Saturday, May 2, 2009

NCLB Toxic, Lying to Kids and Parents, Performance Pay, Embracing Charter Schools, and other Thoughts by the Secretary of Education

In light of the fact that the Hoboken School District has just completed it's first of four consecutive weeks of mandated state testing (NJ ASK), I thought this recent article by Julie Mack on a speech the Secretary of Education gave this week would be interesting. In it, Secretary Arne Duncan (pictured) states that we are essentially lying to children and parents through state assessments, that NCLB is toxic, and how he'd like success to be centered more around graduation rates than test scores. These themes have been discussed in the Hoboken School District for the past two years. It's interesting to now see these ideas echoed at the federal level. Time will tell to what extend and degree these ideas take hold at the state and local levels. Accountability and student achievement are still essential and needed. But, the route to getting there seems to now be part of a growing public discussion. Let us hope good data, an informed public and rational arguments can lead the discourse over posturing, false dichotomies, and ill-informed opinions. -Dr. Petrosino

WASHINGTON -- Saying ``more of the same is not going to get us to where we need to go,'' U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is promising sweeping reforms in American education over the next four years.

``This is an absolutely historic moment'' with tens of billions of dollars being poured into preschool, the K-12 system and higher education to improve outcomes, Duncan said in a speech Thursday at a conference of the Education Writers Association.

Duncan said repeatedly that there needs to be more transparency in education so that parents can recognized which schools are effective and which are failing. He criticized state-standardized tests, for instance, for in effect dumbing down their tests so that most students pass the exams.

``I fundamentally believe we are lying to children and lying to parents'' through the state assessment tests, he said. ``In far too many places, parents are being told their children are meeting state standards when, in actuality, those children are barely able to graduate high school and are not ready for a competitive state college.''

Among Duncan's other comments:

v On No Child Left Behind, Duncan said that he's likely to scrap the name, which he called ``toxic,'' and revamp many of the provisions.

He said that while the law has been effective in highlighting the gap between white and minority children and between middle-class and low-income students, he doesn't like how it allows every state to set its own standards. He also said he's likely to define success more on graduation rates than test scores, as well as how many students need remediation when they go to college.

v On the need for better evaluation of teachers: ``We need to be much more candid about teacher evaluations,'' he said. ``We need to measure classroom success in terms of teacher effectiveness. Outcomes matter.''

v On the need to identify and restaff failing schools: ``If a school is given a chance and hasn't made meaningful progress, than the adults need to leave,'' he said.

A key is the need to ``get the best and brightest teachers in front of the kids who are historically underserved. ... I think talent matters tremendously,'' he said.

v On preschool reform: ``We've got $5 billion on the table to dramatically improve access and dramatically improve quality. If this is just glorified babysitting, then we're not going to make a difference,'' Duncan said.

v On higher education: His budget calls for the federal government to stop subsidizing banks that offer student loans and redirect that money into government loans and grants. He also said he plans to use ``carrots and sticks'' to urge colleges to cap tuition increases.

In other comments, Duncan also was quoted as saying: "The school day is too short. The school week is too short. The school year is too short,”  and "there’s no reason to wait", pointing out schools could bring students in for summer work and start the school year early. Concerning stimulus money, Duncan has said that embracing internationally benchmarked standards, performance pay, embracing charter schools and quality data-gathering systems will be critical elements for states and districts to consider if they want to compete for additional federal money.