Friday, February 27, 2015

Four big myths about top-performing school systems

I came across an interesting article recently on results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The PISA evaluates education systems worldwide by testing 15-year-olds in key subjects.

The man in charge of the PISA tests, Andreas Schleicher, the Director of education and skills with the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD), says the evidence from around the world reveals some big myths about what makes for a successful education system. Due to space, I have provided only four of the seven myths.

While you may or may not agree with the author’s interpretation of the results, the findings should certainly encourage additional discussion regarding the U.S. education system.

1. Disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in school
Teachers all around the world struggle with how to make up for social disadvantage in their classrooms. Some believe that deprivation is destiny. And yet, results from PISA tests show that the 10 percent most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better math skills than the 10 percent most privileged students in the United States and several European countries.

Children from similar social backgrounds can show very different performance levels, depending on the school they go to or the country they live in. Education systems where disadvantaged students succeed are able to moderate social inequalities. They tend to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and the most capable school leaders to the most disadvantaged schools, thus challenging all students with high standards and excellent teaching.

Some American critics of international educational comparisons argue that the value of these comparisons is limited because the United States has some unique socio-economic divisions. But the United States is wealthier than most countries and spends more money on education than most of them; its parents have a higher level of education than in most countries; and the share of socio-economically disadvantaged students is just around the OECD average. What the comparisons do show is that socio-economic disadvantage has a particularly strong impact on student performance in the United States. In other words, in the United States two students from different socio-economic backgrounds vary much more in their learning outcomes than is typically the case in OECD countries.

2. Immigrants lower results
Integrating students with an immigrant background can be challenging. And yet, results from PISA tests show no relationship between the share of students with an immigrant background in a country and the overall performance of students in that country. Even students with the same migration history and background show very different performance levels across countries, suggesting that where students go to schools makes much more of a difference than where they come from.

3. It's all about money
South Korea, the highest-performing OECD country in mathematics, spends well below the average per student. The world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly-educated ones. Success in education systems is no longer about how much money is spent, but about how money is spent. Countries need to invest in improving education and skills if they are going to compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy. And yet, educational expenditure per student explains less than 20 percent of the variation in student performance across OECD countries.

For example, students in the Slovak Republic, which spends around $53,000 (£35,000) per student between the age of 6 and 15, perform on average at the same level at age 15 as the United States which spends over $115,000 (£76,000) per student.

4. Smaller class sizes raise standards
Everywhere, teachers, parents and policy-makers favor small classes as the key to better and more personalized education. Reductions in class size have also been the main reason behind the significant increases in expenditure per student in most countries over the last decade. And yet, PISA results show no relationship between class size and learning outcomes, neither within nor across countries. More interestingly, the highest performing education systems in PISA tend to systematically prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes. Wherever they have to make a choice between a smaller class and a better teacher, they go for the latter. Rather than putting money into small classes, they invest in competitive teacher salaries, ongoing professional development and a balance in working time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Solving an education conundrum

Recently, I attended a meeting at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to discuss a strategic plan for the Chamber and Kentucky. Kentucky Chamber CEO Dave Adkisson invited a group of “thought leaders” to hear a presentation from Ted Abernathy, who works with a number of local, state and national organizations to develop vision statements and strategic plans. 

During his presentation, Abernathy discussed a number of trends that will impact Kentucky and the nation. One trend caught my attention due to the tremendous impact it is having on education in Kentucky. The trend is urbanization. Urbanization is basically the movement of individuals from rural and small city settings to midsize and large city settings. The key reason for urbanization appears to be the availability of jobs in urban settings and lack of jobs in rural settings.

Nationwide, the urbanization of America is evident. In 1950, more than 70 percent of the population lived in rural or small city settings. In 2010, that number dropped to 48 percent and the number is expected to drop to 40 percent by 2030. In 1950, 7 percent of the population lived in medium to large cities. In 2010, the number had grown to 20 percent and by 2030, at least 27 percent of our population is expected to live in medium to large cities. In a map that Mr. Abernathy shared, it was clear that the migration from rural to urban areas is happening all across Kentucky and the nation. It was interesting to discover that more than half of the U.S. population lives in just 146 counties.

What are the implications of urbanization for education in Kentucky? The obvious implication is that students are moving from rural settings to urban settings. Certainly, if we compare the 1950 census to the 2010 census we see evidence of this migration. 

Students are moving because of job loss in rural settings. This is very evident in rural Eastern Kentucky communities. Many small communities that once relied heavily on the coal industry or agriculture for jobs have seen those jobs eliminated. The loss of jobs means the loss of tax revenue due to businesses being closed. When there are no jobs, people take their families to locations where there are jobs and in most cases, the jobs are located in or near urban settings. As families move away, the number of students attending schools shrinks.

The loss of student population means the loss of federal, state and local revenue for our schools. The loss of revenue means fewer teachers and fewer course offerings for students. The loss of revenue means less funding for teacher pay increases which means the gap between teacher availability in rural settings and urban settings will grow. This is especially evident when rural settings try to hire math, science, and special education teachers. The loss of revenue means less funding to build and maintain school facilities.

The loss of student population in our counties and small independent districts located in rural settings is well documented. When a local community has a small independent and a county system and both systems are losing students, then the communities begin to battle over student assignment agreements. When county and independent systems cannot come to agreement on student assignment agreements, then the commissioner and eventually the Kentucky Board of Education get involved. It is always best when local communities resolve these issues prior to state involvement.

What are the possible solutions? Our normal solution in the past has been to push for more education. However, this creates a conundrum. If we educate more students to higher levels, then those with more education will seek better paying jobs and when no jobs are available, the talent will leave for areas that have jobs. 

A possible solution is beginning to emerge with the Saving Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative that Governor Beshear and Rep. Hal Rogers have sponsored along with other state officials. The key question is how do we build the infrastructure in Kentucky to recruit business and industry to locate in rural areas so that talented and educated individuals can remain in their rural communities and build the future? Hopefully, SOAR will be successful so our local schools and districts can be successful. The alternatives are not very desirable for those communities.

Friday, February 13, 2015

SB 97 implementation: one educator’s thoughts

Kentucky Department of Education Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd is my guest blogger this week. He shares some of his experiences and thoughts on the implementation of the higher compulsory school attendance age and how it is really focused on helping each and every child in Kentucky become successful.

I vividly remember the first high school dropout I encountered. He and I started kindergarten together. One day during our sophomore year, he told me that he was on his way to the office to meet his mom to sign out of school, not just for the day, but for good. As he walked out of the classroom, he almost seemed to apologize. I remember the profound impact this had on me. Not going to school was a foreign concept. My parents had always promoted the importance of an education. How could anyone even consider dropping out of school? Why did this boy’s parents allow this? At age 16 and without a high school diploma, what would he do for the rest of his life? Looking back, this was one of those early life events that started me down the path to become an educator and dedicate my life to the students of Kentucky.

The next memorable dropout I encountered was as a high school principal. Mary was a sophomore and a straight A student. I was filled with angst when her mother told me that she needed Mary at home to help with their large family, and that Mary had spent “enough” time in school. No shortage of begging and pleading on my part seemed to make a difference. Papers were signed and Mary and I parted ways – both of us in tears. 

For years, the subject of dropouts has been a sensitive one for me – it was when I was a principal, it was when I was a superintendent, and it continues to be today in my role as Chief of Staff at the Kentucky Department of Education. Whenever I hear about a student dropping out, I feel a sense of loss and sadness. I think about what the future could have been for the student if he or she had stayed in school.

When I talk with former students who dropped out, I often hear remorse and regret and some common reasons that led to their decision. I hear that a life event got in their way. They felt school was boring or seemed disconnected from what they wanted in a career. They were frustrated with an obvious lack of academic success that seemed to get worse with time. They felt that no one at school really cared about them. They often said that they didn’t give up on themselves; they simply gave up on the process.

Senate Bill 97 raises the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 in Kentucky. Its pending implementation has prompted some to focus on the expense and challenges that lie ahead for districts to keep Kentucky students in school another two years. 

I offer a different perspective. I feel the law will be a success due to the people working in Kentucky schools and districts. There is a strong belief among today’s Kentucky education leaders in doing whatever it takes for a student to be successful. This is evidenced by our recent increase in both the graduation rate and the college- and career-readiness rate. Clearly, Kentucky has become a national leader when it comes to meeting individual student needs.

Kentucky schools and districts are changing the way they offer education. They are asking tough questions about potential at-risk students much earlier. Flexible scheduling to accommodate family needs, strong mentoring support, after hours tutoring, home visitation programs, student advocates, teen parenting classes, Saturday sessions, apprenticeships, career cluster opportunities are but a few of the ways Kentucky schools and districts are intervening earlier to prevent students from falling behind and eventually dropping out. 

One of the most exciting aspects of the work ahead is being promoted from within our schools and districts – the belief that our work is moving away from being about numbers to being about the success of individual kids. 

In the 9 Building Blocks for a World-Class State Education System, the National Center on Education and the Economy lays out multiple components that world leaders include in the development of their educational systems. Countries that lead the rankings in educational excellence provide more resources for at-risk students than for others and create clear gateways for students through a system based on global standards, with no dead ends. From what I see, the idea of no dead ends is already embraced in the majority of our schools and districts across the Commonwealth. 

When I hear stories of a student dropping  back into education, they have often done so because a team of public school educators have surrounded them with support and helped them realize the importance of education to the next life step in life – no excuses, no blame; just a commitment to find a way to make each student successful. As we move forward with the implementation of SB 97, I feel confident that superintendents, principals and staff will continue to develop new strategies to address the needs of every student and that educators will share those strategies with each other. 

While some may choose to focus on the challenges and expenses ahead with the higher dropout age, I am betting on the people inside Kentucky schools and districts who will continue to ensure our work is never about numbers, but instead is about the success of each individual student in Kentucky. 

Any takers?

Friday, February 6, 2015

A delicate balancing act

As a parent, it is always difficult balancing between supporting your children and monitoring their behaviors and actions, which in some cases may require a disciplinary follow through.

Teachers face a similar balancing act – supporting and nourishing students while also monitoring student behavior and academic performance.

Principals confront the challenge of supporting teachers, but also monitoring instruction and academic results of classroom teachers.

Superintendents and school boards experience the same balancing act with principals and school leadership.

And the Kentucky Department of Education also must address this same type of balancing act. We often question ourselves as to the right balance between supporting schools and districts and monitoring schools and districts. At this month’s Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting, the balancing act was obvious with a number of issues.

The department has been working overtime to develop a more comprehensive system of supports for the schools and districts to help close achievement gaps. The department must identify those programs and practices that yield results for student groups who are currently not achieving at expected levels. The department also provided the KBE with revisions to the state accountability model this week that would address the monitoring and accountability of closing achievement gaps. This was a classic example of how a state agency and state board work to balance support and accountability.

Another issue that shows the balancing act is SB 97, which raises the dropout age to 18. Recently we celebrated the news that 100 percent of local school boards had voluntarily adopted a policy to raise the dropout age. Districts were provided with significant support through planning grants and best practice sites that will help them implement SB 97. In addition, the department is working to increase opportunities in career and technical education and provide implementation grants for promising practices that will help address student motivation and success for those students who are ages 16-18 and not currently engaged or motivated to complete high school.

The balancing act comes as the department attempts to address challenges from critics of SB 97. Critics raise concerns that local school districts will attempt to game the system by encouraging students to withdraw from school and enroll in home schools. Also, critics say the disciplinary incidents will increase. Another concern from critics is that students will be warehoused in alternative programs. The KBE and department cannot ignore these critics, so we must have monitoring and accountability strategies in place.

One such strategy will be the monitoring of the number of public school students who withdraw each year in favor of home schooling. As Commissioner, I certainly support parental choice. There are many excellent home school programs available to parents; however, there are many home school programs that do not provide an adequate education. At the KBE meeting this week, I asked that the department establish an annual reporting requirement to monitor the number of high school students who withdraw each year to attend a home school. This report will be important to address concerns of the critics of SB 97. The current number of students who withdraw and enroll in home school averages about 5,000 students per year. This is less than 1 percent of the total student population.

KDE will provide this report on an annual basis by district and high school. Should there be a significant increase in the percentage of high school students withdrawing from public school to attend home school, then we will work with our schools and districts to better understand the reasons behind the increase. In most cases, we will probably find that our districts need additional support with alternative programs, student support programs, and career and technical education. However, we must also be open to addressing any unethical behavior where students are encouraged to withdraw and attend a non-existent home school.

My expectation is that we will not discover any attempts to “game the system”; however, we would not be doing our due diligence as an agency if we did not monitor this issue. The balancing act is always difficult between believing that everyone will act in a student’s best interest versus acting to make the numbers and the institution look good. As Ronald Reagan so aptly stated – “trust but verify.”

Friday, January 30, 2015

Fixing a broken law

This blog is the third in a series about the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. My two previous blogs, Let the games begin and Grappling with testing questions  provide additional background information.

This week, it was my honor to represent Kentucky and my fellow chief state school officers at a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) committee meeting. I was one of five individuals to testify. The committee heard from a researcher, local superintendent, high school principal, a teacher and me. Each individual had five minutes to give prepared remarks. Readers may watch a video of the entire hearing – my testimony starts about 41 minutes in – or you may want to access a written text of my testimony.

I was very impressed with the level of preparation of each senator. The committee staff does a great job in organizing the hearings and providing senators with background information. I was also very pleased to see the senators focus a number of questions to the teacher and principal. We all need to do more listening to our teachers and principals.

The Senate hearing was the second in a series of hearings to gain feedback on what the components of a reauthorized NCLB should be. The first hearing focused on annual testing and this week’s hearing focused on supporting teachers and leaders. Next week, the committee will have a roundtable with practitioners to discuss innovation.

As for my predictions on reauthorization based on movement in the House and Senate, I would say that the odds are 50/50 that we will see a reauthorized bill out of Congress before the end of the year. These odds are significantly higher than at any point since 2007. What are the potential stumbling blocks?

Annual testing and accountability seem to be the key issues that must be resolved. It appears there is growing support for continuing the annual testing required by NCLB (reading and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in each in high school; science once in elementary, middle and high school). This is a total of 17 federally required tests. Annual reporting and disaggregation of test results by NCLB subgroups also seems to have strong support. 

The line in the sand will probably be drawn with the accountability component. States and districts have added significantly to the number of tests given and percentage of time dedicated to testing due to federal and state ranking/rating of schools and districts based on test scores and to meet the Race to the Top and NCLB waiver requirements that tie teacher evaluation to test score performance. Teachers focus much more on teaching to the test and assessing students more often due to their evaluations being tied to the tests. 

My prediction on the accountability model is that reauthorization will provide general guidelines on accountability, however, the final accountability models will be developed by states. The United States Department of Education (USED) will be prohibited from approving or disapproving a state-developed model for accountability unless the USED can provide significant research to support why the state model is not a valid model for accountability. This resolution on accountability will support the states that are working to create a more balanced model of accountability that focuses on the skills and outcomes that we need our students to achieve in order to be successful in postsecondary education and training, careers and as a contributing member of society.

My prediction on teacher evaluation models, required by Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, is that these decisions will be left to states with flexibility to use federal funds to implement meaningful effectiveness systems that support teacher and leader professional growth which, in turn, impact growth in student learning. While the original intent of the NCLB waiver requirement for states to develop teacher and leader evaluation systems was a good idea, the implementation has led to micromanagement of states by USED. Also, there is scant evidence that states who have implemented the required plans have been able to provide any results that the new evaluation plans actually differentiate performance of teachers and/or impact student learning.

As I think back to the last reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), I can recall the debates between Democrats and Republicans as NCLB was moving through Congress in 2001. Republicans were pushing for more state accountability. Democrats were agreeing with the accountability as long as results were disaggregated by subgroup so that the original intent of ESEA was met. It was interesting to me that in the hearing this week, the Republican senators were supporting the reauthorization language that would push accountability back to states with flexibility to merge funding streams. However, Sen. Warren (D – MA) was clear that federal dollars should not flow to states without accountability for how the funds were expended.

So how do the next few months look for reauthorization? The timeline for the Senate would be bill mark-up in February and hopefully floor debate in the spring with possible passage in the summer. The House timeline may be similar. A late summer or fall conference committee where the USED and President Obama would be heavily involved may be possible, with the potential for a bill signing by the end of the year. 

Lots of moving pieces have to come together. Lots of potential pitfalls loom. However, I give it 50/50 odds because it is clear that both sides agree that the law is broken and must be fixed. It is also clear that educators and parents across the nation are disillusioned with the current testing and accountability requirements of NCLB and they are very vocal about the need for change. Stay tuned!!!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Grappling with testing questions

This is the second blog in a series on the reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), last reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Last week's blog provides the overview.

Many will look at education reform from 1983-2015 as having four distinct waves. During the period from 1983-1989, several key governors and state legislatures led the way in education reform based on reports like A Nation at Risk. From 1989-2000, these governors were bolstered in their efforts by national legislation supporting the implementation of more rigorous standards for learning and development of optional state assessments and accountability. 2001-2011 was the era of NCLB. The fourth wave began in 2011 with the NCLB waivers made possible through executive action by President Obama and implemented by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

We come now to 2015 and it appears Congress is finally serious about reauthorization of a law that was due for reauthorization in 2007. Last week, Sen. Lamar Alexander (who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush) presented a discussion draft for a bill called the Every Child College and Career Ready Act of 2015. One of the key elements in the proposed legislation and discussion draft has to do with annual testing requirements. 

NCLB required every student to be tested annually in grades 3-8 in reading and math and once in high school. Also, schools were required to test every student in science at least once in elementary, middle and high school.

Many supporters of annual testing say that it is a civil rights issue and a moral imperative. This concept was supported by the requirement in NCLB that every student make annual yearly progress and the public receive annual information on the progress of certain groups of students who were identified in NCLB.  Supporters of annual testing also say that schools, parents and students need to know if students are learning and if they are not, then teachers, schools, districts, and states should be required to do something to address the learning gaps.

On the other side of the equation, there are many who say that annual testing has narrowed the curriculum in schools, led to reductions in the arts, social studies, science and other curriculum offerings that lead to a balanced curriculum. They focus blame on schools and teachers when the real issue is poverty. Also, many opponents of annual testing fear that the testing regiment has had a negative impact on critical thinking and other 21st-century skills.

Recent NCLB waiver requirements have received significant concern from both sides. Many critics say they support annual testing but do not support the use of test results for evaluation of teachers, principals or schools. Opponents of annual testing also promote more creative and innovative ways of assessing student progress and reporting the annual results of student progress.

Several education writers have said that NCLB worked so we should keep the component of annual testing. Others have said that NCLB did not work. Some critics say that states actually made more progress in 1992-2000 than after NCLB was implemented in 2001.

While many states did make significant reforms to education finance and education processes during the waves of reform, I want to highlight three specific states – Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas. Of course, Kentucky reform efforts were driven by the General Assembly through the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990. North Carolina certainly had strong leadership from Gov. James Hunt to develop and implement the ABC’s of Public Education. Texas, however, was the state that became the eventual model for No Child Left Behind assessment and accountability provisions. Governor George W. Bush certainly championed the efforts in Texas.

I looked at national progress and the progress in KY, NC and Texas on the ONLY independent measure of student learning that we have as nation and is respected as the Nation’s Report Card – National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP is given every 2 years in 4th grade and 8th grade for reading and mathematics. I looked at scale score gains. One important caveat is that NAEP had adjustments due to implementing more accommodations for special needs students and increasing the percentage of special needs students taking the NAEP during this period.

In reading at 4th grade during the pre-NCLB era of 1992-2000, the nation lost 4 points in reading; KY gained 6; NC gained 10; and Texas gained 4. In 4th grade reading for the post-NCLB era of 2000-2013, the nation gained 9 points; KY gained 5; and NC/TX stayed the same.

In 8th grade reading for the pre-NCLB era, the nation gained 4; KY gained 3; and there were no gains in NC or TX. In the post-NCLB era, the nation gained 4; KY gained 5; NC had no gain; and TX gained 2.

In 4th grade math for the pre-NCLB era, the nation gained 8 points, KY gained 6; NC gained 19; and TX gained 15. In the post-NCLB era, the nation gained 18; KY gained 22; NC gained 15; and TX gained 11.

In 8th grade math for the pre-NCLB era, the nation gained 12; KY gained 15; NC gained 30; and TX gained 17. In the post-NCLB era, the nation gained 12; KY gained 11; NC gained 10; and TX gained 15.

I will leave readers to do their own analysis; however, it does appear that the nation has gained in reading and math during both eras. As is usually the case, schools are able to impact math achievement more than reading achievement.

I used the three states for comparison for a very specific purpose. NC and TX were both states that were implementing strong annual testing and accountability programs well in advance of NCLB. Kentucky had to be dragged into NCLB. The Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 pushed for more authentic assessment of student progress and Kentucky was leading the nation in development of performance-based assessment through a robust portfolio system. Of course, the annual testing was the route the nation followed due to validity, reliability, and low cost of a multiple choice annual assessment.

My key point – there are many methods that states could use to provide annual determinations of student progress and report the results for individual students, groups of students, parents, schools and districts. Annual low cost multiple choice tests are not the only answer. In the 1990s Kentucky made significant progress in providing more performance-based assessments that informed instruction, however, the efforts were lost because the performance assessments lacked the validity and reliability of multiple choice tests. Also, performance assessments are more expensive due to teacher training and assessment scoring.

My concern is that advocates of annual testing are trying to paint anyone who proposes an alternative model such as grade span testing with more formative assessments that drive instructional improvement as being an opponent of civil rights and equity for all students. This seems to be a false dichotomy since more formative assessment could better inform instruction and allow for earlier interventions for students who have learning gaps.

As states, our problems stem from our own lack of leadership in the pre- and post-NCLB era. Our track record in closing achievement gaps and pushing for higher standards has been mixed from state to state. Many believe that without federal requirements that states will go back to an era of “bigotry of low expectations.” They may be right. The debate will continue.

My hope is that all parties will engage in serious dialogue utilizing the rich research that we have built since the 1980s on education reform rather than engage in hyperbole and casting opponents in a negative light.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Let the games begin

For the first time in years, it appears there may be serious talk of trying to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It’s most recent iteration, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 was due for reauthorization in 2007, but like its predecessor, political acrimony has held up progress.  

However, recent activity in Congress signals the best chance for reauthorization in the last 8 years. Of course, if we are to see reauthorization, both the Senate and House must agree, which will take some Democrats in the Senate crossing the aisle, and the president would have to agree to sign the bill. So it is not a slam dunk.

Over the next few weeks, I will use this blog to keep readers up to date on the progress toward reauthorization and discuss some of the key issues that must be resolved.

The first question is, why do we need reauthorization? 

No Child Left Behind aspired to ensure all children would become proficient in reading and math. To reach this noble yet lofty goal, all states would adopt high standards, assess those standards, and hold schools accountable for helping all children reach proficiency. It was a great goal and a great strategy that was championed by both Democrats and Republicans. Yet, history has shown that excessive federal involvement in education has always been problematic.

The problems began almost immediately upon passage of NCLB in 2001. It became more about the numbers of kids who crossed the proficiency finish line than about teaching kids the skills they needed for success. 

Some states actually lowered standards and set the cut point for proficiency very low. Schools started teaching to the test and in many cases there were cuts to student opportunities for the arts, physical education, science, social studies, world language and other activities that ensure a balanced education. Many schools began teaching only to the “bubble kids” – those students closest to meeting the state proficiency score. Students who had already reached the state proficiency level or who were well below it were often ignored. 

The result? In some states, 90 percent of students performed at the proficient level on state tests. Yet on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a uniform test given across the country as a means of comparison between the states, only 20 percent of that same state’s students performed at the proficient level. A study of state cut scores compared with NAEP cut scores revealed a huge discrepancy in what was considered proficient among the states. U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports showed the truth in labeling of each state based on the NAEP comparisons. In Tennessee, the Governor and other policy makers basically said the state was lying to parents and students. The very law that was supposed to make sure no child was left behind was, in fact, leaving masses of children behind.

By 2004, it became clear that there were big problems with the implementation of No Child Left Behind. While the vision and strategy were excellent, the implementation was very poor and had an unpredictable, pernicious impact on students.

In attempting to respond to the inaction of Congress to right the wrongs of NCLB through reauthorization, Secretary Duncan and President Obama worked through executive action to allow states to seek flexibility and waivers from some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Again, on the surface, this sounded like a great idea. Chief state school officers appreciated this relief and the opportunity to improve schools – more than 40 states requested a waiver. I have written previous blogs (The good news and bad news on NCLB waivers; USED action contrary to state, federal law; Politics as usual or not?) that have provided the developing concerns and problems with the waiver process and my true hope and desire for reauthorization.

Now, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, has laid out a plan for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education Committee, has done the same. Every education organization and think tank in Washington, D.C. and many civil rights organizations have brought forth guiding principles for reauthorization. The next 3 – 6 months could be very interesting. 

So, let the games begin and let’s hope everyone can set aside the political acrimony in favor of our children. 

Next week, I will address the top issue that must be considered with ESEA/NCLB reauthorization – standardized testing.