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Vermont awaits education waiver

Ohanian Comment: Surprise. Surprise. The US Department of Education is employing bullying tactics to get what they want:

  • Turnaround Model (dismissing principals and teachers in 5% lowest performing schools)

  • MUCH greater emphasis on Common Core. What they want is a bonanza for consultants 'delivering' the how to of Common Core

  • Tying teacher evaluation to student standardized test scores.

  • Through three drafts and lots of "negotiations," the Feds remain firm on what they want.

    Why do local authorities keep trying to placate the Feds?

    The latest bullying letter comes from Michael Yudin,Acting Assistant Secretary. Here are his 'credentials':

    Prior to joining the Department, Yudin spent nine years in the United States Senate, serving as legislative director for Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, senior counsel to Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and HELP Committee counsel to Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. In these roles, he assisted in developing, promoting, and advancing a comprehensive legislative agenda related to education, children and families, disabilities, competitiveness, and poverty. He helped draft and negotiate various pieces of legislation, including the No Child Left Behind Act, IDEA, the America Competes Act, the Higher Education Act, Head Start, Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, WIA, TANF, and Child Welfare.

    by Molly Walsh

    Vermont continues to negotiate with U.S. Education Department officials for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act. Vermont’s request for relief from the 2002 education reform measure has gone through at least three drafts and many back-and-forth negotiations with no resolution.

    Vermont Deputy Education Commissioner John Fischer said last week that he’s hoping for a decision soon — in weeks rather than months. Many states applied for waivers after President Obama invited them to do so last summer, saying Congress had failed to act on proposed changes to the law, which President George W. Bush championed as a way to improve American public education.

    Critics of the law in Vermont wanted less standardized testing and a more flexible system of measuring school progress, among other changes. The amount of testing would not change under Vermont’s proposal.

    Standardized tests still would be given in grades three through eight and one year of high school. Federal officials rejected Vermont’s proposal to reduce standardized testing to grades three, five, seven and 11. The idea was to introduce other kinds of measurements and provide a fuller picture of student performance, Fischer said. Federal officials responded that without annual testing Vermont would not have valid and reliable information to monitor student progress.

    “We knew that we were thinking outside of the box, beyond what they would probably feel comfortable with,” Fischer said.

    Vermont’s waiver proposal would change significantly the way schools are measured. The current adequate yearly progress (AYP) system would be dropped, as would No Child Left Behind’s uniform goal of 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by 2014.

    “Clearly that hasn’t worked,” Fischer said.

    Only 28 percent of Vermont schools met No Child Left Behind targets for 2010, and many states across the nation are in a similar situation.

    The new approach would measure each school’s relative progress from current performance. Schools would need to make overall score improvements and address differences in scores among groupings of students by sex, race, free and reduced lunch status, and other characteristics. Schools would be given six years to cut in half existing achievement gaps among student subgroups, Fischer said. Baseline data would be taken from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) results given in the fall of 2010 and fall of 2011.

    Schools still would be identified by the state for not meeting goals. The idea is not to be punitive but to help schools drill down and look closely at strategies to help students improve, Fischer said. The Vermont Education Department has not announced measurements of adequate yearly progress this year because of the pending waiver request.

    Another key point in the negotiations: the linking of student performance to teacher and principal evaluations. Vermont proposed to make student feedback part of the evaluation process, while federal officials are pushing for a system in which student data such as test scores are a significant factor in evaluations. Negotiations remain under way.

    Vermont has good schools and good teachers, but the solutions to better performance are complex, Fischer said.

    “The basic notion behind No Child Left Behind, it’s hard to disagree with,” Fischer said. “It’s high expectations, challenging and rigorous coursework and success for all students. That’s the goal. I think where we differ, in many conversations, is how do we get to that goal.”

    Under No Child Left Behind, Vermont schools have been prodded to offer tutoring, after-school homework clubs and new summer remedial programs. No Vermont schools have closed under the law, but principals have been forced out under a controversial offshoot that targeted the state’s lowest-performing schools.


    — Molly Walsh
    Burlington Free Press





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