Posts Tagged ‘Arne Duncan’

New Illinois accountability system: 1/2 star (Not Recommended)

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Photo by Sarah-Ji Fotografa

The Tribune’s Diane Rado writes a very disturbing story this morning about the Illinois State Board of Education’s proposed new state standardized tests and rating system for schools.

She’s looked at the state’s 90 page waiver request and the 500-plus page attachment to the US Department of Education which asks for permission for Illinois to opt out of No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress trap by proposing to add a bunch of new standardized tests and use them to label schools using a 5-star rating system.

Sound dumb? Well, that’s the way it was designed. Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan, who hated NCLB’s dumb requirements when he ran CPS, has come up with even dumber requirements, misleadingly calling it a “Flexibility Waiver”. States must agree to meet Duncan’s requirements in order to free themselves from the original dumb requirements: adopt the Common Core standards, participate in a test-development consortium to create Common Core tests, tie teacher and administrator evaluations to test scores, develop a new way to humiliate schools – that is, a new accountability system to replace the old “failure to meet AYP” label – and use that system to fire teachers and close schools.

One more requirement of the waiver is that the state agency has “meaningfully engaged and solicited input on its request” from educators as well as parents and other stake holders. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) claims that it did that (see request p.17 ).

The Trib references the comments PURE submitted to ISBE and quotes me and a CPS high school student:

Illinois’ proposal to add more testing also has generated concerns — from educators, advocacy groups and students.

“It’s almost a joke. We’ll just add one more standardized test,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Chicago’s nonprofit Parents United for Responsible Education.

In February, her organization submitted comments to the state board that called Chicago’s schools “test factories.”

“This proposal,” the group said, “will make that terrible situation worse for our children.”

Daniel Vazquez, a student activist and senior at Chicago’s Kelly High School, has lived through the gamut of state testing over the years and recalls the embarrassment of failing the 3rd-grade ISAT.

“Oh, my God, it was horrible,” Vazquez said. “The test, it doesn’t mean anything. … It is just statistics, not the person you are. There is no critical thinking.”

In his classes, he said, “They don’t focus on the real important issues. They focus on the test, and strategies to pass the test.”

Vazquez acknowledged that tests serve a purpose in showing what students have learned. But he would prefer assessments that highlight their work rather than exams that he describes as “hard-core, brain-killing exercises that really don’t show true results.”

You can read the comments yourself — a summary of PURE’s testimony is on p. 57; others begin on p. 45 of the attachment. Then ask yourself whether ISBE listened — a question we in Chicago ask about our appointed Board of Education every day. It seems clear to me that the parents had serious concerns about more tests, and many others were opposed to the star rating system. Here are some sample comments:

The stars system for designating is not well detailed at this point and appears to be as arbitrary as the current system of all or nothing AYP.

The proposed system of targets is as arbitrary as the old system.

(S)ome inane starring system ….

I have to wonder how this “Star” system is in any way helpful or illustrative of a school’s quality. Unfortunately, it appears that this method is complicated, will surely be misrepresented in the press, and will only serve to further alienate the public from their public schools.

The Star Rating System appears to contradict the primary purpose for the development, submission and approval of this waiver. As previously mentioned, ISBE staff have devoted significant hours toward this project and the flexibility package will in fact provide needed relief to Illinois schools. However the inclusion of a star rating system will negate all of the effort through this practice. The newspapers and media will ignore the multiple measures index and simply produce a listing of 4 star, 3 star, etc. schools in their areas with 1 star schools under the same banner of failing schools. As noted in the ISBE public information, only eight high schools in the state made AYP based on test results in 2011. This star rating system will lead to a new headline that boasts only “X” 4 stars schools in the state based on test results in 2012.

Sounds to me like a Roger Ebert “thumbs down” or a Hedy Weiss “Not Recommended” to me, yet the state chose to ignore this input and propose the dumb idea anyway.


Illinois needs our input on ESEA flexibility waivers NOW

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

UPDATE: ISBE says they will post Illinois’s draft proposal tomorrow, 2/10, on their web site (see link below).

Meanwhile, today the US Dept of Education approved 10 of 11 waiver requests submitted by states last December.


As the first round of ESEA flexibility waivers are about to be announced (Thursday, we hear), the Feb. 21 deadline for the second round – which will include Illinois – is coming up fast.

That’s a pretty short timeline for people to get a clue about something that may lead to major changes in state education policy. (I’ll try to give you the gist of it in a minute.)

In fact, if you want to have any input into our state’s waiver request, you only have until Monday, Feb. 13th, to register for one of two public hearings sponsored by the Illinois PTA, to be held on Feb. 15th in Schaumburg and Feb. 16th in Berwyn (details here and below).

The US Department of Education really wants you to be heard (they say p. 9 and elsewhere). USDE has mandated that applicants “meaningfully engage and solicit input on its request from teachers and their representatives and from other diverse communities, such as students, parents, community-based organizations, civil rights organizations, organizations representing students with disabilities and English Learners, business organizations, and Indian tribes.”

Yet I would be surprised if more than a handful of folks outside of the Illinois PTA leaders even know anything is going on. The Illinois State Board of Education web site promises information – “Details on Illinois’ proposal will be forthcoming”….”Please check back” on the web page for updates. That’s it. No updates. Remember, the deadline for submission is Feb. 21.

Do you feel meaningfully engaged or solicited? Me, either.

This lack of transparency is happening in other states, too. Parents Across America’s Wendy Lecker from Connecticut wrote this on the PAA blog last week:

So far, the “input” the (Connecticut) state Department of Education seeks consists of a web address to write to, found on a page of the DOE’s website. However, the DOE has not made any draft application available for review. It is impossible to give meaningful input on the application without knowing its contents.

In a follow-up post, Wendy reported that, after she and several other parents wrote in asking the state to make the application available and hold hearings, the State Department of Education complied.

NCLB according to Arne

So, what’s the deal with these waivers? Well, Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan in his infinite wisdom as a former pro basketball player in Australia just got darned tired of waiting for Congress to remake NCLB in the image of Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee, so he first sent forth Race to the Top, the federal bribery plan that allowed Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children to rewrite state education laws across the land. That being not enough, he then decreed that states could apply for flexibility waivers to get out of the terrible mandates of NCLB as long as they agreed to the terrible mandates of Arne Duncan: to adopt the Common Core state standards, the common core national tests, link teacher and principal evaluations to standardized test scores, and, instead of all students being  “proficient” by 2014, assure that all students will be “college ready” by 2020.

That’s my take. You can read the USDE’s version here. That link will also take you to the actual applications of the states that applied in the first round, whose fates will be announced tomorrow.

I have e-mailed the Illinois PTA ( and ISBE ( asking for more information. To ISBE I wrote, “I am interested in providing input on ISBE’s application for a flexibility waiver, but am unable to find a draft or any other proposal on the ISBE web site to respond to. Can you help?” I’ll let you know if I hear back.

Here’s the PTA invite:

No Child Left Behind/Elementary Secondary Education Act
7:00 to 8:30 P. M.

JANE ADDAMS JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, 700 S. Springinsguth Road, Schaumburg, IL

MORTON WEST HIGH SCHOOL, 2400 S. Home Avenue, Berwyn, IL

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.  Presentation will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m.

In September, 2011, the Flexibility Waiver for the Elementary Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind, was announced. The Illinois State Board of Education is committed to developing a strong waiver request that addresses:
 putting children first
  preparing every student for success in college or a career, and
 raising expectations by closing the achievement gap while still meeting local needs.

Who should attend:
 parents
  students
 community leaders
 school personnel
Why attend:
 to learn what the Flexibility Waiver is and is not
  to share your concerns
  to ask questions
 to provide information and feedback to the State Board of Education

To reserve space, please visit the Illinois PTA website,, and complete the registration form.

PSAT for 11-29-11: Support PURE!

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

They wanted PURE to go away – but instead we went national!

It’s been a difficult few years for a scrappy, outspoken group like PURE in a city like Chicago, where it’s considered near-treason to question the emperor’s fashion sense.

Unfortunately, the Chicago “model” of high-stakes testing, teacher-bashing, failing to fund schools adequately, and attacking democratically-run local public education has gone national. Thanks to corporations looking to make profits off of our children, these policies and practices are making the already huge gap between the haves and the have-nots grow larger every day.

The Chicago policies that PURE has fought for years have become national mandates, so PURE is going after the head of the monster.

We need your help. If you appreciate PURE’s fighting spirit, 


Here’s what PURE is doing to protect our children.

  • A national voice and resource for parents: We co-founded Parents Across America (PAA), which is already a major national player in the fight for our public schools. PAA played a prominent role in this summer’s Save Our Schools national march on Washington. Our powerful PAA network put PURE ahead of the curve with critical information about newly-appointed CPS CEO J. C. Brizard which forced CPS and City Hall to stop making false claims about his track record.
  • A better ESEA: As chair of the PAA Legislative Committee, PURE’s executive director prepared a counter-proposal for reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which was featured in the Washington Post, endorsed by the SOS March, and called “best critique of ESEA yet” by noted education expert Diane Ravitch.
  • Solidarity with public school teachers: Honoring PURE’s history as a strong parent-teacher alliance, and in recognition of the unprecedented, highly-funded attack on teachers, PURE has been out front in support of the progressive leadership of the Chicago Teachers’ Union and the teaching profession in general.

If this fight is important to you, and you believe that PURE is needed in the fight,


But wait – there’s more!

  • Fighting high-stakes testing: PURE speaks out against high-stakes tests on a regular basis. We testified before U. S. Department of Education officials regarding our concerns about the new “Common Core” assessments. We submitted testimony to the Illinois State Board of Education and the state legislature about the dangers of tying teacher evaluation to student test scores. CPS’s test-based student retention policy is under investigation by the USDE’s Office for Civil Rights as a result of our discrimination complaint. Meanwhile, under pressure from PURE, the number of retained students in CPS has been cut in half and the promotion policy is on hold.
  • Challenging school privatization: We continue to bust myths and expose hype and falsehoods told about Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 program by people from local charter operators on up to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. We are currently working on an expose of charter discipline policies with a national advocacy group.
  • Support for parents: We continue to work with parents here in Chicago, supporting them at special education and discipline meetings and with general advice and referrals. We offer workshops for parents and local school councils as resources allow. We recently made community presentations for the Better Government Association.

The cost of speaking out: You may have noticed that PURE is often the only group quoted in news stories about CPS/City Hall education pronouncements. Few other groups or individuals are willing to go on the record with any criticism of the new mayor or the power-brokers on the Board of Education. We have been duly punished for our outspokenness. No Chicago foundation currently funds PURE. We are therefore even more grateful to the foundations which do support us: The W.W. Kellogg Foundation, Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the 21st Century Foundation, and RESIST.

And it’s for that very reason that we cherish and so greatly appreciate you, our members and friends. You are our Chicago foundation (even if you don’t live here!! )

PURE has not sent out a general appeal for funds in three years. For a while we were not all that positive that we would survive. But we have survived, and we are stronger in many ways.

If you care about public education and you think that PURE plays a critical role in supporting better public schools for every child, PLEASE MAKE A GENEROUS DONATION NOW.

You may use our secure Donate button or mail a check or money order to Parents United for Responsible Education, 11 E Adams Street, Suite 1401, Chicago IL 60603.

Thank you!

CPS “reforms” increased achievement gap

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The Consortium on Chicago School Research has found that Chicago school leaders’ boasts of “dramatic” improvements in our schools over the past 20 years were greatly exaggerated.

In fact, CCSR says, “(A) number of dramatic system-wide initiatives were enacted. But instead of bringing dramatic changes in student achievement, district-wide changes were incremental—when they occurred at all.”

CCSR also found that the achievement gap between white and African-American students has actually widened during the past 20 years of school reform in Chicago, and most markedly while Education Secretary Arne Duncan was CPS CEO.

The decline in equity, with African American students falling behind students from other racial/ethnic groups, is particularly disturbing and has raised questions about the policies around school closings and openings, which disproportionately affected African American students. As we have presented these findings, some people have wondered whether students were hurt by the shuffling of students that occurred when schools were closed, or whether neighborhood schools declined as charter schools proliferated. One CCSR study showed no improvements in test scores for students who were displaced by school closings.

A good place to start making changes

PURE has challenged many of the “reforms” instituted under mayoral control in Chicago, including school closings. We have been especially aggressive fighting against the misuse and overuse of high-stakes standardized tests and CPS’s harmful, ineffective, wasteful elementary student promotion policy. Ending that program would be a good way to redirect the district’s energies in more positive ways.

I sent a letter to CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard this morning asking for a meeting to discuss PURE’s recommendations for alternatives to retention. Now is an especially good time for this discussion since the Office for Civil Rights is concluding their resolution process for our December 2010 discrimination complaint against the CPS policy.

I also sent this letter to the Tribune, which reported on the CCSR study in today’s edition:

Your report about the growing achievement gap between white and African-American students over 20 years of “reform” in the Chicago Public Schools reaffirms our organization's strong opposition to one of the most harmful of these initiatives, the practice of flunking students based on their scores on the annual state tests.

The misuse of and over-emphasis on test scores caused by pressures from media, corporate-style education reformers, and misguided federal laws has forced schools nationwide to teach to these tests, focusing one-sidedly on rote skills and ignoring higher-level thinking. The impact is greater in schools that serve low-income youth, particularly students of color, whose education these laws and policies were supposedly designed to improve.

Chicago’s flunking policy has increased the dropout rate of retained students, has not improved their academic outcomes, wastes some $100 million in scarce school funds every year, and disproportionately affects African-American students.

It must be ended and replaced with intervention and support strategies that we know actually work, such as the Child Parent Center early education model, lower class size, and increased parental involvement.

It's time to stop evaluating and punishing students based on unreliable and often discriminatory standardized tests and put our efforts into programs that really help them.





Slow down the “hilarity” in Illinois – hearing today

Monday, November 7th, 2011

“This would all be hilarious except that it can cost people their jobs.”

Michael Winerip in yesterday’s New York Times

Today is the local Chicago hearing on a proposed new teacher and principal evaluation plan. The meeting begins at 5 pm at Lane Tech (details here).

To help you get a feeling for what’s at stake, read this NYT article by Michael Winerip about the mess in Tennessee, a Race to the Top “winner” which has already implemented its new system. Like the system Illinois is proposing, Tennessee school principals must use student test scores to judge teachers:

(T)he state is requiring teachers without test results to be evaluated based on the scores of teachers at their school with test results. So Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary, will be evaluated using the school’s fifth-grade writing scores.

“How stupid is that?” said Michelle Pheneger, who teaches ACT math prep at Blackman High and is also being evaluated in part based on writing scores. “My job can be at risk, and I’m not even being evaluated by my own work.”

Several teachers without scores at Oakland Middle School conferred. “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said Jeff Jennings, the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher”…

It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds. There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject….

This would all be hilarious except that it can cost people their jobs.

Not to mention what it does to the quality of education.

Here’s a summary of the Illinois proposal from the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which is holding tonight’s meeting.

Duncan provides another “HUH?” moment

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan has a knack for running from his own track record as Chicago Public Schools CEO and making some idiotic statements while he trying to score edu-political points.

Yesterday, while visiting our fair city, he came out in favor of Mayor Emanuel’s longer school day plan, saying that it has been a “badge of shame” for CPS. Then he made this claim, according to the Chicago Sun-Times

Extending the school day and year is “absolutely … something I wish we could have done’’ under his leadership, Duncan said. But, he said, during that time — from 2001 to early 2009 — “the system couldn’t afford it.’’

This statement was even dumber since it makes Mayor Rahm look bad, too. The mayor claimed that he couldn’t afford the teachers’ contractual 4% raise (something that never happened under Duncan) which may be allowable if there is a legitimate, severe budget shortfall.

But Duncan just provided more ammunition for the CTU’s claim that the additional funding that Rahm has found to pay for a longer school day is evidence that the budget crisis is bogus.

Arne answers @pureparents – gets an incomplete

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Just noticed that one of my questions is the first mentioned in today’s report on yesterday’s #Ask Arne Twitter Town Hall:

Many Twitter users asked Arne about testing, and whether students are taking too many tests at school.

@pureparents: #AskArne: What specifically will you do to decrease the amount of and emphasis on standardized testing in the US?

Secretary Duncan answered:

@usedgov: Where you have too many tests, or are spending too much time on test prep, that doesn’t lead to good results. #AskArne

@usedgov: Fill-in-the-bubble tests should be a tiny % of what we’re doing. I’m a big fan of formative assessments–more helpful to teachers. #AskArne

Too bad these are just more Arne twitterdumb comments, like the ones I picked on yesterday.

When he says “formative assessment,” he simply means regular practice exams – interim standardized tests using exactly the same kinds of questions related to a small set of narrow skills.

And isn’t it disturbing that he essentially answers “none of the above” to what was a higher-order thinking essay question? He doesn’t seem to understand accountability. He acknowledges the problem but not his own role in making the problem worse, and he simply dodges the question about what he will do to fix the problem.

You can watch the full town hall program here.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.