the essential contradiction of Arne Duncan: He claims to be driven by data, but he prefers a good story.
Duncan devotes three of the 10 chapters in his book to the Race to the Top competition, the basis for my claim that he has been the most influential Secretary of Education in American history. This competition propelled many states to alter their education laws and policies to bolster their chances of feeding at a $4.4 billion federal trough in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Even states that ultimately were not awarded Race to the Top funds bent their policies toward the competition’s priorities. What a brilliant stroke! Even the chance of a carrot had the desired effect! (A federally funded evaluation concluded that, because academic performance in the states that won awards was already trending upward at the time of the awards, the effect of Race to the Top on students’ academic learning was unclear.)
It’s a small leap to conclude that a great teacher is defined by the ability to raise test scores.
‘Alternative’ Education: Using Charter Schools to Hide Dropouts and Game the System
School officials nationwide dodge accountability ratings by steering low achievers to alternative programs. In Orlando, Florida, the nation’s tenth-largest district, thousands of students who leave alternative charters run by a for-profit company aren’t counted as dropouts.
Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), a more than $1.5 million-a-year “management fee,” 2015 financial records show — more than what the school spends on instruction.
alternative schools at times become warehouses where regular schools stow poor performers to avoid being held accountable.
Concerns that schools artificially boosted test scores by dumping low achievers into alternative programs have surfaced in connection with ongoing litigation in Louisiana and Pennsylvania, and echo findings from a legislative report a decade ago in California. The phenomenon is borne out by national data: While the number of students in alternative schools grew moderately over the past 15 years, upticks occurred as new national mandates kicked in on standardized testing and graduation rates.
The role of charter alternative schools like Sunshine — publicly funded but managed by for-profit companies — is likely to grow under the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, an ardent supporter of school choice. In her home state of Michigan, charter schools have been responsible in part for a steep rise in the alternative school population. She recently portrayed Florida as a national model for charters and choice.
No Child Left Behind was supposed to improve educational outcomes for students long overlooked — including those who were black, Hispanic and low-income.
Nationwide, nearly a third of the alternative-school population attends a school that spends at least $500 less per pupil than regular schools do in the same district. Forty percent of school districts with alternative schools provide counseling services only in regular schools. Charter alternative schools — both virtual and bricks-and-mortar — in Ohio, Georgia and Florida have been accused of collecting public money for students who weren’t in classes.
Orlando schools are not unique in using alternative programs to remove struggling students from traditional classrooms. As far back as 2007, a legislative report in California warned that the state’s accountability system allowed traditional schools to shirk responsibility for low-performing students by referring them to alternative schools. The state is currently reviewing its standards for alternative schools.
Companies running schools in this niche often save costs by relying on computer programs that reduce the need for credentialed teachers. The market can be lucrative: As enrollment grew, ALS’ management fees from the schools it operates in Orange County more than doubled from $2.5 million in the 2012 school year to $5.4 million in 2015. The company says the fees pay for back-office services, such as human resources, as well as school-based support for areas such as curriculum, reading, math, security, and professional development.
The company’s affiliate — the controversial Nashville-based Community Education Partners, or CEP — contracted with school districts to serve students with behavior problems. The company, founded by a lawyer and Republican Party operative named Randle Richardson, ran schools for students who had committed disciplinary violations in cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston and Orlando for more than a decade. Critics called CEP’s schools prison-like and dangerous, and charged that their academics were sub-par.
We’ve seen the pendulum swing from a more muscular federal role like we had during No Child Left Behind in the Bush era, to times when the primacy was in the states, which is the case now [with the Every Student Succeeds Act]. We’re now in a phase where states can be incubators of innovation.
1. Just 8.8 percent of U.S. students are classified as “high achievers” in mathematics, according to the most recent international assessments. That’s well below the average of 12.6 percent for affluent nations.
2. No Child Left Behind, the 2001 federal law, incentivizes “just getting kids over a bar,” Finn says. “In the public policies affecting our schools — state and federal — there’s almost no incentive to boost a smart kid up the scale or take someone who’s ‘proficient’ and push them to ‘advanced.’ ” [We’ve written before about proficiency and the tendency, under high-stakes testing, for schools to focus resources on kids who are “on the bubble.”]
7. One promising practice from overseas is screening all kids at third or fourth grade — after they’ve had a few years of school — and directing special resources to the top scorers. Here in the U.S., all third-graders are tested, but the high scorers don’t get anything. Meanwhile, screening for gifted programs usually happens in kindergarten, which creates a heavy bias toward those who come from more affluent homes.
more on gifted education in this IMS blog
The new version — called the Every Student Succeeds Act — returns much government oversight of schools to the states and curtails or eliminates the federal role in many areas. Critics of NCLB are celebrating its demise.
Critics say there’s no guarantee that states will succeed where the old law failed in two crucial areas: closing the achievement gap and raising the performance of the absolute worst schools.
“The real test is going to be whether there is the political will to take data and turn it into action versus just reporting what they’ve been reporting for the last 15 years,” Wise says.
For heavens sake, there are countries that are getting education right. Why can’t we just look at what they are doing and tailor those methods to suit our needs? Japan, Australia, Norway, Finland, France, Germany are all countries that have some very impressive education systems that WORK!
The new law—theEvery Child Achieves Act—would give much of that decision-making power back to states. Instead of the feds, state-level officials would determine how to assess academic performance, what counts as a struggling school, and which mechanisms to use to hold educators accountable for achievement. No more top-down reforms. No more mandatory interventions. No more Washington, D.C., bureaucrats stepping on the toes of local policymakers and educators who are much more in tune with their communities’ needs.
Right? Of course not. There’s plenty of important nuance here, and the legislative tug-of-war is just getting started.