NCLB News & Notes…Plus Why Diversifying Your Portfolio Makes Sense For NCLB Foes As Well As Investors

With the obvious caveat that in politics and policymaking there is no minute like the last minute for getting things done, it does look like NCLB reauthorization is on life-support for ’07. The Miller-McKeon “discussion draft” in the House of Representatives (dubbed the “destruction draft” by more than one wag) has caused more dissension than agreement and collateral damage in both chambers as well as on the campaign trail. And, even McKeon himself is backing away now. Hell, Ed Week’s Hoff can’t even find the draft bill these days…Meanwhile, the Senate is hard at work but it’s hard to see much happening there for the rest of the year with everything else going on. Update: That was just made official. And, the NEA is on the warpath and really leaning on all involved pols, and that hardly helps.

I suspect that there could be a burst of activity next year, perhaps after the primaries but before Congress gets locked down for the year with presidential politics. But the odds are still long. And, at some point, you have to assume the Administration will pull the plug on reauthorization from their perspective. If you pass a law you want to be around long enough to regulate on it.

Meanwhile, less No Child market volatility than some had hoped. The first big returns from the Department of Education’s “growth model” pilot* are coming back and, surprise!, in a lot of places it’s making little difference. Why? Well, because the standards are still pretty modest in most places, No Child already had one growth component in it — the safe harbor provisions, there is a lot of state evasion, and schools with less than 20 percent of kids at grade level — and there are too many of those — will be identified by almost any meaningful accountability system. So as a result of all that right now most the schools that No Child is identifying as persistently under-performing are, well, persistently under-performing. Bottom line: If you want to weaken NCLB you’ll need a more diversified portfolio than just investing in growth…Ed Daily’s Stephen Sawchuk did a nice write-up of some of the data you should try to get your hands on, but I’d be violating copyrights if I posted it here. As more states report data the picture could change, but that’s the deal now.

Also worth noting that you can figure out the questions about which schools would/would not make “adequate yearly progress” by just modeling based on the data. You don’t need a pilot for that; you need a computer and a spreadsheet. The more interesting question is the behavioral one: What changes when you use growth models instead of the current NCLB status model? So far it seems, not a whole lot. Why? Perhaps because there is a much more robust industry in talking about school improvement efforts and fighting against school improvement, than actually, you know, doing the work!

Over at his blog Charlie Barone has been blogging up a storm. He’s all over the “bubble kids” issue. Two thoughts on that. First, the new study from Ed Next provides some much-needed perspective. This, along with other empty calorie strategies, is a problem in some places though hardly as widespread as critics claim. In fact, if teachers and schools were this agile with data in the first place, well, we wouldn’t have some of the other problems we see! Second, the dilemma built into No Child Left Behind is that the floor rises each year or every couple of years (this paper explains all that). So focusing on “bubble kids” to the extent it happens is a time-limited strategy anyway. But, the rising floor “raises” a different and not illegitimate concern: That the targets quickly become out of reach for schools that are trying to improve and are actually making progress.

That’s why some people want growth models…and they’re not wrong so long as the standards remain stringent for what constitutes a growth model. But, like national standards, vouchers, etc…growth models won’t alleviate the basic challenge in school improvement: Improving teaching and learning, in other words, school improvement. A simple yet incredibly challenging issue.

*Some posts about all that here, here, & here.

7 Replies to “NCLB News & Notes…Plus Why Diversifying Your Portfolio Makes Sense For NCLB Foes As Well As Investors”

  1. Andrew,

    I enjoyed the nuance of your post and the three comments and I’ll be reflecting on them as I reread them.

    But we all need to watch the hypocrisy. Changing to growth models or multiple measures will help. But nothing will work if we persist in seeing accountability as the most important part of reform. We human being won’t build a system of accountability that will guarantee national improvements for generations.

    We need to shift gears and view accountability as ONE component of reform – not the “be all end all.”

    And as I commented before you published posts, I was stunned the first time I read the opinion that playing games with the NCLB accountability rules was wrong and hurt kids. I participated in those meetings. We all knew what we were doing. We were consciously deciding on the “Balloon Mortgage” that would delay failure for the longest time.

    We all assumed that we were doing it for the good of the kids. In retrospect it seems obvious that we were doing good for kids. And I have no doubt that educators continue to have the responsibality to evade NCLB rules.

    If we could abandon utopianism and get back to realistically discussing ways of helping kids, I’d love the opportunity to do it in an honest manner.

    You may think that we are wrong, but we’re not going away. And since its teachers who must implement NCLB, along with our administrators, you might as well stop demonizing us for doing what we perceive as our duty.

    Besides, there is so much good we could do if we could get out of this stalemate.

  2. It doesn’t take a lot of agile data-reading to identify the bubble kids, IMO–you can usually pick them out from your classroom assessments and reputation, as unfair as that might be.

  3. Where self-interest is involved, I’m just wondering what other components of reform are as or more important then accountability? It would be helpful if you identified those factors rather then just making the bald assertion that accountability isn’t “the be all and end all”.

    > We all assumed that we were doing it for the good of the kids.

    Nonsense. We assumed that “we” were doing it because the public education choo-choo train has hurtled off the tracks and, startlingly, more funding wasn’t going to put things right. That was a safe prediction because public education funding has handily out-paced inflation for, oh, a couple of decades with no obvious benefit to the society pouring money therein. Nine out of ten doctors, it turns out, agree that doing the same old thing with an expectation of novel results isn’t an indicator of a piercing intellect.

    “More funding” has been the mantra pointing toward public education salvation for so long that it was assumed that there wasn’t any other factor worth discussing, let alone implementing. Well, there is and it’s accountability.

    And when you use the word “we” you’d better have a mouse in your pocket because you don’t speak for me and you’re not a member of royalty.

    What *we* assume is that when you juxtapose the word “public” with the word “education”, one of those words is going to be the pivot around which the institution revolves. Is it going to be more public, i.e. political? Or is it going to be more educational? A quick glance at pretty nearly any large, urban school district tells you exactly what’s driving the system and it isn’t educational considerations.

    So thanks, but warts and all, I’ll take NCLB in preference to the self-serving “reasonableness” offered by the loyal opposition.

  4. Allen,

    You take NCLB, and I’ll take reasonableness, and then we can do the same with tomato, potato, etc.

    But I have to ask whether you have ever stepped foot into an inner city school? If so, how did you like all that wealth we were showering on our poorest kids?

    Add up the hours you spent with your kids preparing them for a 21st century education, and then multiply that number by the minimum wage, and what will the total be? Will it be one hundred times the amount we spend on one of my students? a thousand times?

    Regarding the royal “we,” I don’t believe I know a teacher who STILL supports NCLB. I believe my experience is similar to the national numbers where the majority of us teachers once told pollsters that we basically supported the law, but we have changed our minds.

    I hope this doesn’t sound macho but I’ve never understood this question. Where can you get teachers with the backbone needed to help our most challenged kids, and yet not have the backbone needed to stand up to NCLB?

    Regarding an approach other than accountability, how about love?

    OK that may not fly politically, and we need a reasonable amount of accountability along with money to pay for early childhood education, nutrition and health services, drop out prevention and retreival programs, etc. All would have a much better bang for the buck.

    But why has NCLB failed and done so irrevocably? It gambled everything on a narrow portion of the intellect while education is fundamentally about love. Sometimes it has to be tough love. Sometimes we have to protect our kids from some pretty scarey realities. But if we – and in this case I mean the great majority of the adults in my school – will all turn out in a moment’s notice to stand up to armed gangsters, don’t expect us to wimp out when faced by NCLB mandates.

    I don’t know what you do for a living, and for all I know your co-workers had as much blood spilled as mine in the last year. Maybe you attended as many funerals and helped as many injured children as we did. But if you want to join us, I’ll be glad to watch your back.


  5. Lets talk about the reality of a teacher at a struggling school. That teacher puts in overtime, makes a genuine effort to reach each child, and gets results. But since they teach in a struggling school the next year the district/state panicks, mandates curriculum, requires endless meetings, trainings, etc. Hence, individual prowess as a teacher is marginalized. The job sucks, so they leave as soon as they can.

    In a “growth model” their individual prowess as a teacher is recognized. But guess what: the school still fails to meet its benchmark, the district panicks, mandates curriculum, the jobs sucks, and they move on to greener pastures.

    NCLB does one thing right: bad schools are in generally being accurately identified. Teachers who can teach well just move to upper middle class schools. NCLB has had the most success in mandating data driven evaluation of teachers. In the abstract that is absolutely where we should go. But if a struggling school only has twice picked over rejects and the occasional gem who will not stay, how exactly has education benefitted? There are absolutely some terrible teachers that need to leave the profession. If NCLB helps with that, then it can be a good thing. But I have seen zero evidence that its actively improving anything else.

    If you want to improve education we need to either:
    (a) find and support methods that have been proven to work with 90% of teachers. That includes the “MRS” degrees, C students at regional teacher colleges, and change-of-career alternatively certified teachers. The remaining 10% of teachers need to be coached out of teaching.

    (b) recruit such talented teachers that overall teacher quality improves.

    A good teacher is like a free agent in the NBA. The salary cap means that their salary has little to do with where they teach. So if you are going to be paid the same regardless, why teach at a school that will constantly be under the NCLB gun? NCLB just pushes “good” teachers out, aka teachers who can get a job elsewhere or leave the profession altogether. Sure we can wish that teachers are such high minded individuals that they want to teach the most challenging kids in the places where their efforts will do the most good. And I think many teachers are like that. Until they start a family and start having to make the normal rational decisions that all adults make. Because the reality is that a school facing NCLB penalties in the face (a) is more stressful, (b) requries more time and effort, and (c) does not pay an appreciable amount more to make up for a & b.

    If you were a teacher, what would you do?

  6. Anonymous above:

    Interesting observations.

    However, I am a self-appointed standard-bearer for all sports-and-K12 analogies, and your NBA analogy falls short.

    But I know what you meant: all you need to do is amend “free agent” to “free agent mid-level exception” ($5.3 million this year).

    That exception is the same across all teams. However, most NBA “free agents” get very different amounts of money. Go Celts.

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