Tag Archives: public education

Many Cheers But One Big Jeer for NYS Governor Cuomo: Local Control

NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo takes aim at local control and public schools © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo takes aim at local control and public schools © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

There is much to cheer in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, one of which he delivered at SUNY Farmingdale on Long Island. His agenda for infrastructure, mass transportation improvements, water quality, affirming women’s reproductive rights,  support for immigrants and refugees, free tuition at public colleges for those who qualify, and how he couples the need for aggressive climate action with vigorous sustainable economic development, giving his blessing leading to LIPA’s landmark decision for a 90 megawatt off-shore windfarm to supply the East End, the first utility-scale project in America and making Long Island a leader in a new American industry, put Cuomo in line another New York Governor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which FDR brought to the White House as the New Deal (and it is clear Cuomo is jockeying for an eventual run for president).

The one jeer? His renewed assault on local control, which he casts as the culprit for unceasingly high property taxes, which is a not-really-veiled attack on public education.

Each year, Cuomo has used a different mechanism to make the property tax cap – which limits the amount a municipality can raise through property taxes to 2% or the CPI, whichever is less – an offer that can’t be refused. This year, Cuomo has unveiled a “groundbreaking” proposal which mandates the county executive “to develop localized plans that find real, recurring property tax savings by coordinating and eliminating duplicative services and proposing coordinated services to enhance purchasing power, such as jointly purchasing and coordinating use of expensive transportation or emergency equipment. Taxpayers will then vote on these cost-saving plans in a referendum in the November 2017 general election.” If the referendum fails, well then, the plan would need to be reworked and resubmitted in November 2018. (Notably, New York City is exempted.)

But the argument begins with a flawed argument that we spend 2.5 times on property taxes than state income taxes. Doesn’t that spending differential reflect how much we pay for the services we actually receive locally? Plowing snow. Repairing roads. Treating sewage. Picking up garbage. Delivering water. Maintaining police, fire and emergency services. Keeping street lights on. And yes, public education.

Though people like to charge that Long Island pays the highest property taxes in the country, that isn’t true. Nor do New Yorkers pay the highest taxes in the nation, When all taxes are tallied –real estate, income, sales taxes and fees, New York comes in 6th (behind Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Rhode Island).  Nor are the taxes out of line to the incomes earned and home values. But most importantly, for the quality of municipal services including public schools, we want in our community.

Question for Cuomo: before you forcibly consolidate local governments, how much money would be saved by the exercise and how would consolidation actually work? North Hempstead already promotes intermunicipal cooperation; the school districts already participate in joint purchasing and shared services (BOCES) wherever practicable. Indeed, Great Neck public schools now earn a tidy sum in revenue from other districts for tuition paid into programs such as SEAL (rather than paying out $1 million in tuition). If there is waste and duplication, voters can show their ire at the ballot box or make their better-government suggestions known at public meetings.

But the real target of Cuomo’s assault on local governments and property taxes is public education, since 60-65% of the property tax bill goes to fund schools.

Talk about wasteful duplication. If he were so concerned, Cuomo wouldn’t be pushing for a second tier public school system – for-profit charter schools – without the same financial or academic accountability or subject to the same state mandates, to divert money from public schools.

Indeed, Long Islanders wouldn’t pay so much in property taxes if we weren’t so shortchanged in state aid for our public schools – though Long Island has 17% of NY’s student population, we only receive 12% of  state aid. It is a lot more obvious when you compare the percentage of school budgets funded by state aid: New York City, where property taxes are low and just about everybody gets some sort of tax holiday, gets 50% of its school budget paid by the state; in comparison less than 5% of Great Neck’s school budget comes from the state. Also, new enterprises, like Avalon Bay residential development, are getting a PILOT by Nassau County’s IDA, reducing the taxes they contribute to the school district as well as Village of Great Neck; the difference is made up by homeowners.

Governor Cuomo has made property taxes, and particularly school taxes, the enemy, falsely claiming that the taxes inhibit growth. But the services that are funded through property taxes contribute to economic growth and activity (an educated workforce, lighted roadways) as well as quality of life.

“Economic theory expects people to consider taxes when deciding where to live, but most studies show taxes only tangentially influence these decisions,” explains Stephanie Hunter McMahon, professor of law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, in a WalletHub report. “Taxes are, therefore, more influential for what they do or do not provide rather than the rate itself…these taxes are really payments for the goods and services state and local governments provide to the taxpayer and other members of the community.”

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Common Core has become one of those boogeymen memes that elicits hysterical knee-jerk reaction against Big Government intrusion into parental authority and local control over schools. However, what is deliberately set aside is that Common Core was developed at the state level. The point of Common Core was to lift standards for public education. Instead, it has been overtaken by the Accountability Movement which uses testing as a weapon against teacher unions and by the Privatized Education Corporatists as a tool to overturn public education in favor of taxpayer funding of for-profit, privatized charter schools and unconstitutional public funding of parochial schools.  The result was over-testing, creating unnecessary stress among public school students (private school students don’t have to take the tests), but a windfall for private testing and tutoring companies. In these waning days of the Obama Administration, which has worked so hard to improve public education for all, the White House has announced new, rational steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” in schools. . – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

 FACT SHEET: White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

“When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself. To be curious about the world. To take charge of my own learning so that I could reach my full potential. …

I’ve heard from parents who worry that too much testing is keeping their kids from learning some of life’s most important lessons. I’ve heard from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.”

– President Barack Obama, October 2015

When done well, assessments give parents, teachers, and students critical information on whether all students in a community are progressing each year toward college and career readiness. When used appropriately, they also serve as an essential protection to promote equity.  In too many schools, however, redundant or low-quality assessments are being administered without a clear purpose.  These ineffective assessments can consume valuable class time and can take the joy out of learning.

That is why last October, President Obama announced his Testing Action Plan and asked the U.S. Department of Education to work aggressively with states and school districts to make sure that tests students take are worthwhile; high-quality; time-limited; fair and transparent to students and families; and one of multiple sources used to understand how students, educators and schools are progressing.  Since then, the Obama Administration has acted to assist states and school districts in ensuring that the tests they are giving are better, fairer and fewer.

The White House and the Department of Education, on December 7, brought state and district leaders together with educators, parents, technologists, developers and philanthropic leaders to discuss the impact of the Testing Action Plan and what more can be done to ensure that tests are better, fairer, and fewer. As part of the event, the Department of Education announced additional resources and guidance for states and school districts aligned with the Testing Action Plan, including nearly $8 million in grants to the Maryland State Department of Education and the Nebraska Department of Education to develop new and innovative ways to measure science achievement that can serve as models for other states.

New Federal Resources to Help States and School Districts Improve Testing

The White House and the Department of Education are announcing new efforts designed to help states and school districts improve their assessments and help them evaluate the totality of their assessments in order to eliminate unnecessary or low-quality tests.  Today’s announcements include:

o   The Innovations in Science Map, Assessment, and Report Technologies (I-SMART) Project, led by the Maryland State Department of Education and in partnership with Missouri, New York, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, will produce innovative science assessments aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards to support comprehensive alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.  It will contain multiple measures of student progress over time, develop a science learning map that includes multiple pathways for students to learn science content and reach challenging grade-level expectations, and also deliver score reports that improve the information about student performance that is shared with educators and families.

o   The Strengthening Claims-Based Interpretations and Uses of Local and Large-Scale Science Assessments (SCILLSS) project, led by the Nebraska Department of Education in partnership with Montana and Wyoming, aims to improve the quality of statewide science assessments.  The project will leverage existing tools and expertise to generate more resources to strengthen states’ ability to create and evaluate quality science assessments.  The project will also engage state and local educators to clarify the interpretations and uses of assessments scores and to create tools to improve the usefulness of student performance results.

  • Regulations to Create Better, Fairer, and Fewer Assessments under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):  The Department of Education is releasing two final regulations designed to give states and school districts clarity and flexibility as they implement the assessment provisions under Title I of the ESSA.  These regulations seek to clarify the statutory requirement that states administer high-quality, annual assessments to all students by ensuring that these assessments are worth taking and provide meaningful data about student success and equity for all students, while also encouraging states and districts to continue to push the field of assessment forward through innovation.

o   Creating Better, Fairer, and Fewer Tests:  The final regulation for state assessment systems under Title I, Part A — which are the result of consensus reached when the Department of Education conducted negotiated rulemaking with a diverse group of stakeholders earlier this year — willensure states continue to administer tests that are valid, reliable, and fair measures of student achievement for all students, including by setting clear parameters for meaningfully including students with disabilities and English language learners in state tests and supporting them with appropriate test accommodations.  The final regulation also allows states to take advantage of a range of innovative approaches to improve assessment and reduce overall burden, such as implementing computer-adaptive assessments and allowing a district to offer a locally selected, nationally recognized high school tests in place of the annual statewide high school assessment.  Taken together, this regulation will help states and districts implement ESSA to create better, fairer and fewer tests.

o   Producing a New Generation of Innovative Assessments:  The final regulation under Title I, Part B establishes the parameters under which states may take advantage of a new innovative assessment demonstration authority under the ESSA to create, try out, and scale up alternatives to traditional end-of-year large-scale assessments.  This demonstration authority, initially available to up to seven states, allows states to rethink assessment systems and pilot new, innovative approaches to measuring student achievement for use in their accountability systems.  States with demonstration authority will be allowed to phase-in and use a new innovative assessment system in a subset of their districts, while maintaining their existing system in the rest of their districts, and use the results from both systems for accountability and reporting purposes under the law during the pilot phase.  States may also apply for flexibility as a consortium, providing a built-in community of practice to share and work through common challenges as they scale their new innovative assessments statewide.

  • Guidance to States on How to Use Federal Resources to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests:  The Department of Education is also releasing non-regulatory guidance for states and school districts, which highlights flexibility in ESSA for how states and districts can use federal funds to support the President’s Testing Action Plan. The guidance outlines how states and districts can use federal funding under the ESSA to ensure high-quality assessments for all students; reduce testing time; eliminate redundant, duplicative assessment; and provide clear, transparent and actionable information on assessments to students, families, and educators.  This ESSA guidance applies starting in fiscal year 2017 (i.e., the 2017-2018 school year) and updates previous guidance ED released earlier this year.
  • Profiles of Districts that are Taking Action to Improve Assessments:  The Department of Education is releasing profiles highlighting the steps taken by two districts, Eminence Independent Schools (KY) and Vancouver Public Schools (WA), to reduce and improve assessments. Eminence saw dramatic improvements in student achievement after implementing a learner-centric education model that focuses on differentiated instruction, personalized learning, continuous growth, and the use of formative assessments and alternative means to assess student progress.  Vancouver Public Schools conducted an audit of its district-required assessments in 2015 and eliminated 105 administrations of district-required assessments allowing the district to return an average of 900 minutes back into the classroom across grades 3 – 8. These profiles build on a report the Department released in April, highlighting the work of leading states and districts to improve assessment and ensure class time is preserved.
  • Information on Technology-Delivered Assessments Supported by the Institute of Education Sciences:  The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) is releasing ablog that highlights some of the technology-delivered assessments funded through IES.  Since its inception in 2002, three IES programs, including the Research Programs at the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and at the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), and the ED/IES SBIRprogram have made over 200 awards supporting the development of new technology-delivered assessments.  The awards were made to a mix of academic researchers, entrepreneurial firms, and larger education organizations. All of the projects included a rigorous research and development process with studies to validate that assessments are measuring what is intended and pilots to test the promise of the technologies for improving student learning outcomes.  Later this month IES will release a more detailed report highlighting the technology-delivered assessments and innovations in the assessment field funded through three research programs.

Donald Trump Pushes School Choice Proposal; Hillary Clinton Campaign Slams as Attack on Public Education

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses New York State Conservative Party © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump unveiled proposals to expand school choice © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Donald Trump, in a speech in Cleveland on Sept. 8, unveiled four basic proposals as the underpinning of an education program that would stress school choice, a longstanding objective of the right wing, which is used to dismantle public schools in favor of privatized schools (such as charter schools), as a means of diverting public tax dollars into private and parochial schools as well as home-schooling, and a tool to dismantle teachers unions.

PROPOSAL: Trump says his first budget will immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by repriortizing existing federal dollars. Specifically, Trump’s plan would use $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty. Individual states will be given the option as to how these funds will be used.

PROPOSAL:  Trump will establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty. That means that we want every disadvantaged child to be able to choose the local public, private, charter or magnet school that is best for them and their family. Each state will develop its own formula, but the dollars should follow the student.

PROPOSAL: To achieve this long-term goal of school choice, Trump make this a shared national mission – to bring hope to every child in every city in this land. Mr. Trump will use the pulpit of the presidency to campaign for this in all 50 states and will call upon the American people to elect officials at the city, state and federal level who support school choice.

PROPOSAL:  Trump will also support merit-pay for teachers, so that great teachers are rewarded instead of the failed tenure system that currently exists, which rewards bad teachers and punishes good ones.

“Our campaign represents the long-awaited chance to break with the bitter failures of the past, and to embrace a New American Future,” Trump stated.

“There is no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly.

“The Democratic Party has trapped millions of African-American and Hispanic youth in failing government schools that deny them the opportunity to join the ladder of American success.

“It is time to break-up that monopoly.

“I want every single inner city child in America who is today trapped in a failing school to have the freedom – the civil right – to attend the school of their choice. This includes private schools, traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools which must be included in any definition of school choice.

“Our government spends more than enough money to easily pay for this initiative – with billions left over. It’s simply a matter of putting students first, not the education bureaucracy.

“Let’s run through the numbers.

“At the state and federal level, the United States spends more than $620 billion on K-12 education each year. That’s an average of about $12,296 for every student enrolled in our elementary and secondary public schools.

“The federal government pays for about 10 percent—$64 billion, to be precise—of the K-12 costs. That $64 billion makes up about half of the total spending of the U.S. Department of Education.

“The other roughly $570 billion spent on K-12 education comes from the states.

“We spend more per student than almost any other major country in the world. Yet, our students perform near the bottom of the pack for major large advanced countries.

“Our largest cities spend some of the largest amounts of money on public schools.

“New York City spends $20,226 dollars per pupil.

“Baltimore spends $15,287 dollars per student.

“Chicago spends $11,976 dollars per student, and in Los Angeles it is $10,602.

“Just imagine if each student in these school systems was given a scholarship for this amount of money – allowing them and their family to choose the public or private school of their choice.

“Not only would this empower families, but it would create a massive education market that is competitive and produces better outcomes.

“These schools would then cater to the needs of the individual student and family – not the needs of the Teachers’ Union. There is no more important job than a teacher, and teachers will benefit greatly from these reforms.

“The current government monopoly, while great for the bureaucrats, has utterly failed too many students.

“According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, only 1 in 6 African-American students in the eighth grade are considered proficient in math and reading.

“Failing schools then contribute to failing economies.”

Trump declared, “As your President, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice. I understand many stale old politicians will resist. But it’s time for our country to start thinking big once again. We spend too much time quibbling over the smallest words, when we should spend our time dreaming about the great adventures that lie ahead.”

And in Charlotte last month, he said, “On education, we are going to give students choice, and allow charter schools to thrive…. overturn tenure…. my opponent wants to deny students choice and opportunity all to get a little more money from the education bureaucracy. She doesn’t care how many young dreams are dashed and destroyed, and they are destroyed, young people are destroyed before they even start. We are going to work closely with African American parents and children, wither the parents’ students, everybody in the African American community, in the inner cities, and what a big difference that will make.

But this is all a spiel and a scam – like his Trump University – to divert tax dollars into for-profit education companies, and into parochial schools (contradicting the Constitutional separation of church and state), and for good measure, undermine the Teachers Union, which has strongly backed Democratic candidates. That’s what is meant by the “education bureaucracy” and that’s why it has been so, so key to Republicans to end teacher tenure (and at the same time, make teachers subject to whim of firing when they get to expensive, or when they teach Evolution and refuse to teach Creationism as science).

This is his spiel, but how would his Education proposal work in real life? After all, it was George w. Bush, who as Texas Governor opposed President Bill Clinton’s effort to introduce national standards, but who as president, overturned public education with his No child Left Behind/Accountability federal control of public education, even promoting public shaming of teachers and public schools which did not meet the arbitrary and unfairly imposed testing regimen designed so that every public school and every public school teacher would fail.

HFA Statement in Response to Trump’s Education Speech Today in Cleveland

In response to Trump’s dangerous education proposals announced during his speech today in Cleveland, HFA Senior Policy Advisor Maya Harris offered the following statement:

“It’s no surprise that Donald Trump—whose only experience when it comes to education is his fraudulent ‘Trump University’—offered education policies that would prove disastrous for our public schools, our educators, and most importantly, our kids. Let’s be clear: Trump’s proposal to apparently gut nearly 30 percent of the federal education budget and turn it into private school vouchers would decimate public schools across America and deprive our most vulnerable students of the education they deserve.

“Hillary Clinton believes that the public school system is one of the pillars of our democracy. As president she will fight to strengthen our public schools to ensure every student receives a world-class education, regardless of their ZIP code.”

Donald Trump’s proposal, explained:

TRUMP: “[U]se $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty.”

EXPLAINER: A more extreme version of past Republican proposals, Trump’s plan would apparently eliminate the targeting of federal dollars to schools and districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students. Instead, he would turn over all $15.4 billion in Title I funding to states, and allow money to follow students outside of the public school system to private or parochial schools.

  • Trump’s proposal could strip funding from up to 56,000 public schools serving more than 21 million children. By allowing funding to leave America’s 56,000 Title I schools, Trump’s proposal will put crucial funding at risk for nearly 21 million American students.
  • Trump’s proposal might only serve 1.4 million students, while stripping funding from the other 10.5 million low-income students in America. Trump’s proposal would serve no-where near 11 million students. The average cost of a K-12 private school is $13,640 per student, per year. Since thevast majority of states do not support private school vouchers, Trump’s proposal would have to carry the full cost of attendance. As a result, Trump’s proposal might only serve 1.4 million students, while taking away funding that serves America’s low-income schools.
  • Trump’s proposal could have a devastating impact on student achievement. Research shows that students who attend schools using vouchersoften do worse than those who stayed in their neighborhood public schools.
  • To fund his $20 billion voucher program, Trump would have to cut all Title I funding and $5 billion dollars in additional federal education programs. Trump would need to “repurpose” roughly $5 billion in annual education funding which currently supports programming such as preschool, Pell grants, and crucial resources to help low income students, students with disabilities, and English-language learners.

Obama Celebrates Great Teachers, Cites Nation’s Progress in Public Education

President Obama promotes education reform during visit to PTech, an innovative high school program, in Brooklyn, NY © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama promotes education reform during visit to PTech, an innovative high school program, in Brooklyn, NY © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

On National Teacher Appreciation Day, May 3, President Obama stood with hundreds of educators from across the country to recognize their contributions and celebrate the progress this country has made toward increasing educational opportunity and outcomes for all students since he took office.  The President not only honored the National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes, a veteran history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut, but also celebrated remarkable educators across the country who have helped achieve extraordinary progress over the past seven and a half years.

“President Obama recognizes that America’s future is written in our classrooms, and that our teachers and educators deserve our support,” the White House stated. “That is why, throughout his Administration, the President has not only supported our educators, but also promoted a bold vision for improving our education system to give all students the fair chance they deserve. Today, the White House will underscore the change underway in America’s schools, and announce progress toward reaching the President’s goal of preparing an additional 100,000 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers for America’s classrooms by 2021.”

The White House is also highlighting new efforts to support great educators.TEACH – a public-private collaboration led by the U.S. Department of Education and Microsoft, with support from organizations including Facebook, College Football Playoff Foundation and MyCollege Options – will launch new commitments to attract a strong teacher workforce.  The Department of Education will collaborate with the ASCD, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Foundation Charitable Trust, and Carnegie Corporation of New York in their work to support teacher-led initiatives that strengthen teachers’ professional learning and improve student outcomes.  And organizations like Spotify and the College Football Playoff Foundation will launch new efforts to support and encourage great teaching.

Progress to Support Great Teachers and Help All Students Succeed 

Today, the White House and the Department of Education are releasing a report highlighting the nation’s educational progress since the President took office – from reducing the number of dropouts, to raising academic standards to prepare students for college and career in nearly every state, to expanding the availability of high-quality preschool and digitally connecting America’s classrooms.  The pace and scale of change in America’s educational system would have been impossible to achieve without the committed work of educators at every level of school governance – from the classroom teacher to state superintendents.

The report released today details the steps President Obama has taken since the Recovery Act to support education, showing results under efforts such as the Race to the Top – which catalyzed a profound wave of education reform across the country – and the Investing in Innovation program – which has contributed to testing, validating, refining and expanding new solutions and strategies to close achievement and opportunity gaps in America’s schools.  The report underscores the steps the Obama Administration has taken to increase equity and give teachers the tools they need to help students succeed.

Below are a few highlights of the progress achieved over the last seven and a half years:

  • High Academic Standards that Prepare Students for Success in College and Careers: Today, 49 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have adopted and are implementing college- and career-ready standards and aligned assessments for their students. In the future, with the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), every state will hold all of their students to such standards. 
  • Record-High Graduation Rates: In 2008, a quarter of our high school students did not earn a high school diploma on time. Since President Obama took office, the graduation rate has increased steadily and students in the United States are graduating from high school at a higher rate than ever before, at 82 percent. Some of the greatest progress has been made by African American and Latino Students. Since the 2010-2011 school year, African American high school students experienced a 5.5 percentage point increase in graduation rates while Latino students experienced a 5.3 percentage point increase.
  • Stemming the Tide of School Dropout: The number of schools where 40 percent or more of students do not graduate on-time has gone down sharply during this Administration. In 2008, there were roughly 1,800 of these schools across the country; by 2014, the number of these schools was reduced to 1,040.The percentage of young people who drop out of high school altogether has decreased.  In 2008, before the President entered office, the dropout rate among Hispanic students was 18 percent. That percentage shrunk to just below 12 percent in 2013 – a marked improvement from before President Obama entered office and a significant shift from more than two decades before, when the share of Latino youth who were dropouts was 35 percent.
  • Advancing High-Quality Preschool: In 2009, only 38 states offered students access to state-funded preschool, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Today, all but four states offer access to state-funded preschool, and since the President called for universal access to high-quality preschool in his 2013 State of the Union Address, 38 states and D.C. have invested more than $1.5 billion in support of preschool. Beyond these state investments, the Obama Administration has dedicated $750 million toward the development and expansion of high-quality preschool, enabling 230 high-need communities to provide more than 100,000 additional children with access to preschool.
  • Investing in our Great Educators:When President Obama took office, the U.S. economy was in free-fall, and state and local government budgets were in trouble and facing significant cuts – jeopardizing our education system. The President took action, signing into the law the Recovery Act, which saved or created more than 400,000 jobs, most directly in education – keeping teachers, principals, librarians, and counselors on the job. In addition, since 2009, the Obama Administration has invested more than $2.7 billion in grants to develop educator talent through the award of competitive grants for better recruitment, training, support, and rewards for our educators, particularly those in high-need and rural districts.
  • Transforming Education Technology: In 2013, only 30 percent of school districts had access to high-speed internet, leaving 40 million students without access to that connectivity.  In 2013, the President launched his ConnectED initiative with the goal of unleashing education technology in schools and connecting 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed broadband in their schools and libraries by 2018.   Today, we are on track to meet that goal – 77 percent of school districts and an additional 20 million students now have access to high-speed broadband. This transformation is supported by 2,200 superintendents who have committed to President Obama’s Future Ready vision to help teachers and principals unleash new models of teaching and learning that make use of technology and digital tools like Open eBooks.
  • Inspiring STEM Education and Computer Science for All:  The Obama Administration’s efforts have resulted in an unprecedented all hands-on-deck effort in support of STEM education and STEM teachers, including securing more than $1 billion in private investments in support of STEM education. Additionally, the President has advanced efforts to inspire and recognize young inventors, discoverers and makers by hosting the first-ever White House Science Fairs and the first-ever Maker Faire in 2014.  Earlier this year, the President announced a bold new call to action: to empower every American student from kindergarten through high school to learn computer science and the computational thinking skills needed to succeed.

New Announcements in the Effort to Support Great Educators

In addition to highlighting the progress under this Administration, the White House and Department of Education are also announcing the following actions being taken to support excellent educators:

Reaching the President’s Goal of 100,000 new and Excellent STEM Teachers

To meet the challenges of the 21st century, more of our students will need to be prepared with strong STEM skills in order to succeed. The need is real — last year, there were more than 600,000 tech jobs open across the United States. But there are large disparities in student access and engagement in STEM courses, with only half of high schools nationwide offering calculus and only 63 percent offering physics. One quarter of the high schools with the highest percentages of African-American and Latino students do not offer Algebra II and a third of these schools do not offer chemistry. To address these challenges, President Obama issued a call to action in his 2011 State of the Union address to put 100,000 new STEM teachers in the classroom in ten years to equip a new generation of problem-solvers with the STEM skills they need to revitalize our economy, lead our nation, and solve the globe’s most pressing challenges.

In response to that call to action, 100Kin10, a network of 280 organizations, including school districts, universities, foundations, corporations, museums, nonprofits, and government agencies, was formed to mobilize commitments to achieve the ambitious 100,000 excellent STEM teacher goal by 2021.

Today, at the critical halfway point in the ten-year effort, 100Kin10 is announcing that its network has already trained more than 30,000 teachers, and that its partners have made commitments to recruit and train an additional 70,000 by 2021 – meaning they will meet the President’s goal and yield more than 100,000 excellent STEM teachers by the ten-year mark. These projections have been verified by the American Institutes for Research, which has concluded that 100Kin10’s estimates are reasonable.

Making an Impact: Teacher Impact Grants

Today, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing that it is working with ASCD, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (“National Board”), The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Foundation Charitable Trust, and Carnegie Corporation of New York to provide direct support to teacher-led initiatives to strengthen professional learning and improve student outcomes. These Teacher Impact Grants will cultivate the robust expertise of teachers to accelerate positive change in professional learning at the classroom, school, and district levels.

The program will be administered by ASCD and financially supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Foundation Charitable Trust and Carnegie Corporation of New York. The funding will provide $5,000-$15,000 grants with the goal of supporting and empowering teachers in their work, so they may enhance the impact our schools have on the well-rounded success of each child. The commitment from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and Carnegie Corporation of New York will provide the resources needed to make teacher innovations a reality.

The private grants build on work by the Teach to Lead initiative, which was founded in 2014 by the Department of Education and the National Board to help advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership. As part of Teach to Lead, the Department, ASCD, and National Board have hosted Teacher Leader Summits and Teacher Leader Labs across the country where hundreds of educators have created locally-driven plans to help improve student outcomes. 

Encouraging More Great Individuals to TEACH

TEACH is a public-private collaboration led by the U.S. Department of Education and Microsoft.  TEACH’s public service campaign, in partnership with the Ad Council, aims to inspire the next generation of teachers by reaching millions of college students who are considering career choices and providing them with information about how the teaching profession matches the criteria they have for their ideal career, including many opportunities for innovation and creativity, leadership and skill development, and personal fulfillment. Today TEACH is announcing that the following organizations are taking steps to support its work:

  • Microsoft will renew its financial support with an additional two-year $3 million commitment and continue to provide leadership and strategic guidance to TEACH.
  • Facebook is providing pro-bono creative work and donated media on Facebook’s platform and leveraging the platform’s detailed targeting capabilities to directly reach college students and recent graduates who have demonstrated an interest in STEM subjects.
  • MyCollege Options, the nation’s largest college planning platform, is partnering with TEACH to access over 6 million high school and college students nationwide and identify those with the highest propensity to become teachers. 

The College Football Playoff Foundation: Lifting Up Excellent Educators

The College Football Playoff Foundation is announcing that it will make a $100 million impact on teacher-related initiatives over the next ten years. The Foundation and its media affiliates will work with TEACH over this year to develop a campaign that supports and enhances the status of the teaching profession throughout the United States. In only two years, the College Football Playoff Foundation’s “Extra Yard for Teachers” initiative has impacted more than 5,000 schools, and funded 6,000 classroom projects, reaching over 1.2 million teachers and students. Extra Yard for Teachers specifically seeks to increase the recruitment and retention of quality teachers in the United States by supporting the efforts of organizations including the U.S. Department of Education, TEACH, Teach for America, DonorsChoose.org and Educators Rising.  The College Football Playoff Foundation and universities across the country will also pay tribute to teachers during Extra Yard for Teachers Week from September 17-24 and again during the College Football Playoff bowl games. 

Spotify: Supporting Educators Through Music and Stories

Spotify is committing to celebrate the creativity of America’s teachers and supports programs that bring music to all students. Spotify will create a series of initiatives that highlight creativity in education.  Launching this week, it will encourage its community to share songs and stories about influential teachers using #ThankATeacher. Throughout the year, Spotify will leverage its platform and community to showcase the importance of providing creative tools for educators and the power of music education for students. Spotify will also be collaborating with organizations like Girls Rock Camp and Music Mural & Arts Project in 2016 to ensure that more students have access to the power of music.

Cuomo: NYS Will Overhaul Common Core, Retreat from High-Stakes Testing

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced recommendations from his Common Core Task Force including a moratorium on using high-stakes tests for student, teacher evaluation © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced recommendations from his Common Core Task Force including a moratorium on using high-stakes tests for student, teacher evaluation © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

 

 In a dramatic turnaround, New York State will abandon using high-stakes testing to evaluate students, as well as teachers until the 2019-2020 school year, will move to overhaul the Common Core system and restore some measure of local control over how new standards and curriculum are implemented. It is a repudiation of the “one-size fits all” framework which emerged out of the No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top Accountability Movement that had been driving education.

The new policy emerges out of the final report and recommendations of Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, consisting of a diverse group of educators, parents, education officials and state representatives, which was charged with comprehensively reviewing and making recommendations on reforming the current Common Core system and the way students are taught and tested.

The Task Force recommended “overhauling the current Common Core system and adopting new, locally-driven New York State standards in a transparent and open process to make sure all students are prepared to succeed in an increasingly competitive 21st century economy,” the Governor’s office stated. “The new standards, curriculum and tests and must uniquely developed for New York students with sufficient local input.” The Task Force also recommended that current Common Core aligned tests should not count for students or teachers until the start of 2019-2020 school year to ensure the system is implemented completely and properly to avoid the errors caused by the prior flawed implementation.

“After listening to thousands of parents, educators and students, the Task Force has made important recommendations that include overhauling the Common Core, adopting new locally-designed high quality New York standards, and greatly reducing testing and testing anxiety for our students,” Governor Cuomo stated. “The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready – but it actually caused confusion and anxiety. That ends now. Today, we will begin to transform our system into one that empowers parents, teachers and local districts and ensures high standards for all students. I thank the Task Force members for their thorough work. Together we will ensure that New York’s schools provide the world-class education that our children deserve.”

The Task Force was chaired by Richard Parsons, Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners, LLC and former Chairman of Citigroup.

“While adoption of the Common Core was extremely well intentioned, its implementation has caused confusion and upheaval in classrooms across New York State,” stated the Task Force chairman Richard Parsons, Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners, LLC and former Chairman of Citigroup. “We believe that these recommendations, once acted on, provide a means to put things back on the right track and ensure high quality standards that meet the needs of New York’s kids. The recommendations will provide the foundation to restore public trust in the education system in New York and build on the long history of excellence that preceded this period.”

The Task Force heard from more than 2,100 students, parents, teachers, administrators and other education stakeholders through public forums held across the state, thousands of pages of testimony and outreach to educators.

The Task Force affirmed the importance of maintaining the highest quality standards and performance measures in education. However, the Task Force found that over the past decade there has been rapid change in education, including the 2009 federal Race to the Top and Common Core which has created confusion and disruption in states across the nation, including New York. Moreover, the original process to adopt and implement the Common Core standards, curriculum and tests in New York had implementation issues and failed to include sufficient input from educators, parents and local districts and was not open and transparent.

The Task Force made 20 recommendations, including:

1: Adopt high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through an open and transparent process.

2: Modify early grade standards so they are age-appropriate.

3: Ensure that standards accommodate flexibility that allows educators to meet the needs of unique student populations, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

4: Ensure standards do not lead to the narrowing of curriculum or diminish the love of reading and joy of learning.

5: Establish a transparent and open process by which New York standards are periodically reviewed by educators and content area experts. Develop Better Curriculum Guidance and Resources

6: Ensure educators and local school districts have the flexibility to develop and tailor curriculum to the new standards.

7: Release updated and improved sample curriculum resources.

8: Launch a digital platform that enables teachers, including pre-service teachers, and teacher educators, to share resources with other teachers across the state.

9: Create ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers, teacher educators, and administrators on the revised State standards. Significantly Reduce Testing Time and Preparation and Ensure Tests Fit Curriculum and Standards

10: Involve educators, parents, and other education stakeholders in the creation and periodic review of all State standards-aligned exams and other State assessments.

11: Gather student feedback on the quality of the new tests.

12: Provide ongoing transparency to parents, educators, and local districts on the quality and content of all tests, including, but not limited to publishing the test questions.

13: Reduce the number of days and shorten the duration for standards-aligned State standardized tests.

14: Provide teachers with the flexibility and support to use authentic formative assessments to measure student learning.

15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized tests aligned to the standards.

16: Provide flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities.

17: Protect and enforce testing accommodations for Students with Disabilities.

18: Explore alternative options to assess the most severely disabled students.

19: Prevent students from being mandated into Academic Intervention Services based on a single test.

20: Eliminate double testing for English Language Learners.

The Task Force found that to implement the new system would require significant work including a comprehensive review of the current Common Core Standards in order to adopt new New York State Standards and create new curriculum and assessments in an open and transparent manner for the nearly 700 school districts, 5,000 schools, 200,000 plus teachers and 2.65 million students. Therefore, the Task Force believes that in order to finally get the system right there must be adequate time to implement the system. Given all of the work and time required to review and adopt new standards, improve and adapt curriculum, and create new assessments, any current Common Core aligned tests should not count for students or teachers until the start of 2019-2020 school year when the new statewide standards developed through this process will be put into place.

The Task Force has adopted many if not most of the Board of Regents’ recommendations for improving the implementation of the higher standards we’ve set for our students,” stated New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “The most important message in the Task Force report is the renewed commitment to adopting and maintaining higher standards. We cannot turn our backs on our students at a time when the world is demanding more from them – more skills, more knowledge, more problem-solving.”

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said, “In my first few months as commissioner, I’ve traveled across the state and heard a large cross section of New Yorkers — our teachers, parents and educators –share their deep concern for improving the education of our children. And as a member of the Common Core Task Force, I’ve heard those same stakeholders express those same concerns. Likewise, the Department’s AimHighNY survey unfolded the same passionate call for clear learning standards to serve as guideposts to future success for our children. Now it’s time to move forward and deliver on the promise we’ve made to our students and give them the best schools possible.”

The comprehensive report provides the history and context of learning standards and specifically, a review of the Common Core Standards in New York; a summary of testimony and stakeholder feedback across several categories and specific Task Force responses; and a full description of Task Force Recommendations.

The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers. During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already being used by the majority of teachers.

The Governor’s office pointed to his longstanding commitment to education reform, including the recent laws banning standardized testing for students in pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade, capping test preparation to two percent of learning time, not counting the Common Core scores against students and requiring the State Education Department to help districts eliminate unnecessary standardized tests for all other students.

See also:

Hate over-testing? NYS’s Common Core Task Force needs to hear from you

Back to the drawing board for nation’s schools wrestling with Common Core

Obama to Sign Every Student Succeeds Act, Replacing No Child Left Behind

High School graduation. Congress has passed the Every Student Succeeds Act which is intended to improve upon No Child Left Behind © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
High School graduation. Congress has passed the Every Student Succeeds Act which is intended to improve upon No Child Left Behind © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Senate voted 85-12 today to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which would finally replace the badly broken No Child Left Behind law. The House passed this bill last week 359-64 (with every Democrat voting yes),

The White House announced that President Obama  will deliver remarks and sign the Every Student Succeeds Act tomorrow, Dec. 10.

“This bipartisan bill will cement the progress made in elementary and secondary education over the last seven years and fix the No Child Left Behind Act to reduce over-testing and one-size-fits-all federal mandates,” the White House stated.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Patty Murray (D-WA), who wrote, “For years, I’ve heard from students, parents, teachers, and small business owners about the need to fix the broken No Child Left Behind law. It wasn’t working for our kids, it wasn’t working for our schools, and it wasn’t working for our state. So when I became the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee this year, I got to work, and I wasn’t going to stop until this broken law was fixed. It wasn’t easy in this Republican Congress, but I made it clear that I was willing to work with anyone, from any party, who was willing to put students and their education above partisanship and politics.

It will:

  • Reduce reliance on high-stakes testing – No Child Left Behind over-emphasized test scores to judge how students and schools were performing. The new law will allow students and teachers to spend less time on test prep​ and more time on learning. ​
  • ​Expand access to preschool programs so more kids can start kindergarten on strong footing.​
  • End the need for state waivers and “fail” letters – No Child Left Behind‘s one-size-fits-all mandates were so burdensome that the Obama administration began giving states waivers from the law’s requirements, which otherwise would have resulted in most schools being labeled as “failing.” ESSA ends the need for these state waivers, which will give students, parents, and teachers some much-needed certainty about how ​schools are​​ performing.​

Help ensure all students have access to a good education – For so many Americans, a good education can be a ticket to the middle class. ESSA will help ensure all students have access to a quality education, no matter their ZIP code or their background.

The White House issued a Fact Sheet on the background of the Every Student Succeeds Act, providing more detail:

FACT SHEET: Congress Acts to Fix No Child Left Behind

“We are a place that believes every child, no matter where they come from, can grow up to be anything they want… And I’m confident that if we fix No Child Left Behind, if we continue to reform American education, continue to invest in our children’s future, that’s the America we will always be.”– Remarks by the President on the No Child Left Behind Act, March 14, 2011, Kenmore Middle School, Arlington, Virginia

ESSA rejects the overuse of standardized tests and one-size-fits-all mandates on our schools, ensures that our education system will prepare every child to graduate from high school ready for college and careers, and provides more children access to high-quality state preschool programs.

The bipartisan bill passed by the House includes many of the key reforms the Administration has called on Congress to enact and encouraged states and districts to adopt in exchange for waivers offering relief from the more onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The bill helps ensure educational opportunity for all students by:

  • Holding all students to high academic standards that prepare them for success in college and careers.
  • Ensuring accountability by guaranteeing that when students fall behind, states redirect resources into what works to help them and their schools improve, with a particular focus on the very lowest-performing schools, high schools with high dropout rates, and schools with achievement gaps.
  • Empowering state and local decision-makers to develop their own strong systems for school improvement based upon evidence, rather than imposing cookie-cutter federal solutions like the No Child Left Behind Act did.
  • Reducing the often onerous burden of testing on students and teachers, making sure that tests don’t crowd out teaching and learning, without sacrificing clear, annual information parents and educators need to make sure our children are learning.
  • Providing more children access to high-quality preschool.
  • Establishing new resources for proven strategies that will spur reform and drive opportunity and better outcomes for America’s students.

In recognition of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)’s legacy as a civil rights law, the bipartisan bill upholds critical protections for America’s disadvantaged students. It ensures that states and school districts will hold schools to account for the progress of all students and prescribes meaningful reforms to remedy underperformance in those schools failing to serve all students. It excludes harmful “portability” provisions that would siphon funds away from the students and schools most in need, and maintains dedicated resources and supports for America’s vulnerable children – including students with disabilities, English Learners, Native American students, homeless children, neglected and delinquent children, and migrant and seasonal farmworker children. It also ensures that states and districts continue the work they’ve begun this year to ensure that all students – including students from low-income families and students of color – have equitable access to excellent educators.

EMBRACING THE ADMINISTRATION’S PRINCIPLES FOR REFORM

College and Career-Ready Standards for America’s Learners: The bill affirms the path taken by 48 states and the District of Columbia to hold all students to challenging academic content standards that will prepare them to graduate from high school prepared for success in college and the workforce. In 2008, America’s governors and state education officials came together to develop a new set of college- and career-ready standards for their schools. The Obama Administration supported those efforts through its Race to the Top grant program and the federal-state partnership established in its ESEA flexibility agreements.

Rigorous Accountability for All Students: Consistent with the Administration’s legislative proposals and the policies in place under the Administration’s ESEA flexibility agreements, the bill builds on the federal-state partnerships in place in over 40 states to require meaningful goals for the progress of all students, and to ensure that every student subgroup makes gains toward college and career-readiness. States must set ambitious targets to close student achievement and graduation rate gaps among subgroups of students in order to meet their goals. In schools where too many students consistently fail to reach the goals and other indicators set by the state, school districts will ensure they receive tailored interventions and supports proportionate to the needs of those schools and the students they serve.

Reform and Resources for America’s Struggling Schools and Students: The bill will target resources, attention, and effort to make gains for our students attending schools most in need of help. Consistent with the policies in place under the Administration’s ESEA flexibility agreements, the bill moves away from NCLB’s one-size-fits-all accountability and ensures that states undertake reforms in their lowest performing schools, in high schools with high dropout rates, and in schools where subgroups are falling behind. It includes provisions that would require districts to use evidence-based models to support whole-school interventions in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and schools where more than a third of high school students do not graduate on time, and includes dedicated funding to support interventions in these schools. In schools where subgroups of students persistently underperform, school districts must mount targeted interventions and supports to narrow gaps and improve student achievement. If such schools are not showing improvement, the state will ensure more rigorous strategies are put in place. Moreover, the Department of Education has the authority it needs to ensure that states carry out their responsibilities.

New Incentives to Improve Opportunities and Outcomes for Students: The bill includes initiatives modeled after the Administration’s programs to:

  • Establish or expand access to high-quality, state-funded preschool for children from low- and moderate-income families, building from the Administration’s Preschool Development Grants program.
  • Develop, refine, and replicate innovative and ambitious reforms to close the achievement gap in America’s schools, similar to the Administration’s existing Investing in Innovation (i3) program.
  • Expand incentives to prepare, develop, and advance effective teachers and principals in America’s schools.
  • Leverage resources to address the significant challenges faced by students and families living in high-poverty communities through the Promise Neighborhoodseffort, supporting a full continuum of services from early learning through college.
  • Expand support for high-performing public charter schools for high-need students.

A Smart and Balanced Approach to Testing: The bill maintains important statewide assessments to ensure that teachers and parents can mark the progress and performance of their children every year, from third to eighth grade and once in high school. The bill encourages a smarter approach to testing by moving away from a sole focus on standardized tests to drive decisions around the quality of schools, and by allowing for the use of multiple measures of student learning and progress, along with other indicators of student success to make school accountability decisions. It also includes provisions consistent with the Administration’s principles around reducing the amount of classroom time spent on standardized testing, including support for state efforts to audit and streamline their current assessment systems.

Promoting Equity in State and Local Funding: The Administration has called repeatedly for states and school districts to more equitably distribute state and local dollars to schools with the greatest need. The bill includes a pilot program – similar to a proposal put forward by the Administration this year in the FY16 budget – that provides for weighted student funding. Under the pilot, districts must demonstrate a commitment to equitable distribution of state and local dollars—based on actual per-pupil expenditures—to their highest poverty schools. In exchange, districts would be allowed to allocate and use Title I and other federal formula funds in a more flexible manner to support comprehensive plans that improve achievement and outcomes for their neediest students. The bill also includes provisions that require reporting on actual school-level expenditures, allowing the public for the first time to see the amount of federal, state, and local funding distributed to each and every school.  The bill rejects so-called “portability” provisions in the House-passed bill that would have allowed states to shift federal funds away from the schools that need them most.

See also:

Hate over-testing? NYS’s Common Core Task Force needs to hear from you

Back to the drawing board for nation’s schools wrestling with Common Core

Teaching in America: Education reform should start with empowering teachers

Rebellion Grows Against High-Stakes Testing Intrinsic to Education ‘Reform’ Accountability Movement

AFT President Randi Weingarten at the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative announcing an AFT initiative to apply $100 million of pension funds towards a new fund to help cities build childcare centers, will serve on Gov. Cuomo's new Common Core Task Force. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
AFT President Randi Weingarten at the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative announcing an AFT initiative to apply $100 million of pension funds towards a new fund to help cities build childcare centers, will serve on Gov. Cuomo’s new Common Core Task Force. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Statewide and in some New York districts, a sizeable number of students opted out of the high-stakes assessment tests – 20% statewide, as high as 32% in Roslyn – which puts into question whether New York State will be eligible to receive billions of Race to the Top federal education dollars and what penalties the State Education Department will impose on districts who defied the mandate. It was the desire to get those dollars that was the basis for twisting public education into pretzels to cater to the Accountability & Privatization movement that is the basis for  No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top.

Only 10% of Great Neck Public School students opted out of the ELA and 15% on the Math. Of those that took the test, 30-40% fell into that dreaded “Level 1” or “level 2” category, meaning that they “lacked proficiency” or “mastery” of the subject, and were in jeopardy of not graduating “college ready.” That is actually the same result as in 2013, the first year of the high-stakes tests in which the State Education Department targeted a 30 percent failure rate, and lo and behold, exactly a 30 percent failure rate.

Great Neck that year scored among the highest in the state on the ELA, with 60-70 percent of students achieving “proficiency” on the high-stakes ELA and Math tests, newly configured for the Common Core standards which had yet to be fully implemented in the curriculum. It was the same this year, with Great Neck ranking among the best in the state and among the 56 Nassau County diostricts. What is odd is that a district that also had a 70% “proficiency” rate was rated as performing “highest.” How could that be?

On the Math test, 73 to 80% of students scored as “proficient” or “mastery.”

Great Neck is a district accustomed to 80 to 90% of students achieving proficiency or mastery, but the results on the state’s high-stakes tests, which now require academic intervention for as many as 40% of students, would suggest these students in jeopardy of failing to make the grade for college and career.

Did the students – who graduate and go onto colleges at the enviable rate of over 95% – suddenly get stupid? Did Great Neck teachers who year after year have provided the stellar education that produces such high rates of achievement, suddenly become inept?

Great Neck Public Schools steer $1 million into academic intervention services. Actually, the district had always provided academic intervention to students deemed to need it, but now there are students who are mandated to receive such services based on a test that even the Governor admits is flawed. (Besides the test being flawed in that it asks students what they haven’t been taught, the scoring is not based on “right” and “wrong” answers, but a pre-determined “curve.”)

So, in a system that mandates budget caps (2% or the CPI, whichever is less), and also issues a score of unfunded mandates (pension and health contributions, for example) and does not make any accommodation for increases in student enrollment, or the population requiring special services, that means that limited resources have to go into academic intervention, rather than, say, to enrichment programs.

And because the tests have become truly high stakes for the students who are held back from promotion and for teachers to keep their jobs or get raises, that means more time and money pouring into test preparation rather than music, theater, sports, clubs and anything that is not, well, mandated.

It is one of the thorns of contention that progressives have with the Obama Administration, though Education Secretary Arne Duncan (who is being replaced by New York State’s Commissioner John King) has attempted to walk back the “one-size-fits-all” and the “teach-to-the-test” regimentation that is implicit in standardized testing and actually contradicts the overarching goals of Common Core, to get students to learn how to problem-solve, think for themselves, and be creative. (I’m not sure that “love of learning” enters into the equation, but what is true is that schools function more and more like prisons.)

That is the irony of the backlash against Common Core: Conservatives hate that the curriculum seems to come from on high (when it was developed by the states and with actual teachers) and that it is supposed to teach broader skills that, theoretically at least, would be more suitable to the Workplace of the 21st Century. What that means is that there are jobs that will exist by the time our children enter the workplace that don’t exist today, and jobs that exist today that would have become obsolete and people need the skills to adapt.

But Conservatives love the idea of using test results (so-called Accountability) to beat back teacher unions and justify privatization of schools (charter schools, testing services, home-school curricula) as well as channeling public money to faith-based/religious organizations. (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would literally like to punch teachers in the face.)

Progressives on the other hand actually appreciate the notion of a more rigorous curriculum but abhor the practical impact on students, teachers and parents alike of having so many high-stakes, high-stress tests. Just the time spent in test-prep and test administration alone means that there is less time to do interesting projects or activities that cultivate “the whole person” (like music, theater, art). They say that standardized testing, in which you are teaching the student to come up with an answer to satisfy the scorer, defeats the whole objective of raising confident thinkers who can come up with novel solutions and innovative inventions. And they hate that the practical impact of the Accountability Movement has been to browbeat teachers and undermine unions.

The irony of the Accountability movement is that the beneficiaries – charter schools operated for for-profit and so-called nonprofit, but nonetheless highly profitable; test-making companies; tutoring services – aren’t accountable at all, at least, not immediately, when it would matter. They don’t have to justify the tax money spent, but are allowed to exploit new, non-union teachers who typically move on after just a couple of years, before they actually have the skills of a professional.

The movement is being driven by the Billionaire Class (like Mark Zuckerberg who donated $100 million to “reform” Newark public schools, only to have the whole thing blow up) which has made School Reform their pet (they used to buy hotels and before that, magazines and newspapers and before that made movies).

At its core, Common Core is intended, in fact, to inculcate key skills of problem-solving, creative thinking, collaborative thinking. But the effect of the obsession with high-stakes standardized testing teaches a different lesson entirely: there is a right answer.

The fact of the matter is, we’ve had 14 years of No Child Left Behind/Accountability – an entire generation of students who have lived every day of their school careers under NCLB/Race to the Top regimen – and yet there are the exact same complaints about how terrible public education is.

To justify the Accountability movement, the so-called “reformers” have cited statistics which put the United States as a middling to awful performer on international tests of language skills, math, and science. The United States ranks below the OECD average in every category on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and despite the fact No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top has been implemented for the entire school careers of current graduates, has slipped in all of the major categories in recent years.

So it is interesting in this context – ironic even – that China, whose students rank #1 in Math, Reading and Science on the PISA, is changing its curriculum.

“China is a big manufacturer, but we want to innovate in China. This requires a big change in educational system,” Yang Lan, Chairman, Sun Media Group and Sun Culture Foundation, said at the Clinton Global Initiative’s session titled, “From Education to Entrepreneur: Linking SME Success with Human Capital.”

“Chinese kids perform great in international assessments, but we are questioning ourselves in the level of critical thinking, independent, innovative thinking, collaborative thinking, risk taking” that the curriculum promotes.

Indeed, Jack Ma, widely hailed for his genius at creating Alibaba, boasted that he failed his exams three times, and it took 10 tries to get into university.

Hanne Rasmussen, Chief Executive Officer, The LEGO Foundation, indeed, criticized the lack of focus on early-childhood education, and even the new stress on academic rigor instead of play, having deleterious impact on the child’s development, and ultimate success as an adult.

“Investing in children pays off in massive returns over time, achieving income equality and social mobility later in life,” she told the Clinton Global Initiative’s panel examining Escalators of Opportunity. “Children who participate in early childhood programs have improved learning outcomes, increased social competency, are more likely to succeed in school. Play is correlated with resiliency, problem solving, emotional well being and other essential functions, a strong foundation for learning and navigating their lives.”

“Play is so important that the right to play is listed in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Child.

“But many throughout the world do not prioritize early childhood learning – and many who do make it a priority, focus on formal education at an earlier age rather than whole child development. Traditional viewpoints on academic achievement often (discourage) parents from concentrating on the role of play. But there is evidence that academic, didactic, formal education at a young age may slow cognitive development, increase stress and hamper a child’s ability to learn.” In other words, put away those flash cards.

“We have to make sure children everywhere are equipped with the skills of lifelong learners. At LEGO Foundation, we believe learning through play is one of best ways to insure success,” Rasmussen said.

Studies show that every $1 spent on early childhood education returns $8 in benefits. What are these benefits? Better achievement on the part of the student, requiring less funding for remediation (otherwise known as academic intervention services), discipline problems, the likelihood of graduating high school and college and earning substantially higher salaries, and ultimately in terms of achievements that benefit society.

Indeed, the American Federation of Teachers, Amalgamated Bank and National League of Cities’ Early Childhood Institute for Youth, Education and Families, are taking matters into their own hands, with a plan to apply $100 million from the pension fund to create an Early Childhood Expansion Infrastructure Fund – in effect, providing an alternative bonding stream to cities to build facilities. The fund plans to start by providing funding for 250 new classroom facilities that will serve 36,000 children in Baltimore over the next three years.

But in the United States, the dollars have gone to private contractors for test writing, test preparation, test scoring, tutoring to the test, academic intervention after the test, and to shift resources to for-profit charter operators and parochial schools, rather than to early childhood education, where the dollars would do the most good.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo, who while minimizing the legitimacy of the standardized tests to evaluate students has continued to insist they be used to a greater degree in evaluating teachers, has just convened a new Common Core Task Force.

“Governor Cuomo believes that the learning standards should be strong, accurate and fair, because having the highest standards is critical to ensuring that students are educated and prepared for their futures in college or the workforce,” the statement describing the task force said. “However, the Common Core program’s flawed rollout by the State Education Department has caused disruption and anxiety that must be fixed, including testing aligned to the standards.”

The Task Force is charged with reviewing and reforming the Common Core state standards; reviewing the state’s curriculum guidance and resources; developing a process to ensure tests fit curricula and standards; examining the impact of the current moratorium on recording Common Core test scores on student records, and recommending whether it should be extended; examining how state and local districts can reduce quantity and duration of student tests, and developing a plan where parents can review the local tests; and reviewing the quality of the tests to ensure competence and professionalism from the private company creating and supplying the tests.

“The Governor has directed the Task Force to conduct its process as transparently as possible and to solicit and consider input from regional advisory councils comprised of parents, teachers and educators across the state. A new website (ny.gov/CommonCoreTaskForce) has been launched to encourage participation, allowing visitors to submit comments and recommendations to the Task Force. The Task Force’s report will be issued publicly by the end of the year so that it can be reviewed by all and changes can be implemented quickly and effectively.”

The Task Force includes representation from a broad group of stakeholders, including educators, teachers, parents, State Education Department officials, teachers’ union officials, and bipartisan legislators from the Assembly and Senate. It is chaired by Richard Parsons, Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners Inc. and former Chairman of the Board, Citigroup Inc., who chaired the Governor’s New NY Education Reform Commission. Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, is also on the task force.

“Like other people nationwide, our students, teachers, administrators, and parents are confused and anxious,” Cuomo said. “The evidence of failure is everywhere. Today many teachers and superintendents across the state will rightfully point out errors in the program. They will point out that they did not receive enough support to fully understand and implement this dramatic transition. It is time to overhaul the common core program and also the way we test our students.

“As a parent I believe our education system tests our students too often and for too long, and we should relieve the unnecessary pressure on our children that detracts from the time spent learning. There is no doubt that tests or assessments have a role in education – I understand that – but I think the number of tests should be reduced, including the number of local tests.

“Last year, to lessen the anxiety of students, last year we passed a five year moratorium on test scores because we didn’t want artificially low scores recorded on our student’s academic records. We passed a law to improve transparency by directing SED to release the tests to the public and end the secrecy around the system and to make sure that teacher evaluations accounted for the different demographics of our schools – we have schools with different poverty levels, different types of students, different types of language proficiencies, et cetera. Now, I believe these were all good changes, but they weren’t enough and we must do more to reform the system because there is still too much disruption, anxiety and confusion.”

Cuomo added, “I believe teaching is an important and a hard job. At the same time we must maintain accountability in our system. Teaching is a hard job. Now, don’t be confused by what you have heard from disagreements with Albany lobbyists. There’s no doubt I have my differences with the lobbyists. I have for a long time but that is a different story and that has nothing to do with how I feel about the state’s teachers. My mother was a school teacher. I have the greatest respect for the occupation and the dedication teachers have for their students and their craft. I believe teachers who are performing well should be incentivized and should be given bonuses. We are enacting the first teacher bonus system in the state. This January I will propose giving teachers tax credits for the money they spend on classroom supplies out of their pockets. It is also critical that teachers who need assistance should be given the support they need. While the teacher evaluation systems are nationally recognized as a step in the right direction, I believe it must be done correctly and fairly. It is critical that teacher evaluations support teachers in improving their practices, not punish them. At the same time we should ensure all students have access to high quality teachers.

“This year’s transition has weighed especially heavy on the teacher in the classroom, so by law we have directed SED to implement a new teacher evaluation system that doesn’t force the teacher to teach to the test but rather tests the student on what they learned in the classroom. The evaluation should be fair to the teacher and the student and should include observations of the teacher’s classroom performance from other trained educators. SED’s evaluation process will also provide the teacher with the right to appeal an evaluation under circumstances where the evaluation is flawed or unfair. No one – no one – wants an evaluation system that is inaccurate or unfair,” Cuomo said.

At the first Great Neck School Board meeting of the 2015-16 academic year, the conversation was about how the district is allocating more money to the various school buildings in order to meet the demand for the robotics clubs. The school district had been allocating $1000 to each school building, and there were wait-lists for students to join the clubs. This year, the board is allocating an additional $1000 per building.

You can no longer take such things for granted.

Meanwhile, among the long list of items that Congress has refused to do anything on, fixing No Child Left Behind is just one. When NCLB was first enacted, the singular item of George W. Bush’s tenure, it mandated that by 2014, 100% of all students would have achieved mastery, including special needs children. As if students are a fixed production item, like a widget, and you only have to tinker with the machinery to finally produce a perfect widget that can be replicated over and over and over again. By that measure, every school district in the nation, including Great Neck, would be considered failing and lose federal funding.

Everyone hates NCLB, yet Congress has not acted.

“New research shows that Americans want more focus on school funding and less on high-stakes testing, that 63 percent of Americans oppose vouchers and that 78 percent say student engagement is a better measurement of learning than test scores,” Randi Weingarten wrote.

“That’s why America’s students, parents and educators need a new law that ends the failed policies of No Child Left Behind, including high-stakes testing and mandatory school closings; preserves equity; and helps ensure a high-quality education for all our children.”

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