Posts filed under ‘Issues and Ideas’
Arne Duncan is willing to betray a generation of children to save the Common Core. He has charted the path for states that were unable to meet their own goals after getting waivers that forgave their failure to meet NCLB goals…as long as they have goals…that show they will really mean it this time. Promises made to Mr. Duncan do not supersede the promise made to our nation’s children that they will not be left behind educationally. Playing Kick the Can from 2008 through 2019 cannot be Obama’s intent.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is the law of the land. It must be enforced by the Executive Branch of the US Government. The Obama Administration has addressed two important issues in its treatment of NCLB, partially excusing the waivers, but there is no constitutional mandate to allow continuation of the waiver program for states that are out of compliance for both their waiver agreements and NCLB.
The two most valid education issues have been…
- Interstate Portability: The absence of consistency and rigorousness of standards for education across the country has left some children more equal than others. That is to say, children in states without high standards for K-12 education render their young constituents disadvantaged Vis a Vis their peers in other states when they reach adulthood. In addition, these same children are unable to carry their education property across state lines without unnecessary knowledge gaps. Children who enter these states will likely see the value of their education property diminish through unnecessary redundancies and their becoming underserved educationally.
- Absence of Due Process: NCLB created a “presumption of guilt” clause that removed due process from job loss actions against educators in schools that were declared to be failing. The absence of objective educator effectiveness standards, combined with mandates to dismiss some or all educators in these schools, has created the opportunity for unconstitutional capriciousness in the firing process.
The Obama Administration has explicitly mandated the development of educator effectiveness processes as part of the waiver process to address the latter issue. The only questions remaining are, “Did you do it? Yes or No?” followed by, “Have you met your self-imposed standards for progress toward conformity with NCLB?”
The Interstate Portability issue was partially addressed by a collection of states in adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and reinforced by their inclusion in the NCLB waiver terms. However, the whole issue has become muddied in CCSS implementation. At the highest level, CCSS could have been reasonably imposed by the Executive Branch as part of NCLB from the start to insure Interstate Portability…End of story, with the interpretation of the standards and subsequent curriculum development and compliance measurement being matters for state and local education authorities.
Instead, the US Department of Education has taken a passive-aggressive approach by offering CCSS as an optional way to score a waiver from NCLB and has offered curricular-like guidelines for their implementation that the Federal Government has no business doing. Educators across the nation have been doing their part to complicate things by misinterpreting the CCSS as a curricular mandate and playing pedagogical ping pong with the Common Core for at least a couple of reasons.
Educators often take binary approaches to pedagogy and choose sides. The Common Core standards were written in language that seems to have bolstered some academics to think, “Aha! They are going to have to do it MY way now.” This position has a couple of flaws…first, CCSS is not a curriculum, and, second, jumping from standards to directions for instruction omits the concept of scaffolding. Educators have to teach the children, not just reinvent the world to be more consistent with a one-sided vision of pedagogy.
The other, quite valid, cause for debate is that the Common Core represents a very good first attempt at a set of education standards for the US. Like any other first draft, the CCSS will need to evolve to maintain their validity against the test of time. Unfortunately, today’s political game seems to be one of smoke and mirrors on the Common Core that is obscuring the fact that educators can escape accountability for the rest of the decade. At this rate, the reach of the NCLB waivers will undermine the educations of children as yet unborn. This is wrong.
The heated debate that is being waged over the Common Core is neither. Yes, it is July, which renders any environment a bit sultry…but the Common Core has slipped under the heading of safe binary disputes over pedagogy. These discussions are not a problem; the natural tension between standards and curriculum is a functional cornerstone of what should be a dynamic equilibrium in education. Feel free to jump in at any point. Just try not to ignore the real problems that should be at the top of the list.
I just read a cogent piece on literacy instruction and curriculum development by Kathleen Porter-Magee in the Education Gadfly; however, its inherent reason survived its goal of perpetuating the current obsession with the Common Core. The main objective seemed to be that some standards are good and others are bad, and that the bad ones are more likely to come from the Common Core. Standards that lead to manifestation within the context of a curriculum, as in the math example, are good. Standards that manifest in applied problem-solving are bad, as in the literacy example, because educators try to teach a generic skill before context.
Generic skills must become known as such before applied problem solving can happen across any curriculum. However, the skills themselves often need a context in order to be learned at the start. But then again…don’t forget style variations among students. Not everyone excels in linear thinking. Ms. Magee makes a number of fine points, but the Common Core is not essential to her argument. Instead, it does make for a strong case for a wider bandwidth in pedagogy. The students only win when the educators agree to disagree and accept more than one approach to learning at any given time.
Now, back to the Common Core…and the Gadfly’s Twitter summary that “this too shall pass.” The Common Core is a crucial element of our nation’s education system, but not because of its skills concentration. Rather it is the interstate portability of education that is at stake. The Common Core can and should be tweaked endlessly in a continuous quality improvement effort. Of greater importance, perhaps, is the notion that education as an institution can withstand any external forces of change.
Educators are resilient under conditions of siege, which is the way any change is perceived. And the industry can set up a failure with great reliability. The Common Core resistance suggests that, like No Child Left Behind, it was destined for failure from the start within this context. This is why neither can be left as an artifact of history. We are denying access to a high quality education to a large number of American children, and they are trapped in their geography. These changes must happen in spite of the resistance. The education community must learn a new skill, to rally around success with the same facility they exercise to create a failure.
Yesterday we honored our nation’s democracy as voters in state and local elections across the country. As we congratulate new or returning mayors, why not set aside politics and offer a few guidelines for education leadership?
1. Align schools to mission and benchmarks…
- PreK through 3rd grade
- Grades 4 through 8
- Grades 9 through 12
2. Manage education for balance between supply and demand…
- Students organized around equitable access to education and bridges to their communities
- Academics organized around student needs and instructional effectiveness
3. Streamline business functions around the mission of education…
- Student-centered funding and resource allocation – school as locus of control
- Information systems that integrate finance, teacher effectiveness, and student outcomes
- Matching of support services to student needs
4. Develop results-oriented approach to services for outliers in the system…
- Accelerated progress toward grade-level proficiency in Special Education
- Two-pronged approach to ELL with growth in literacy in 1st language translating into more rapid assimilation into English language content
- Level playing field in academics for students at risk
5. Reward leadership that…
- Achieves successful student outcomes
- Values continuous growth for professional staff
- Attracts voluntary enrollment
- Is responsive to all community constituencies
- Monitors key indicators of student satisfaction, service delivery, culture, and safety to anticipate disequilibrium and address it proactively
- Allocates resources effectively and efficiently
6. Seek alignment with evolving standards of information and technology to…
- Get the best data on student outcomes, teacher effectiveness, financial management
- Transcend the evolution from traditional media to digital tools for learning, communicating, and managing educational efforts
- Create a vision for achievement that relegates regulatory compliance to the lowest common denominator among educators
With achievement of each of these strategies, mayors could spend more time creating a legacy in education and far less time dealing with NCLB failures, Parent Trigger campaigns, union battles, or random disruptions to the business of running their cities or towns.
Children who perform well with access to a standards-based curriculum in the classroom also tend to do well on standardized tests in the same content area. Teachers who worry about test scores generally learn that they do not need to tailor instruction to the test. However, an insidious form of teaching to the test happens at the school-wide resource allocation level. And limitations in financial reporting allow administrators to fly under the radar with this practice.
There is no uniform chart of accounts for general education at the Federal level. Only a handful of states utilize such accounting standards within their borders. Accordingly, there is no objective or normative data available for resource allocation within the largest category of spending on education each year.
Intuitively, we suspect that school leaders intensified investments in math and literacy after the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Logically, this would have necessitated a shift in resources away from science, social studies, and elective courses. But we do not know how prevalent this practice might have been. We only know that US standings in science deteriorated globally over the same period. We cannot locate the smoking gun in the absence of detailed financial reporting.
The President has called for Federal incentives to improve STEM education. This will involve grant funding with some degree of regulatory tracking. However, total spending may actually become more obscure without consolidation of the dollars allocated between general and special funds and itemized accounts within categories. How new spending levels compare with historical patterns will remain unknown.
As I have stated previously, we would benefit from a more detailed standard chart of accounts at the Federal level. As the funding source, the US government plays a relatively small role in general education. However, as the data driver for the nation, federal regulators would do well to establish standards for record keeping that would allow periodic assessment of resource allocation.
Local education spending is highly flexible across academic content areas, and this may not be a problem. However, decision-makers need to own their choices in state and local reporting. And they need to be able to analyze student outcomes within the context of their spending patterns. This is unlikely to happen under the current data rules.
School finance, student outcomes, and teacher effectiveness are inextricably linked. Unfortunately, the state of the art in data is woefully inadequate in each area. We cannot fund the mission of education, validate teacher effectiveness, or ensure desired student outcomes for an efficient and efficacious public education system without better information. And we certainly should not attempt to reinvent the system while remaining uninformed.
Consider that current policy rhetoric in public education would suggest that we…
- Cut education spending, switch to block grant funding, and/or increase spending equitably instead of funding competitive performance-based grants.
- Economize via ageism to cut older, higher-paid veteran educators from staff saving on salaries and breaking pension promises, increase salaries of effective teachers to $150,000 a year, and/or create compensation based on salary and merit pay for performance.
- Fund enhanced services for gifted students and others who “want to learn,” provide combined education and social services for whole-child care, and/or shift money out of troubled districts and into charter schools or private alternatives…all while creating equity.
- Improve teacher prep by hamstringing traditional programs with even more regulations, exempting fly-by-night schools and boot camps to keep them fleet-footed. And so on…
The absence of cognitive dissonance among policy makers is worrisome, given the logical inconsistencies among strategies, often within the same camp. Even more troubling is that we cannot reasonably assess any of these options given the current state of the art in real information. Regardless of one’s policy position, there is no clear path to valid analysis.
We currently fund bureaucracies with oblique formulas and regionally variable equity. There is no uniform chart of accounts that allows comparative analysis of long or short-term investments in educational programs from a financial perspective. Nor do we gain much insight into success or failure. For instance, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on Special Education, yet we account for eligibility for services, not results. We may choose to highlight STEM education, but there is no data that captures comparative STEM spending or outcomes.
Technological change has created opportunities from simple paper reduction to virtual instruction. And, unlike incompatible policy-making, we actually can standardize and individualize our services to students at the same time. Beyond pedagogy, our information support for operational effectiveness is within reach with updated business systems. However, transitions with technology are costly. Again, we need a way to look at the people and the money.
Data standards and analytical tools need to be built into our new systems that allow us to be informed as we make choices to invest in productive capacity for learning as well as making sound decisions to subsidize whole child support in special cases.
Testing for compliance with NCLB is meant to reassure regulators that we are delivering on 14th amendment rights of our students for that personal property that is education. Period. We owe it to the students. Hiding the evidence that some of the kids are not given that which is due them is a cover-up. And part of what is hidden under that cloak is a secret belief among educators that all children are not equal in their most basic potential.
Educators who rally against achievement tests probably to not think they are obstructing justice. In fact, they may be wonderful teachers of social justice, environmental justice, or economic justice. But their efforts to obscure this measure of educational justice are out of synch. Kids who cannot pass the tests have been cheated out of some piece of their property rights for an equitable education.
Achievement tests set lower limits for adequacy of education in terms of literacy and mathematical ability. We still need to work harder to prove to ourselves and to the children that they have the intellectual ability to match their peers in the classroom and in life. Those who are afraid the children cannot pass the test guarantee that those same children are less likely to find out how great their accomplishments in life might be.
Hiding the evidence does not negate the charges levied against us…nor does it save the children from paying the price for life.
All children should be prepared to pursue lifelong learning with a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding. They also benefit from a strong sense of their own potential for high achievement. These are highly interdependent constructs. Future accomplishments rely on prior knowledge. They are never mutually exclusive options for educators.
Any performance measure, such as an NCLB proficiency test, that begins with, “All students must…” sets a MINIMUM standard by definition. It is not meant to measure how high student achievement can go. It merely sets a standard for documenting baseline skills that are prerequisites to advancing to the next level of education. Students will vary in their accomplishments; however, none of them can be expected to advance without proficiency in the basics.
Proponents of various approaches to pedagogy often set up a false dichotomy, seeking to show that their methods far outshine those of “teaching to the test,” some going as far as demanding elimination of standardized tests. They incorrectly presume that accountability testing limits the scope of their practice. In reality, if their collective practices are working, over time their students will happily join the ranks of proficient children who just take the test and move on. No sweat.
Our children need access to a broad range of instructional techniques to meet their diverse learning styles. Bring them on! Tell us about your methods and hold onto those lofty goals. Show us how to use them, and help us to know who benefits the most from them. But please…check the teaching-to-the-test straw man at the door. It’s irrelevant.