Monday, September 26, 2011

Not wa(i)ving but drowning*

Besides getting University Park Campus School's designation wrong, just what was President Obama announcing on Friday?
If you remember your Schoolhouse Rock, the executive branch is there "to see that the laws get done" (to execute them, thus the Executive branch). What the Obama administration is doing is basically NOT executing No Child Left Behind, or giving waivers to particular parts of the law. Most notably, the waivers will waive the provision " that schools ensure that every student be proficient in math and reading by 2014 or risk escalating sanctions." For most schools, that will be most clearly demonstrated in no more measures of Adequate Yearly Progress, that ever-increasing line on the chart towards 100% in 2014.
One should also note that the President specifically said that he is doing this partly due to concerns about narrowing of curriculum and teaching to the test.
This does not, of course, come for nothing. The real news is in what the federal Department of Education led by Secretary Duncan will expect of states applying for a waiver. You can see the Ed department's public briefing here. The letter to state officials is here. The expectations are more or less what was required to apply for Race to the Top funding.
  • College and career readiness: as the fed has already said that the Common Core is what it's looking for, and 44 states have adopted it, like it or not, that's the standard.
  • "Systems of Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support": instead of declaring all schools that don't make AYP a particular number of years "underperforming," instead we get the bottom 5% ("Priority" schools) and the bottom 10% ("Focus" schools). This more-or-less parallels what Massachusetts has done with Level 4 schools (and, as has been noted, is going to get silly when we do the bottom 5%, and another 5%, and so on, year after year).
  • new teacher and principal evaluation systems: and yes, "including student progress over time." It doesn't specify test scores for that, but unless someone comes up with some funding, they're going to look like the cheap answer.
Applications for waivers for this year are due in Washington on November 14, and will be subject to peer review.
A few other points worth making. Both the Secretary and the President have repeatedly said they're only doing this because Congress hasn't reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (of which NCLB was the last go-round); in other words, that Congress has not done its job ("passin' laws" per Schoolhouse Rock). Several Congressional Republicans have accused the Department of overreaching its powers. (Interestingly, Republican governors seem to be lining up to get waivers.)
This doesn't rollback grades 3-8 testing. It doesn't take the emphasis off of reading and math (to the detriment of everything else) and it doesn't give states any particular incentive to use anything other than a comparatively cheap standardized test to judge students. Moreover, as states are now expected to have "measures that are comparable in a district" for all subjects, it could well lead to the nightmare some states are already experiencing, of standardized tests in art, music, and elsewhere.
Any state that applied for and got Race to the Top dollars probably already has done most of what the Secretary is asking, anyway--Massachusetts has--so they have no real reason not to apply for a waiver.
I did get a message over the weekend that Secretary Reville is considering it.
*with apologies to Stevie Smith

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