Posts Tagged ‘NCLB’

Illinois ESEA waiver request: More testing, please!!!

Monday, February 20th, 2012

As if there wasn’t enough going on, tomorrow the Illinois State Board of Education will vote on an ESEA flexibility waiver application which will do little but add more tests to an already ridiculous state assessment system.

Here are the comments I submitted to ISBE last week:

Stop teaching to the test”

 President Barack Obama, 2012 State of the Union Address

In their November 22, 2011, joint letter announcing Illinois’ intent to pursue a waiver from NCLB, ISBE Chair Gery Chico and State Superintendent Christopher Koch promised a “common sense accountability system” including “smart, nuanced tools” that will “demonstrate improvement and success in differentiated, appropriate and measurable ways” using “multiple measures.”

This all sounded great until we read the waiver proposal this week.

According to testing experts,* true multiple measures are the use of multiple indicators and sources of evidence of student learning, of varying kinds, gathered at multiple points in time, within and across subject areas. Multiple measures can include classroom, school, district and state tests; extended writing samples; tasks, projects, performances, and exhibitions; and collected samples of student classroom work, such as portfolios..

It was with great disappointment, then, to read the Illinois waiver proposal and see that that you are simply planning more one-shot state standardized tests and calling them “multiple measures.”

Parents are concerned that the “flexibility” promised under the NCLB waiver has turned into just one more excuse to increase the misuse and overuse of standardized tests. We don’t trust the promise of “better tests” aligned with the Common Core standards. We have learned that merit pay and other high-stakes test-based evaluation systems don’t improve learning. Experts at the National Academy of Sciences and the Economic Policy Institute have cited the unreliability of value-added or “growth” measures in warnings about the potentially damaging consequences of implementing test-based evaluation systems.

Chicago’s schools are already test factories. This proposal will make that terrible situation worse for our children.

Instead of the test-driven strategies favored (and heavily promoted) by non-educators, we need to look towards a vision of education reform that is strongly rooted in democratic principles and supported by ample research. Our children deserve no less. We support the expansion of proven reforms, such as small classes, parent involvement, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum that connects learning to children's own lives, and evaluation systems with high-quality, multiple assessments.

Your waiver proposal offers none of that.

Specifically, regarding state assessment and accountability systems, we recommend that they:

Require that states allow parents to opt their children out of any state or local standardized test.

Specify regular public review and revision of state learning standardsand related assessments.

Locate the key accountability elements at the local school level.

Bar the use of tests for any purpose different from that for which the test was explicitly designed.



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.

ESEA begins another year’s journey

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Experts are predicting (also here) that the No Child Left Behind Act will not be revised in 2012. Meanwhile, Republican House education committee leaders are planning to change strategy and write a more comprehensive ESEA bill, dropping their efforts to come to agreement with Democrats on a set of issue-specific pieces and preparing a larger bill like the one passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last October.

The House committee has already passed individual bills on expanding charter schools, program consolidation, and funding flexibility. Only their charter school bill passed the full House. The Senate HELP committee bill has not moved to the full Senate.

The House ed committee is apparently now working on “accountability” (read testing) and “teacher quality” (read more testing) provisions to combine with the three bills already passed in the committee. While a final decision may not be near, this is the time when legislative language is being written. Once written, it becomes more difficult to change. That means that we should continue to contact our legislators to inform them of our concerns and ideas for the future of our children’s education. Parents Across America has a comprehensive position statement here.

Here’s a new comment on ESEA from FairTest’s Monty Neill (advertisement – don’t miss Monty here in Chicago Feb 15th!) 

Monty Neill on ESEA reauthorization posted today on National Journal education blog

The key question is, What’s the content?

The most pressing issue is not whether a NCLB reauthorization bill is partisan or not, but whether it helps improve teaching and learning.

NCLB has seriously damaged U.S. educational quality and equity. FairTest explains why in our just-released report, NCLB’s Lost Decade for Educational Progress: What Can We Learn from this Policy Failure? The combination of high-stakes testing overuse and unsound sanctions has undermined good schools, hindered and misdirected reform efforts in weaker ones, and perpetuated the dangerous illusion that schools alone can solve the problems of poverty and segregation.

Secretary Duncan’s waiver scheme does remove the boot of “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) from the necks of schools in states that accept the bad deal of judging teachers “in significant part” on the basis of student test scores. Despite rhetoric from President Obama and his education secretary about the low quality of standardized exams and the harm of teaching to them, they are intensifying the pressure on school people to narrow the curriculum and teach to the tests.

The Senate HELP bill likewise scuttles AYP. It at least limits the requirement to judge teachers by student test scores only to states that choose to use some ESEA discretionary funds to construct a teacher evaluation system. It also takes a more reasonable approach to school improvement in calling for a tailored plan based on a review of the particular school. Unfortunately, it undermines this sensible approach (strongly recommended by the Forum on Educational Accountability, FEA) by also insisting that districts pick from a menu of rigid options that closely resemble NCLB’s sanctions.

So what should the House do, hopefully as bipartisan legislation but even if Republican only? It should also drop AYP. It should not require any state to use student test scores to judge educators. And it should entirely scrap any remnants of the misguided NCLB sanctions structure.

But it should go well beyond these steps and follow the recommendations outlined in FairTest’s report (which in turn overlap with both FEA and the Broader, Bolder Approach). These include:

–          Reduce the amount of mandated testing to once each in elementary, middle and high school. No other advanced nation tests more than this. For example, top-performing Finland does not test at all for school evaluation. Over-testing in the U.S. has simply produced state test score inflation, not real gains in learning, as demonstrated by stagnant NAEP scores for almost all groups.

–          Provide serious support to enable states to work with districts to construct assessment systems rooted in ongoing student schoolwork. There are ways to do this that are unobtrusive, avoid teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum, produce adequately reliable and strongly valid evidence of student learning, and support strengthening the capacity of the teaching force.

–          Provide serious support to states willing to build a school quality review system.

Taken together, these systems of assessment and evaluation can produce rich information to use in school improvement, as I’ve explained in an Education Week Commentary. By building on the school improvement ideas in the Senate HELP bill but jettisoning the continuing link to NCLB sanctions, the rich evidence of student learning and school strengths and weaknesses can be used to foster systemic school reform.

To succeed, these reforms will require additional funds for schools serving our most impoverished children. Even then, Congress should not perpetuate the falsehood that schools can overcome the consequences of poverty. Solving that vast problem goes well beyond an education bill, though ensuring high quality pre-school and wrap-around services are steps that Congress can take in reauthorizing ESEA.


Don’t wait for Tuesday! Today’s the day to contact your Senator on ESEA

Monday, October 17th, 2011

We are working on a Parents Across America summary chart and cover letter on the Senate ESEA proposal, but meanwhile this excellent set of suggestions comes from FairTest’s Monty Neill, who urges everyone to call, write or e-mail TODAY  to have an impact on ESEA:

Contact your Senator today! This one will count the most of any for a long time, because:

The draft ESEA reauth bill introduced by Harkin & Enzi will impose tens of  millions more student tests to judge teachers and principals. Their bill maintains all NCLB testing; defines “achievement” and “growth” as test scores; uses scores as the near-sole basis for many educational decisions; imposes Race to the Top’s rigid “improvement” structure on low-scoring schools.

Senate HELP committee starts work on it Weds. For talking points, contacting Senators, see below. Do it now!

And if you want more detailed information about their bill, see


FairTest suggested talking points:

When you call your Senator to ask him to help overhaul NCLB, here are five suggested talking points, which you can deliver in 2-3 minutes:

Introduce yourself, say what city or town you are from, and tell the person you want to convey a message about No Child Left Behind.

If this Senator is on the HELP Committee say, something like: “I understand that NCLB will be ‘marked up’ and voted on in Committee this week. I am very concerned about the damage caused by NCLB and want Senator [name] to vote to make major positive changes. The Harkin-Enzi reauthorization bill, however, does not improve on NCLB.” Then use the list below.

If this Senator is not on the HELP Committee, say something like: “I understand that the HELP committee will ‘mark up’ and vote on a new NCLB in a couple of weeks. I am very concerned about the damage caused by NCLB and want Senator [name] to call the committee leaders and ask them to make major positive changes.” Then you can use these talking points:

  1. Do not require any additional standardized testing; there is already far too much. The Harkin-Enzi bill will force states to administer tens of millions of new tests, mostly to use to judge teachers and principals.   (Support your argument with examples of over-testing and test misuse at schools in your community.)
  2. Do not require the use of student test scores to evaluate educators. The Harkin-Enzi bill does requires this, but the Alexander-Isakson bill does not.  Reliance on exam results, with all their inaccuracies and fluctuations, will result in many wrong decisions: Research shows teachers classified “best” based on one year’s results may be “worst” the very next year.
  3. Fund states to upgrade the quality of teacher-designed assessments. This is the best way to refocus classrooms on critical thinking and problem solving, rather than memorizing factoids and filling in multiple-choice bubbles.
  4. Hold states accountable for determining the cause of low scores at particular schools and designing/monitoring customized plans to enhance performance.  No more one-size-fits-none, top-down policies that have failed to improve educational quality or equity in the NCLB era. The Harkin-Enzi bill requires schools to use one of several models or “strategic improvements.” These should be dropped.
  5. Please read and use the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability, which you can see at

PAA wants US House Ed Committee to open debate

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
The Education and Workforce Committee of the US House of 
Representatives is holding hearings on "innovation" in education
policy today. The  list of witnesses completely excludes the people
who have the greatest stake in public school improvement - parents.
The witnesses also represent a single, ideologically driven approach 
to educational policy that has yet to produce significant benefits for
American schoolchildren.  

All four witnesses are pro-privatization: Dr. Tony Bennett, Indiana 
Superintendent of Public Instruction, a strong supporter of charter schools and "virtual charter school"
expansion; Lisa Graham Keegan of Education Breakthrough Network, a supporter of vouchers, high
stakes testing and charter schools; Andrew Coulson of the CATO Institute, yet another supporter of
charter expansion and vouchers; and Ted Mitchell, CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund, which funds
charter school expansion. 

The founding members of Parents Across America spoke out against this unbalanced hearing:  

"It is not in the best interests of children if House Committee members only hear testimony from 
people who support the current corporate agenda of further privatization, charter expansion, and 
high-stakes testing. The majority of public school parents oppose these strategies, and we know
that none of them have worked to improve schools in Chicago or anywhere else in the nation," 
said Julie Woestehoff of Chicago's PURE and a co-founder of PAA. "We call on the committee
to act responsibly and also hear other viewpoints including those of parents, who have the most at 
stake in these decisions." 

"Experimentation on children with unproven fads is not 'innovation,' " said PAA founding member
Caroline Grannan of San Francisco. "We need reforms that have been proven to work, like smaller 
classes, encouraging parent involvement, and meaningful assessment instead of battering our children
with endless bubble-in tests. Parents want reforms that improve schools rather than weakening them."

Leonie Haimson of New York City's Class Size Matters and Parents Across America concluded: 
"These points of view do not represent 'innovation' but privatization. The federal government seems
intent on large scale experimentation on our children without parent consent. We demand that public
school parents, as the most important stakeholders, be given a chance to testify at every Congressional
education hearing from now on. These are our children, and our voices must be heard." 
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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.