Friday, March 25, 2005

Taking a dump

One of the most insidious aspects of high stakes tests -- and there are many -- is the tendency of schools to "dump" kids just before the week of testing. No one is sure how widespread the practice is, but it seems based on anecdotal evidence that the practice of encouraging students to drop out so that they don't adversely effect a school's rating is quite widespread indeed.

And here is evidence that the practice might be widespread in charter schools as well:

AUSTIN - A state senator wants to know why more than 400 Houston-area charter school students moved to traditional schools in a four-month period leading up to February's state testing.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, wrote a letter to Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley this week asking for an investigation into possible "student dumping."

"This figure appears inflated to me, and it is almost as if students are being dumped off onto school districts for the sake of ratings," Gallegos said. "Texas relies heavily on students' academic performance, and this alleged trend could have a profound affect on a school's academic rating."

Gallegos is asking for an audit of student migration trends, whether there was a spike in enrollment in the months leading up to the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, and how charter schools report student migration.

...Gallegos is looking for an investigation. He said if the charter schools want to be in the business of teaching, they should be held responsible for their own actions.

"We are talking about keeping a child up to a certain point and then dumping that child due to low performance," he said. "Any way you paint it, that is wrong."


Yes, it is. But you can hardly blame the charters or the public schools for that matter, for dumping students. They're simply gaming the system; under NCLB, their job security is at stake. It's wrong, yes, but definitely easy to understand. This is yet another reason why assessment should be a year round, regular endeavor, not a one-week, high stakes event.

Two excellent blogs

I've been expanding my horizons -- thanks to the organizational efforts and passion for public education of Joe Thomas -- and reading a few new (to me) blogs.

One of them, by Professor Angela Valenzuela of my very own UT-Austin, had a very interesting post today reflecting on the school shooting in Minnesota. It appears that Red Lake High School will not make AYP. Here's a very clear example of how focusing on testing can lead to truly terrible results.

Now, don't get my wrong. I'm not blaming Bush or Spellings for Red Lake, but the point remains: too many kids are being left behind, and it has nothing to do with academics. They're falling through the cracks, escaping notice, dropping out, and sometimes turning violent while schools are required to singlemindedly focus on the all-important tests. As this tragedy reminds us, they aren't all important.

On a different note, I also love the Super's Blog, an educational blog devoted to satire. What a great idea! Check this out:

President Bush this week has named a blue ribbon panel of teachers and other educators to a National Poundtable Committee. The purpose of the committee is to establish higher ethical standards and to raise the profit margins of American businesses.

President Bush said, under condition of anonymity, "We think this will be a very successful format. It worked so well having the business CEO's develop educational agendas for this nation, that we thought we would try it on the economic front. We have been very disappointed in the economic efforts of our businessmen and feel that our economy will never improve without rigorous accountability measures. We lead the world in many ways, but our economic growth rates are flat. Our educational leaders will show us the way."

The committee will consist of superintendents, principals and teachers who will meet in Orlando, Florida for three weeks, vigorously hammering out the standards and agendas on which business will be evaluated.

The cornerstone initiative is reported to be legislation titled NBLS (No Business Left Standing). "The idea," said, NBLS spokesperson, Margaret Smellings, "is that by 2013-2014 we will require 100% of all employees in all divisions of every business in America to meet Adequate Yearly Profit (AYP). Each employee must demonstrate that they are personally responsible to bring in more money than they cost the company. We will separate the employees into various subgroups and evaluate the entire business on the basis of that subgroup in that division of that business. If the employee fails, the division fails. If the division fails, the business fails to meet AYP. Everyone must be proficient to meet the challenge and maintain our standing in the world."


Bravo!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Are you paying attention?

Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman is a very serious-minded legislator. He's been voted one of the 10 best in the state several times by Texas Monthly throughout his long tenure serving the people of the 3rd Ward in Houston. So what he has to say is not -- as many say whenever the subject comes up -- the far flung fantasies of a wing nut. They are the cold hard facts.

Texas Republicans hired a right wing think tank to write the most important school reform legislation of the last decade. If the Senate doesn't majorly change the plan (and God willing they will), 400 schools currently are in danger of being taken over by a for-profit private corporation within the next two years.

From Rep. Coleman:

When the Legislature considered an education bill recently, Texans expected their elected officials to make our schoolchildren, their families and their teachers our top priority. Unfortunately, the plan that narrowly passed the Texas House turned a deaf ear to the best advice Texans had to offer. Instead, House leaders forced passage of a House Bill 2 plan that was lifted, almost verbatim, from a report issued by the Koret Task Force, a product of a right-wing California think tank.

In my community, a proposal made by Houston Independent School District Superintendent Abe Saavedra to hand over control of three Houston high schools � Yates, Kashmere and Sam Houston � to private management companies prompted an intensely negative response from parents and community leaders. Yates High School is a historic anchor of the Third Ward community. It belongs to us, not profiteers. Today, we can make our case before our local school board, but under the House Bill 2 plan, local parents would have no voice.

House Bill 2 includes a provision that could turn over 400 Texas public school campuses to private school management companies and provide them a potential $2 billion in profit. The bill would require the Texas education commissioner to turn over as many as 5 percent to 10 percent of all Texas school campuses, without approval from local school districts.

Who would get the money?

John E. Chubb, chief education officer and one of the founders of Edison Schools Inc., was a member of the Koret Task Force. At least 20 school districts in Texas and across the country have severed contracts with Edison because the company's schools performed so poorly. Edison has hidden costs in contracts with school districts and cut teaching and staff jobs as enrollment and school costs increased. Investigations found that Edison exaggerated achievement results in schools in Dallas, Minneapolis and Dade County, Fla.

Despite Edison's poor record, some of our state leaders ignored the voice of Texas educators and turned to an Edison official to write a blueprint for Texas education reform.


This is disgusting. It's shoddy policymaking to turn to a think tank -- not for advice, but to actually write the law. And the Republicans in charge of the bill admitted to it, as if there was nothing wrong with it. There is something wrong with it, especially considering every educational organization -- principals, teachers, school boards, urban districts, rural districts, fast growth districts, etc. -- was deadset against it.

Make no mistake: this is no conspiracy theory. Many conservatives believe in the free market with the faith that only a true believer can have. They want public schools privatized and they're barely even hiding it anymore.

To paraphrase a bumper sticker, if you're not completely apalled, you aren't paying close enough attention.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Florida politicians set to defy state Supreme Court on vouchers

Here's a fascinating article that highlights the political philosophy of too many politicians: do whatever it takes, even if you are overstepping your bounds.

Voucher allies see setback, plot foil

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Thursday, March 24, 2005

TALLAHASSEE — State GOP leaders are looking for ways to "circumvent" an expected ruling by the Florida Supreme Court against the state's first school voucher program, a top senator said Wednesday.

Former Senate President Jim King, explaining his long-running attempt to put some financial and academic oversight on the state's voucher programs to a Senate committee, said his staff is also working with other leaders to undo the effects of an anticipated court ruling.

"We are operating under the philosophy that the Supreme Court will rule against us, and we're trying to figure out some way to circumvent it," King told the Senate Government Appropriations Efficiency Committee.

The Opportunity Scholarship program, created by Gov. Jeb Bush under his A-plus education plan, has been ruled unconstitutional by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee because it allows state money to go to religious schools.

The state often gives great deference to that appeals court because it is recognized as having particular expertise on constitutional questions.

But Bush has appealed the appellate court ruling to the state's highest court and in the meantime is continuing to send 753 students who use that voucher to attend private schools, most of them religious.

Financial buffer proposed

King said he is considering creating a quasi-governmental entity, which would get state money, then would in turn pay for the vouchers to send children to private schools, including religious ones.

"In other words, you have a buffer. So instead of it going to parochial (schools), you create some omnibus — 'The Agency for a Better Private-Public Education,'" King said. "And you put the money there. We're thinking it might withstand an additional constitutional challenge because it isn't directly from a state account."

The lawyer who successfully argued the case on behalf of voucher opponents said King's scheme would not work because the state constitution forbids sending public money "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

Ron Meyer said that while he was pleased that lawmakers have recognized they are likely to lose the Supreme Court appeal, he hoped they will stop trying to find ways to evade that prohibition.

"I would like to indulge in the idea that because they have all sworn to uphold the constitution, that rather than trying to get around it, they will instead comply with it," Meyer said.


Yeah, good luck. You haven't been following the news much latey, have you, Mr. Meyer? Because it's full of stories about Republicans flouting the law, the constitution, decisions of the court, the democratic process -- I could go on, but I'd only get depressed.

This is real simple people: Public funds CANNOT go to support religious organizations. If you are religious, you should be the first to support this principle (and law, might I add) because it is designed to protect you.

Where are the stories about programs in our schools to teach students how the democratic process really works? Or, in this case, doesn't.

Hinting ain't enough

I've been writing a lot about the increasing number of states that are voicing opposition to NCLB -- loudly -- so it only makes sense that I would point to this story in today's edition of EdWeek:

Published: March 23, 2005

Spellings Hints at More Flexibility on NCLB

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is hinting at some new flexibility for states trying to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act when it comes to students with disabilities and limited English skills, and for making the calculations that determine whether schools and districts will face sanctions.

In a March 13 speech at the Council of the Great City Schools’ annual legislative conference in Washington, Ms. Spellings stressed there were some issues the Bush administration would not budge on, including the law’s requirement for annual testing in certain grades and the breaking down of data by race, socioeconomic status, and other subgroups.

But since becoming secretary in January, Ms. Spellings has settled long-standing disputes with some states over issues such as teacher-quality requirements and how to determine which school districts qualify as being in need of improvement.

At the conference last week, according to Jeff Simmering, the legislative director for the council, she told attendees that the Department of Education is eyeing ways to make the law less rigid and incorporate suggestions from states with concerns about the provisions on students with disabilities and those learning English.

“She clearly said they were looking at a variety of areas of flexibility,” said Mr. Simmering, whose Washington-based organization represents 65 of the country’s largest urban school districts. She also “made mention” of the idea of a value-added or growth model to help calculate adequate yearly progress under the law, he said.


She's going to have to do more than hint to stop the opposition of Texas, Virginia, Utah, Minnesota, Connecticut, and others from turning into an avalanche. But in the words of BTO, b-b-baby we just ain't seen nothin' yet.

I did notice that Spellings caved quickly when the Governor of California requested leniency for his state. A little starstruck, Madame Secretary?

Resolute

Connecticut jumped on the resolution bandwagon today:

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Frustrated that the federal government will not let Connecticut out of testing requirements mandated under the No Child Left Behind education act, the state Senate passed a resolution Wednesday asking Congress to amend the law.

The resolution requests that the federal Education Department grant waivers for states that have a strong track record of testing students. While the federal law has helped some states, it has been burdensome for states with good schools, said Sen. Thomas Herlihy, R-Simsbury.

"For states like that, unfortunately No Child Left Behind has been a bust," Herlihy said.

Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, said the federal government has not funded the law's requirements.
Gaffey, co-chairman of the legislature's Education Committee, was also critical of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who recently rejected a request from Connecticut to be exempted from standardized tests in grades 3,5 and 7. The state has been testing students in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10 for years.

State education officials have said the tests would not give them any more information about how students are performing. Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg had also asked for flexibility in testing of non-English speaking students and students with disabilities.


Of course, a resolution means nothing. They're usually reserved for the guy from East Wherever who volunteered for umpteen years as a Pee Wee football coach. But still, it is symbolic. And it shows that yet another state is extremely frustrated with the bullying of the federal government. Once again, there is bipartisan opposition to No Child Left Behind.

Was testing every other year such an unreasonable request? And if not, why won't the feds pay the full cost of the annual testing?

Mission accomplished? Not yet.

The Center for Education Policy released its third annual report on NCLB today. It's a mixed review. The results show that test scores have gone up in about 75% of states and districts and that the achievement gap has narrowed. But, according to the AP's account of the study:

[S]tates and school districts say they don't have the money or staffing to improve the thousands of schools that have failed to meet progress goals and face federal penalties.

Many schools leaders also say the law's testing requirements for disabled children and limited-English learners are "unfair, unrealistic, inappropriate or instructionally meaningless," according to the annual review by the independent Center on Education Policy.

Overall, in its third year of implementation, the law is showing preliminary signs of success but also severe difficulties that must be fixed, said center president Jack Jennings.

"The law runs the risk of being good at identifying problems, but not being good at providing the help to solve those problems," Jennings said.


I really like Jennings' quote. I think it cuts through everything and gets to the heart of the matter: tests are diagnostic. They tell us the problems but don't by themselves do anything to fix the problems.

NCLB's formulae for fixing the problems amounts to tutoring, transfers, and the threat of firings and/or school takeovers. The report shows that very few students are using the transfer options because schools are generally too overcrowded to accept them. It also shows that there is very little data at this point on the effectiveness of tutoring, though I generally think this is a very good part of the law.

But the biggest problems reported by the schools are staffing and funding. If every single student in every demographic is to pass math, science, and reading tests, schools are going to need more resources.

Predictably, Asst. Sec. of Education Ray Simon said, "The perpetual cry of more money, once again echoed in this report, simply does not comport with the facts." Well, that depends which facts you consider. I agree, of course, that money by itself will not improve education but it stands to reason that if you are going to require greater productivity from anything, you must increase its capabilities. I can't just tell my computer to go faster, I've got to get a new processor or more memory. And that costs money.

But funding isn't the only story here. There's a cautionary tale to be told. In nearly every situation in which high stakes testing has been instituted, test scores spike after the second or third years. The increased emphasis on the tests and the exclusion of other areas of focus cause that to happen. But usually the results start to flatline shortly thereafter. I think declaring victory because test scores improved after the third year would be extremely premature.

Here's hoping the Education Department doesn't fly any Mission Accomplished banners from their walls. (For more on the report, see EdWeek's article here.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More from Minnesota

Minnesota's Senate passed a bill out of committee yesterday that, unlike the resolution passed earlier, could actually lead to some real anti-NCLB action. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

A bill that could drop Minnesota out of the No Child Left Behind law passed its last Senate committee hurdle Tuesday, winning unanimous approval from the Finance Committee.

The bill could come up for a vote in the full Senate as early as next week.

A companion bill in the House still awaits a committee hearing.

Unlike the anti-No Child Left Behind resolutions that passed the Senate on Monday, this bill has teeth. It would require numerous changes in the federal testing and accountability law, or else the state would nullify the law and risk the potential loss of as much as $224 million a year in federal funds. But bill sponsor Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said it's uncertain whether the federal government would cut off that revenue. He said it might cut off much lesser amounts, for instance, the $50 million allocated to Minnesota for No Child Left Behind or the $90 million for Title I funding earmarked for the education of poor children. Or it might do nothing.

"The number could be zero, because by then the revolt among the states could be so widespread and so serious that the federal government wouldn't dare take the money away from the states," Kelley said. His bill would require a major reworking of the law to make its testing and school-accountability goals more modest.

The goal of the federal law is to have every child proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools that don't meet annual test results goals for several years in a row face sanctions that range from providing children with transportation to other schools to state takeover.


I think it particularly interesting that Sen. Kelley includes the potential actions of other states in his calculus. I think -- to use a newly minted cliche -- this might be indicative that we are nearing a tipping point. That is, states are eyeing each other and gaining courage to resist a law that is hated equally in red states and blue. If everyone, or at least a critical mass, opts out of it, the feds will have to loosen up or completely remove sanctions.

Here's hoping the states continue to develop a collective spine.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The St. Louis Post Dispatch ran an article yesterday detailing the spring testing fever in Missouri and Illinois. From the article, the good:

Evidence of how seriously teachers approach these tests has appeared in a number of schools.

At Shepard eMints Academy in St. Louis, university students tutor struggling children during the school day, after school and even during recess. Retired teachers tutor pupils in the evenings. Teachers ask parents to help their children explain and summarize what the children have read.


The bad:

Some educators worry that the increased attention to math and reading to prepare students for tests has taken away from other subjects. University City School Board member Joy Lieberman said the district's elementary schools no longer teach a foreign language because of the focus on core subjects.

Arizona State University researchers recently reported that test pressures can lead to a "beat-the-system" mentality, increasing the chances of cheating, excluding low-performing students, teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum.


And the ugly:

Students have learned rap lyrics such as "We will, we will zap the MAP, zap the MAP." They will receive Captain MAP stickers and pencils before they take the MAP tests, said Shepard's principal, Carol Hall-Whittier.

At Griffith Elementary School in Ferguson-Florissant, students ask each other math problems as they stand in line for recess or lunch.

Cathy Holway, a third-grade teacher, started a schoolwide math competition. Winners' names are posted in the hall like basketball teams in a tournament bracket.


Yuch.

The increased emphasis on tutoring basic skills is, I think, undoubtedly a good thing. It's where the rubber meets the road for the good intentions that were the original impetus of No Child Left Behind. But quickly we can see where the good intentions turn into bad results. No foreign language because of increased focus on tests? Math competitions where results are posted? The struggling students are surely going to feel encouraged by getting knocked out of a competition "like basketball teams in a tournament bracket."

For every Milwaukee-Wisconsin, there must be a Kansas or a Syracuse. For non-basketball fans, my point is simply this: We must not create a system of winners and losers. Education is not -- and should not be -- a competition. It's a cooperative enterprise in which everyone must win.

If anyone loses, everyonen loses.

Free Buster

There's an editorial in USA Today about the "Postcards from Buster" fiasco. Many PBS stations will run the "controversial" episode (that included a family with two moms) today, despite the written protest of education secretary Margaret Spellings. From the editorial:

One can understand why parents would not want a children's show to promote a lifestyle they oppose or to force kids to address a subject before they're ready.

But having seen the episode, it's hard to understand how any child could be harmed by it, unless it's from parents' overreaction.

Buster, after all, is a bunny, not a political analyst or gossip columnist. The words "gay," "homosexual," "lesbian" or "civil union" are never used, and Karen and Gillian never so much as touch, let alone behave in some intimate manner. They are simply "partners," which may be a loaded term for adults but shouldn't be for children. It certainly doesn't register with Buster, whose response to a picture of the two women with their children is simply, "That's a lot of moms."

How exactly does the mere sight of two women living together put parents in an awkward position?

If children want to know why these Vermont kids have two moms, isn't a possible answer "Because some people do these days," which has the virtue of being both age-appropriate and true?

As for people who are worried that they might have to address more "sensitive" questions, do those parents routinely describe the imagined sexual activities of every couple that crosses the screen, gay and straight?

The truth is, like most children, Buster doesn't show much interest in the adults and their living arrangements. He's much more fascinated by the kids and much more curious about their racial diversity.

Yet this seemingly innocuous encounter somehow led to a letter from the education secretary and PBS pulling the episode.

...[Spellings] may not like the way this Vermont family is structured, but there has been no hint that their living arrangements are anything but legal under Vermont law.

So you'd think a government official's first desire would be to teach kids to respect the legally protected choices other people make, even if they disagree with those choices or those people. Isn't that the bulwark of a democratic society? And yet we don't even seem surprised that a secretary of education would show so little respect for education, tolerance or the rule of law.

Let Buster write a postcard about that.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Props...

... to Joe Thomas at shutupandteach.org for posting a rundown of the content around the edusphere.

I'll also be paying close attention to anything Joe might have for us about the hotly contested voucher legislation that passed the Arizona Senate recently (Joe lives in AZ). Apparently, it required a Democrat to vote in favor of it to guarantee passage; and pass it did, even though three Republicans, including the Senate Majority Leader, voted against it! Craziness. Luckily, the Governor has said she'll veto it if it passes the House. Click here for details.

Update: The votes aren't in the House; apparently they've been stalling to keep from losing the vote.

Why did Finland kick our ass?

A top Finnish education policy maker claims that her country's high scores on the PISA exams (we didn't do so well) were the result of equity and decentralization. This is more than food for though; it's a feast. (Via O'hanian)

The Finnish comprehensive school is not only a system. It is also a matter of pedagogical philosophy and practice. An essential part of this philosophy is the principle of equity, on which Finnish education policy has been largely premised.

Efforts have accordingly been made to provide all population groups and regions of the country with equal educational opportunities. The findings of PISA (the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment) show that Finnish comprehensive schools have built up key competencies which are both high quality and also of high equality.

One of the most interesting findings of PISA, therefore, is the one indicating that in Finland the gap between high and low performers is relatively narrow. It is most encouraging that high quality and high equality of educational outcomes can go together -- so it is not either/or, it can be both/and....

...As a rule, in PISA testing, countries with greater degrees of school autonomy, including Finland, attained higher average levels of student performance than those with lower levels of school autonomy. A high degree of school and teacher autonomy in decision-making may thus be assumed to have been one decisive factor contributing to Finland's high performance in PISA.

In Finnish culture, the profession of teacher has been seen as one of the most important professions of society. Teachers have been trusted to do their best as true professionals of education. Teachers carry out assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of objectives written into the curriculum.

In Finland, the role of teacher-based assessment is all the more important because at Finnish comprehensive schools students are not assessed by any national tests or examinations upon completing school or during the school years. Finnish education authorities do not like any ranking list of schools although the mass media is interested in these lists.


This has always struck me as one of the most curious features not only of NCLB but of most state assessment systems: teachers are judged on student performance. But a 6th grade teacher didn't teach his students for the 11 or 12 years of their lives before they got to him. He didn't raise them, read to them, teach them phonics or arithmetic. Why not test the teacher's knowledge? Apparently, Finland doesn't test students at all except for international rankings, and in those, they dominate. Conclusion: more testing does not equal more learning. Knowledgeable teachers will improve student learning.

Minnesota's anti-NCLB efforts gaining steam

Of the 10 or so states currently challenging NCLB, Minnesota is the one we might be hearing the most about once Utah's case is resolved. Today, the Minnesota Senate passed two resolutions against the law. As the article points out, they don't mean much except that the Senate is united in its opposition and might -- if the Department of Education won't compromise -- be open to opting out:

The Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions calling for changes in the school testing and accountability law as well as a halt to additional high school testing, which President Bush has proposed to expand.

Such resolutions amount largely to statements of legislators' wishes. But they could pave the way for stronger bills currently in the works. Those bills would nullify the law in Minnesota unless the federal government eases up on what many educators see as the law's unreasonable expectations for student performance and overly stringent sanctions for schools that don't meet those goals. Such bills are currently being considered at the committee level.

... "If you believe in local control, then you should be concerned about the growing role of the federal government in education," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, sponsor of a resolution calling for a moratorium on additional No Child Left Behind tests in high school. "We don't want another chunk of No Child Left Behind thrown upon our high schools. ... Let's tell the feds, 'no more, not today.' "

There already is some No Child Left Behind testing in Minnesota high schools, including a 10th-grade reading test, an 11th-grade math test and a science test that will be given starting in the 2007-08 school year in one of the high school grades. Michel's resolution passed 63 to 0.



63-0. Ouch. The article does go on to say that Gov. Pawlenty supports NLCB; I don't know anything about Minnesota's constitution but I'm pretty sure 63-0 can override a veto anywhere.

NCLB recommendations

People for the American Way has released its recommendations for improving NCLB:

While we all have different positions on various aspects of the law, based on concerns raised during the implementation of NCLB, we believe the following significant, constructive corrections are among those necessary to make the Act fair and effective. Among these concerns are: over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and instruction to focus on test preparation rather than richer academic learning; over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using sanctions that do not help improve schools; inappropriately excluding low-scoring children in order to boost test results; and inadequate funding. Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.

They have 14 recommendations and an impressive list of signatories committed to instituting them.

Leave NCLB behind

A nice editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune in today's paper:

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a former two-time ambassador and lead U.S. negotiator on deals with Africa, South Asia and East Asia, put his diplomatic skills on the line in Washington, D.C., last week, defending Utah's right to set its own education standards.
He was fulfilling a promise he made to Utah legislators to negotiate with federal education officials over the strict regulations of the No Child Left Behind
act.
We don't know yet if he was successful, but we hope he was. Public education traditionally has been a state responsibility, and rightly so. Standards for schools are best set locally, recognizing unique circumstances.
The goals of No Child Left Behind - to improve learning for all children regardless of race, ethnicity or family circumstances - are not being disputed, as they are also the goals of Utah's
education reforms. However, the federal regulations mandated for all school districts across the country simply don't make sense in all individual situations. Besides, NCLB fails to fully fund the testing and remedial work that it requires.
Utah, like eight to 10 other states that are resisting NCLB, has begun to implement its own reform policies, moving to a system in which students must show they have learned course material, not merely attended class for the requisite
number of days. Utah's plan better fits its situation: overcrowded classes, consistent underfunding and a mix of urban and isolated rural districts.
The Utah Legislature this year was solidly behind a bill to direct Utah education officials to put state policies ahead of the federal NCLB whenever the two compete for funding or contradict each other in practice. It refers to a federal law that says states can't be forced to pay for unfunded
federal programs. Huntsman urged the Legislature to hold off passing House Bill 135 until he could try to get accommodations from federal officials.
If Huntsman can't win more concessions - Utah already has been granted a special dispensation regarding teacher qualifications - the Legislature is likely to pass HB135 in a special session April 20.
We hope it doesn't come to that. But, if it does,
Utah should move ahead with its own plan and leave NCLB behind.


There's obviously broad support in Utah for this potentially remarkable step -- HB 135 passed both houses of Utah's legislature unanimously -- so it would behoove the Administration to back down and compromise on this one. Of course, that's not been their strong suit throughout the first four years.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Charters in Maryland

An interesting WaPo article on charter schools in Maryland. Sec. Spellings went there earlier this month to push for an opening of the approval process for charters there. This article explains why.
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