20110117-Staff_CW_Louis_Freedberg-0055(BW_vertical_web)

Louis Freedberg

 

Some high level diplomacy is called for to end the Cold War between Sacramento and Washington that has frozen out the state from benefiting from the major education initiatives of President Obama’s education reform agenda.

The administration has awarded 34 states and the District of Columbia waivers from onerous provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation signed into law a decade ago by Obama’s predecessor.

But the administration has rejected California’s request for a waiver from the law – the same one that President Barack Obama has criticized during most of the time he has been in office.

Instead, his administration has left California to implement a law that his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has described as a “slow-motion train wreck” that “serves as a disincentive to higher standards, rather than as an incentive.”

The administration is currently considering a separate waiver application from a consortium of nine school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco and Oakland, with a combined enrollment of more than 1 million children. But even if the waiver is granted, the vast majority of school children, and districts, would still be left laboring under the old law.

Still in effect is the unattainable NCLB provision that will require every student in California to be “proficient” on standardized tests by next year.

California could meet that goal by simply lowering its standards. But it has, rightly, refused to do so.

That means that ever-growing numbers of schools serving low-income students will be effectively labeled as “failures” – in need of “program improvement” – under the NCLB law. At the latest count, there were 4,402 of them in California.

The administration’s rejection of California’s waiver follows the state’s near shut out from President Obama’s signature education initiative, the $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund. California has been awarded a mere $50 million from the fund, despite having one in eight public school children in the nation.

What’s more, those funds were designated for only three school districts serving about 20,000 students – out of 6.2 million in the state.

President Obama declared that the guiding principle for his waiver program would be to give states flexibility in implementing it. But in return he is demanding that to get the waiver every school – nearly 10,000 of them – must meet many new requirements that weren’t even in the original law.

The most publicized sticking point is requiring each of the state’s nearly 10,000 schools to introduce a new way of evaluating teachers. The new evaluation system must include “as a significant factor” measures of “student growth for all students including English learners and special education students.”

The administration says districts can used “multiple formats and sources” to measure growth, including “rigorous teacher performance standards, teacher portfolios, and student and parent surveys.”

It’s obvious that better teaching leads to better learning outcomes. But there is no assurance that the evaluation system being demanded by the administration will be more effective than the NCLB law has been in closing the achievement gap.

The administration’s plan could help remove some of the least effective teachers from the classroom. But whether it will drastically improve student outcomes for the majority of California’s students is unknown.

Overshadowed by the controversy over teacher evaluation is the additional requirement that California devise an entirely new, and untested, system of “priority schools,” “focus schools” and “reward schools” to “differentiate” schools based on based on student performance. Without additional support from Washington, the state would be required to provide “incentives and supports” to “ensure continuous improvement” of the lowest-performing schools.

It is time for a reset of California’s relations with Washington on the education front. The Obama and Brown administrations should initiate discussions at the highest levels to figure out a way for California to receive a waiver from the NCLB law. California’s congressional leadership should do whatever it can to facilitate these discussions.

It is too late for California to get more than the sliver of Race to the Top funds it has already received. But the administration’s rejection of California’s NCLB waiver request is too important an issue to accept without further urgent efforts on both sides to reach a resolution.

Louis Freedberg is executive director of EdSource. 

A version of this commentary first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 28, 2013. 

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  1. Gary Ravani 4 years ago4 years ago

    Navigio: Your points are well taken, if perhaps, a little weak on emphasis. It's not just that the pseudo-reforms of NCLB (PI Status), or RTTT for that matter, are draconian it is that they are based on not a shred of research, evidence, or best practice. They are as purely a pipe-dream as anything conceived by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged; however, they have the same roots. That is, a market based ideology. All of this … Read More

    Navigio:

    Your points are well taken, if perhaps, a little weak on emphasis. It’s not just that the pseudo-reforms of NCLB (PI Status), or RTTT for that matter, are draconian it is that they are based on not a shred of research, evidence, or best practice. They are as purely a pipe-dream as anything conceived by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged; however, they have the same roots. That is, a market based ideology. All of this has been well explained by a person who was there when the fantasies first evolved and are detailed by Diane Ravitch in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The National Research Council followed up with their comprehensive study: Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education that found that over the course of a decade of NCLB “reforms” the results were no improved student learning, but there was considerable destruction of sound classroom practice via a dangerous narrowing of the curriculum. Now we have the living demonstration of the efficacy of Campbell’s Law being played out in Atlanta and Washington DC.

  2. Jerry Heverly 4 years ago4 years ago

    I wish someone would answer Mr. Muench's question. Are there any real painful sanctions for Title 1 schools on PI? The ones mentioned in Navigio's post seem tepid. Forcing schools to spend money on teacher training doesn't seem like much of a penalty. Since we're all going to be on PI soon why sweat it? We don't need no stinkin' waivers. Read More

    I wish someone would answer Mr. Muench’s question. Are there any real painful sanctions for Title 1 schools on PI? The ones mentioned in Navigio’s post seem tepid. Forcing schools to spend money on teacher training doesn’t seem like much of a penalty. Since we’re all going to be on PI soon why sweat it? We don’t need no stinkin’ waivers.

    Replies

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      Oh boy.. My comment was not intended to provide an overview of the punitive measures specified by NCLB, rather to highlight some caveats related to the items Paul (M) brought up. NCLB has a lot of policy implications, some can be seen as punishment, some less so. I even think this view will change depending on whether its school-focused or district-focused. In the first couple of years of PI, the implications are mostly financial. But this does not … Read More

      Oh boy..

      My comment was not intended to provide an overview of the punitive measures specified by NCLB, rather to highlight some caveats related to the items Paul (M) brought up.

      NCLB has a lot of policy implications, some can be seen as punishment, some less so. I even think this view will change depending on whether its school-focused or district-focused.

      In the first couple of years of PI, the implications are mostly financial. But this does not mean they are meaningless. If a school is spending title 1 money to support, among other things, a library, for instance, and removal of 20% for SES reduces their funding to the extent they can no longer support that, then the end result is reduced or eliminated library services. This could be a big blow for that school population. Obviously such an example assumes a particular usage, so the actual impact of such a change would depend on the school and its priorities (but 20% can be a non-trivial amount of money in a high-poverty school). Similar for teacher training, though that is less of an issue as long as the district actually uses that money for that purpose.

      Probably more significant are the implications of being in PI for 4 or 5 years. These include things like school restructuring and alternative governance. Simply put, you can fire the entire staff, close the school and turn it into a charter, hire a private company to run it, or turn it over to the state (though I think that last one is not allowed in CA). While those things seem fairly draconian, in my experience, this level of change has not been the norm (I know of a number of schools that have been in PI for a decade).

      The irony is that the waiver designed to ‘free’ schools from such onerous measures includes such policy changes as lifting the cap on charter schools, standardized test based teacher evaluations, etc. In other words, the waivers are not much different than the law in the first place (and in fact, by some accounts the waiver strings are even worse). That does not seem to be why some people want the waiver though. The groups pushing it seem to feel that our current school reform is too timid, and want to essentially double-down on NCLB (my characterization). The letter mentioned in one of the comments argues against it for a different reason (namely differential expectations).

      http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ti/schoolpireq.asp

      Above is a link to a CDE page that describes the various impacts of PI by year.

      I will also note that many consider the labeling of schools as ‘failures’ to be something more than tepid. In reality, when the front page of your local newspaper can justifiably write ‘80% of our local schools are failing’, then this has a real impact on public policy, including wrt education funding. This also has a real impact on charter school creation and enrollment, which is still increasing exponentially I might add. Charter policy is a separate and complex issue, but clearly there is no consensus of their value, and there are many who believe they are the death of public education (in the interest of full disclosure, me among them).

      I have been lobbying for years to have the failure percentage for AYP to prematurely be increased to 100% so that we would have had to deal with this issue a couple years ago. But alas, there is too much lure in the belief that the terms failing and succeeding (even if arbitrarily defined) have some relationship to the quality of teachers or education one can expect to get at a given school. We will not really deal with this issue until it actually impacts almost all our schools. Even then, affluent schools dont need to worry, so perhaps we just wont ever deal with it (NCLB was up for re-authoring 6 years ago. They still haven’t bothered).

  3. Bea 4 years ago4 years ago

    Gloria Romero, ED of DFER CA, commented today on an older story about the waiver request. I'm taking the liberty of copying her comment here since it is relevant to Mr. Freedberg's post: "The California Office of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER CA) continues to SUPPORT the CORE waiver proposal submitted to Secretary Arnie Duncan, and urges the Secretary’s approval. While a letter was released opposing the CA CORE application and including the DFER logo among … Read More

    Gloria Romero, ED of DFER CA, commented today on an older story about the waiver request. I’m taking the liberty of copying her comment here since it is relevant to Mr. Freedberg’s post:

    “The California Office of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER CA) continues to SUPPORT the CORE waiver proposal submitted to Secretary Arnie Duncan, and urges the Secretary’s approval. While a letter was released opposing the CA CORE application and including the DFER logo among other organizations, that view reflected the DC branch and was, unfortunately, submitted without input from the CA DFER office which has long supported the CORE waiver request. DFER CA reiterates our call to Secretary Duncan to approve the CA CORE waiver application.”

  4. Bea 4 years ago4 years ago

    Back when California was rushing its first package of bills to qualify for the RTTP (which brought us the lovely calamity of the Parent Trigger), a wise poster here pointed out that the net income would be approximately $50 per student in CA for one year, while the cost of implementation would run to the many hundreds of dollars per student, permanently. Where was the cost/benefit analysis? Where is it now? We're told we can't walk … Read More

    Back when California was rushing its first package of bills to qualify for the RTTP (which brought us the lovely calamity of the Parent Trigger), a wise poster here pointed out that the net income would be approximately $50 per student in CA for one year, while the cost of implementation would run to the many hundreds of dollars per student, permanently.

    Where was the cost/benefit analysis? Where is it now? We’re told we can’t walk away from federal funds, but who has run the “what if” scenarios?

    How much could we save and redirect to our classrooms if we simply did things another way?

  5. Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

    NCLB’s sanctions only apply to Title I schools, correct? How many of California’s Title I schools are not already in Program Improvement? What worse sanctions await them if there is no waiver?

    Replies

    • Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

      OK, got more details from a related post "Feds deny state a No Child Left Behind waiver": "Nonetheless, the denial of a waiver will have consequences. Schools in Program Improvement must continue to notify parents annually that they can transfer their children to another school, and they must continue to set aside 20 percent of Title I money for student tutoring and transporting students to schools of their choice. There are also restrictions on 10 percent … Read More

      OK, got more details from a related post “Feds deny state a No Child Left Behind waiver”:

      “Nonetheless, the denial of a waiver will have consequences. Schools in Program Improvement must continue to notify parents annually that they can transfer their children to another school, and they must continue to set aside 20 percent of Title I money for student tutoring and transporting students to schools of their choice. There are also restrictions on 10 percent of Title I dollars that must be used for teacher training. With a state waiver, districts would have flexibility to use this money, which totals $353 million statewide, according to the state Department of Education.”

      • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

        The transfer right is only to a non-PI school, which makes that 'right' mostly useless (most title 1 schools are in PI--all will be soon--and non title 1 schools generally have no space, at least in districts that also have title 1 schools). Also note that non-title 1 schools can fail to make AYP. They cant go into PI because they are not title 1, but its still valid to call them 'failing' (at least as … Read More

        The transfer right is only to a non-PI school, which makes that ‘right’ mostly useless (most title 1 schools are in PI–all will be soon–and non title 1 schools generally have no space, at least in districts that also have title 1 schools).
        Also note that non-title 1 schools can fail to make AYP. They cant go into PI because they are not title 1, but its still valid to call them ‘failing’ (at least as valid as calling any other school–or all our title 1 schools, when they are all in PI–failing).
        It would be interesting to know what happens to SES money that is not used in a given year (that exceeds the normal 15% carryover limit, above which the remainder must normally be returned to the FEDs).
        Also, if I’m not mistaken, when a school is not in PI, those teacher training funds are split between the school and district, but once in PI, the district takes control of that 10%.
        My guess is that the flexibility would only apply to these PI-related uses, not total flexibility at the district level. In other words, that money would still be subject to the normal (non-PI) limitations that are already on title 1 money (eg SSC management, with associated restrictions on use).

        • Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

          Any idea if districts would use the teacher training funds differently than schools?

          • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

            I think its impossible to say what generally actually happens because so much depends on the goals of the district and its schools and the relationships between the people involved. I only mentioned the training funding treatment because it's almost always a question that comes up when a school first goes into PI. That said, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an SSC parent in a non-PI school who knew how those funds were … Read More

            I think its impossible to say what generally actually happens because so much depends on the goals of the district and its schools and the relationships between the people involved. I only mentioned the training funding treatment because it’s almost always a question that comes up when a school first goes into PI. That said, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an SSC parent in a non-PI school who knew how those funds were even currently being used..

  6. navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

    It pains me to read Duncan's comments on the law he's been charged with upholding. Even more so when his 'solution' is not to issue unconditional waivers, rather to try to impose his idea of 'reform' via blackmail. I guess that means he feels that a slow motion train wreck is actually the better of the non-waiver alternatives. Weird. I would also posit that CA did not follow NCLB because it thought it was the right … Read More

    It pains me to read Duncan’s comments on the law he’s been charged with upholding. Even more so when his ‘solution’ is not to issue unconditional waivers, rather to try to impose his idea of ‘reform’ via blackmail. I guess that means he feels that a slow motion train wreck is actually the better of the non-waiver alternatives. Weird.

    I would also posit that CA did not follow NCLB because it thought it was the right thing to do, rather because it really needed the money from the feds. Again, I guess we feel the money is still more important than whatever the impact of the slow motion train wreck will happen to be. Ho hum.

    Also fitting that the term ‘cold war’ was used, though I would not characterize it as one between the feds and the state, rather as one between affluent and low income families and communities. Ed source (on the old website) did a great story about the spending patterns of various income levels and found that the affluent are in a spending spree for educational resources, and that as they spend more, they are getting even more from every dollar. People will compete no matter what the challenge. The state will never be able to catch up. I just hope the eventual outcome is not the same as in that other cold war..