On August 6th SFUSD was granted a federal waiver from NCLB School Improvement penalties for the upcoming school year. New student achievement criteria that replace the high stakes testing model leave some serious questions as to how districts will measure academic achievement. With reduced reliance on testing, students will be evaluated on more than just state tests on basic core curriculum. Other factors such as music, art and foreign language will be included in overall performance as well will be attendance, suspension and expulsion rates. Expanding the scope and quality of achievement measures sounds reasonable after years of overreliance on questionable testing methods, but who really believes that attendance and citizenship are valid replacement measures of academic performance any more than showing up for work is a measure of job performance? Just showing up for school doesn't tell us much about the quality of a student's work?
The new loosely defined evaluation parameters as described by the waiver consortium entitled, the Office to Reform Education or CORE, leave a void as to what standards will be used during a school year that has already begun. In the meantime a loosening of standards comes at a convenient time with SFUSD's STAR test results slowing in math and turning negative in English. So it is easy to see why SFUSD would prefer to see a less stringent measure of student achievement, even if its arrival now is just coincidental. Without anything firm in place it is anyone's guess what will replace the current achievement measures.
While teachers ought to welcome the end of NCLB's punitive aspects, the fly in the ointment for their unions is this: beginning in the 2014-15 school year extension of the waiver will be contingent on districts instituting teacher evaluations that take student performance into account - something teacher unions as well as the State of California have vehemently opposed. This is the reason why the State as a whole did not get a waiver and why the waivers where granted on a district-by-district basis instead, a first for the nation that already has 41 states waived. It is telling that neither UESF nor any of the unions representing the other seven waiver districts sided with the NCLB opt-out. Virtually all teacher unions are on record for opposing NCLB's narrow view of education, yet none have supported doing away with NCLB if it means having members take partial responsibility for student achievement. It seems that union leadership would rather have members work within what it knows to be a failed education model than be party to shared responsibility. There are legitimate concerns about fair teacher performance evaluations, but strengthening the profession demands that teachers by held to high standards of behavior and performance. Creating an evaluation system which measures a teacher's influence on performance should be the mutual goal of labor and management. Instead, the unions are against any kind of linkage between student and teacher performance. Does anyone really believe that teachers can succeed if their students fail?
Ironically, the very standards the unions oppose, if implemented, could turn out to be a win for the membership, if by win it means keeping underperforming teachers on the job. Pressure to reform teacher evaluations has been mounting and with looser guidelines for students performance and more students scoring higher, unions may be able to mollify their critics and maintain underperforming teachers on-the-job, a distinct and dire possibility. We can only hope that new standards will be more child-friendly and less of the one-size-fits-all model that has so enraged critics and been a bane to students and teachers alike.
After 15 years of NCLB many contemporary critics of its style of public education would welcome a more holistic approach to learning and evaluating instead of the factory-style model which has had a narrow focus on math and English. While recognizing there's an important role for well thought-out standardized testing, I believe that NCLB's model has made public education less creative and elevated the rote style of learning that was discarded by the 70's. Its single-minded focus on the test has taken the creativity out of education and much of the fun along with it, a fact to which many teachers will willingly attest. But that does not refute the fact that suspension and expulsion rates are not a legitimate replacement as a measure of student progress. Showing up and staying in school are crucial, but statistics of this sort tells us little about academic achievement. They tell us more about the politics of truancy and the financial pressures to increase attendance for Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding from the state government.
Getting rid of the one-size-fits-all model that is NCLB is a step in the right direction as long as standardized testing of many core subjects plays an important part in the overall measurement of student progress. However, watering down the measurements of student performance is not the solution to decreased American educational competitiveness or a legitimate education reform nor is the notion by some NCLB detractors that no testing at all is preferable. And I agree that some linkage between teacher performance and student performance is reasonable as long as the evaluation itself is reasonable. But we shouldn't have these policies dictated by a federal government that only contributes a tiny portion of the total expenditures on education by the individual states. It is an overreach of federal power and it creates a paradox in which we are simultaneously moving toward more local control with the newly adopted Local Control Funding Formula and more federal control over education in California.
Below I have copied three articles for further reading on this subject. Please scroll all the way down to comment.
U.S. Department of Education Grants California Districts' CORE Waiver
The U.S. Department of Education granted an unprecedented waiver Tuesday under the No Child Left Behind Act to eight California districts that together educate 1 million students, upending a long tradition of state-based school accountability.
The first-of-its-kind waiver, good for one year, essentially allows the eight districts to set up their own accountability system outside of the state of California's—and largely police themselves through their own board of directors. The districts known as CORE, for California Office to Reform Education, will operate under a new "school quality improvement index" that will be based 60 percent on academic factors such as test scores and graduation rates, 20 percent on social-emotional factors such as the absentee rate, and 20 percent on culture and climate factors such as student and parent surveys. The CORE districts are Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger and Santa Ana.
The districts did create a new, separate oversight board, which will include a cross-section of stakeholders from the education community that will meet biennially, that will serve as "an unbiased external compliance review of each district's progress." For more from the district angle, see my colleague Lesli Maxwell's post over at District Dossier.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in announcing the decision in a call with reporters today, said, "Frankly, working with districts wasn't an easy decision." He said his department isn't doing it because it's "simple" but because it's the "right thing to do."
According to the approval letter written by federal officials, the CORE waiver can be renewed next year only if the districts fully implement their school-rating system and teacher-evaluation plans. The department must then approve both systems.
The final deal came together with lightning speed—just last Thursday, Duncan said in an interview that he hadn't seen anything from his team on the CORE waiver. But the clock was ticking for school districts as they planned for the fast-approaching 2013-14 school year. Under the existing NCLB law, for example, districts needed to start signing contracts with tutoring providers. (Before today's announcement, there were nine CORE districts, but Clovis has dropped out.)
For districts, the most important flexibility this waiver brings is financial. A waiver will free up about $150 million in federal funds a year among the districts—money that's now locked up in providing interventions such as tutoring and school choice in schools that do not meet annual academic targets.
Duncan, in the call, said one of the most important components of this waiver application is that no longer will thousands of students be "invisible" as they are under NCLB. The "n" size in California—which is how big a subgroup of students needs to be for its test scores to count for school accountability purposes—is 100. For CORE, it's been lowered to 20.
The CORE districts started pursuing their own waiver in earnest in January, after federal officials rejected the state's application in part because it didn't meet the requirements for implementing a new teacher-evaluation system. CORE officials came to Washington just last month for a final, in-person pitch.
Until now, states have been the only recipients of the broad NCLB waivers first announced by President Barack Obama in 2011—and only if they agreed to the strings attached, such as implementing teacher-evaluation systems linked to student test scores. In exchange, states get out from under key requirements of the NCLB law, such as that schools bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Now, these eight California districts, which include Los Angeles, Fresno, and Long Beach, will have that same flexibility.
"We are trying to hold ourselves to an even greater accountability system," said Christopher Steinhauser, superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District, in the call.
The Education Department previously has granted districts narrowly tailored waivers under NCLB, such as to serve as their own tutoring providers. But this waiver is unprecedented for its scope, and for how it changes the dynamic between districts, the state, and the federal government.
"I'm shocked," said Andy Smarick, a partner for Bellwether Education Partners in Washington. "For the secretary to unilaterally dispense with 30-plus years of state-led accountability is incredible."
"The Council of the Great City Schools is in complete agreement with Secretary Duncan in his approval of the district waiver application submitted by CORE. The approval is within his authority and does not undermine state authority in any meaningful way," said the council's executive director, Michael Casserly.
Granting such a waiver is a risky move for a federal department that is already trying to manage an enormous portfolio of grants and programs—from billions of dollars in Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation grants to a hodgepodge of new accountability systems that are emerging in the 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have waivers.
What's more, this waiver could open the door for other districts that want their own tailor-made waiver. At a minimum, the department might have to deal with the administrative burden of fielding inquiries and even applications from other districts. Right now, however, Duncan said he doesn't foresee any other districts applying.
There also are political implications. Duncan's decision will at least mildly annoy—or even infuriate—some state schools chiefs who have warned that district waivers would "undermine" state authority. (California state officials only gave a tepid endorsement of the CORE plan.)
"The U.S. Department of Education's decision to approve the California district CORE Waiver marks an unprecedented shift in the federal role in education—clearly usurping state leadership," said CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich in response to today's announcement.
The list of critics is longer than just state chiefs. Civil rights groups, including the Education Trust and Democrats for Education Reform opposed the CORE waiver, warning that different expectations for students across the same state can often lead to "lowered" expectations. They argue that the key to improving student performance is a strong state accountability system. (California DFER is supportive of the CORE waiver, however.)
The local teachers' unions in California also opposed the application, calling the new accountability system a "shadow system of education."
Many in Congress, particularly Republicans, aren't thrilled with Duncan's overall direction on waivers, either. On district waivers specifically, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has been most critical. He said today this turns the Education Department into a "national school board" with districts lining up playing the old playground game "Mother May I?".
And U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the House education committee chairman, isn't happy about this either. He said today, in a statement, "As if state waivers weren't convoluted enough, the administration has now decided to move forward with district-level waivers. One can only imagine the confusion this creates for families, teachers, and state and local education leaders."
On the flip side, however, Rep. George Miller, D-California, the top Democrat on the House education committee, is very supportive. He said today, in a statement, "The approval of the CORE waiver application will provide the opportunity for more than a million students in California to break away from the most rigid requirements of NCLB that do little to ensure that all children are learning. I applaud CORE's leadership in providing a student-centered vision for education in their districts, and I believe this action will provide the whole state an exciting opportunity to pilot new reforms and learn from some of the leading districts in California and the nation."
And Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate education committee, called the CORE waiver "necessary" but not "ideal."
Six Questions About California CORE Districts' Waiver
By Michele McNeil on August 9, 2013 7:26 AM
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan provoked a lot of strong opinions when he granted a precedent-setting waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act to eight California districts last week. These "CORE" (for California Office to Reform Education) districts now have sweeping flexibility to implement their own accountability systems, separate from the state of California's, and the ability to largely police themselves with help from a new independent oversight panel.
There are many questions this waiver is sparking. Here are just a few of mine:
1. Will these districts secure collective bargaining agreements to implement new educator evaluations tied to student growth? This was a central reason the state of California could not secure a waiver—because they would not commit to new evaluations as the federal waivers require. In the case of the CORE districts, the local teachers' unions were not supportive whatsoever of this waiver application, charging it would create a "shadow" system of education. But according to the federal Education Department, the districts have committed to developing consortium-wide guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation still this month and adopting these guidelines by Dec. 1. What's more, the districts are supposed to pilot the new evaluation systems in the 2014-15 school year and implement them the following year.
In an email to staff after the CORE waiver was announced, Sacramento superintendent Jonathan P. Raymond wrote, "Finally, let me be clear that there is no component of this waiver that supersedes our collective bargaining agreements. The waiver calls for districts to begin discussions about creating new principal and teacher evaluation tools, discussions that must be had in collaboration with our labor partners." So given the union opposition, how likely is it there will be serious discussions? Some of the CORE districts have better relationships with their local unions than others, so this may likely boil down to local politics.
2. Will these districts immediately pull the plug on SES/choice? The most coveted flexibility in CORE's entire waiver involves about $150 million the districts were required to spend on tutoring and transportation for school choice—two "sanctions" under NCLB. These districts are no longer required to do that (nor are states that also got the state-level waivers). Sacramento has already decided to cut ties to SES providers, according to the superintendent's email to staff. But in Fresno, the superintendent indicated he would keep a few providers on board who are doing a particularly good job. After all, these districts still have to intervene on behalf of students in low-performing schools. It seems these districts are making the decision on a case-by-case basis.
3. What will be the effect of a school-grading system that puts nonacademic factors as worth 40 percent of a school's grade? The CORE waiver's weighting of nonacademic factors, at 40 percent, is significant. Certainly, many waiver states introduced multiple measures to gauge school effectiveness, such as ACT scores or participation in Advanced Placement. But the CORE waiver seems to give the most weight to nonacademic factors—an intentional move to approach accountability in a more holistic manner. Some of the nonacademic factors the CORE districts are including are easy to measure, such as discipline rates and chronic absenteeism. But how will the CORE districts go about measuring "noncongitive skills" such as student grit and tenacity? And will this grading system correctly identify the highest- and lowest-performing schools?
4. Will the new "oversight panel" provide enough oversight? My colleague Lesli Maxwell goes into great detail about how this new oversight panel will work. It was created to answer critics who charged these CORE districts would be in charge of policing themselves. But will this panel provide real, meaningful oversight—as a state would provide in the traditional accountability relationship? Furthermore, the oversight panel's authority (such as it is) is derived from a really squishy place. This new panel's power is not rooted in law, or state board regulations, but in a waiver agreement between the feds and these districts.
5. Will other districts apply? The CORE districts got a very special deal. They got out from under some of the most onerous restrictions of NCLB and got to design their own accountability system, outside of the state's, for federal purposes. Will other districts in nonwaiver states also want a similar sweet deal? Now that Duncan has opened the door, he'll have to figure out how to deal with and fairly judge other requests if they come in. Right now, he says none are in the pipeline. And, Council of the Great City Schools executive director Michael Casserly told me that districts in other nonwaiver states are waiting to see if their state ends up with a waiver before proceeding. If NCLB still isn't rewritten by Congress by the time the next president takes office (a likely scenario), then a new education secretary (perhaps a Republican) will have precedent to start doling out his or her own district waivers that could be based on very different policy leanings.
6. Will Duncan's decision have any effect, whatsoever, on Congress' efforts to rewrite NCLB? Back in February, a Senate aide said if Duncan goes ahead with district waivers, it will "make it that much more difficult to get any Republican to work with the department in good faith." It's not as if Duncan is pushing hard at all for reauthorization anyway. But this could give Congress even more incentive to rewrite the law and rein in the secretary.
6 California cities get No Child Left Behind delay
Published 10:52 pm, Tuesday, August 6, 2013
School districts in San Francisco, Oakland and six other California cities were granted at least a one-year reprieve from the stringent requirements and severe sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law Tuesday, a waiver otherwise given only to states.
The waiver, granted by the Obama administration, means the districts will no longer be required to label low-performing schools as failures and require that they make staffing or other changes in hopes of boosting test scores.
San Francisco and Oakland applied for the waiver as part of a consortium that also includes Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, Santa Ana and Sanger (Fresno County). Together they represent nearly 1 million students, an enrollment that surpasses that of many individual states.
In return for the waiver, the districts promised to evaluate schools, teachers and principals using a wide range of measures including test scores, suspension rates, attendance and graduation rates. Those measures would then be used to identify needy schools and improve them rather than punish them.
The waiver gives districts more flexibility over how to spend federal funds, especially those to help low-income children. Under No Child Left Behind, failing schools are forced to provide tutoring to students, and parents can choose from a list of public or private tutoring services.
With the waiver, the districts can spend the money on any kind of service for low-income students.
Instead of state and federal oversight, the eight districts will now police themselves and each other, holding the entire system accountable for student learning and success. They will evaluate schools based on improvements in test scores, dropout rates and graduation rates, along with suspension and expulsion totals, among other criteria.
In San Francisco, the waiver will free up at least $700,000 that had to be spent on tutors or letters to parents about their "failing" school, said Superintendent . In addition, teachers will no longer have to focus on what's tested each spring, Carranza said.
No Child Left Behind "meant you were a failure or not based on your English and math scores," he said. "So guess what? Welcome to science, welcome to social studies, music and art.
"It all counts now."
Most states have waivers from No Child Left Behind. California, however, declined to apply for a waiver because teachers unions opposed a federal stipulation that a teacher's job performance be judged using student test scores. The eight districts will have to guarantee that they will do that by 2014 to extend the waiver beyond this coming school year, said U.S. Education Secretary .
That might be an uphill battle.
"Not one of the local teachers associations in the eight school districts was included in the discussion or signed the waiver application," said , president.
What's more, he said, the waiver "sets up a new bureaucratic system to oversee the eight districts and creates a new accountability system for schools and students in these districts. This will create confusion for educators, students and parents."