Tuesday, September 29, 2009

California Assembly Committee on Race to the Top

Hearing today at the Capitol . The 5th. Extraordinary Session. Assembly Committee on Education considering the Race to the Top Funds of the Obama Administration.
Note; These funds are a part of the American Recovery and Re-investment Act, also known as the stimulus package.
There will be about $5 Billion available. At best California could hope for $1 b. Note, the California Legislature and the Governor cut $6.1 B from the state school budgets this year. Of this. $2.1 was “backfilled” by the federal government stimulus package. Deputy Supt. Of Public Instruction Miller stressed that Race to the top was totally voluntary, unlike NCLB. However, in local districts that have lost up to $35 million dollars, an opportunity to get $5 million back is definitely not voluntary.
It is noteworthy that the same people who made these slashing brutal cuts to education ( the Schwarzenegger admin.) are in charge of deciding how to pursue Race to the Top. Does that make you confident?
The representative from the California Federation of Teachers and Rucker of CTA again made the detailed and appropriate points that the assessment systems being proposed are totally invalid and unreliable. The professional literature on this is overwhelming, but not of interest to Arne Duncan, and apparently Supt. O’ Connell and Governor Schwarzenegger .
Student Data
The California Federation of Teachers believes that student achievement and student growth data may be worthwhile tools in helping to improve school instruction when the data instruments contain information that is useful to the teacher. We do not believe that current standardized tests being administered as part of the No Child Left Behind Act meet those criteria.
School reform will come when we can engage teachers, students and families. We need to engage the teachers in the classroom. It will not come from consultant class. My 35 + years of experience in working with schools convinces me that the political consultants and the bureaucrats may receive the funds, but the solutions will come from dialogues with the teachers, families, and community activists.
The most basic decisions on class size in schools are made by the Governor, the legislature, and the voters. In last year’s budget deal, the legislature and the Governor cut some $6 billion from the k-12 schools forcing lay offs of teachers and increasing class sizes. This cut was forced on California because the Governor and the Republicans would not raise taxes. Many art, music, and career technical teachers will be layed off. Class sizes in high schools will rise to over 40 and the drop out crisis will grow. Did you know that California already ranks 49 out of the 50 states in counselors per student? That is why there are so few counselors in schools. California now has the largest class sizes in the nation. Our Senators and our Assemblypersons voted for this. They argue that they had no choice.
The legislature, enjoys a 16% approval rating from voters. The federal competition for Race to the Top is a distraction from the more basic issues. Until the schools are adequately funded and class sizes reduced to at least the national average- no amount of pubic relations efforts will improve test scores.
At best, the Race to the Top funds would provide $100 per student to work toward reform. The California legislature reduced the per pupil expenditure this year by about $1,400 per student. So, their argument is that reform will come from a competition for $100 per students, but please don’t notice that we have cut $1,400 per student. I guess they think that the public can be distracted from basic realities.

Duane Campbell

Friday, September 25, 2009

Teachers Unions criticize Obama school reform plans

Unions Criticize Obama's School Proposals as 'Bush III'
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009

To the surprise of many educators who campaigned last year for change in the White House, the Obama administration's first recipe for school reform relies heavily on Bush-era ingredients and adds others that make unions gag.

Standardized testing, school accountability, performance pay, charter schools -- all are integral to President Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition to spur innovation. None is a typical Democratic crowd-pleaser.

Labor leaders, parsing the Education Department's fine print, call the proposal little more than a dressed-up version of the No Child Left Behind law enacted seven years ago under Obama's Republican predecessor.

"It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "That's Bush III." Weingarten, who praises Obama for massive federal aid to help schools through the recession, said her 1.4 million-member union is engaged in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the administration about reform.

Debate over Race to the Top among Democrats, education groups and others is widespread, with thousands of written comments pouring into the government since late July. It previews the clash to come when Obama and the Democratic-led Congress update No Child Left Behind. The controversial law is certain to be renamed and reworked. But those who want to scrap it entirely might be disappointed because federal education policy has been largely bipartisan for the past two decades.

"Obama's the fourth president in a row who has been in favor of standards-based reform and test-driven accountability," said Jack Jennings, a former Democratic congressional aide and president of the Center on Education Policy. "Obama's very much in a line of four consecutive presidents -- two liberals, two conservatives; two Democrats and two Republicans -- who are all in favor of the same kind of reform."

On Thursday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told interest groups in Washington that the administration hopes to improve the 2002 federal law by raising expectations for students, giving schools more flexibility and tracking classroom gains rather than how far test scores fall short of what he called "utopian goals."

But Duncan reiterated his commitment to testing and accountability: "I will always give NCLB credit for exposing achievement gaps and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes rather than inputs. . . . Today, we expect districts, principals and teachers to take responsibility for the academic performance of their schools and students."

The standardized testing culture has sunk deep roots in public education under the federal mandate to assess students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. State tests are widely criticized for uneven rigor and quality, but they provide data crucial to many reform efforts. The administration has set aside funding to help develop a new generation of exams as a group of states seeks to write what could become the first nationwide academic standards. But for now, the regular state tests will feed into Race to the Top.

The administration's proposed rules for the grants challenge the education establishment on several fronts:

-- To create systems to track individual student achievement over time and link growth in scores to individual teachers and principals;

-- To use those data in part to evaluate and compensate teachers and principals;

-- To lift limits on independently operated but publicly funded charter schools, which usually are not unionized; and

-- To shake up perennially struggling schools identified through No Child Left Behind.

The proposal could be revised this fall before states apply. No money has been awarded yet. Still, details embedded within the proposal have sent shock waves through the education world.

For example, it defines an "effective teacher" as one "whose students achieve acceptable rates (e.g., at least one grade level in an academic year) of student growth" -- and it requires such growth to be measured through state test scores when applicable. To revive struggling schools, including many Duncan calls "dropout factories," the proposal urges states to sweep out their staff or management, convert them to charter schools or close them entirely, with a fourth option of "school transformation" recommended only when the more aggressive strategies "are not possible." And the proposal declares ineligible for funding any state that prohibits the linkage of student achievement data to teachers and principals for job evaluations.

California might soon repeal a statute that appears to run afoul of that provision. It is one of several states that have in recent months passed or proposed measures to position themselves to secure grants.

The comments on Race to the Top -- more than 3,700 in all, from more than 1,100 sources, according to a government official -- range from scathing to enthusiastic.

The National Education Association, with 3.2 million members, called it a "disturbing" federal intrusion. "We have been down that road before with the failures of No Child Left Behind," the union writes, "and we cannot support yet another layer of federal mandates that have little or no research base of success and that usurp state and local government's responsibilities for public education." Union affiliates from 19 states weighed in, many echoing such views.

The National School Boards Association declared itself generally supportive but worried that the program is "overly prescriptive," with an "overemphasis on charter schools and school takeovers."

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell (R) commended the administration's push for performance pay and charter schools. "Education reform is not a partisan issue," he wrote in a letter to Duncan last month.

In a joint statement, the Center for American Progress, Democrats for Education Reform, the Education Equality Project and the Education Trust called the proposal "a strong and good-faith effort" to fix education problems.

"There hasn't been enough focus by those on the left on innovation and entrepreneurship. It's ironic because it's those traits of America that have pushed this country into world leadership," Cynthia G. Brown of the Center for American Progress said in an interview. Said Brown, who was an assistant education secretary in the Carter administration: "We have to move forward and try some new ways of doing things. We need to do it in partnership with those who teach in our classrooms and those who govern our schools. But we've got to move forward."

Duncan said Thursday that he is prohibited from responding to all of the Race to the Top input as the government prepares its rules. "Great feedback," he called it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Response to Time on Duncan

Time Magazine published a feature on Arne Duncan. Here is one teacher's response.
Dear Editor,

Gilbert Cruz's feature on Arne Duncan and the Race To The Top program entirely missed the boat, misrepresenting the issues and ignoring years of evidence about what it takes for students to learn. The idea that teachers should be held accountable for the success or failure of their students is neither new nor (amongst teachers) controversial. The controversy surrounds the means by which we evaluate both students and teachers. With Race To The Top, President Obama and Secretary Duncan lay all of the responsibility for students' success or failure squarely on the backs of classroom teachers, while giving them no authority to do anything whatsoever to change the status quo. Today's teachers are regularly forced to use scripted lessons and follow pacing guides that leave no room at all for creativity or professional judgement. If teachers have no power, how can we hold them accountable? Would you hand a firefighter a set of procedures to follow at every fire, regardless of its size, location, or nature? Would you require doctors to use the same treatment with every patient, regardless of the disease? That's what is happening to our teachers and students.

In his effort to blame teacher unions for standing in the way of reform, Mr. Cruz fails to note what an abject failure No Child Left Behind and its era of high-stakes standardized testing have been. States spend billions on tests that are not reliable and are often inappropriate. School districts have responded by narrowing the curriculum so that teachers teach only what is to be tested that year. Many elementary students never touch a history or science textbook. Art and music are things of the past. Physical education is disappearing --And research shows us that these subjects and programs are vital to student achievement.

There is no evidence whatsoever that our testing mania is helping children; there is mounting evidence that it does them terrible harm. Educators are challenging Race To The Top because it's going to make things worse, not better. Once salaries are tied to test scores teachers will compete to work with the best and brightest students, those who are likely to test well. Our students with the lowest test scores and the greatest needs will get the inexperienced and less capable teachers. I have taught English Learners and immigrant children for over twenty years. My students learn a great deal, and make tremendous advances, but they traditionally score poorly on standardized tests because they have yet to master English. But we still keep giving them the same tests we give the English-only students, knowing in advance what the results will be. Who is this helping? And more importantly, who is going to want to work with these students once salaries are tied to test scores?

Charles Finn
Teacher, Oceanside Unified School District