Friday, May 14, 2004
A Suit That Doesn't Fit
More talk of a state lawsuit against No Child Left Behind claiming it is an unfunded mandate. The law could use more funding to make its implementation more effective, but as a technical matter it is not an unfunded mandate.
The only "mandate", the testing provisions, are funded at a minimal but technically sufficient level as this GAO study shows. There should be more funding for those provisions because kids deserve better than minimal (in practice cheap multiple choice tests), but garnering such support requires a political not judicial strategy.
Besides, No Child's opponents look ridiculous arguing that the problem with a law they obviously hate is that it is underfunded. This law is awful, but it must be fully funded now! There's a message...
Dog that Didn't Bark Afterthought: Whatever happened to that vaunted NEA lawsuit against the "so called No Child Left Behind Act"?
Sensible Message Afterthought: Ted Kennedy and George Miller have the right idea here on message and policy. Support the law and fund it. Not one or the other.
Historical Afterthought: When did so-called progressives become such states' rights fanatics?
Update! NCSL analysts think the Wisconsin lawsuit might be the vaunted lawsuit. Could be...the straight from talking points quotes in this article reveal it for the blatantly political exercise it is.
Relaxing poolside this weekend? Rick Kahlenberg in Slate and Cass R. Sunstein in The New Yorker both offer interesting discussions of Brown.
On the show "Uncommon Knowledge" legal scholar Douglas Kmiec and historian Garry Wills discuss church-state issues. Well worth listening or reading, a thoughtful discussion and good context on today’s debate.
And, this book is essential pool or beach reading for any eduwonk.
Public Agenda just published a study on discipline in schools in cooperation with Common Good, Phillip Howard's legal reform organization. Not surprisingly teachers and parents see discipline as a major issue and a major problem (one in three teachers said it was the top problem at their school) although they blame a small minority of students for most of the problems. However, in terms of solutions the devil is very much in the details. Respondents favored "zero tolerance" policies, for example, but wanted such policies to also include "common sense". Of course, one person's common sense is another's inconsistent discipline policy. Common Good undertakes important work to rein in our lawsuit culture and we should wish them success. Schools have been forced to adopt uniform policies in part because of lawsuits. Uniformity not discretion is a foil against litigation and until the current climate changes it's hard to blame the schools for protecting themselves.
It's all worth reading -- particularly the raw data in the back.
Current Event Afterthought: One concern raised by teachers in this study was discipline for special education students. Both the House and Senate IDEA reauthorization bills include changes to IDEA's discipline provisions. The House language, however, is stronger. Look for that to be an issue in conference.
Stop the Presses!
Fordham Foundation's Education Gadfly endorses universal access to pre-k education. It's a crucial issue and not unaffordable, even now. The success of technology education surely convinced them of the efficacy of some progressive ideas! But will Bush - Cheney listen? It is anybody's guess who will find religion first, liberal Democrats on accountability or conservative Republicans on the importance of pre-k education. But that party will be in pretty good shape...
By the way, Gadfly's analysis of Kerry's education plan gives the teacher quality provisions short shrift and minimizes the importance of the graduation rate issue. And, like Mickey Kaus they focus on the the political challenges down the road which, while formidable, do not minimize the significance of the proposal now. Gadfly does, however, note that President Bush needs an agenda in the first place.
Of course, Eduwonk feels like an ingrate for criticizing on the heels of being labeled perspicacious. Maybe they'll find a fancy synonym for ungrateful next week!
In the interest of fairness and balance Eduwonk notes that for the most part President Bush's education speech in Arkansas on Tuesday and remarks at NIH on Wednesday were pretty good. Sure, there were Bushisms galore and he fuzzed up the funding question, but his fundamental point -- that it is essential to hold schools accountable for student learning and imperative that we do a better job looking out for the interests of struggling students -- is an important one that progressives should be trumpeting not resisting.
Bush also noted that NCLB's provisions are not punitive or draconian as opponents (and his former assistant secretary of education) claim. There is possibly a danger for anti-NCLB Democrats if he starts beating this drum...because it's true. Good thing the press doesn't think so! Besides, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out recently, liberals should favor doing something serious about low performing schools.
Yet Bush is in a hole of his own creation because he's only saying these things now and focusing on education when his back is to a political wall. He left implementation of the most ambitious federal education law in a generation -- which would have been a challenge in the best of circumstances -- to an ideologically driven Department of Education that quickly turned it into a mess. In the process he became an unlikely ally for the law's most virulent opponents. A three-day political roadshow is too little too late.
Senator Kerry will not move many votes except among public policy scholars by calling for a sustained implementation effort -- it's the last thing the law's foes want -- but it is exactly what is needed right now. What might such an effort include? For starters, real technical assistance particularly with accountability design and testing, professional development for both implementers and teachers, and targeted resources. State departments of education need help too. Someone should suggest that. Someone did!
Looking Glass Afterthought: If you needed more evidence that education is politically twisted, consider this: Reid Lyon, the NIH researcher who hosted Bush yesterday (and advises him on reading), has made his life's work learning more about how children learn to read. In the process he's produced seminal research that is helping to prevent learning disabilities and improve reading instruction. Yet the left loathes him...something about phonics. Did we mention he's also a Democrat?
In The Washington Post, Michael Dobbs takes an interesting look at Brown and David Broder kinda likes NCLB again. The Boston Globe looks at dropouts. Boston is now reporting them more forthrightly.
Dorothy, Show Me the Money
A Kansas judge has ordered schools there closed at the end of June because the state's school finance system is unconstitutional. And they are to stay closed until the state legislature fixes the problem. Worth watching...
By the way, No Child will lead to more school finance litigation which is, of course, a reason liberals should like it.
Although the betting was that some Senators would take a free vote and rely on the House to reject mandatory federal funding for special education, instead the Senate rejected mandatory funding today by a 56-41 vote (Republicans used budget rules to require the amendment to have 60 votes to pass). You can see how senators voted by clicking here and follow the progress of other IDEA amendments by clicking here. This could lead to faster passage of the final package and the White House will likely try to get maximum political traction out of passing an education bill this year. Whether they can do so remains to be seen.
Strange Bedfellows IDEA Afterthoughts: The NEA is supporting Senator Santorum's paperwork reduction pilot program...and Senator McCain voted with the Democrats on mandatory IDEA funding (so did Warner, maybe they really do want to be Defense Secretary!)...
Alert the John DiIulio-Paul O'Neill message discipline squad! There is another off-message former Bush Administration official loose in the land! This time it's former Assistant Secretary of Education Susan Neuman whose portfolio was elementary and secondary education. According to Education Week here's what she told the International Reading Association last week:
Susan B. Neuman, who served as the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the Bush administration until January 2003, praised the law she helped implement for holding schools and teachers accountable for student achievement. But she also outlined what she sees as its unintended consequences.
Ms. Neuman said she worried that many of the nation's most vulnerable children were still being left behind.
"In [the most disadvantaged schools] in America, even the most earnest teacher has often given up because they lack every available resource that could possibly make a difference," said Ms. Neuman, who has returned to the University of Michigan, where she is a reading researcher.
"When we say all children can achieve and then not give them the additional resources" that are necessary to meet that goal, she said, "we are creating a fantasy."
Like many presenters and participants at the May 3-6 event, Ms. Neuman also expressed worries that testing is taking valuable time away from instruction.
"We all know children are being tested too much. Let's be honest," she said.
Ms. Neuman added that too many schools are being identified as failing based on whether students perform on grade level, even if they are making progress with low-performing students.
"Too many schools are not making ["adequate yearly progress"] based on a statistical nuance and not on what is really happening in that school," she said. "In Michigan, they are reconstituting schools, firing principals and teachers. ... These are Draconian kinds of consequences."
Current education policies, she suggested, often oversimplify the problems schools face, overgeneralize solutions, unfairly penalize schools with many struggling students, and do not adequately consider teachers' views.
Many of the 300 attendees applauded when she challenged policymakers to spend more time in classrooms.
"That might change their perspective a little bit," she said.
The conference was the first for Ms. Neuman in three years, when she stepped down as an IRA board member to take the federal appointment. "It's lovely for the first time in a long time to have my own voice," she said.
Exactly what part did she praise?
In any event, Eduwonk does not agree with every point (so the Bush crowd will surely hate it!) and some of this sounds like standard lines to jolly up an ideologically homogenous audience. But regardless, this one will be hard to lay off of so let the partisan hay fly! And, if this does get legs, let the betting start on when "clarifications" will be forthcoming!
Afterthought: Memo to Ed Week: This is buried in the middle of a typically tedious article about reading debates. Isn't it worth a little more play (the quotes themselves not the tediousness of the reading debate, that's old news) or were they really just throwaway lines?
Bonus Afterthought: Hmmm...which policymakers does she wish would spend more time in classrooms? Any of these policymakers perhaps?
Bush on the Road in AR, MD, and WV*
President Bush is on the road discussing education this week. Today he was in Arkansas, tomorrow in Maryland, and Thursday in West Virginia.
As President Bush tries to regain traction on education consider this: Perhaps the paradox of No Child Left Behind is that it took a Republican president to get it passed but will take a Democratic one to make it work. That's because only a Republican in the White House could overcome the maniacal opposition among conservatives in Congress to almost anything federal in education. But, because -- rightly or wrongly -- there is so much (again in some cases maniacal) distrust of President Bush’s intentions on education he will be unable to solidify support for the law. Interestingly, bipartisan continuity on reform is key to state school improvement efforts in places like...Texas.
*One of these is not like the others...MD! It’s not a swing state! Apparently eligibility for this education tour was closeness of the 2000 vote or closeness to the White House...
This is not abstinence-only sex education. Didn't Jocelyn Elders get fired for less?
Looks like the Senate will finally begin debating reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) this week. IDEA sounds obscure but actually governs most special education policy and on a day-to-day basis and is probably the most visible federal regulatory presence in elementary and secondary schools. Although the House and Senate bills have plenty to recommend them, disability advocates are strongly opposed to provisions in both -- particularly those that would streamline paperwork and due process aspects of the current law.
The Senate bill will be considered under a time agreement limiting debate and allowing only six amendments. They include amendments about attorney's fees, transient students, research into the causes of some disabilities, a 10-state pilot program for more flexibility under IDEA, as well as two funding amendments.
The major disagreement will be, not surprisingly, about funding. There is general agreement that IDEA is under-funded but no consensus about how to increase funding. Careful readers will note that the best way to increase funding is to spend more money! Yes! But the disagreement is whether additional IDEA funding should be "discretionary" or subject to the annual congressional appropriations process or "mandatory" meaning automatic. Medicare and Social Security are examples of mandatory programs while most social spending including education is discretionary. Senator Gregg (R-NH) will offer an amendment about discretionary funding and Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Hegel (R-NB) will offer one to make IDEA funding mandatory. Here is more on the politics of IDEA funding.
The Republican-controlled House is opposed to mandatory funding for IDEA along with most Senate Republicans. An amendment to make IDEA spending mandatory will likely pass the Senate with almost every Democrat supporting it and probably a handful of Republican senators in favor too (you can be sure the White House and The Wall Street Journal editorial page will be watching Specter!).
Differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved in a conference committee. Smart money in both parties say that most likely mandatory spending will be removed in favor of a discretionary spending increase or the bill will just die in conference this year (not a lot is getting done these days anyway). That seems like a safe bet (the Senate has passed mandatory spending proposals for IDEA before and they've met this fate) but an unfortunate one if the good policy ideas in both the House and Senate bills get lost too.
Afterthought: The wild card to watch is the election. If it stays close then the President -- who currently opposes mandatory IDEA funding -- might decide that a big spending education bill would be advantageous. But he would not do a 180 and adopt the other party's policy on the eve of an election, would he? Remember homeland security?
Or, more likely, to move the bill out of conference President Bush could also just support throwing a lot of money at IDEA during the appropriations process. After all the distinction among mandatory and discretionary is a Washington issue, it doesn't drive voters to the polls.
The other day Eduwonk praised the UFT in New York for considering opening a charter school. The New York Post vehemently disagrees. They argue that --at best-- the school would be a Potemkin village and at worst would be inappropriately construed by the media as validating current teacher contracts in New York (which most observers agree hamper educational improvement efforts).
The Post has a point. There are far too many Potemkin villages scattered around American education that reporters and other interested parties are helpfully steered to when they want to learn more about a particular issue. And, in this business, too often the plural of anecdote becomes data so perceptions are shaped by outliers rather than the aggregate picture. And, the Post is right that the UFT has an obvious agenda here, namely showing that the teacher contract is not a problem.
But…so what? A big part of charter schooling is creating room for various publicly accountable innovations that parents are free to choose or reject. If the UFT can create a good charter school, all the better. If they cannot, well, then that is pretty telling too. And if the media cannot be trusted to sift through self-serving press releases and tell the story accurately and fairly then that is not an indictment of the UFT but rather of the Post and its colleagues.
The current teachers' union approach to charter schools is not tenable and threatens to further erode support for public education. Intellectuals inside the unions recognize this. Yet change won't come overnight and charter supporters should not be so ideologically rigid as to reject any progress, however slow and incremental, because it is not wholesale change. Doing so will only make change that much slower.
Bay State Charters...And movement on pay in NYC
New charter school data from Massachusetts shows that six in ten urban charter schools there outpaced comparable schools in their communities. Results statewide were more mixed. Again this looks like an issue of authorizing and quality rather than a blight on the charter idea itself. As Checker Finn told the Globe,
"To hang a sign of 'charter' out is a guarantee of nothing in particular when it comes to educational performance"
That's about right. The charter community has to be as relentless about quality as about supporting charter schools.
UFT president Randi Weingarten has proposed a step toward differential pay in Gotham. She wants across the board raises for all teachers but also extra differentials for teachers working in the 200 lowest performing schools in the city. Amazingly, such common sense differential pay schemes are still derided as plots to undermine teachers' unions in many circles. Though there is still more rhetoric than action in terms of modernizing how teachers are paid, there are hopeful signs of progress.
Afterthought: Yes, you read this item right, salaries that are responsive to market conditions are still considered a radical idea in education. It's just too early in the week to be cynical about it!
In The New York Times Diana Jean Schemo takes a long look at the Denver pay-for-performance experiment that is well worth reading (she also notes that Senator Kerry has now proposed national funds to support similar innovations elsewhere so there are national implications). The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman looks at Virginia's new graduation requirements which have real consequences for students this year. Both are important changes worth watching but considering them together, figuring out how to increase accountability for adults working in schools does seem every bit -- if not more -- important than accountability for the students. Eduwonk's not sure that individual pay-for-performance is the way to go, but it's sure worth innovating to find out.
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Education writer Alexander Russo just started a weekly email blast about goings on in education policy. It’s got a Chicago focus because, well, that's where he lives. But it's a quick concise way to catch up on anything you may have missed. If you want in on it email him at AlexanderRusso@aol.com.