psychologist, to have federal legislation written that continues to allow our students to be assessed by an unproven and invalid standardized test process and also enables the charter school industry to take funds allocated for public school students and divert them to their own private business interests.

I object to the testing mandate on many levels.

I can assure you that our elementary school students are tested three times a year on standardized measures in both reading and math as mandated by state legislation; in addition, they are also required in grades 3 through 8 and again in 11th to sit through 7-to-10 hours of further redundant testing in the same subject areas.

At least the testing that takes place three times a year —  at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the school year — informs and drives instruction.  The 7-to-10 hours of high-stakes Common Core-aligned testing has no other purpose than to serve as a town-by-town scorecard. It neither informs instruction of a student nor assists in planning educational interventions.

Unfortunately, the battle over Common Core-aligned testing has taken on a life of its own. It is strongly advocated by so-called reformers and the business interests that they support.  At the same time, it remains highly controversial to professional teachers and educators who fully understand the dangers inherent in “teaching to a test” and also understand that there are multiple ways to evaluate what students are learning and that students are more than a test score.

When Connecticut first adopted the CMT/CAPT as standardized means for monitoring student progress, it was administered to students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10 and special education students with individual education plans could be opted out by decision of the school’s planning and placement team.  This saved these vulnerable learners from the frustration and torment of a test beyond their already carefully-monitored skill levels.

Of course, this more reasoned approach ended with No Child Left Behind.  Since NCLB, the pressure for test results has affected learning for students in all communities.  Middle-to-high-performing school districts could absorb the intrusion caused by testing more readily than low-performing districts.

These low-performing districts then proceeded to narrow the curriculum and over-emphasize “teach-to-the-test” methodologies in order to prove their effectiveness, even though such strategies were unlikely to motivate their students to learn for the joy of learning.

As a result, more students in low-performing districts were driven away from learning and sadly many discontinued their education well before graduation.  As Thomas Scarice, the out-spoken superintendent of the Madison (CT) Public Schools, has repeatedly stated: “We’ve wed ourselves to a high-stakes testing model for well over a decade, and it’s shown to corrode education rather than improve it.

I also strongly object to the federal government’s continued willingness to provide private businesses access to scarce tax-dollars to fund charter schools that are then allowed to flaunt the rules and regulations that traditional public schools are required to follow.

The track record of charter schools in our state and across the nation reflects a highly contentious image that borders on, at worst, criminality and at best questionable practices, many of which would never be allowed in traditional public schools.  The supporters of charter schools have been allowed to prey on parents who are seeking clean, safe, well-supplied facilities and are willing to accept strict disciplinary practices that emphasize military-style punishments while blindly putting their trust in an unsubstantiated promise of future results.

It is unconscionable that states, like ours, are allowed to underfund their local school districts annually while somehow investing significant financial resources into the coffers of private enterprise that will suspend students for numerous, sometimes quite minor, behavioral infractions and may shut their doors suddenly on students when no longer profitable.

I understand that wealthy benefactors and major donors to all political campaigns have supported a “cottage” industry of think tanks, lobbyists, and high-profile media figures posing as experts, but it is the obligation of our U.S. senators to see through this self-serving charade and work to amend and pass federal legislation that will support the majority of public school children and their families.

Many of my colleagues and I have written to alert our two senators of the continued dangers embedded in this re-authorization bill.  I also understand that the art of passing legislation involves compromise, but simply replacing one flawed law with one that is similarly flawed is UNACCEPTABLE.

In the current legislative climate, it is too risky to pass laws that fail to address the “core” issues impacting the inequitable distribution of educational opportunities across our state and nation.  Having thought considerably about the trade-offs involved in the Every Child Achieves Act as recently passed through the Senate HELP subcommittee, the cons continue to out-weigh the pros enabling edu-profiteers unfettered access to a market that should remain within the public trust.

I can only hope that our Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy will hear the voices of teachers who work directly with children in our classrooms and to those who advocate for our public school students.

Please consider carefully, the insidious role that reform lobbyists, misguided philanthropists, and self-serving business interests have had in shaping and destroying one of our most revered bedrock institutions: the American public school system.

You can read and comment on the piece at – http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/04/24/connecticuts-lawmakers-must-see-through-the-edu-profiteers-and-testing-mania/

Connecticut education needs clearer vision, better objectives

A commentary piece written by A dozen of Connecticut’s most forward thinking school superintendents:

This commentary piece as first published in CTMirror and can be found at:  http://ctmirror.org/2015/03/16/op-ed-connecticut-education-vision-lacks-clarity-coherence-superintendents-say/

Connecticut education needs clearer vision, better objectives

The journey of education reform, which has at times moved in a deliberate direction and at other times wandered in many directions, is currently at a very important and, potentially exciting, crossroads. At this moment, a narrow window of opportunity has presented itself.

As the federal government debates renewing the failed No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), our state is set to submit our latest plans to be held harmless from the sanctions of NCLB through a federal waiver, last done in 2012, and due for renewal on March 31, 2015.

Any effective system is best served by knowing when an important juncture presents itself and identifying, at that precise moment, the changes necessary to travel down the road of continuous improvement.

Our public school landscape is littered with initiatives, while the vision for learning in Connecticut lacks clarity and coherence.  In this “vision void” our measures (i.e. test scores) have become our goals, confounding the purpose of schooling and perpetuating yet another round of piecemeal initiatives.

The path we should avoid taking is the one that implements the NCLB waiver plan as the de facto vision for the education of Connecticut’s children. Instead we should identify a clear and compelling vision for education in our state and employ all of our resources to achieve it. Staying the course of current reform efforts without a deep analysis of the effects in actual classrooms across the state will further cement the system of compliance and “one size fits all” that grips our very diverse school districts like a vise.

One way to clarify the vision is to answer the direct and simple questions:

  • What are the most worthy outcomes of our public education system?
  • Are we preparing our students for the world they will enter when they graduate?
  • Is our public education system positioned for continuous improvement, as opposed to ranking, sorting and punishing?
  • To what extent do our laws increase conformity at the expense of innovation?

The answers to these questions imply the need to foster the cognitive, social/emotional and interpersonal student capacities for work, citizenship and life.  Additionally, they demand a deep analysis of the systemic efforts to continuously improve.  Confronting these questions, and others, will require:

  • A redefinition of the role of testing,
  • An accountability model (mandatory in the NCLB waiver) matched to a clarified vision for 21st Century learning in Connecticut
  • Statewide systems that incentivize innovation and a broad sharing of innovative programs

Standardized tests … do not measure our highest aspirations for our students. They do not measure the quality of a school or the performance of an individual teacher, and are corrupted when misused for these purposes.

The following steps can be taken immediately and considered prior to submitting our NCLB waiver, particularly in the absence of a compelling vision for learning in Connecticut.

  1. Take action to redefine the role of testing in our schools.

Standardized tests play a critical role in validating local assessments and giving a broad view of the limited range of student outcomes they intend to measure.  They do not measure our highest aspirations for our students.  They do not measure the quality of a school or the performance of an individual teacher, and are corrupted when misused for these purposes.  They can disrupt authentic learning for long periods of time.  Yet, some districts have oriented their practice and curriculum around these tests.  Some immediate steps to take include:

  • Reducing or eliminating the use of standardized test scores in the evaluation of individual teachers,
  • Adjusting the role these tests play in a school/district accountability model,
  • Broadening the “student learning objectives” (SLO) component of the state mandated teacher evaluation plans to encourage districts to creatively incorporate local measures of worthy student outcomes, thereby returning some measure of local discretion to individual districts and the communities they serve, and
  • Incentivizing districts to develop local formative and summative measures in collaboration with other districts, vetted by the Connecticut State Department of Education, similar to the longstanding exemplary “New York Performance Standards Consortium”, which was founded in 1997 on the premise that high stakes standardized tests do not measure what matters most.
  1. Develop an accountability model designed to drive continuous improvement, in contrast to the current model of ranking/sorting/sanctioning.

The current school/district accountability model relies heavily on standardized test scores to inform communities about the performance of their schools. This misuse of data is a disservice to each community and to the entire state because it fails to capture the many ways in which schools generate student success.  A transparent balanced scorecard designed to drive continuous improvement is imperative.  Some alternatives include:

  • Broadening the definition of student success and aligning indicators of success with a clear and compelling vision for 21st Century learning in Connecticut,
  • Leaving space for districts to incorporate local indicators of student growth specific to their communities in order to foster intrinsic motivation and ownership at the classroom teacher level,
  • Significantly minimizing the role of any single standardized test to its appropriate role as one data point in a series of overall performance criteria,
  • Focusing on the “opportunity gap”: the extent to which districts provide equitable access for all students to a rich curricular and extra-curricular educational program,
  • Incorporating a strong measure of student voice about their levels of authentic engagement in their learning experiences (genuine student engagement is not a “thing”, it is the only thing),
  • Integrating local, “real world” performance assessments designed by classroom teachers, scored at the local level and juried by a quality assurance program across all districts,
  • Surveying alumni to determine the extent to which they felt prepared for college, work, and life,
  • Assess funding patterns to determine if resource allocation targets are being met by federal, state, and local entities, and
  • Employing an external “peer review”/”school quality review” process administered by current classroom practitioners and administrators in which districts engage in a deep analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, in order to benchmark district performance, to diagnose problems of practice, and to commit to improvement strategies (accreditation models, such as that of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, could serve as ideal partners in developing a school quality review process with the state) in place of current accountability measures

In an era that rewards and requires innovative thinking to solve complex problems, public schools have endured a stifling of professional autonomy through increased standardization and homogenization.

  1. Create systems to incentivize innovation.

Districts and teachers are suffocating from a “one size fits all”, compliance-based approach to schooling.  One size does not fit all in education, no more than it does in medicine, social work or any other endeavor in which human beings are at the core of the enterprise. In an era that rewards and requires innovative thinking to solve complex problems, public schools have endured a stifling of professional autonomy through increased standardization and homogenization.  As a result, energy is drained, a passion for teaching and learning evaporates, and many teachers and leaders question the lack of purpose to their work.    Some ways to foster innovation include:

  • Creating a “Districts of Innovation” program through which the State Department of Education would administer a rigorous process identifying various district approaches to current challenges faced by schools, such as, reducing bullying, improving school climate, evaluating the performance of individual teachers and administrators, etc. These districts would apply for a waiver or modification from state requirements in order to innovate their practices, while analyzing the impact.  These districts could be required to partner with a university, commit to sharing their results, and, if successful, serve as a provider of professional development for other districts.  The incubation of fresh, innovative ideas, by classroom teachers and administrators would exponentially grow the capacity of educators in the state.
  • Working with Regional Education Service Centers (RESC) to develop an “expert in residence” program with area districts. Districts could grant a yearlong sabbatical to individual teachers to share their innovative work and provide professional development to schools across the state.
  • Pairing schools to work across different districts to collaboratively confront professional challenges. These partnerships could foster such promising practices as “lesson study”, peer to peer observations, and collaborative analysis of student work.

The window of opportunity is closing.  As in 2012, the waiver for NCLB dictates the overly prescriptive education laws that compromise innovation and promote a compliance-based malaise among Connecticut’s best educators.

Some states have foregone the NCLB waiver (e.g. Vermont, Washington), choosing instead to absorb the draconian NCLB consequences in order to spare their opportunity to chart their own course through a compelling vision for learning in their states.

The opportunity for Connecticut to establish a dynamic vision for its 21st Century public schools is now.

The piece was authored by the following 12 Connecticut superintendents of schools. They are Thomas Scarice, Madison Public Schools; Jody Goeler, Hamden Public Schools; Jan Peruccio, Old Saybrook Public Schools; Kathy Veronesi, Region 13 Public Schools; Jack Cross, Clinton Public Schools; Jerry Belair, Waterford Public Schools; Patricia Ciccone, Westbrook Public Schools; Paul Freeman, Guilford Public Schools; Howard Thiery, Region 17 Public Schools; Ruth Levy, Region 4 Public Schools; Kevin Smith, Wilton; and Diane Dugas, East Hampton Public Schools.

The destructive impact of accountability on public education (Guest post by Joseph A. Ricciotti)

An important guest post from Josesph Ricciotti, a retired educator and a leading public school advocate in Connecticut.  His commentary pieces can be found in many of Connecticut’s media outlets as well as here at Wait, What?

School districts in Connecticut will soon embark on another round of standardized testing referred to as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium( (SBAC) which are tests administered to all students in school districts that are implementing Common Core. Hence, as a life-long educator and a former principal the question I would ask is why? Education officials from the Connecticut Commissioner of Education down to the superintendents of Connecticut school districts immersed in implementing the SBAC tests would say we need “accountability.” Ah, yes, that infamous word “accountability” that has a thirty year record of failing children, parents, teachers and communities.

The era of “accountability” started back in the early eighties when Ronald Reagan was president. Education historian Diane Ravitch and author of the best selling book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” traces the accountability movement back to 1983 when “A Nation at Risk” was published. Ravitch cites “For the past 30 years, U.S. educators have been like a dog chasing its tail. What has happened is tragic.” Ravitch is also of the belief that our nation’s political leadership “have become obsessed with the idea that everything that matters can be measured and that test scores are the ultimate measure for children, schools, teachers, and now, higher education.” As one educator said, “it is as though we want to quantify everything.

For the past fourteen years also in the name of “accountability” we have had No Child Left Behind (NCLB) followed by Race to the Top (RTTT) which, because of the testing aligned with these programs, have been utter failures. And now we are entering a new era of “accountability” with Common Core and the SBAC tests, again, all in the name of “accountability.” In essence, what NCLB and RTTT and now Common Core have done according to Tom Skelar, Dean of the Edgewood School of Education in Wisconsin,”was that over the last 14 years it has literally denied a generation of children access to their fundamental right to a powerful and critical education.” Skelar goes on to state that the only beneficiaries of “accountability” have been legislators and, of course, the testing companies that have made millions on the sale of tests and data systems to schools.

The SBAC tests aligned with Common Core were largely designed by testing experts with minimal input from teachers. Yet so much of teachers’ success under the guise of “accountability” will now be determined by SBAC test scores – or more commonly known in educational circles as “high-stakes testing” – which includes teacher performance evaluations as well as their salaries. As George Ball in an op-ed piece in the San Franciscogate so appropriately stated, “What’s lost in Common Core is the human factor. Teachers are deprived of the freedom and creativity that is the oxygen of learning. Common Core sacrifices the magic of teaching and learning at the alter of metrics.” Needless to say, these are powerful words aimed at what is occurring throughout the nation’s schools in the name of “test-based accountability.

In Westport, where Staples High School principal John Dodig is retiring, he cites his displeasure with the state’s implementation of the SBAC testing tied to teacher evaluation emphatically stating “I don’t believe in it. I think it is hypocritical, it’s destructive and it’s not going to change education.” Under Dodig’s tenure, Staples High School in 2008 was named by Connecticut Magazine as “#1 High School in the State and was also recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2013.

The new interim Connecticut Commissioner of Education Dianne Roberge-Wentzell has wasted no time as her top priority in pushing school districts in Connecticut in the administration and implementation of the SBAC tests aligned with Common Core which are schedule to be given to public school students during the spring of 2015. Why the big rush for tests that are destined to create havoc? According to Jonathan Pelto, the SBAC tests are “designed to ensure that potentially up to 70 percent of students fail to reach goal.” Hence, critics of Common Core testing believe that its evaluation methods are built on bad science, faulty research and compare it to “ building a plane while flying it.” Do we really want the test makers experimenting with our children in the name of “accountability”? Is Common Core and the SBAC aligned tests yet another train wreck waiting to happen?

Research on testing indicates that SBAC test scores will, in reality, simply and basically describe the demographics of students. That is why school districts such as Fairfield and Westport will have high SBAC scores while Bridgeport and Hartford will have low scores. In the end, the SBAC test scores will tell more about the real estate values than the quality of its schools. University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber has shown that nonschool factors such as family income amount to 60% of achievement.

Karen Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, in a recent talk had  a poignant message to education reformers and test makers when she said, “Testing does nothing but show you the educational attainment of the child’s mother. We don’t even see the test results, Why? What is the point of all this testing? These tests are what they are using to ruin people’s lives-adults and children; and then they run around saying, “I’m for the kids.” We continue to brand education as a failure. Why are we telling these lies?”

In light of the nonschool factors that impact student achievement, the Connecticut State Department of Education needs to take a step back and reflect on what their focus on high-stakes testing is doing to our students and what they are doing to our teachers and schools. There is more to teaching and learning than test scores. “Accountability” is the culprit that is demeaning our public schools.

It is the unparalleled levels of poverty, inequity and violence!

Jonathan Kantrowitz, is a public education advocate, political activist and blogger.  His blog appears on the Connecticut Post website and the sites operated by the Hearst Media Group.  In a post entitled, “U.S. has the world’s most educated workforce—but students face unparalleled levels of poverty, inequity and violence,” Jonathan Kantrowitz has written an extraordinary and profound piece about the real problems that are causing the growing educational achievement gap in the United States.

This article should be mandatory reading for the President of the United States, every member of Congress, every state governor and every state legislator.

At the very least, Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo should read it and be required to respond  – in writing – as to why they are promoting policies that take our public education policies in exactly the wrong direction.

The following is Jonathan Kantrowitz’s post;

Source: Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable

A new study released today challenges the practice of ranking nations by educational test scores and questions conventional wisdom that the U.S.educational system has fallen badly behind school systems abroad.

In their report, School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect, the Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable examined six dimensions related to student performance—equity, social stress, support for families, support for schools, student outcomes, and system outcomes—in the G-7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Finland and China. They then examined 24 “indicators” within those dimensions.

Of the nine nations, the United States remains the wealthiest with the most highly educated workforce, based on the number of years of school completed, and the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees.

“Many policymakers and business leaders fret that America has fallen behind Europe and China, but our research does not bear that out,” said James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.

Despite high educational levels, the United States also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations. All are related to student performance. Measures included rates of childhood poverty, income inequality and violence. For example, in American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland. Rates of violent death are 13 times greater than the average for the other nations, with children in some communities reporting they have witnessed shootings, knifings, and beatings as “ordinary, everyday events.”

The study is a unique analysis, which for the first time compares K-12 education internationally on an array of social and economic indicators, not just test scores. The goal was to look at the whole iceberg, not just the tip—and provide a clearer snapshot of each country’s performance, including its wealth, diversity, community safety, and support for families and schools.

Some key findings:

 Economic Equity: The United States and China demonstrate the greatest gaps between rich and poor. The U.S. also contends with remarkably high rates of income inequality and childhood poverty.

 Social Stress: The U.S.reported the highest rates of violent death and teen pregnancy, and came in second for death rates from drug abuse. The U.S.is also one of the most diverse nations with many immigrant students, suggesting English may not be their first language.

 Support for Families: The U.S. performed in the lowest third on public spending for services that benefit children and families, including preschool.

 Support for Schools: Americans seem willing to invest in education: The U.S. leads the nine-nation group in spending per student, but the national estimates may not be truly comparable. U.S. teachers spend about 40 percent more time in the classroom than their peers in the comparison countries.

 Student Outcomes: Performance in American elementary schools is promising, while middle school performance can be improved. U.S. students excel in 4th grade reading and high school graduation rates, but perform less well in reading at age 15. All nations demonstrate an achievement gap based on students’ family income and socio-economic status.

 System Outcomes: The U.S. leads these nations in educational levels of its adult workforce. Measures included years of schooling completed and the proportion of adults with high-school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. American students also make up 25 percent of the world’s top students in science at age 15, followed by Japan at 13 percent.

“Too often, we narrow our focus to a few things that can be easily tested. To avoid that scoreboard mentality, we need to look at many measures important to shaping our future citizens. Treating education as a horse race doesn’t work,” said HML President Gary Marx.

A call for more nuanced assessments

American policymakers from both political parties have a history of relying on large, international assessments to judge United States’ performance in education. In 2013, the press reported that American students were falling behind when compared to 61 other countries and a few cities including Shanghai. In that comparative assessment—called the Program for International Student Assessment—PISA controversially reported superior scores for Shanghai.

“We don’t oppose using international assessments as one measure of performance. But as educators and policymakers, we need to compare ourselves with similar nations and on a broader set of indicators that put school performance in context—not just a single number in an international ranking,” said Harvey.

“Our study suggests the U.S. has the most educated workforce, yet students confront shockingly high rates of poverty and violence. Research shows that those larger issues, outside the classroom, are serious threats to student learning,” noted HML Executive Director Jack McKay.

For more of his posts, go to; http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/

Race to the Bottom: A story about the strings attached to federal funding;

On any given day, Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and other “education reformers” including superintendents in Bridgeport, Hartford and elsewhere are racing around – often in circles – in pursuit of some of the money that is being handed out by the United States Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program.

Applications and waivers are the terms of the day as more and more states and cities promise to implement reforms in return for more federal funding.

In the rush, some elected and appointed officials forget that while the preamble of a bill or program may sound great, you’d better read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.

That message came through loud and clear earlier this month when the Malloy Administration quietly submitted Senate Resolution No. 14.  With no press release or even an explanation, the language of the bill reads;

January Session, 2013 of the Connecticut General Assembly

Senate Resolution No.14

RESOLUTION APPROVING THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND THE CONNECTICUT STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.

Resolved by the Senate:

That the provisions of the settlement agreement dated January 30, 2013, between the United States of America, acting through the United States Department of Justice and on behalf of the United States Department of Education, and the State of Connecticut, acting through the office of the Attorney General and on behalf of the Connecticut State Department of Education, requiring an expenditure from the General Fund budget in excess of two million five hundred thousand dollars and submitted by the Attorney General to this Assembly for approval in accordance with section 3-125a of the general statutes, are approved

Not the easiest piece of legislation to decipher, but in essence is says that on January 30, 2013, an agreement was signed between the federal government and the state of Connecticut dealing with some problem between the United States Department of Education and the Connecticut State Department of Education, and to resolve that problem, Connecticut will be issuing a check to the federal government for an amount in excess of $2.5 million.

So what is the story?

It turns out that in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Connecticut State Department of Education applied for and was granted funds from the United States Department of Education’s National Initiative to Ensure Child Eligibility for Title I, Part C, Migrant Education Program.

The state spent those funds on various education programs that it believed met the rules and regulations of the program.

However, the federal government charged that the Connecticut State Department of Education “submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for payment or approval by misrepresenting the number of children in Connecticut who qualified for federal MEP funding.”

It is not that the federal government was saying the Connecticut’s State Department of Education stole the funds or spent them on non-education expenses; the problem appears to be the programs being funded may have helped children other than just the children of migrant workers.

In any case, after nearly a decade of investigations and negotiations, costing untold amounts of money, the federal government and the State of Connecticut recently signed an agreement that the State of Connecticut will pay back a portion of the funds….about $4.5 million.

However, as the agreement makes clear, “This Agreement is neither an admission of liability by the State, nor a concession by the United States that its claims are not well-founded.”

Bottom line – Connecticut agrees to pay back the funds but everyone agrees that the agreement does not imply that we were guilty of anything.

So in the coming years, Connecticut taxpayers will pay the United States government the sum of $4,500,000 with  non-Federal funds .  It actually starts with an initial payment of $1,500.000 within forty-five calendar days after the approval of the agreement by the Connecticut General Assembly, with annual payments due until the full amount has been paid).

In addition, the state will pay interest on the unpaid portion of the stipulated amount.

And, if for some reason the General Assembly rejects the agreement, bad things will happen that will undoubtedly cost the state even more.

So all in favor, say yes…

Case closed.

Connecticut asked for the money, it spent the money, it probably even thought it was spending the money in the right way, but the federal government said Connecticut failed to spend the money correctly and we now have to pay it back, with interest.

Of course, this migrant education program was minor compared to the amount of funds and the level of federal rules and restrictions associated with the federal government’s massive No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funding.

And yet just the other day, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education were talking about changes and flexibility associated with Connecticut’s absurd teacher evaluation system, but there was virtually no mention that the federal waiver Malloy, Pryor and the state requested and received puts severe limitations on just how much “flexibility” Connecticut has in some of these areas.

We took the money but the rules we have to spend it under will actually do severe harm to many of our public schools.

Remember, when the “education reformers” tell us not to worry about the restrictive rules concerning No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the federal government will let us do whatever we want as long as we adopt some education reforms, remind them about this new Senate Resolution 14 that will cost us $4.5 million, plus interest.

It is a question every legislator should be asked.

And while you’re doing that, ask them why the Malloy administration is providing so little information about this settlement.

Waivers intensify injustice of No Child Left Behind (Another must read column by Wendy Lecker)

My colleague, fellow public education advocate and commentator, Wendy Lecker, had another “must read” column in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut Post and the other papers that make up the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

While many readers know about the problems associated with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, many may not fully appreciated why a federal waiver doesn’t solve the problem.  In her column, Lecker explains why the Malloy Administration’s unquestioning commitment to getting a federal waiver is not the right solution.

Wendy writes;

“If education is supposed to be the civil rights issue of this era, why does Connecticut’s new system for rating schools and districts discriminate against our most vulnerable students? Connecticut instituted the new system in order to obtain a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). NCLB mandated that states judge schools and districts, and impose punishments, based on test scores of the entire school and district and of subgroups of students: different ethnic groups, English language learners, children living in poverty and students with disabilities. One claimed benefit of reporting scores by subgroups is that this revealed which groups of children tended to score poorly on standardized tests.

However, under NCLB, schools serving a more heterogeneous population were more likely to be punished. Not only did entire schools and districts have to pass the testing goal for a year, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), but each subgroup had to pass the goal as well. Thus, a school or district with fewer subgroups had a better chance of making AYP than a diverse one.

Since the ultimate goal of NCLB, that 100 percent of students would be proficient on state tests by 2014, was widely acknowledged as unattainable, more and more schools were failing to make AYP as we approached that deadline. Even homogeneous, affluent districts were bound to fail. Sanctions under NCLB ranged from mandating unregulated tutoring and allowing students to transfer out, to more serious interventions such as firing all staff and/or handing schools over to private operators. None of these sanctions have proven effective at improving schools.”

Read the rest at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Waivers-intensify-injustice-of-No-4004364.php#ixzz2BeV8i2CU