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The Alliance Alert

What Is The Achievement Alliance?

The Achievement Alliance sends out an e-mail pronouncement, proclaiming that it has as its purpose providing accurate, nonpartisan information about the No Child Left Behind Act and student achievementt, with particular attention to the achievement of children who have been traditionally left behind – poor children, children of color, children learning English, and children with disabilities. It is a project of the following groups Here are the members of The Achievement Alliance:

Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights: www.cccr.org

National Council of La Raza: www.nclr.org/

Just for the Kids/National Center for Educational Accountability, www.nc4ea.org

Business Roundtable: www.businessroundtable.org

The Education Trust: www.edtrust.org

Here are some of their assertions in the newsletter Vol. 1, No. 1, dated March 28, 2005.

MythBuster – Some of what you read about No Child Left Behind is wrong.

It’s Being Done – Rock Hall Elementary School in Rock Hall, Maryland, is proving that it is possible to teach all kids to high levels -- if high expectations are matched by excellent instruction.

What’s New – The Center on Education Policy and Public Education Network both issue reports assessing how No Child Left Behind is working, and the Teachers College president issues a blistering report on school leadership training.

Other Voices – What others are saying about No Child Left Behind and student achievement

Why Schools Don’t Work for All Kids

What is The Achievement Alliance?


A lot of myths float around about No Child Left Behind. Here’s one:

Myth: NCLB unfairly punishes diverse schools.

The fact is, any school that doesn’t help all groups of students meet state standards will be identified as needing improvement under NCLB’s accountability system, known as AYP.* That identification may come as a shock to some diverse schools that in the past relied on one group of students – often white and non-poor – to mask the poor performance of other groups -- often low-income students, students of color, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

But that is not a glitch in AYP, it is part of the design and purpose. Most of the accountability systems that states had, prior to NCLB, relied on the average performance of all students in a school. If the performance of one group of students was high enough, the low performance of other groups of students would not be noticed in the average. Many state accountability systems never alerted members of the public to the existence of achievement gaps.

Take, for example, George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia. George Washington has a diverse student population, with African Americans constituting 47 percent of the student body and Latinos and White students each adding 25 percent. In addition, 50 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch. In 2004, 96 percent of the school’s White students passed Virginia’s state English exam, but only 51 percent of African-American students and only 45 percent of Latino test-takers passed. These gaps carried over to mathematics. Ninety-nine percent of White students passed the Virginia state mathematics exam, compared to 70 percent of Latino and African-American students. Under Virginia’s accountability system, George Washington is fully accredited for 2004-2005 because the average performance of all students met state criteria. However, it failed to make AYP because of the wide achievement gaps that were revealed once the data was broken down, or disaggregated, by group. AYP revealed that African American and Latino students were not being well enough served by George Washington Middle School.

The truth is that under pre-NCLB accountability systems, low-income students, minority students, English-language learners, and students with disabilities who attended diverse schools were often unfairly punished by not receiving the academic attention that they needed and deserved. NCLB requires schools to account for all groups of children, which should mean that children who need help will get it.

Schools that pay attention to the needs of all their students can and do make AYP. Rock Hall, described below, is one example.

* AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, is fully explained in a booklet published by The Education Trust, called, “ABCs of AYP.” You can find it under “resources” at www.achievementalliance.org or under “ESEA/NCLB” at www.edtrust.org.

It’s Being Done

Despite its small-town feel and beautiful views of the Chesapeake Bay, the town of Rock Hall Maryland is struggling. The common assessment is, “there’s no work.” It is still known in Kent County as “Fish Town,” a reflection of its waterman past, but fewer fish and crabs in the water mean less work -- although it is still possible to see yards full of wire-mesh crab traps. The lack of work means that any young people try to move away as soon as they can, and drugs have ravaged the community.

All this helps explain why 62 percent of the children at Rock Hall Elementary qualify for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program, which is another way of saying they are poor. Bess Engle, the principal of Rock Hall, can tell one tragic story after another about her students – stories of children exposed to abuse, abandonment and all the uncertainty of poverty in America.

But here’s one thing they can be certain of – they will be taught to read. All but a handful of Rock Hall’s third graders met or exceeded state reading standards last year, and there is a plan in place to get those few who didn’t meet the standards up to standard. Even a child with a documented IQ of 56 has begun – with careful instruction -- to read.

The achievement statistics at Rock Hall far surpass the other schools in Kent County, even those which are much wealthier than Rock Hall.

Rock Hall stands out, in fact, as having among the best statistics of schools in Maryland. Its reading scores don’t look out of place when arrayed alongside some of the wealthiest schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, which means among the wealthiest schools in the nation.

So, the question is, how does Rock Hall achieve its results? Does it have a secret that can help America unlock the mystery of how to make sure all its children learn what they need to in order to thrive? Or is it just a fluke, an irreplicable exception proving the rule that poor kids can’t be expected to achieve at the same levels as other kids?

This is a question the Engle has thought about a great deal.

“Of course it’s replicable,” she says.

Engle herself has a stake in this question. The oldest of eight children in a family which was the poorest in her waterfront town in New Jersey, she remembers keenly how important the support of her teachers and neighbors was to her own academic achievement. Her teachers knew she could learn, and they made sure she did.

She knows her students can learn, and she and her teachers make sure they do.

To read how Rock Hall Elementary gets the results it does, go to http://www.achievementalliance.org

“It’s Being Done” is a project of The Achievement Alliance to identify and describe high-performing, high-poverty and high-minority schools. These are not definitive studies of the schools, which would require weeks of study and interviews. They are more akin to scouting reports, letting people who are interested know about the work some schools are doing to make sure all our children are prepared to be educated citizens. This section takes its name from the statement of a principal who, when told that many think educating all children can’t be done, said, “It’s being done.”

If you would like to nominate a school, send an email to: kchenoweth@achievementalliance.org.

What’s New

Key numbers from the CEP Report:
% of districts surveyed that provided extra or more intensive instruction to low-achieving students since NCLB:

2002-3 n/a

2003-4 99%

% of districts surveyed that have increased the quality and quantity of teacher and principal professional development since NCLB:

2002-3 87%

2003-4 96%

% of districts surveyed that have increased the use of student achievement data to inform instruction since NCLB:

2002-3 94%

2003-4 100%

# of schools that exited “needs improvement” status because they made Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years:

2003-4 1,425

2004-5 1,774

To read the full report, go to: http://www.ctredpol.org

As a result of No Child Left Behind, states, districts, and schools are paying more attention to teaching poor children, children of color, children with disabilities, and children learning English. And since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), academic achievement has risen and gaps in achievement between different groups of children have narrowed.

Those are among the findings of the Center on Education Policy (CEP), which issued a 200-plus page report last week assessing the effects of NCLB.

“The vast majority of states and districts responding to our surveys cited the Act’s emphasis on standards, accountability, and disaggregated achievement data for student subgroups as having positive effects,” says the report. “Several states and districts mentioned that NCLB has prompted districts and schools to pay closer attention to the academic needs of low-performing subgroups and to make better use of data to inform instruction.”

In addition, the report says that 72 percent of the districts surveyed report higher student achievement and that many reported that “achievement gaps between white and African-American students, white and Hispanic students, and English-language learners and non-ELL students are narrowing rather than widening or staying the same.”

Some might conclude that No Child Left Behind is thus actually proving successful, but the CEP makes no such rash conclusion – CEP says it might just be that No Child Left Behind happened along just as schools were poised to improve anyway.

And because of what CEP cites as the “frustration” of school, district, and state officials, CEP recommends making some rather drastic changes in the law – in particular weakening the accountability provisions for students with disabilities and students learning English.

It seems odd that the organization that has painstakingly documented that we have finally gotten some traction on the difficult issues of improving student achievement for all students then turns around and calls for major changes in the accountability provisions of the law – aren’t they what got us the traction in the first place?

Other Voices

“At the end of the day, the quality of our democracy rests on an educated people. If ‘no child left behind’ is to become a reality, the implementation of this law…is not a nice thing to do but an essential thing to do.”

-- Wendy Puriefoy, executive director, Public Education Network at the PEN briefing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 16.

“ It’s a darned shame it took a federal law to tell us that we have to disaggregate data and to guarantee every child a qualified teacher.”

-- Ron Cowell, executive director, Education Policy and Leadership Center, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at the PEN briefing on Capitol Hill, March 16 (see article to the right).

After listening to parents in hearings held in eight states, Public Education Network (PEN) reported recently that many parents who are hoping that No Child Left Behind will help their children are frustrated that it is still difficult to find out information about their schools.

One of the main promises No Child Left Behind made, after all, was that it would blast out information on how schools are teaching and children are learning. But because the feds have not set standards for how that information would be delivered, too many states have continued their longstanding practices of making things as dense and difficult to find as possible.

The really important message from the PEN report is that parents and community members are very supportive of the goals of No Child Left Behind – they just want it to be implemented fully, with access to full information and a real partnership between schools, parents and communities. To see the PEN report, go to http://www.publiceducation.org

For a full statement by The Achievement Alliance on the PEN report, including some mild criticism, go to www.achievementalliance.org.

Maryland and Indiana, by the way, prove it is possible for states to make information about schools relatively timely, comprehensive, and comprehensible. To see for yourself, go to Maryland’s site (www.mdreportcard.org) or Indiana’s (http://mustang.doe.state.in.us). But too many states put their information in formats that are difficult for parents, teachers, and community members to find or understand. And some information is really late -- New York and Texas only recently issued their complete report cards for 2004.

“At a time when America’s schools face a critical demand for effective principals and superintendents, the majority of the programs that prepare school leaders range in quality from inadequate to poor.” That’s the judgment of a blistering new report by president of Teachers College Arthur Levine, Educating School Leaders. In it, he says that university programs for school administrators are plagued by incoherent curricula, weak faculty, and inadequate standards. This will come as no surprise to those teachers and principals who signed up to deepen their knowledge and strengthen their skills and instead found themselves listening to what the report calls “war stories” by half-retired school administrators.

This report, the first of four, is based on site visits to education schools, and is a welcome critique of one of the key institutions that have failed schoolchildren. After all, when so little rigor goes into the training of school leaders, it should not come as a surprise that many schools lack strong, well-trained leaders. To see the full report, go to http://www.edschools.org.

Why Schools Don’t Work for All Kids

A few years ago, a high school principal received the reading scores of his freshman class. About 60 kids read on a college level, about 60 read at second grade or below, and the rest were arrayed in the middle.

“What are you going to do about the 60 kids who can’t read?” the principal was asked.

“There’s nothing to do, but it explains our low test scores,” he replied.

Think about the kids who couldn’t read. Their own principal – the person paid to watch over their education – said, “There’s nothing to do.”

“Why Schools Don’t Work for All Kids,” will appear in every Alliance Alert, and is meant to be a counterweight to the good-news stories in “It’s Being Done.” It is a reminder of why we need radical and systemic change in our schools. Because we do not believe that public humiliation is a good teaching tool, we will not name individual schools or teachers. This practice will raise the issue in readers’ minds whether the stories are true. We promise to be extremely careful to make sure our stories are true, but if you find something unbelievable, please email kchenoweth@achievementalliance.org and we will give any supporting information we can without exposing individuals to embarrassment. We would like to believe that many of these individuals are trapped in failing situations and might act differently if the situation were changed.

— e-mail newsletter
The Achievement Alliance


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