Archive for the 'National Policy' Category

Route to the Top?

April 21st, 2010 by Robert Lowry

Here is a chart that shows how New York’s “Race to the Top” application compares to those of higher scoring states on each of the criteria used to rate the proposal.

When the federal government announced the first round winners in its $4.35 billion systemic education reform initiative, only two states (Delaware and Tennessee) were awarded funding.  New York placed 15th out of 16 finalists.

In the aftermath of failure, hunting scapegoats became a popular preoccupation.  Blame fell on the Legislature for failing to raise the state’s charter school cap, the State Education Department for proposing to use federal aid to purchase expensive office furniture, and teacher unions for resisting the use of student performance data in professional evaluations.

But careful review of how New York’s application compared to higher ranked states yields a more complex picture of the reality the state must address as it assembles an application for round two – due in Washington by June 1. Read the rest of this entry »

Category: National Policy | 2 Comments »

Race to the Top — what went wrong, according to the Times

April 7th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

The New York Times “City Room” blog had an insightful post yesterday on what went wrong for New York State’s application for funding under the federal Race to the Top initiative. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s official: NYS misses Race to the Top winner’s circle

March 29th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

The U.S. Education Department has confirmed that Delaware and Tennessee are the only first round winners in the federal government’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTTT) systemic reform initiative.

New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner issued this response,

While our application placed us among the finalists, the United States Education Department has announced that New York is not among the two first round winners in the Race to the Top competition. We will closely analyze the USED reviewers’ response and will revisit our application with a view to submitting a successful second round plan that advances the Regents’ education reform agenda. Critical to a positive outcome will be the legislative changes the Regents proposed prior to the submission of the Round 1 application – changes that will not only strengthen our application, but will bring important benefits to education in New York State. For the sake of our 3.1 million children, we cannot allow this critical opportunity to undertake vital reforms to slip away.

The Department announced that, “Delaware will receive approximately $100 million and Tennessee $500 million to implement their comprehensive school reform plans over the next four years.”

A second round of competition will be conducted, with applications due on June 1.  The selection of only two states as winners, one small and one mid-sized, leaves roughly $3.4 billion on the table for round two.

The Washington Post noted, “Duncan’s decision to name only two initial winners gives the Obama administration continued leverage to upend the status quo in public education. It also squelches any suggestion that Duncan would seek to spread the money around as much and as fast as possible to help Obama win favor in key political states.”

The New York Times reports that Georgia and Florida finished third and fourth.

The Times also described the priorities of the RTTT initiative and observed,

Tennessee has long had a student-data tracking system that allows it to trace student achievement to individual teachers, and in its proposal the state promised to adopt an advanced statewide teacher evaluation system by the 2011-12 school year. Currently, teacher evaluation systems there, as in most states, are designed by school districts

Delaware already has a statewide annual teacher evaluation system, and has recently adopted regulations requiring that those evaluations be based on growth in student achievement, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, which rated the finalists’ proposals.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted, “Perhaps most importantly, every one of the districts in Delaware and Tennessee is committed to implementing the reforms in Race to the Top, and they have the support of the state leaders as well as their unions.”

Secretary Duncan also explained that his Department will be releasing information that will illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s application.  He said, “We want to help states improve their proposals and share great ideas. On our Web site, we’re posting the scores for every application and all of the reviewers’ comments. By the end of next week, we’ll post the video of every finalist’s presentation to the peer reviewers.”

The information will be posted here.

New York has nine weeks to revise its application.

As its second round application takes shape, the State Education Department will again be asking superintendents, board presidents and local teacher union presidents sign memoranda of understanding indicating support for the reform initiatives in the revised plan.

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President outlines plans for NCLB overhaul

March 14th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

In his weekly Saturday radio and Internet address, President Obama announced that his administration would send Congress its blueprint for reauthorizing the principle federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The ESEA was last reauthorized in 2001-02 through the No Child Left behind Act.

The Washington Post reported,

On Friday, Education Department officials briefed reporters, governors and interest groups. “From what they showed us, we like it,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “It looks like a significant departure from No Child Left Behind and the kind of thing we’d like to see done sooner rather than later.”

AASA is the Council’s national affiliate.

Meanwhile the teacher unions reacted skeptically.  The Post reported that American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said, “Obama’s plan ‘appears to place 100 percent of responsibility on educators and gives them zero percent authority.'”

The Post noted,

The president telegraphed his position on a stringent accountability policy March 1 when he expressed support for a decision to fire the staff of a struggling high school in Rhode Island, enraging teachers unions. However, Obama pledged in the Saturday address to treat teachers “like the professionals they are.”

The New York Times wrote that Mr.Obama’s plan “strikes a careful balance, retaining some key features of the Bush-era law, including its requirement for annual reading and math tests, while proposing far-reaching changes.”

The Times explains,

The administration would replace the law’s pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students’ academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate. And while the proposal calls for more vigorous interventions in failing schools, it would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools in the middle.

In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.

The proposal would also replace the current law’s emphasis on credentials as a measure of teacher quality to with requirements for states to develop process for evaluating teacher effectiveness in promoting student learning.

Another priority would be closing achievement gaps between poor and affluent students.  The plan has the potential of requiring state intervention in schools with seemingly high overall performance, if some groups of students are lagging.

The plan echoes themes of the Race to the Top initiative, for example requiring states to take aggressive action to turn-around their lowest-achieving 5 percent, by closing them, replacing at least half their staff, switching to independent management or take other action, including replacing the principal.

The proposal would authorize a $29 billion, 16 percent increase in federal aid, most of which would be distributed through competitive grants.  This emphasis had been rumored, leading to concerns that expanded competitive grant funding would be at the expense of traditional formula aid, which schools have come to depend upon.

The Obama Administration’s complete 45-page blue print is available here.

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Common Core Standards Up for Public Comment Now

March 10th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

The National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers have posted the latest drafts of “Common Core” standards —  quasi-national standards developed through collaboration among 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia.

There are two sets of standards — one for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies and science, the other for mathematics.

The drafts are available here.

The groups are seeking public comments through April 2nd.

The website includes an online survey.

The State Education Department is also conducting a survey — see here — and will provide the results to the NGA and CCSSO.

Read the rest of this entry »

Category: National Policy, Standards & Assessments | 1 Comment »

Surprise? — New York named a finalist for Race to the Top funding (Expanded)

March 4th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

To the surprise of many, New York was named as one of 16 finalists in the competition for a share of the federal government’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top education reform initiative.

After the State Legislature and Governor Paterson did not enact legislation amending the state’s charter school and tenure laws, pessimism reigned that New York was out of the running.

A news release from the U.S. Department of education (USDE) explains the next steps in the process.  On March 16, Senior SED leaders will make a presentation to federal officials, led by Secretary Duncan.

The U.S. Department intends to announce first round grant recipients in April.  A second round of competition for awards will be conducted, with applications due on June 1.  The U.S. Department expects that no more than half the RTTT funding will be allocated in round one. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Race to the Top guidelines released

November 12th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday, the U.S. Education Department issued final guidelines and application materials for its $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition.

Education Week notes that three factors are most important to the federal authorities,

…states will need to make a persuasive case for their education reform agenda, demonstrate significant buy-in from local school districts, and develop plans to evaluate teachers and principals based on student performance, according to final regulations set for release Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The New York Times reports the new guidelines are getting praise from many quarters for adding flexibility in the requirements for states. Read the rest of this entry »

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More time for learning?

September 30th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Several papers around the state have had articles citing President Obama’s call for a longer school day and year.  See here, here, and here, for example.

Back in April, I participated in a “student town hall meeting” on “Why is there so much reluctance to reconfigure the school year?”  It was conducted by Albany public radio station WAMC with students from Berlin Central High School, in rural Rensselaer county.

When I got a chance to speak, I told the students, “Before we can ask taxpayers to pay for more time, our first obligation is to assure them that we are using the time we have now to best advantage.”

So I asked the students, what they thought — are we using the time we have now the best we can?  They were unanimous in saying no, a lot of time is not well-used, especially in the senior year.  A few said they wished class periods were longer.

I also noted that most students do pass state tests, meet state standards, and graduate from high school.  The implication of that is that most students don’t need more time to learn what we expect them to learn — some do, but most do not.

But it also begs the question — do we have the right expectations, or should we be asking more of students?  The students who responded felt we should be aiming higher in our standards.

I did say, to the horror of my own children, that I think we should have a longer school year, and we should be using the time differently.

By the way, the kids were impressive and the WAMC program was a wonderful example of the power of career-like experiences to engage students in learning.  It was evident many of the students had invested lots of effort into researching the subject.

You can listen here.

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Debating Obama education policies

September 28th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

On Thursday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan began outlining the Obama Administration’s thinking on reauthorizing major federal education programs, last done in 2001 with the appellation, “the No Child Left Behind Act.”

In a speech to 200 leaders of education groups and think tanks, Secretary Duncan said his Department will now convene a series of meetings through December to allow stakeholders to make make more specific recommendations.

These meetings will build on the Secretary’s “Listening Learning Tour,” which took him to 30 states to discuss reauthorization.

A news release from his department noted that Secretary Duncan “…said he wants the next version of ESEA to create tests that better measure student learning and to build an accountability system that is based on the academic growth of students.”

He also wants the law to “…create programs to improve the performance of existing teachers and school leaders, to recruit new effective educators, and to ensure that the best educators are serving the children that are the furthest behind.”

The release also noted that the Secretary said the NCLB has “significant flaws” — that it “…puts too much emphasis on standardized tests, unfairly labels many schools as failures, and doesn’t account for students’ academic growth in its accountability system.

“But,” he contended, “the biggest problem with NCLB is that it doesn’t encourage high learning standards. In fact, it inadvertently encourages states to lower them. The net effect is that we are lying to children and parents by telling kids they are succeeding when they are not.”

He credited the NCLB for highlighting the achievement gap in schools and for focusing accountability on student outcomes, and said he is committed to policies that work toward closing that gap while raising the achievement of all children.”

He stressed, also, “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.”

Note:  New York State started dis-aggregating student test results by raical and other groupings before the NCLB was enacted.

Secretary Duncan also repeated what are common themes for him — his background as a superintendent in Chicago, his belief that the best solutions do not come from Washington, and that the federal government “should be tight on the goals—with clear standards set by states that truly prepare young people for college and careers — but … loose on the means for meeting those goals.”

Following the speech, the Washington Post noted criticisms of the Administration’s overall education policy directions (Unions Criticize Obama’s School Proposals as “Bush III”), citing the continuing emphasis on test-based accountability and reliance on charter schools.

A day before, Post columnist Ruth Marcus contrasted the Administration’s impact on education with the “headline turmoil” engulfing its proposals on health care, financial regulation, and emissions control.  She wrote, “Obama is overseeing a quiet upheaval in the nation’s approach to education from preschool through college.”

This influence is evident in news covered by several of our recent blog posts, including leadership appointments in the State Education Department.

Here is a critique from the generally conservative Fordham Foundation (note:  the foundation is not affiliated with the New York university of the same name).

Secretary Duncan concluded his speech by tellling of Martin Luther King’s 1965, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which Dr. King admonished white clergy for urging patience upon African-Americans in their quest for civil rights, explaining “why we can’t wait.”

Duncan ended his remarks stating, “education is the civil rights issue of our generation,” a theme anticipated in the Council’s 2007 “Education is a Civil Right” reform agenda.

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White House releases President’s speech for schoolchildren

September 7th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Late last week, we received phone calls from superintendents across the state seeking advice on how to handle calls from parents about the Obama Administration’s plans to offer a webcast speech tomorrow (Tuesday, September 8th) by the President to schoolchildren.  Some parents threatened to keep their children out of school if the speech is to be shown.

As the administration promised, the text of the speech was posted on the White House website a day early.  You can read it here.

More on on the speech and the controversy… Read the rest of this entry »

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