Monday, November 23, 2015

No Child Left Behind & Every Student Succeeds

Bold Promises - Weak Results

What an interesting confluence of events we have. 

The Obama administration recently discovered that high-stakes assessment (the same assessment promoted by the Bush (43) and Obama administrations since Day 1) leads to all kinds of abuses, not the least of which is the ridiculous amount of time schools spend on test prep. The feds say that must be severely limited to no more than two percent of instructional time.

NCLB contained tough mandates for how to turn around underperforming schools but very few turned around and achievement gaps persist. So after the failure (to put it in terms familiar to school reformers) of one Republican and one Democratic administration to deliver on its over inflated promises a new bill promises much of the same, but not by 2014 this time.

Then a conference committee passes an NCLB rewrite that appears to limit federal intervention and reinforce state control over accountability. The Every Child Succeeds Act would still come with standardized tests, but instead of the feds holding the thumbscrews, it will be the states...and they are free to do what they have always done.

Ed Trust and others said they still favor annual testing and accountability but distanced themselves from the inevitable fall out. They were not in favor of that mess. ...just the thing that caused the mess.

Last week the Council of Chief State School Officers pledged to continue their focus on accountability.

So, if things continue along this path the feds will not be responsible for too much testing. It will be the states. 

This approach gives up on the (mostly Republican, circa 2005-07) notion of comparing performance among the states. Fifty states. Fifty different accountability systems. Of course it has pretty much been that way anyhow. There is now an even better argument that we should not be comparing the performance of American students with other countries. Rather, we should  be comparing Finland and Hong Kong to Georgia and Kentucky....

Apparently the new ESSA is going to function much like the old NCLB. But the feds will blame the states instead of the next president. 

It's hard to see how anything changes for teachers. 

This from Commissioner Stephen Pruitt: 

Every Child Achieves

On Thursday, November 19, a potentially historic event occurred. A bipartisan conference committee made up of members of the U.S. House and Senate, including Congressman Brent Guthrie from Kentucky’s 2nd District, agreed on a framework for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), most recently known as No Child Left Behind.

This is a big deal for so many reasons. In fact, I was doubtful it could happen this year. But, if things go as planned, the actual bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act, will be filed by the end of the month, with a House vote the first week of December and a Senate vote shortly thereafter.

Another reason this is a big deal is that, if passed, it will give a lot of accountability control back to the states. The framework includes some significant changes and some things that will hold steady. Annual assessment in English/language arts and mathematics for students in grades 3-8 and once in high school remains the same as the old law. So does testing once per grade band [sic] in science along with a few more items. However, determining big pieces of accountability – including how we determine our lowest five percent of schools – will be left in large part to the states. This is both exciting and scary. We, and when I say “we” I mean all shareholders in Kentucky, have a moral obligation to develop a system that represents a quality education for all students.

We do not yet know the timeline for implementation, but it will be my intent to take our time and take deliberate steps to gather feedback before, during, and after development of the system. I am not saying I know how we will do this – that is why shareholder engagement and guidance is so important.

However, there are a few things that I think are non-negotiables. First, we cannot back away from disaggregating the data to ensure all students, including our at-risk and struggling students as well as our gifted and talented students, are getting a quality education. This cannot only be just in mathematics and reading. Another non-negotiable for me is that the system must not narrow the curriculum in a way that does not support the whole child or a student pursuing his or her interest. If our goal is to ensure that every student has the opportunity to choose his or her own direction after high school, we must provide them with all the opportunities we can including the arts, career-technical education, science and social studies, just to name a few.

As I said in last week’s blog, the opportunity gap is a major issue that must be addressed if we hope to close the achievement gap. I do not believe we should develop a system that looks only at outputs (state assessments) and does not look at inputs. So, we have to consider how we will evaluate the quality of the student experience. This means we will need to find ways to leverage collected data and evaluation at the school level in a way that supports good decision making for students.

Finally, I think it is critical that we create a system that holds districts and schools accountable, but also it should celebrate schools that are innovative and are finding creative ways to meeting their students’ needs.

Again, I am not saying I know how to do all of this. I have some ideas, but we as an education community have a moral imperative to ensure a quality education for ALL students. For me, that means that every child that walks across the stage at graduation has the choice of where their life will take them. I believe we have the intellectual and compassionate capital to do this.

In my first month on the job, I have been validated in my reasons for wanting to be a part of the Kentucky education community. I do not know of another state with a group of educators and partners who are more committed to the welfare of our students than we have in Kentucky. I am looking forward to all of us uniting and working together for all of our children and the good of the Commonwealth.

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