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What the pro-Jeb Bush, pro-Common Core Washington Post Editorial Board Would Not Print

On August 17, 2015, the editorial board of the Washington Post published an opinion piece in which it asserts that Common Core and high-stakes testing are just fine and how pro-Common Core, Republican presidential would-be Jeb! Bush has been put in a terrible position to no longer express his support for Common Core by name due to “inflammatory rhetoric” that has “poisoned” the good, Common Core name.

On August 19, 2015, I submitted an op-ed in response, and on August 20, 2015, my submission was forwarded to Letters to the Editor, where it conveniently and conspicuously died.

That is how life in the political world goes.

Below is the content of my submission. I had to keep it to 800 words, but it is still packs a punch:

On August 17, 2015, the Washington Post editorial board published an op-ed entitled, “The Right and Left Poison Common Core with Inflammatory Rhetoric.”

The WashPost piece is a lament of Jeb Bush’s recent backpedaling on what he previously promised would be his unshaken support for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Now all Bush will say is that he is for “higher standards, state-created, locally implemented, where the federal government has no role in the creation of standards, content or curriculum.”

Bush left out the fact that the federal government agreed to foot the bill for the CCSS-aligned, consortium-developed assessments in 2009, before there was a CCSS.  Bush also omitted the fact that in 2009, the federal government advertised its upcoming Race to the Top (RTTT) competition, in which points were awarded to states that had adopted “common standards and assessments.”

Just as Bush is not using the term “Common Core,” the US Dept of Ed (USDOE) did not use it in its RTTT application criteria. On August 17, 2015, the WashPost editorial board maintained that even though Bush isn’t using the term, “Common Core,” that is what he still means by his “higher standards” spiel.

Yet it is also what USDOE meant by its euphemistic “common standards and assessments” language in its RTTT application.

As to Bush’s so-called support for “state-created” standards, before CCSS, all states had state-created standards. Yet CCSS is not a “state-created” product. It is a nonprofit-created product—with two nonprofits in charge of the CCSS process: the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

In fact, the CCSS memorandum of understanding (MOU)– was created by NGA and CCSSO. Only two signatures were required for “states” to agree to be state-led in a process that would result in “development and adoption of a common core of state standards”: the governor and the state education superintendent.

Before the standards were developed, these two individuals agreed on behalf of their entire states that adoption would follow. No inspecting the resulting final product before committing. This foolish agreement poisoned CCSS.

The WashPost editors write, “States developed the standards, accepted them voluntarily and implement them with local flexibility.” However, development did not precede governors and state superintendents’ signing to agree to adopt—which is by extension an agreement to “accept.”

By June 2009, 46 states and three territories had signed the CCSS MOU agreeing to adopt standards that had yet to be created.

As to that “state developed” line: The CCSS MOU made it clear that three groups would be at the center of CCSS development: ACT, College Board (two testing companies) and Achieve, Inc. (a nonprofit created by NGA in the nid-1990s and that quickly began evaluating state standards).  A fourth group at the center of CCSS development was another nonprofit, Student Achievement Partners (SAP), led by David Coleman, an edupreneur whose business ties go back to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s time as CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

 It was Coleman who accompanied former CCSSO CEO Gene Wilhoit in summer 2008 to ask billionaire Bill Gates to bankroll CCSS—which Gates continues to do. The article revealing this intentional Gates involvement was published in the Washington Post in June 2014.

The intentional arrangement to have Gates as fund CCSS was also poisonous for CCSS.

Five individuals were at the heart of CCSS development. None have K-12 classroom experience. All share a common connection to SAP. Even Wilhoit now works for SAP. As for Coleman, he moved on to become president of College Board.

The control center of CCSS development had nothing to do with being “state led.”  

 David Coleman has even publicly bragged that he “convinced governors” to sign on for CCSS.

 David Coleman was poisonous for CCSS.

Finally, as to the federal role in CCSS: The CCSS MOU clearly acknowledged that it was “appropriate” for the federal government to fiscally support CCSS its Race to the Top and via American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) money slated for CCSS assessments. The federal government was also called upon to fund CCSS implementation and related professional development. But the most obvious federal hand in promoting CCSS came from Duncan, who actually briefed the press in June 2013 on how to report on CCSS and who in November 2013 accused “white suburban moms” of rejecting CCSS because they were learning that they’re kids weren’t as smart as they once thought. Both of these Duncan CCSS-defense blunders were published in the Washington Post.

And through his No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers, Duncan has a number of states on the hook to keep CCSS or have their schools declared as failing.

 Duncan was poisonous for CCSS.

 Lots of poison here, and none of it “right and left.”

–Mercedes Schneider, author, Common Core Dilemma–Who Owns Our Schools?

In the days following my writing the above submission, I wrote two related posts (see here and here).

There are no stars in my eyes over Common Core, high-stakes testing, or Jeb! Bush, who clearly cares about test-score-driven reform more than he cares about people.

jeb bush 5

_________________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

 

Louisiana Charters Are by Far the Worst According to 2011 8th-grade NAEP Anaysis

One of the primary problems with Louisiana’s state-run, all-charter Recovery School District (RSD) is that the same state that is in control of data (and the official word on its data) is also committed to representing its state-run district in the best light.

For this reason, independent analysis of data on Louisiana’s schools is particularly valuable, especially when the researchers are able to procure data independently of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Such is the case of an analysis of student-level eighth-grade 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data by two researchers from the University of Arizona, Francesca Lopez and Amy Olson. The Lopez-Olson analysis is featured in this Network for Public Education (NPE) policy brief. Specifically, Lopez and Olson compared traditional public schools to see what notable differences there might be between charters and traditional schools on eighth-grade 2011 NAEP outcomes.

Lopez and Olson’s analysis of charters versus traditional schools in Louisiana is particularly interesting since most charter schools in Louisiana are located in New Orleans, with RSD being the dominant district in New Orleans. In January 2011, Louisiana had 77 charter schools; 51 (66%) were located in New Orleans. Of these 51 New Orleans charters, 41 (80%) were state-run RSD charter schools. The remaining 10 were operated by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

In order to make clearer comparisons between traditional public school students and charter school students on the eight-grade 2011 NAEP, Lopez and Olson controlled for socioeconomic status, special education status, English language learner status, and ethnicity of students as well as the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the schools.

Regarding 2011 NAEP eight-grade math, the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, DC (counted as a state in this study), Texas, Rhode Island, and– with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

As for the 2011 NAEP eight-grade reading,  the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, DC, and– once again with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

On the 2011 NAEP in both math and reading, eight-grade students in Louisiana’s traditional public schools outscored their charter-school counterparts by between two and three standard deviations.

This difference is huge, and it is particularly important for a couple of reasons. First, Paul Vallas was superintendent of RSD between 2007 and 2011, and he and other pro-charter folk like to promote Vallas as a hero of post-Katrina, charter-proliferating, New Orleans education reform.

The second reason Lopez and Olson’s finding is important is that it meets corporate reform in it own living room: that of test-score-based results.

Of course, there is much more to the charter-loving, corporate education reform that converged on new Orleans than numbers could ever capture, and I am pleased that more stories of the devastation of the black community at the hands of the privileged, primarily-white corporate reformers is finding its way into notable media outlets. (For examples, see Jennifer Berkshire’s Salon articleAndrea Gabor’s New York Times pieceColleen Kimmett’s In These Times article, and Owen Davis’ International Business Times piece.)

Post-Katrina RSD is too much “white” done to the black community.

Ironically, in this August 28, 2015, Washington Post opinion piece in which Louisiana superintendent John White tries to argue that Congress should “look at New Orleans for how to fix No Child Left Behind, WashPost includes a 2010 file photo of the staff at one of New Orleans’ charter schools, Akili Academy.

The photo includes 16 individuals. Only three are people of color. Most are young, white women.

When I saw the photo, I thought of words I had read by New York researcher Andrea Gabor, who has spent much time in post-Katrina, New Orleans schools:

I should note that I’ve visited over half-a-dozen charter schools in New Orleans. With two exceptions, I barely saw a single African-American face among any of the educators.

But the photo is five years old, I thought. Perhaps the Akili Academy website will offer some evidence that more people of color teach at this school.

Well, the Akili Academy website does not include teacher information– but it does include photos of is eight-member administrative “team.”

Seven out of eight are white.

And again, I think of Gabor– this time as she quotes Howard Fuller:

When black people came out of slavery, we came out with a clear understanding of the connection between education and liberation. Two groups of white people descended upon us—the missionaries and the industrialists. They both had their view of what type of education we needed to make our new-born freedom realized. During this period there’s an analogy—I’ve said this to all my friends in Kipp And TFA. During this period two groups of white people descended on us the industrialists and the missionaries. And each one of them have their own view of what kind of education we need.

And then, I remember some nonsense that came out of anti-union, pro-charter corporate reformer, Campbell Brown, in an August 2015 C-SPAN clip. In the clip, she justifies the firing of thousands of New Orleans teachers right after the storm. She also offers her white-privileged perspective on the success of New Orleans absent any knowledge or concern for the impact of the charter-ization of New Orleans schools led by privileged whites.

She even speaks of “the decision” of orchestrated, post-Katrina state takeover of most New Orleans schools in passive voice related to some undefined “they”:

After Katrina, a decision was made in Louisiana… when they were trying to figure out how to rebuild that school system, they made a choice to basically take almost all the schools in New Orleans and make them charter schools, which, take the handcuffs off and put the union contracts aside and give those schools the flexibility to be innovative and to do different things than they had been doing before. And I’ll tell you what: Before Katrina, New Orleans was one of the worst school systems in the country. It was appalling. It was absolutely appalling, and heartbreaking to me, as someone from Louisiana, that we had failed so many kids that way….

That decision to remake the school system in Katrina has proven without question massive, massive gains for the students there. Those schools are doing better than they ever have. There’s still a long way to go. it is far, far from perfect, but there has been tremendous progress in New Orleans because of the decisions that were made after Katrina. And it’s heartbreaking that there would have to be a disaster like this where you have a clean slate and you can start from the beginning to see this kind of progress. But the story of what’s happened in New Orleans post-Katrina… is amazing, and all of the research and all of the studies that have, bear that out… That’s a story the world needs to hear….

The story that the world needs to hear is nothing like what Brown advocates.

New Orleans charter success is white-privileged-blown smoke and state-controlled mirrors. However, a more realistic, sobering word is surfacing, and the frayed, marketing edges of all-charter, state-run RSD are getting increasingly more obvious to the American public despite the likes of John White and Campbell Brown.

frayed edges

___________________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

 

 

New Orleans Recovery School District, ACT Outcomes, and Falling Through the Cracks

This post includes information on Louisiana’s Class of 2015 ACT scoring outcomes and is chiefly focused upon the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans. It is as much a post about who in RSD is taking as it is about who is not.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) district enrollment counts for February 2015, Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) enrollment is 13,173, and New Orleans RSD enrollment at 30,448.

In July 2015, Jessica Williams of Nola.com published information about the Louisiana’s Class of 2015 district ACT composite scores. In that article, Williams included a search engine for ACT composites related to schools and districts. Specifically, Williams’ search engine allows one to look up some schools/districts to see 1) the number of seniors who took the ACT, 2) the percentage of those seniors who scored at or above 20 on the ACT, and 3) the percentage of seniors who scored at or above 18 on the ACT.

According to Williams’ search engine, 39,752 Louisiana Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT; 45.4 percent scored 20+, and 61.9 percent scored 18+. The state’s Class of 2015 ACT composite was 19.4.

Also according to Williams’ search engine, 1065 Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT; 21.1 percent scored 20+, and 36.7 percent scored 18+.  These are low percentages, but one might expect as much given that the RSD Class of 2015 ACT composite was 16.6.

What is also noteworthy is the number of RSD seniors: 1065 for a district of 30,448 students.

Using the LDOE district enrollment counts for February 2015 and Williams’ ACT-related search engine, I was able to conduct some comparisons of RSD total enrollment vs. number of seniors to those of other Louisiana districts.

For example, Livingston Parish has 25,539 students; 1,451 Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT. (57.9 percent scored 20+; 73.3 percent scored 18+).  Livingston has several thousand fewer students overall, yet it has several hundred more Class of 2015 seniors taking the ACT.

Another example: Ascension Parish has 21,562 students; 1,364 Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT. (56.4 percent scored 20+; 72.8 percent scored 18+). Ascension has almost one-third fewer students than RSD, yet it has 300 more Class of 2015 seniors taking the ACT.

A third example: St. Tammany Parish has 37, 699 students; 2,323 Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT. (63.6 percent scored 20+; 78.1 percent scored 18+). Though it is certainly not more than twice the size of RSD, St. Tammany had well over twice as many seniors taking the ACT.

Part of the issue has to do with keeping track of students.

As New York researcher Andrea Gabor noted in her August 25, 3015, blog post, it is easy for RSD high school students to go missing and for no one who is supposed to be in charge to notice. The excerpt below refers to Gabor’s experience at the June 2015 Education research Alliance of New Orleans (ERA) conference:

Deirdre Burel, executive director of the Orleans Public Education Network and the [“Role of Communities in Schools”] panel moderator: “There’s common agreement, we know for a fact that kids have slipped through the cracks because of the (school) closures.”

When an audience member asks: “The RSD doesn’t know who’s in the system?”

 And again later: “Who’s responsible for the whole?”

Burel answers: “There is no whole. That’s a governance conversation. There is no single entity responsible for all children.”

I asked a similar question during a panel on “Test-Based Accountability Effects of School Closure” on school closings, their impacts on high school students, and received the response below from Dana Peterson of the RSD and Whitney Ruble, the ERA researcher who was presenting her findings on school closures. Two points of note: First, Ruble’s/ERA results on the effects of school closures said nothing about the impacts on high school kids who are most at risk of dropping out. You had to look and listen very carefully to realize that all the data was about elementary and middle-school effects. However, Ruble acknowledged that “A lot of students disappear from the data.” …

Dana Peterson of the RSD, a few minutes later: “We’re more worried at the high school level than the elementary level. Its true some kids do leave and fall out of the system.”That’s why, he said, the RSD started hiring counselors specifically for high school kids two years ago to try to make sure they didn’t disappear from the system.

When I asked whether he knew how many kids fall between the cracks, Peterson acknowledged: “I don’t know the total number. I don’t.”

Any examination of RSD outcomes– especially high-school-related outcomes– should be tempered by the inept admissions captured above. However, it is possible for students to be unaccounted for prior to enrolling in high school, as well.

As Gabor notes, according to 2013 US Census Bureau data, New Orleans has approximately 26,000 youth ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor employed. These young people are referred to displaced youth, or, euphemistically, “opportunity youth”– though what is lost to them is exactly that: opportunity.

So, when one reads that RSD has 30,448 students and only 1,065 make it to a senior year to constitute “all” senior ACT test takers, one should wonder how many students “fell through the cracks” in order to product the amazing result ten years post-Katrina of 21.1 percent scoring an ACT composite of 20+ and 36.7 percent scoring an ACT composite of 18+.

In addition, all too often, those wishing to fashion RSD success use OPSB to carry RSD. OPSB has a 2015 district ACT composite of 20.9. OPSB has 13,173 students; 1,111 Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT. (53.6 percent scored 20+; 71.7 percent scored 18+). Thus, the RSD-OPSB “combined” ACT composite of OPSB’s 20.9 with RSD’s 16.6 allows for a much better marketing composite of 18.8.

However, one should wonder about the fact that RSD enrolls well over twice the number of students as does OPSB, yet OPSB had more Class of 2015 seniors taking the ACT.

One should think of those RSD high school students in particular falling through those displaced, “opportunity” cracks.

Some additional OPSB insight: OPSB had Class of 2015 seniors at seven high schools take the ACT (the OPSB site has since dropped Warren Easton). However, two OPSB selective admission high schools chiefly carry OPSB ACT composite gains: Benjamin Franklin and Lusher.

Below are all seven OPSB high schools, including Class of 2015 1) number of seniors taking the ACT; 2) percent scoring 20+, and 3) percent scoring 18+ (Note: N/A means either zero percent or the number was too low to report for student privacy reasons):

Edna Karr  222   41.0  68.0

Lusher  124  93.5  98.4

Ben Franklin  189  100  100

Eleanor McMain  121  40.5  67.8

McDonogh #35  145  14.5  30.3

Warren Easton  236  40.7   70.3

NO Charter Sci/Math  74  45.9  58.1

And here are the results for the RSD high schools:

KIPP Renaissance  101  37.4  62.4

MLK Charter  32  N/A  53.1

The NET  35  N/A  N/A

Cohen College Prep  77  28.6  45.5

Lake Area New Tech  139  17.3  36.7

Landry-Walker  288  13.2  22.6

Joseph Clark  106  14.2  

Miller-McCoy  30  N/A  N/A

Sophie Wright  54  38.9  64.8

ReNEW City Park  31  N/A  N/A

ReNEW West Bank  29  N/A  N/A

Sci Academy  85  52.9  69.4

Algiers Technology  49  20.4  40.8

Crescent Leadership  N/A  N/A  N/A

New Orleans Maritime  N/A  N/A  N/A

State-run (but not adequately state-managed) RSD has Class of 2015 ACT results that are all over the map– but mostly covering the sorry end of that map.

This is not a strong selling point for a state-protected, all-charter school district. Neither is RSD deputy superintendent Dana Peterson’s admission that he really doesn’t know how many RSD high school students just *disappear.*

cracks

____________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Florida Students Must “Qualify” to Take the Fourth-grade NAEP

Jeb Bush wants to be president. So, it is important that he sell his Florida education reforms as a success.

However, when test-score-based education reforms are put on display, one should seek out “the rest of the story.” Such is true when Florida’s fourth-grade NAEP scores are showcased

According to a post written by Jeb Bush’s right-hand, Patricia Levesque, in October 2014, Florida has made marvelous, gap-closing gains, particularly on the fourth-grade NAEP:

Florida Minority Students Outperforming the Nation: In 2013, Florida outperformed the national average in every subgroup for fourth-grade reading.

  • Florida’s fourth-grade low-income readers rank first in the nation in reading.

  • Florida’s black fourth-grade students outperform their peers nationally by more than half a grade level in reading.

  • Hispanic fourth-grade students outperform the average student in 38 states and their peers by almost two full grade levels, according to NAEP reading test.

  • Low-income Hispanic fourth-grade student achievement improved more than one grade level from 2003-2013 according to the 2013 NAEP reading test.

  • Florida’s eighth-grade black students rank 7th nationally in reading and are tied with two other states for 11th in eighth-grade math.

What Levesque does not include is “the rest” of the fourth-grade NAEP story, which involves high student retention rates in third grade based upon state test results, a practice that has been part of Florida law since 2003.

Retaining students who cannot pass state tests in third grade artificially “improves” the academic ability of Florida’s fourth graders. Bush will likely not be featuring such information as he publicly pats himself on the back for such “achievements.”

In April 2015, the Florida law regarding third grade retention was modified to allow districts to decide how to approach the issue. The change in the law does not end Florida’s third-grade retention, but it does allow for third graders scoring in the “bottom quintile” (lowest 20 percent) of state tests to be promoted if they meet one of seven possible exemptions.

For now, Bush is able to coast on fourth-grade NAEP “gains” that were arguably influenced by notable third-grade retention. As the June 2015 Orlando Sentinel notes:

For 12 years, Florida’s third-grade reading test was a high-stakes part of elementary school life.

Third-graders who failed the exam could be denied promotion to fourth grade, as nearly 16,000 were statewide last year. [Emphasis added.]

What one must also consider is who, exactly, is being retained. It seems that “gap closure” on the fourth-grade NAEP is further influenced by the likelihood that children of color are the ones most likely to be retained in third grade. (See here and here and here.)

Via its third-grade retention law, it is as though Florida has its students “qualify” to take the fourth-grade NAEP– certainly an important part of “the rest” of the Jeb Bush ed reform story.

jeb bush 5

______________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

USDOE Wants Most Special Ed Students to Take Common Core Assessments

Effective September 21, 2015, a number of special education students nationwide will be required to learn the same “college and career ready standards” and to take the same assessments as students in regular education.

In 2007, the US Department of Education (USDOE) modified Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (the latest version of which is No Child Left Behind–NCLB) to allow states to instruct students receiving special education services using modified academic achievement standards and administer special education students alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards.

In August 2013, the USDOE published in the Federal Register its intention to require most students receiving special education services to be taught using the same “college and career ready standards” and associated assessments effective September 2015.

In August thru November 2013, the USDOE opened public comments regarding the shift of most special education students to being held to the same standards and assessments as regular education students. In other words, USDOE wants special educaiton students held to what are effectively the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and CCSS-aligned assessments.

USDOE compiled a number of general comments and USDOE responses; those can be accessed here.

The USDOE maintains that students receiving special education services for the most severe cognitive disabilities are not included in this September 2015 mandate. However, it is also clear that USDOE continues to hold a view of CCSS as automatically “high,” and it believes that CCSS assessments actually deliver useful, timely information to teachers and parents. Here is the USDOE’s opening statement on the matter:

High standards and high expectations for all students and an accountability system that provides teachers, parents, students, and the public with information about students’ academic progress are essential to ensure that students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers in the 21st century.

The now-common CCSS spiel.

The USDOE also demonstrates unquestioning faith in what amounts to CCSS-aligned assessments:

Nearly all States have developed and are administering new high-quality general assessments that are valid and reliable and measure students with disabilities’ knowledge and skills against college- and career-ready standards.

USDOE notes that as part of the NCLB “waivers,” states agreed to transition most special education students to CCSS and its assessments by 2015-16 (with “phase out” of alternative standards and assessments by 2014-15). Still, USDOE notes that the change is “not predicated on that agreement”; USDOE just wants all students to be held to “high expectations”:

States approved for ESEA flexibility [NCLB waivers] did agree to phase out those assessments by school year 2014-2015; however, these final regulations are not predicated on that agreement. Rather, the ESEA flexibility requirement is consistent with the purpose of the regulations to promote high expectations for students with disabilities by encouraging teaching and learning to high academic achievement standards for the grade in which a student is enrolled measured by a State’s general assessments.

In short, USDOE wants as many students as possible to be roped into CCSS, though USDOE continues to use the euphemistic “high standards.” And of course, the real point is to have as many students as is possible completing those CCSS-aligned assessments. But USDOE says this is “for the kids”:

The importance of holding all students, including students with disabilities, to high standards cannot be over-emphasized. Low expectations can lead to students with disabilities receiving less challenging instruction that reflects below grade-level achievement standards, and thereby not learning what they need to succeed at the grade in which they are enrolled.

Although the Department agrees that some students may have a disability that affects their academic functioning, we disagree that students with disabilities, except for those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, should be held to different academic achievement standards than their nondisabled peers.

It is interesting that the USDOE allowed for modified standards and assessments in 2007, the year that NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized and which Congress did not want to touch it because it was obviously tanking– and it is also interesting that USDOE decided to commence to bringing as many special education students under those “college and career ready standards” and associated assessments in 2013, before the two consortia that USDOE funded for CCSS-aligned assessments had even produced an assessment product. No worries, though. CCSS-aligned assessments would be fine for all students– and “all” students in USDOE thinking should include as many students as possible.

In its August-November 2013 comments, some commenters bring up CCSS, but USDOE refuses to own up to its role in luring states into CCSS-and-assessment adoption via the enticement of Race to the Top (RTTT) funding,  downplaying the federal RTTT lure as a “voluntary Department initiative” in which foregoing modified standards and assessments was not a condition for RTTT funding.

Well, that is almost true. Below is an excerpt from the RTTT scoring rubric. Note that UDOE advised states that in order to maximize their score for the “supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments” section,

State or LEA activities might, for example, include… engaging in other strategies that translate the standards and information from assessments into classroom practice for all students, including high-need students (as defined in this notice).

The RTTT application form includes a glossary that defines “high-need students” to include those “who have disabilities.” So, USDOE did indeed encourage states to show how those “common standards” would be common to special education students.

Note also that the RTTT application defined “common set of K12 standards” using the same “can add only up to 15 percent” condition that was clearly and obviously part of the CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding):

Common set of K-12 standards means a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium.  A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards for that content area.

So, here we are in 2015, and the USDOE that obviously favors and promotes CCSS and its attendant assessments wants most students receiving special education services to be required to take CCSS-aligned assessments.

USDOE assumes CCSS to be “high”; USDOE assumes CCSS assessments to be good and necessary for virtually all students, and the clincher: In its RTTT, USDOE encouraged states to align all to CCSS, including graduation requirements and college entrance requirements (making CCSS not only indispensable, but a declared success as college entrance is artificially modified to get in line with CCSS). From the RTTT grading rubric:

State or LEA activities might, for example, include: developing a rollout plan for the standards together with all of their supporting components; in cooperation with the State’s institutions of higher education, aligning high school exit criteria and college entrance requirements with the new standards and assessments…

There is no real “college ready” with CCSS. RTTT told states that they should make college entrance “CCSS ready.”

So, in September 2015, USDOE plans to hook Title I money to states’ assuring that most special education students take those CCSS-aligned assessments.

Here is my prediction:

USDOE just added more fuel to the opt-out movement fire.

lit match

________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

 

 

 

 

Noteworthy: No Federal Sanctions for New York Opt-out.

In July 2015, both House and Senate passed versions of the proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The current version of ESEA– eight years overdue for reauthorization– is the defunct No Child Left Behind of 2001 (NCLB). The proposed ESEA revision from the House, the Student Success Act (SSA), includes a blanket provision for parents to opt their children out of the annual tests that remain a part of SSA.

The proposed ESEA revision from the Senate, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA), includes language that allows for states to set their own opt-out policies regarding the annual testing that remains a part of ECAA. In fact, the language implies, “Don’t blame the federal government for state opt-out policy.”

In reporting on SSA, ECAA, and opting out of federally-mandated annual testing, I have heard from individuals who are concerned that if it were up to the state, there would be no opt-out provision for the federal tests. Their concern is centered on the ECAA opt-out language and what might happen regarding federal sanctions if the state “guarantees” the federal government a 95 percent participation rate in federally-mandated annual testing without any conditions to account for opt-outs.

I have noted that the state officials who try to force the public into not opting out by not providing for the possibility only set themselves up for federal sanctions that might have been avoided if the states included an opt-out provision as part of their future ESEA application for Title I funding. (Annual testing is part of Title I, which is the big money of ESEA.)

However, I now think that if the House and Senate conference committee whose task it will be to merge SSA and ECAA into a single bill decide against the SSA blanket opt-out and go with the state-level opt-out provision in ECAA, the federal government will not sanction states, regardless of state-level opting out.

In other words, if according to the future ESEA revision, states are supposed to set their own opt-out policy and include as much in the future ESEA Title I funding application, and if a state includes no opt-out provision in its future ESEA application yet dips below the 95 percent of students completing federally-mandated annual tests, the federal government is not likely to strong-arm states with federal sanctions.

I believe the federal government knows it has gone too far in strong-arming states via conditions attached to federal tests. For example, both the SSA and ECAA revisions include language to limit the role of the US secretary of education. The current US secretary, Arne Duncan, has actively promoted and defended Common Core and its annual tests; with the backing of President Obama, Duncan has lured states into adopting Common Core sight unseen with the lure of Race to the Top (RTTT) funds; he has paid for two Common Core testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced; he has made it a condition of states’ RTTT funding to use student standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and via his NCLB “waivers,” he has cornered states into agreeing to institute Common Core and its associated annual tests as well as testing teachers using test results as a condition for avoiding having the almost all schools in all states declared “failing” according to NCLB.

So, the fact that major news outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Times are doing their best to chastise those who support opting out of standardized tests is not enough to conceal what is obviously a federal blunder to make annual testing the end-all, be-all of American public education.

In its August 15, 2015, editorial, the New York Times points to possible federal penalties for New York State’s failure to test 95 percent of its students. It also notes that parents’ opting out of tests “could damage educational reform… and undermine the Common Core standards….”

Gee, that would be terrible.

And as it turns out, the astounding opt-out in New York has called the federal hand regarding federally delivered opt-out consequences.

Representing a phenomenal grass roots pushback against Common-Core-test-centric “education,” only 80 percent of New York State students in grades 3 through 8 completing annual tests in spring 2015.

The federal government had a choice: Either sanction New York for dipping 15 percent below the federally-expected 95 percent of students completing annual tests and add to the mounting evidence that the federal government is killing state autonomy over education, thereby exacerbating the already-notable New York opt-out movement, or back off.

The feds backed off. Moreover, it turns out that they did so “a couple of weeks ago,” according to New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who apparently decided to keep the news to herself for a while. Tisch said that the feds told New York that it would leave any funding sanctions up to state officials.

The feds did not want to be left holding the “sanctions” bag. As it turns out neither does the State of New York.

It seems that the plan in New York is for state officials to put the squeeze on superintendents and principals to encourage participation in future annual tests– and to not encourage opting out. But the opt-out movement is not driven by superintendents and principals. It is driven by parents who are tired of the toll that test-centric education is taking on their children, including the artificially branding of their children as failures and the state’s allegiance to this branding.

In their August 17, 2015, op-ed, the Washington Post editorial board praised Common Core as originating with states. However, that same editorial maintains that without federally-mandated annual testing, the school districts in those states could “hide their failure to educate poor and minority students and those with learning challenges.” In short, the Washington Post wants all students to test because it believes that without comparison of test scores, there can be no evidence that poor and minority students are receiving an education.

But here is the catch: Even if the test scores of poor and minority students rise at a faster rate than those of white students, it is not evidence of a quality education, and it is not evidence of genuine learning. Those poor and minority students might well be receiving nothing more than a higher-concentrated form of “test-prep-education” than their white counterparts.

None of the pro-testing pushers of “gap-closure” are apparently focusing any notable energy on the quality of education that poor and minority students are receiving– and what must fall by the wayside in order to push and push for ever-higher, gap-closing test scores for children of color.

Also, it is a skewed view to believe that learning gains must be gauged only in relative terms. It is foolish to maintain that the educational quality of any children could be principally captured by standardized tests in only two subjects, and that the only way to understand the test results is by comparison.

I suppose it will require the likes of the Washington Post editorial board to exercise some of that higher-order thinking it insists only comes about via politically-hyped Common Core to come around to the reality that norm-referencing has a counterpart in criterion referencing. The language is familiar: “setting the bar.” If an outcome is determined to be satisfactory, it is satisfactory no matter who takes the test (or who doesn’t).  Now, I realize this absolutely rains out the gap-focused festivities, but the truth is, if parents want to opt their children into testing, it need not matter that other parents have chosen to opt out.

The problem with setting that “bar” is the high-stakes outcomes associated with the bar. There is nothing objective about setting the bar (i.e. cut scores for some determined “proficiency). It is a subjective decision, and the potential consequences of such bar-setting need to be carefully considered, especially in the current climate of the overuse and abuse of standardized tests.

However, the reality is that opting out of federally-mandated testing is not going away and likely will only continue to gain momentum across years as increasingly more children are branded American public school failures.

Test-centered American public education has had its day, and based upon the growing appeal to parents of opting their children out of mandated tests, that day has more than passed.

There was no opt-out movement throughout the heyday of test-and-punish NCLB, but there certainly is one now.

Federal and state officials need to take the hint as they formulate a non-test-centered Plan B.

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

 

 

 

Washington Post Editorial Board Supports Bush in His Common Core Quandary

On August 17, 2015, the Washington Post editorial board wrote a piece in which it “did not blame Mr. [Jeb] Bush from shying away from the term [Common Core].”

Bush has his political career on his mind, and using the term “Common Core” is “poison” to that career. So, Bush is using a carefully-crafted Common-Core euphemism, saying that he is for “higher standards, state-created, locally implemented, where the federal government has no role in the creation of standards, content or curriculum.”

The Washington Post editorial board sympathizes with Bush, who supposedly was put in this position because of the “bogus premise” that Common Core is a “federal takeover of education.”

In 2009, the federal government used future Race to the Top (RTTT) funding to entice governors to sign their states up for a Common Core that did not yet exist. The 2009 National Governors Association (NGA) Symposium is clear about this in its 16-page document from the Symposium.

However, the intention was not only for there to be a Common Core. Common Core was only one of four interconnected, test-centric reforms known as the Four Assurances (listed here in brief):

1. Common standards and assessments

2. Teacher performance (value-added assessment)

3. “Turnaround” of “low performing” schools

4. Building data systems.

In 2009, the governors of 46 states and three territories signed NGA’s agreement detailing how Common Core was to be developed (note that “states” were being directed by the nonprofit NGA and another nonprofit, the Council of Chief State School Officers, CCSSO, on this “state led” development) and which was intended to lead to unquestioned, automatic Common Core adoption.

Why would so many governors fall for this?

The money. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was at this 2009 NGA Symposium, and he promised these governors a potential slice of billions of dollars in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA)  funding– but only if they agreed to incorporate all Four Assurances into the education systems of their states. The excerpt below is from the NGA’s 16-page, 2009 report:

Governors have an unprecedented opportunity through the ARRA to make bold reforms in education. With momentum building around the four assurances and the Race to the Top funds, governors may want to consider the following as they move forward with their education reform agendas:

1. The four assurances do not exist in a vacuum. To improve educational outcomes for students in the U.S. and qualify for RTT funding, governors will need to work on all four assurances simultaneously. The issues discussed in this report are all interconnected, and policies which may seem likely to improve one area could have unintended consequences for another area of reform. Joanne Weiss from the U.S. Department of Education explained that when deciding which states will receive awards from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program, the Department will be watching for integrated plans that address all four of the reform areas. Therefore, states must work in concert on improving standards and assessments, increasing teacher effectiveness, providing support for low-performing schools, and strengthening data quality. [Emphasis added.]

At the 2009 NGA Symposium, Duncan made the grand announcement that the feds would cover the costs to get the “common assessments” off of the ground:

At the Symposium, Secretary Duncan made an important announcement regarding these [ARRA] funds: $350 million of the Race to the Top funds has been earmarked to support the development of high-quality common assessments.

These governors were led right into the federal will for state-level education by the promise of federal money. It was just that easy.

The governors traded state autonomy for federal money. And the federal government– US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan backed by President Barack Obama– encouraged them to do so and allowed it to happen.

In its Jeb Bush defense, the Washington Post editorial staff not only downplays the federal enticement; the Washington Post editorial board defends the federal role:

The pressure [Republicans in the presidential race to turn against Common Core] is built on bogus premises. Common Core is not a federal takeover of education. States developed the standards, accepted them voluntarily and implement them with local flexibility. The federal government merely encouraged states to adopt them, as it should have.  [Emphasis added.]

The Washington Post editorial board assumes that the governors who signed on for Common Core did so for some primary reason greater that the federal dollars doing so would possibly bring into their states. However, any governor who really wanted “higher standards” would surely have insisted on some empirical evidence that the resulting standards were indeed “higher” prior to agreeing to adopt them. Yet this common-sense insistence did not happen.

The promise of federal dollars won.

The RTTT competition for federal funding if a state agreed to institute the Four Assurances did happen, as did the federal “competition” to fund two Common Core testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced.

Even the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute could not could not construct “evidence” that Common Core was “higher” than the current standards in all 50 states and DC– but it still not only endorsed Common Core but also traveled to states with standards it rated as “higher” than Common Core, only to try to convince these states to settle for Common Core.

However, it was bound to happen that a number of these governors would put their own careers ahead of any Common Core allegiance since their initial commitment was only a superficial, bandwagon commitment to federal money.

And now, we have the Washington Post giving a thumbs-up to Republican Jeb Bush and Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, for “fighting the poison.” However, the Washington Post’s publicly aligning Republican Jeb! with a Democratic governor– and one whose approval rating is at an all-time low (also here)– probably does little to advance Jeb! and his euphemistic “higher standards” before a public that is growing increasingly wise to federally-enticed Common Core.

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

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