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There are devils in the details - Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Hear the Echoes No. 40 Waivers from NCLB?

 

There are devils in the details

 

By Don Whittinghill

LSBA Consultant

Baton Rouge, LA

 

At the January Board of Elementary and Secondary Education John White, the new Superintendent of Education, spent some time pointing toward Louisiana‘s seeking a waiver from NCLB. He indicated there could be substantial benefits to such a move and that he’d pursue it aggressively.

There are three principles that the states requesting a waiver must adopt and they must detail how they will develop, and implement each of these principles in all schools by 2017. Examination of the principles exposes the sheer weight of bureaucratic rules, high-stakes tests, teacher evaluation measures, and the inordinate number of officials controlling public education far away from the schools being evaluated.

Louisiana has already taken some of the policy steps that the federals require in return for granting the waivers. Adoption of the Common Core and a value-added teacher evaluation based upon test scores are being implemented with the Common Core standards set to go into effect 2014 and the teacher evaluation in the fall of this year.

So far, 39 states and the District of Columbia have expressed interest in a waiver.

The Center on Education Policy, a national independent advocate for public schools, expressed concern over the costs of implementing the new Common Core. In a 2011 survey, 76 percent of districts in states committed to the Common Core Standards viewed funding as the major challenge. Only 12 percent said financial cost to the state was not important. Some recipients of Race to the Top included the cost of implementation in their grants.

Many states anticipate it will take until 2013 or later to fully implement the more complex changes associated with the common core state standards. Most of the CEP study’s responding states that have adopted the new standards plan to make related changes in assessment, curriculum, teacher policies, and other areas, but their timelines for putting these changes into place vary. Most of these states expect to accomplish changes in professional development programs by 2012. But many states do not expect to fully implement major changes in assessment, curriculum, teacher evaluation, and teacher certification until 2013 or later, or to institute a requirement for local districts to implement the common standards until that time.

Only nine of 30 states planning revisions to educator evaluation systems which hold educators accountable will do so in 2012. Another 19 plan to do so in 2013.

The Heritage Foundation calculated that nationally the cost of fully implementing the Common Core Standards (including textbooks, teacher training, state tests, and teacher evaluations) will amount to $30 billion.

The State of Washington forecasts $300 million.

California’s Department of Education performed a cost-benefit analysis of the waivers and reported the cost of doing what the feds require is between $2 and $2.7 billion. They peg cost of Common Core Standard implementation at $600 million with teacher training accounting for $237.5 million, new textbooks adding $237.5 million, adopting English learner standards at $118 million, $410 million to fix the 15 percent low performing schools, and $76 million to train principals and conduct evaluations for all teachers.

How much has Louisiana already spent on developing the value-added teacher evaluation system?

A critical part is development of the new tests. The federal DOE has granted Louisiana $5 million a year since 2006. No one knows how much more will be granted until the new tests are introduced in 2014. Much attention has been paid to potential use of statewide test results for the evaluation of individual teachers in recent months, as well as possible use for layoff and assignment and compensation decisions. Question: Will the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Balanced assessments be developed to support this degree of high-stakes accountability? While the federal dollars cover testing, development of the per pupil cost to administer these tests are unknown.

How many dollars will be required to restock school stores with new textbooks? A couple of year ago the state devoted over $67 million in one year to buy textbooks.

Gov. Bobby Jindal strives to establish a national reputation as an education governor. His view of reform includes the potentially harming of local school districts by starving them of sufficient funds to continue the progress they have been making in student achievement. He has never been an educator. His two choices for the important education leadership as State Superintendent have had less than five years experience in education between them.

Gov. Jindal’s lay leaders know little about the world of students. One of his key advisers was home schooled, never attending any school, and these advisers inflict their opinions of what it takes to improve schools in spite of cautions from top national experts.

Louisiana’s reform leaders must believe that there is an unlimited capacity to absorb thousands of public school students in private school classrooms.

They also, apparently, believe there is an endless supply of very bright Teach for America beginning teachers to replace many of the fifty thousand plus career teachers; and that those teachers remaining will swallow their pride in profession to remain in under-funded classrooms attempting to meet artificial goals set by those with little knowledge of the learning process.

Recently, Hawaii was awarded $75 million in Race to the Top dollars. It was one of 21 states sharing in a $4 billion pot of gold. Public school teachers revolted and voted to reject a contract requiring a performance-based evaluation and compensation system.

Just how far the ideologically-driven education reform agenda underway in Louisiana can be pushed without generating push back is problematic. It is not just teachers bridling at the top down direction under the Jindal administration. School boards, local superintendents, and many parents have voiced their objections. Even the author of the bill that became Act 54 – the teacher evaluation law – voiced the opinion that implementation might need to be pushed back to 2013-2014 because adopting the current process has been insufficiently tested. His voice was joined by other legislators at a recent legislative committee hearing.

The National Research Council has issued a report that said standardized tests commonly used in schools to measure student performance—including high school exit exams and tests in various grades mandated by NCLB—"fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways.”

That council is one of the most highly regarded panels of science and education professionals in the world. A number of other studies of value-added assessments including one from New York University Sean Corcoran conclude that the margin of error is so large that a teacher at the 43rd percentile might actually be at the 15th percentile.

What Louisiana’s non-educator leaders ignore is the work of a 17 member panel of lawyers, educators, assessment experts, and scientists. They examined 15 different incentive programs that linked rewards or sanctions for schools, students and teachers to students’ test scores. Among their conclusions is that relying on such test results to measure education success may well give a false view of exactly how well students are doing.

Louisiana’s political leadership has, so far, ignored national advice and requests from the state’s key stakeholders who may have to implement policies that are seen as flawed. Gov. Jindal and Paul Pastorek are fond of declaring that the kids can’t wait. Rushing headlong into a series of policy changes may accomplish the opposite of what that leadership claims it desires for children.

It appears as if the generator of the administration change movement is more about dollars than it is about improving student performance. The policy follows the national agenda proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council and the American Federation for Children. These non-profits are heavily endowed by hedge fund managers and the wealthiest elite in America who seek to turn students into profit centers for education corporations.

Gov. Jindal’s recently announced empowerment agenda for public education is taken directly from the ALEC model legislative program. It was developed by a panel of business planners that did not include educators.

Legislators in the session beginning in March will face considerable pressure from the administration to adopt policy, and set spending priorities that have the potential to destroy the morale of the people that Jindal must rely on to deliver the services prescribed. Top down directives from leaders with no understanding of the real world of classrooms, that fail to recognize the vast differences in school populations across the state, and that can be demonstrated to inflict heavy costs on already cash strapped schools, could well force public educators to follow the lead of Hawaii, Wisconsin, Long Island New York, and Rhode Island. All of these have moved strongly to repeal flawed directives and to recall, in some cases, the governor behind the change.

The most trying time facing Louisiana’s educators cannot benefit the children, and Gov. Jindal should not glaze over the potential negative impacts of his initiatives. While progress being made over the past 10 years is not as great as anyone desires, it is real. Louisiana was one of three states in the nation to increase the number of students scoring proficient in this year’s National Assessment of Education Progress. The gap in that assessment has been narrowing as Louisiana improvement moves toward the national average.

The state department reported last year that Louisiana’s average composite ACT score continued to make "steady progress” in meeting the objective of ensuring students graduate prepared to succeed in college. Since 2001, Louisiana’s average composite score grew from 19.6 to 20.2 while the national average grew only a tenth of a point to 21.1. That is a gap being closed.
 

January 30, 2012


 

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