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NCLB Outrages

Vermont withdraws objection to landmark education law

Ohanian Comment: An otherwise good story has a rotten headline, making it sound as though Vermont "approves" of NCLB. Vermont wanted a waiver because NCLB is so rotten. But the Feds are using the waiver process to make NCLB even worse. After much thuggery on the part of the U. S. Department of Education, the Vermont State Board of Education voted unanimously to withdraw from the waiver process. As longtime Vermont school superintendent and current State Board member Bill Mathis pointed out last October, the waiver "could change the assessment system, the curriculum system and the way we evaluate teachers, the schools and the entire accountability and measurement system." Those states accepting the terms of the waiver deal ordered by the U. S. Department of Education don't care. They are (so far): Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The reporter is wrong that Vermont is now left without options. We could withdraw from NCLB. As Mathis detailed in research, states pay more to implement the onerous requirements of NCLB then they receive from the Feds. Hard to figure why people can't figure this out. But it's hard to explain media headlines screaming "State Board turns down $5 million NCLB money" and fails to explain that it costs us $7.5 million on the due diligence that money requires.

For starters, see these explanations by Bill Mathis of NCLB costs.

NCLB Costs and Benefits, Phi Delta Kappan, May 2003.

The Cost of Implementing the Federal No Child Left Behind Act: Different
Assumptions, Different Answers
, Peabody Journal of Education, No. 2, 2005

By Cristina Kumka

What was once seen as one of the most important actions the state Board of Education would ever take is now off the table.

The state last week pulled its application for a federal waiver to the No Child Left Behind education law, acting with the state boardâs unanimous approval.

That means Vermont has no other option than to abide by NCLB standards, which stress using only standardized test scores to judge schools and students.

Last year, then-Deputy Education Commissioner Rae Ann Knopf had said a waiver would be the first step in getting Vermont away from using test scores to measure the success of its schools.

However, education officials in Washington, D.C., had told the state Education Department more recently that even with a waiver it wouldn't have the opportunity to change the way test scores are used to label schools.

"It became apparent that the waiver was a misnomer," said Stephan Morse, chairman of the state board.

Now all schools are back to the status quo, required to have all their students proficient in math, reading, writing and science by 2014 unless the federal government changes the law.

Morse said Tuesday that the state Department of Education was pushed to apply for a waiver to the current law. That pressure followed a federal directive to call any Vermont school failing or underperforming if testing standards were not met.

Failing schools were labeled and asked to implement improvements, while getting more federal money to do so.

Bill Mathis, a state board member, had said earlier that the waiver should be carefully vetted because the importance of test scores to the federal government wasnât going away. Mathis is a former longtime school superintendent.

"The state board really said we wanted to look at this stuff rather than a blanket approval of a federal mandate. This could change the assessment system, the curriculum system and the way we evaluate teachers, the schools and the entire accountability and measurement system of the state of Vermont," Mathis said in October.

At the time, state education officials and Gov. Peter Shumlin recommended the state be allowed to stick to 2009 testing targets for three years while the state reforms how to keep students, schools and teachers accountable in other ways.

Now, there are no options.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan âsaid states would have more flexibility and get away from extreme reliance on standardized testing. ... We were excited about waivers when they first started, but the rules that they put in the waiver did not do any of that,â Mathis said Tuesday.

According to Mathis, a waiver would âincrease the bureaucratic requirements (of state education departments) rather than decrease them. It would have made the situation worse rather than better. The government would want their own set of reforms through the waiver process.â

âThe waiver would have required a massive data collection and evaluation of teachers by standardized test scores. There is no scientifically valid way of doing this given that different teachers teach different groups, across different grades, with different family supports and different subject matters,â Mathis wrote in an email.

As of February, 11 states -- Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee -- had been granted waivers and received flexibility from NCLB based on their locally designed plans to spur education reform, according to the federal government.

Twenty-six other states, including Vermont, also applied.

If approved, the states would have to set new "performance targets based on whether students graduate from high school ready for college and career rather than having to meet NCLB's 2014 deadline based on arbitrary targets for proficiency, design locally tailored interventions to help students achieve instead of one-size-fits-all remedies prescribed at the federal level, be free to emphasize student growth and progress using multiple measures rather than just test scores, and have more flexibility in how they spend federal funds to benefit students," according to the federal Education Department

— Cristina Kumka


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