Posts Tagged ‘Race to the Top’

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.

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.

PURE/PAA presentation at USDE assessment hearing

Friday, June 10th, 2011

The June 10 USDE “Automated Scoring of Summative Assessments” public meeting in Chicago was eerily like a Pentagon briefing for vendors on the latest weapons technology.

USDE’s Ann Whelan, who chaired the meeting, actually wrapped up the day by saying, “We need to be bold and move the industry forward.” I wondered if we should all salute as she walked out.

The meeting was about creating computer-based and computer-scored assessments, a topic that seemed to be over the heads of many attendees (including me) but most seemed ready and willing (though not exactly able) to do whatever it takes to maintain their lucrative testing contracts.

The questions about using artificial intelligence to score tests raised many questions and evoked several assertions that multiple choice tests have “gotten a bad rap” and are still a “very good way” to test a lot of things: “Nothing is as valid or reliable as multiple choice.” And I’ll bet multiple choice will look even better to these guys as soon as we see a few examples of AI scores on student essays.

The most cogent comment,in my opinion, came from my son’s former kindergarten teacher, who happened to be there, much to my delight, and who said during public comment that she and other teachers considered  summative tests to be DOA – dead on arrival. They don’t help the student, they don’t help the teacher. She urged the USDE to focus on formative tests and forget about summative tests. Amen!

The testimony I prepared for this meeting is here. However, I was only given three minutes to present my comments, even though there were only four members of the public signed up, so I just ran over the main concerns that PURE and Parents Across America have about Obama and Duncan’s “better tests.”

I addressed the misuse and overuse of standardized tests, the false promise of better tests, how standardized tests narrow the curriculum, the way CPS and others only pretend to use multiple measures, bias in standardized tests, the failure of merit pay and other schemes to link teacher work to student scores, and the likelihood that the new national tests will be hugely expensive.

Prior to the public comment period, we were told that they would not respond or answer questions, but I asked anyway:

How will they prevent districts like Chicago from misusing tests for high-stakes purposes?

How much money will all this cost – do they have any projections?

Ann gave me a thin smile and repeated that they will not answer questions, but that I could e-mail the questions to them. I have since tried all versions of the e-mail address she mentioned, none working. Am still working on that.

PSAT for 3-29-11: Sign PAA petition on education budget cuts

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

For Public Schools Action Tuesday today, please sign, share, Facebook and Twitter the Parents Across America petition urging President Obama and Congress not to slash education funding by as much as $11 billion (as the House is proposing), to eliminate competitive grant programs like Race to the Top, and to fully fund essential programs like special education Head Start and Title 1. will automatically send a message on your behalf to your Senators and Congressman.


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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.