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White House Drops a Water Balloon onto No Child Left Behind

Mike Klein

President Barack Obama has dropped a water balloon onto No Child Left Behind.

“In my State of the Union address this year I said Congress should reform No Child Left Behind law based on principles that have guided Race to the Top,” Obama said Friday morning at the White House.  The President stamped his approval onto new education performance guidelines that the administration says were developed by governors and educators nationwide.

“I want to say, the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable,” Obama said during a carefully crafted appearance that allowed for no questions.  “President (George W.) Bush deserves credit for that.  Higher standards are the right goal.  Accountability is the right goal.  Closing the achievement gap is the right goal.  We’ve got to stay focused on those goals.”

But he continued, “Experience has taught us that in its implementation No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping.”  Obama said, “I have urged Congress for a while now; let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this.  Congress hasn’t been able to do it.  So, I will.  Starting today we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards.”

The White House released a two-page single spaced description of new guidelines that were developed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan with input from school system leaders nationwide.  One feature is common core standards that 44 states including Georgia will use next year.

(Watch the White House statement by President Obama)

Another feature would grant waivers from the NCLB mandate that 100% of students nationwide achieve reading/language arts and mathematics proficiency by 2014.  Duncan has said 82% of schools nationally could fail to achieve NCLB goals next year, which means they would be labeled “failure schools” regardless of any other academic achievements.

Many educators who include Georgia state Schools Superintendent John Barge agree the 2014 goals are unattainable.  This week Barge and Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson delivered the state’s NCLB waiver request to Duncan during a meeting in Washington D.C.  Isakson and Barge also delivered the state’s proposal that would replace dreaded Annual Yearly Progress reports with a new model to measure performance over multiple years and also using other data.

No Child Left Behind could still be rewritten by Congress but the administration is placing its new bet on an enhanced Race to the Top style model.  “Show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money,” President Obama said Friday.  “We want to provide you more resources but there’s also got to be a commitment on your part to make the changes that are necessary so we can see actual results.”

The President was introduced by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam who said, “As a Republican I might not always agree with this administration on some policy issues or maybe even the role of federal government, but when there are some things that we can work together on then we should.  This is one of the issues that we can work together on.”

During opening remarks Obama noted that Duncan who lurked tall behind him is “probably the finest basketball player ever in the Capitol.”  We will allow just a little wiggle room here for his long-time Chicago pal, although the President clearly overlooked former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley whose 1983 election to the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame capped a stunning career.

The lanky Bradley was NCAA Player of the Year at Princeton and a 1964 Olympian before he won two NBA championship rings during ten years with the New York Knicks.  Bradley earned the NBA nickname “Dollar Bill” for his uncanny ability to hit big shots under pressure.  The President can only hope Race to the Top is as successful as Bill Bradley playing basketball.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

September 23, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Gives States What They Want: Less “No Child Left Behind”

Mike Klein

No Child Left Behind has moved one step closer toward No Longer Totally Relevant.

President Barack Obama‘s administration used the White House briefing room on Monday afternoon to announce that states may apply for waivers to avoid 2014 testing mandates in NCLB.  State school superintendent John Barge said Georgia will apply for the waiver.

No Child Left Behind was the education initiative of President George W. Bush.  It was modeled on a program enacted when he was Texas governor.  It requires that 100 percent of public school students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.  NCLB is blamed for creating a “Teach the Test” mania as schools struggled to make AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress.

“No Child Left Behind, in those terms, we’re not going to see that again,” Barge said when we spoke on Monday afternoon.   “Certainly it’s not the death knell for accountability, but does it put the actual terms AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and No Child Left Behind in question, possibly.  We will still have accountability.  It will just look different.”

Addressing the White House press corps, Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes described NCLB as “a punitive system that does not allow for reform.”  Barnes said the administration moved forward with its own NCLB changes because Congress has not rewritten NCLB.

“No Child Left Behind is four years overdue for being rewritten,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  “It is far too punitive.  It is far too prescriptive.  It led to dummying down standards and narrowing curriculum … We can’t afford to have the law of the land be one that has so many perverse incentives or disincentives to the kind of progress that we want to see.”

John Barge, State School Superintendent

Barnes and Duncan made clear that states will become eligible for NCLB waivers if they embrace reforms that the administration believes are necessary to move education forward.   States that do not agree must continue to abide by the current No Child Left Behind legislation.

Whereas NCLB was a top down federal mandate on states, Barge said the national Council of Chief State School Officers has been working  on a replacement for NCLB’s single-minded reliance on standardized testing as the principal measuring stick for education success.

“We all know that a student can pass a test but that student may be anything but prepared to be successful,” Barge said.  The model being proposed to Washington by the state education chief executives will rely on some two dozen or more indicators, Barge said, including SAT and ACT scores, college credits earned during high school and other measurements to evaluate success.

NCLB is sometimes identified as the reason for a surge in test cheating scandals.

The Atlanta Public Schools test cheating scandal made national news when 178 educators were identified as participants in falsifying tests to improve school performance.  Atlanta is not alone.  Duncan has said federal officials will look into other possible cases nationwide. On Monday, he singled out Tennessee for taking the right approach to measuring achievement.

Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary

“The state of Tennessee like many states had a low bar under No Child Left Behind,” Duncan said.  “They were in fact lying to children, lying to parents.  They were saying that 91 percent of students were proficient.  They did the courageous thing.  They raised the bar significantly.

“Tennessee went from 91 percent of children proficient in math to 34 percent.  That was a very tough lesson but for the first time, they are telling the truth.  The current law provides lots of penalties for that kind of courage,” Duncan said.

“We want to move those (penalties) and reward states that are telling the truth … Everywhere I go, teachers, parents, principals, school board members, state superintendents are asking for flexibility to do the right thing.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Supreme Court Rejects Charter Schools Reconsideration Motion

Mike Klein

The Georgia Supreme Court has served the future of former state commission charter schools over the net and back into the Legislature’s court.  This morning the Court announced that it will not review last month’s decision that overturned the three-year-old state commission.

“The majority of the Georgia Supreme Court has just found 16,000 innocent children in Georgia guilty of choosing a better education,” said Georgia Charter Schools Association chief executive officer Tony Roberts.  “And even worse, the justices have sentenced them to failing or inadequate schools.”

This morning’s announcement comes exactly one week before Atlanta hosts the four-day-long National Charters Schools annual conference.  Former President Bill Clinton will keynote the Tuesday session and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is scheduled on Wednesday.

Attorney General Sam Olens petitioned the Supreme Court to reconsider its May 16 decision, but in a single sentence released Monday the Court said, “Upon consideration of the motion for reconsideration in this case, it is ordered that it be hereby denied.”  No other reason was given.  The motion was considered a long shot because the Court seldom grants reconsideration.

Sixteen brick-and-mortar and online learning schools have scrambled to secure new local or state special school charters, along with funding, since the Supreme Court decision four weeks ago today.  The Court ruled the state could not grant commission charters to schools that had already had been turned down by local boards of education.

Last week the state Board of Education approved special school charters for Odyssey School in Newnan, and for Georgia Cyber Academy which expects to enroll 8,500 online learners this fall. Several schools have applied to districts for temporary local charters.  The state board is expected to meet again this month to consider charters for schools that still need them.

The next step likely returns this question to the Legislature.

Governor Nathan Deal’s office, along with House and Senate education committee members, have begun work to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would seek permission for the state to authorize and fund charter schools.  The General Assembly would most likely consider this question next January.

All Georgia charter schools are public schools.  The former commission schools expected to enroll 16,000 of the state’s 77,000 total charter schools students when class resumes in August.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Would You Invest In Public Education If It Was A Business? Probably Not!

Mike Klein

Kids are getting smarter every day.  We know this is true because test scores are rocketing, graduation rates are soaring, parents are thrilled, teachers have never been happier and the return-on-investment is absolutely off the charts.  Kids have become learning zealots and this is happening because the more money we spend on education, the better our results.  So, let’s just go ahead and declare it:  Education is fixed; time now to move onto something else.

Okay, you can blink now.

Real education today is a very different landscape.  We face extraordinary challenges moving kids through middle school, high school and beyond.  Far too many leave formal education without any diploma or certificate.  Far too many are unprepared for futures.  Far too few parents understand why or how this happened.  Far too many good teachers feel beaten down or at war with their school systems and far too many marginal or poor teachers remain in our classrooms.

Education is not fixed.  Just this week U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 82% of schools could fail to meet No Child Left Behind goals this year, which may say more about the flawed NCLB model than about schools or kids, but it is worth noting here.  Others also see issues.

American public education is in “a productivity crisis because per pupil spending adjusted for inflation has more than doubled in the last four decades while outcomes for students have been flat,” says education myth buster and researcher Jay Greene.  “Kids are not significantly worse off than they were four decades ago, but they are no better off.”

Jay Greene

Greene analyzes gates that open paths to learning and roadblocks that close them.  His hats include University of Arkansas director of education reform studies, George W. Bush Institute fellow, former Manhattan Institute scholar and author for publications too numerous to mention.  His best known title is “Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why It Isn’t So.”  Greene takes on all targets; nobody is safe.

This past weekend Greene addressed a Georgia Public Policy Foundation leadership breakfast.  “In very broad terms, the problem is resources that are devoted to schools are unattached to the outcomes,” Greene said.  “It doesn’t matter whether schools do better or worse for them to get resources.  They are entitled to resources and they receive them by right rather than by effort.”

Last month the University of Southern California published a study that compared 2009 U.S. public education spending and academic performance with eleven other nations.  America spent $809 billion and the other eleven countries combined spent $988 billion.  Yet, American students ranked ninth in science and tenth in mathematics achievement tests.

CATO Institute research published in January said federal, state and local per pupil public education spending adjusted for inflation is nearly 2.5 times greater than in 1970, (see what Greene said above!) but there was no comparable increase in academic performance.  CATO said reading and math scores remained flat over 40 years and science scores declined.

Colin Powell

America’s Promise Alliance was founded by retired four-star General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma Powell.  Last November APA reported the U.S. national graduation rate reached 75% in 2008.  APA said this was a 3% gain in seven years.  Still, it means 25-in-100 or 25,000-in-100,000 or 250,000-in-1 million do not graduate.  That is scary.

“Anytime an organization spends more than twice as much to produce no more in outcome you have a problem,” says Greene.  “Any industry that was unable to improve its outputs despite doubling its inputs would be an industry that would be gone.  But education doesn’t go away.  Public schools don’t go away.  They just keep going.”

Greene’s presentation included his thoughts on the “fuzzy labels” sometimes used to evaluate learning, such as in Florida where they tried “excelling, progressing (or) meeting goals. The trouble is that no one was quite sure what the different categories were or what they meant and they all seemed pretty cheerful.  Needs improvement is the bad one and that’s not so bad.”

Florida public schools education underwent radical changes within the past decade, extensively engineered by former Governor Jeb Bush.  Greene said Hispanic students in Florida today perform better than the averages of all students in 30 states, adding, “This is a state that went from being very much below average to above average.”

Greene spoke at length about the social vs. test-based promotions.  He noted several studies in Florida and Wisconsin confirmed that marginal students who are held back one year are able to demonstrate better performance the following year, and much better performance in subsequent years than marginal students who were pushed ahead to the next grade.  “The difference wasn’t huge after one year, but after two years, the difference grew to be fairly large.”

The national trend toward smaller class size means we have 3.2 million public school teachers. To see that through another lens, more than 1% of all Americans are public school teachers.  “It’s really hard to have 3.2 million excellent teachers,” Greene said.  “We’ve increased the number of teachers but we’ve decreased their average quality.”

Greene also noted 13% of all public school students nationwide are diagnosed as disabled, more than double the percentage thirty years ago.  He thinks it is largely a money race, schools chasing dollars that are available to support programs for students who are “disabled.”

“What schools do is they see kids struggling and they figure out, ‘How can we help these kids move along?’  Then they realize the state has made money available to us if only we identify the student as having a processing problem.  If we just say we’ve done a bad job or the kid has difficulty at home, we don’t get any extra resources to help the kid,” Greene said.

“Short-term this is a very well intentioned act on the part of people in schools.  But long-term it is very bad because it alters everyone’s expectations about that child who has now been identified as having a processing problem in the brain.  The child has new expectations about himself.  The parents have new expectations about the child.  All the educators have new expectations and this has a very negative effect on the child long-term.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment