Thursday, January 20, 2005

Connecticut requests leniency

I wrote the other day about Virginia's request for exemption from certain sections of NCLB. Today, Connecticut did the same. Details are here.

Is this a trend? Not yet, but I would expect that many other states will request exemptions in the weeks and months to come. Connecticut argued that it's testing system already includes tests for fourth, sixth, and eighth grades; rather than spending federal money to expand testing to third, fifth, and seventh grades next year, that money should be spent on improving the current testing system.

It's an extremely reasonable request and one that I think the Department of Education will deny anyway. Like the protest filed from Virginia, this is another one to watch closely; the implications of the Ed. Dept.'s decision will be significant. If they accept it will certainly set off an avalance of similar requests; if they deny it, they risk further enraging the people who must implement the law.

I've come across another great resource for keeping up with No Child Left Behind issues. It's a website called and it's oriented towards resistance. Funded by the Civil Society Institute, monitors press coverage of NCLB and breaks them down by state and by provisions of the law. It's a very useful site.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

What's an Ed. Dept. to do?

Today's WaPo has a story on the Virginia State Board of Education's decision to ask for flexibility in its implementation of NCLB:

Republicans in the General Assembly have introduced bills that would direct the board to request such exemptions. The legislators say the federal act disrupts the state's Standards of Learning testing program, put into place in the 1990s. (emphasis mine)

The board decided Wednesday to request that the U.S. Education Department exempt Virginia from 10 areas of the law.

The Ed Dept. is in a quandary here. If they agree, it's a slippery slope; there will be nothing to stop every state in the Union from asking for exemptions from this part and that part of the law. But if they don't agree, they risk alienating the administrators, superintendents, school boards, and state boards that are so critical to the law's implementation and possibly even provoking Virginia or some other state into opting out of NCLB and forfeiting federal education money. I don't think any state would actually do that, but some enterprising politicians could get a lot of media attention -- and cause a lot of headaches for the Ed Dept. -- by pushing to opt out.

The reaction from Washington to Virginia's request will be worth some careful attention.

Despite a Senator's protest, Spellings to be confirmed

Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) has indicated that he will drop his resistance to Spellings' nomination following a conversation with her this week.

The "perceptions of wrongdoing" that outgoing Secretary Paige so regretted (not the wrongdoing itself, of course -- he is in the Bush Administration after all), came to view only after Spellings' confirmation hearing. According to the AP, the Armstrong Williams scandal was taken very seriously by the Senator.

``I made clear to Ms. Spellings that these propaganda efforts at the Department of Education must stop,'' Sen. Frank Lautenberg told The Associated Press.

``Too often the administration has misspent taxpayer funds to further President Bush's political agenda ... Ms. Spellings assured me that she takes the propaganda problem very seriously, and will meet with me'' when Congress' investigative arm finishes a report, said Lautenberg, D-N.J.

The Government Accountability Office is trying to determine whether the department violated a federal ban on propaganda.

... The maneuver that Lautenberg used allows senators to prevent a confirmation vote until they resolve an outstanding issue. Lautenberg agreed to lift his hold on the nomination after speaking with Spellings on Wednesday, according to two of the senator's aides.

That should clear the way for Senate confirmation Thursday of Spellings, Bush's domestic policy chief, as well as agriculture secretary nominee Mike Johanns.

``He was not going to let her go through without some kind of assurance,'' said Dan Katz, Lautenberg's chief counsel. ``He was very serious about it.''

The department has committed at least $1.3 million to the public relations firm Ketchum, including $240,000 that went to a business run by Williams for minority outreach.

Kudos to Lautenberg for putting Spellings on the spot, but she'll still be announced as the new Secretary tomorrow.

New Education Wonks

Well, you've already heard of Eduwonk, but now there's the Education Wonks. Every few days they link to what they deem to be the more interesting stories floating around the edusphere (thanks to the participant at their site who coined the term); in between, they write their own stories about educational goings-ons. It's a nice site, check it out.

Oh, the irony

I came across this story yesterday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Seems that Jenna Bush wanted to teach, but can't. Why not, you ask? Apparently there's some Act of Congress or other that mandates that only "highly qualified teachers" be allowed to teach. Jenna didn't make the cut:

The White House has been mum on Jenna's job search (odd since they're usually so forthcoming), but the Post believes Jenna has started work not as a teacher, but as a teacher's aide because she doesn't have the qualifications necessary to take over a classroom under the stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind.

(Who knew when dad signed it into law in 2002, the child being left behind would be his own daughter?)

The Post reported in December that Jenna was going to teach at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in a low-income neighborhood.

But after rumors flew that Jenna had actually started as a teaching assistant, the Post spoke to executive director Linda Moore.

"Jenna Bush is not employed as a teacher at the school," Moore said.

Asked whether Jenna was working as an assistant teacher, Moore said: "I can't confirm that."

That's when Moore mentioned No Child Left Behind.

She told the Post there are "some very strict requirements about who can be hired and what their credentials have to be, and they do apply to charter schools."

All Laura Bush's spokesman would say is "Jenna Bush has started work."

I must say I'm impressed that the White House has not pulled strings for her (as I so cynically suggested they might a few weeks ago), but I guess they figure the media would find out and there would be a scandal and embarassment and all the rest.

I gotta say though, I'm immensely pleased with what cannot be seen as anything short of karma. After all, every critic of NCLB has mentioned the law's inflexibility. Now POTUS gets to experience it firsthand. How's it feel, Dubya?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Cumbersome and counterproductive"

From today's WaPo:

Virginia's school superintendents endorsed legislation Tuesday directing the state Board of Education to seek a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The waiver tops the Virginia Association of School Superintendents' priority list for the 2005 General Assembly.

Is this a sign of things to come? I think we'll see a lot more resistance to NCLB from superintendents, principals, and teachers. Of course, that doesn't mean much unless they're serious about foregoing federal money.

The article goes on to say that if the State Board of Education does not vote to opt out of NCLB (and they probably won't), they should at least make significant revisions to many of the "cumbersome and, in many cases, counterproductive federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act" (words of Superintendent Edgar Hatrick).

I'll definitely keep an eye on this one.

The shaft

Great op-ed from Boston Globe columnist Steven Z. Jackson this morning. Money quote:

Bush is about to ask Congress for between $80 billion and $100 billion in new funds for his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If approved, that will shoot the costs to this point over $200 billion, a figure once sneered at by the administration in the days they all but promised a quick blitz and early exit. President Johnson proved four decades ago that you cannot conduct a wasteful war and fund social programs at the same time. There is nothing Bush can offer to the contrary, not when he also wants to make his trillion-dollar tax cut permanent. (emphasis mine)

This is still the biggest problem with NCLB. It is extremely expensive to implement. And though it is true that the Bushies have vastly increased education funding, the current funding levels are nowhere near where they need to be.

Jackson hit the nail on the head: You cannot prosecute a major war -- much less two -- ramp up domestic spending, and cut taxes at the same time. Something's gotta get the shaft. I'm guessing it's not tax cuts or the wars. On standardized tests you're supposed to use process of elimination to find the right answer. Anybody know what's left?

How do you measure creativity?

Reading the New Yorker this week, I was struck by this quote. See if you can figure out what the writer is referring to:

[They] had so loaded training schedules with doctrinaire requirements and standardized procedures that [the students] had no time--or need--to think for themselves. [The instructors] were encouraging "reactive instead of proactive thought, compliance instead of creativity, and adherence instead of audacity."

Wanna guess what the article was about? High school? Early reading or math programs? Nope.

It's about the training of army officers. Yup. They're suffering from the affliction called standardization in their schools, too.

Here's the challenge to NCLB proponents -- and to all of us really -- how do we measure creative thinking? Flexibility? Innovation? Why has "thinking outside of the box" become such a cultural cliche? Because we were put inside the box in schools all of our lives; we were taught to do what everyone else did, when we were told to.

I know that's necessary to some extent, but the question remains: How do we measure the ability of students to innovate, improvise, adapt, and apply their learning in trying situations?

Or is that not important?

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