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NCLB Outrages

Obama Calls for Major Change in Education Law

Ohanian Comment: My comment is not fit for posting. Here are the statements from the NEA, the AFT, and the National School Boards Association.

And you won't need three guesses to nail who calls the Obama plan a "really positive step forward." If you've read Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? surely you'll know.

California voters should start a drive to dump George Miller:

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said, "This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation."

Not that Senator Tom Harkin is proving to be any better.

If you can stand it, there are 507 Reader Comments at The New York Times. Here's one:

I've an idea. Repeal the NCLB act and replace it with nothing. Then we can force some worthless education bureaucrats in DC to find honest employment and let local districts deal with local education issues locally.

One problem: This suggestion comes from Detroit.

NEA President: Reauthorization Blueprint Disappointing

Obama administration's plan for NCLB scapegoats teachers

By Cynthia McCabe

March 13, 2010 -- The White House this weekend unveiled its proposal for reauthorizing the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law but the result is a disappointing outline for more of the same focus on testing. As a result, the NEA cannot support the plan as released, President Dennis Van Roekel said.

The Obama administration's "blueprint" for reauthorization adds to the already weighty bureaucracy of NCLB and overlays its own "Race to the Top" program, which forces states to compete for funding. It replaces the old law's requirement that all children be proficient in reading and math with one that all students graduate prepared for higher education and the workforce.

Largely missing is the input that educators around the country delivered to the administration when it took a listening tour from city to city to hear about the inequities and other problems wrought by No Child Left Behind.

"We were expecting to see a much broader effort to truly transform public education for kids," Van Roekel said after reviewing the proposal. "Instead, this blueprint’s accountability system still relies on standardized tests to identify winners and losers. We were expecting more funding stability to enable states to meet higher expectations. Instead, this blueprint requires states to compete for critical resources, setting up another winners-and-losers scenario. We were expecting school turnaround efforts to be research-based and fully collaborative. Instead, we see too much top-down scapegoating of teachers and not enough collaboration."

Left out of the Obama administration's proposal for reform are students' first teachers -- their parents. Van Roekel said there is no attempt in the blueprint to support parents' efforts to be more involved in their children's education.

"The public knows that struggling schools need a wide range of targeted actions to ensure they succeed, and yet the administration's plan continues to call for prescriptions before the actual problems are diagnosed," he said. "We need proven answers along with the deep insight of the experienced professionals who actually work in schools."

NEA believes the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act must focus on policies that would help transform public schools into high-quality learning centers by recognizing the shared responsibility among local, state, and federal governments. The Association encourages Congress to listen to the voices of educators in developing legislative proposals and offers these principles for ESEA reauthorization:

. The federal government should serve as a partner to support state efforts to transform public schools.
. A revamped accountability system must correctly identify schools in need of assistance and provide a system of effective interventions to help them succeed.
. The federal government should respect the profession of teachers and education support professionals by providing supports and resources to help students succeed.
. The federal government should require states to detail how they will remedy inequities in educational tools, opportunities and resources.
. State and local collective bargaining for school employees must be respected.
. Targeted programs that support students and schools with unique needs—such as English Language Acquisition, Impact Aid, rural schools and Indian education—should be maintained and expanded.
. The federal government should serve as a research clearinghouse, making available to educators a wealth of knowledge about how best to teach students and help schools improve practices.

Starting immediately, NEA leadership will share the reauthorization blueprint with its 3.2 million members to give them the opportunity to share their opinions with the Administration.

"We intend to engage in a productive dialogue to meet the needs of students, educators and public schools," Van Roekel said.

AFT Press Release:
AFT Disappointed with Administration's ESEA Blueprint

Based on an initial review of the U.S. Department of Education's plan for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it appears that despite some promising rhetoric, this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent authority, AFT president Randi Weingarten says. The plan was released on March 13.

"For a law affecting millions of schoolchildren and their teachers, it just doesn't make sense to have teachers—and teachers alone—bear the responsibility for school and student success," Weingarten says.

"Teachers are on the front lines, in the classroom and in the community, working day and night to help children learn. They should be empowered and supported—not scapegoated. We are surprised and disappointed that the Obama administration proposed this as a starting point for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We will work to make this law, which is the lifeblood for millions of disadvantaged students, work for kids and their teachers. Our next step is to share this blueprint with teachers in America's classrooms to elicit their opinions."

Hundreds of AFT members already have weighed in on the future of ESEA—the main federal education law—by responding to an AFT Voices question on the union's public Web site. [AFT press release]

NSBA: Encouraged by New Education Blueprint and Overhaul of No Child Left Behind

Statement by Anne L. Bryant
Executive Director, National School Boards Association

Alexandria, Va., - March 14, 2010 – "The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is encouraged by the direction that the administration is taking in its blueprint to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

"Overall, the efforts are a vast improvement over the flawed No Child Left Behind program which it would now replace. We are pleased that the plan would provide a comprehensive set of initiatives by which the federal government could support local school districts to raise student performance and close the achievement gap for academically struggling students in our public schools.

"However we do have some concerns that will need to be addressed or clarified. For example, a state's funding for Title 1 and other federal programs should not be conditioned to it adopting common standards or a specific standard setting or approval process. More local school district flexibility is needed for how the lowest performing schools are turned around including not automatically replacing principals and there should be less reliance on competitive grants as opposed to formula grants.

"Additionally, more details are needed regarding the use of multiple assessments in measuring student achievement, how school districts of varying sizes and capacity will be able to take advantage and manage this broad and integrated array of strategies, and how the fiscal challenges that school districts will be facing over the next few years will impact the implementation of this initiative.

"As a blueprint, we recognize that there are details yet to be developed that will also determine the ultimate success of the program and our decision whether to support it."

Obama Calls for Major Change in Education Law
by Sam Dillon
New York Times

The Obama administration on Saturday called for a broad overhaul of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, proposing to reshape divisive provisions that encouraged instructors to teach to tests, narrowed the curriculum, and labeled one in three American schools as failing.

By announcing that he would send his education blueprint to Congress on Monday, President Obama returned to a campaign promise to repair the sprawling federal law, which affects each of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools. His plan strikes a careful balance, retaining some key features of the Bush-era law, including its requirement for annual reading and math tests, while proposing far-reaching changes.

The administration would replace the law's pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students' academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate. And while the proposal calls for more vigorous interventions in failing schools, it would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools in the middle.

In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.

"Under these guidelines, schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded," the president said in his weekly radio address, "and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down."

Administration officials said their plan would urge the states to achieve the college-ready goal by 2020.

The No Child law, passed in 2001 by bipartisan majorities, focused the nation’s attention on closing achievement gaps between minorities and whites, but it included many provisions that created what Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday called "perverse incentives."

In an effort to meet the law's requirements for passing grades, many states began dumbing down standards, and teachers began focusing on test preparation rather than on engaging class work.

"We've got to get accountability right this time," Mr. Duncan told reporters Friday. "For the mass of schools, we want to get rid of prescriptive interventions. We'll leave it up to them to figure out how to make progress."

The administration's turn toward education signaled that the president hoped to get beyond health care and broaden the agenda before the midterm elections make progress on legislative issues more difficult.

Mr. Duncan has been working behind the scenes on rewriting the No Child law with a bipartisan group of senior lawmakers in both chambers, and administration officials say they hope to complete work on a new bill by August, when the elections will dominate the Congressional agenda. Many skeptics question that timetable.

And while leading Congressional Democrats praised the plan, the nation's two major teachers unions did not."We are disappointed," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the proposal, "From everything that we've seen, this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority."

Christopher Edley Jr., a former Clinton administration official who is dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on civil rights law, said a briefing document he read had left him concerned about the administration's direction.

"I worry about retreating from the notion of quality education as a civil right," Mr. Edley said. "N.C.L.B. had some good sticks in it to compel equity. I'm alarmed by the frequent references to 'incentives,' and the apparent intention to reduce the federal role in forcing compliance."

Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the top Republican on the House education committee, was also skeptical. "From 30,000 feet, the blueprint seems to set a lot of right goals," Mr. Kline said. "Yet when we drill down to the details, we are looking at a heavier federal hand than many of us wish to see."

But Susan Traiman, a director at the Business Roundtable, a group that represents corporate executives, called the proposals a "really positive step forward." The business community especially liked the proposed new goal of helping all students graduate from high school ready for college and career, Ms. Traiman said.

Administration officials laid out their blueprint in briefings Friday and Saturday with governors, lawmakers, education organizations and journalists. Officials said they intended to leave the drafting of a bill up to Congress.

Mr. Duncan was scheduled to tour Iowa schools on Sunday with Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is the new chairman of the Senate education committee. In a statement, Mr. Harkin called the proposals a "bold vision" that could help "fix the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act."

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said, "This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation."

Under the current law, testing focuses on measuring the number of students who are proficient at each grade level. The administration instead wants to measure each student’s academic growth, regardless of the performance level at which they start.

Under the proposals, schools would also be judged on whether they are closing achievement gaps between poor and affluent students. No sanctions exist now for schools that fail in this area. Under the new proposals, states would be required to intervene even in seemingly high-performing schools in affluent districts where test scores and other indicators identify groups of students who are languishing, administration officials said.

The proposals would require states to use annual tests and other indicators to divide the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools into several groups: some 10,000 to 15,000 high-performing schools that could receive rewards or recognition; some 10,000 failing or struggling schools requiring varying degrees of vigorous state intervention; about 5,000 schools that would be required to narrow unacceptably wide achievement gaps; and perhaps 70,000 or so schools in the middle that would be encouraged to figure out on their own how to improve.

The administration's proposals would also rework the law's teacher-quality provisions by requiring states to develop evaluation procedures to distinguish effective instructors, partly based on whether their students are learning. These would replace the law’s current emphasis on certifying that all teachers have valid credentials, which has produced little except red tape, officials said.

The current law requires states to adopt "challenging academic standards" to receive federal money for poor students under a section known as Title I. But states are allowed to define "challenging," and many set standards at mediocre levels. Last month, President Obama proposed requiring states to adopt "college- and career-ready standards" to qualify for the $14 billion Title I program. The administration proposes that new federal education dollars be provided to states as competitive grants, rather than through per-pupil formulas.

"This'll be controversial," said Bob Wise, a former West Virginia governor who leads the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit group. "They’re trying to change about 40 years of established formula funding and to change an accountability system that a lot of people are wedded to because it's forced us to come to grips with the achievement gap."

The law's focus on reading and math has led thousands of schools to shorten time devoted to other subjects. Hoping schools will once again offer a rich diet of art, history, science, physical education and other courses, the administration says it will allow states to test subjects other than math and reading and use scores on those tests to rate their schools, though it will not require states to do so.

The administration says it has added $100 million to the 2011 budget for programs that encourage schools to offer a broad menu of courses. But how effective these proposals might be against the law's tendency to narrow the curriculum remained unclear.

The blueprint proposes eliminating a current requirement, popular among Republicans, that schools failing to meet testing benchmarks for two years in a row provide busing to other schools for students wishing to transfer, but few parents have transferred their students under this provision.

— Sam Dillon, with comments from the unions and NSBA
New York Times


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