Oh good. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce is holding a hearing on Wednesday morning to examine problems with No Child Left Behind’s accountability system. And if there is one thing we need, it is one more hearing during which witnesses can repeat the same complaints they have made for years about the fatal flaws of NCLB and its Adequate Yearly Progress accountability system.
AYP has at its core the unattainable mandate that almost all students score proficient on their state’s standardized tests in reading and math by 2014 in staged steps. Schools that fail to do this face serious consequences, and as the deadline gets closer, more schools are missing their AYP goals and some are being unfairly declared to be failing. (NCLB’s authors knew the mandate was not feasible, but put it in anyway to spur states to reform.)
Apparently, all of the ad nauseum discussion of the topic over a period of years hasn’t been enough for Congress to really understand the issues before it rewrites NCLB. (Lawmakers are taking up the task piecemeal rather than as a whole.) So to help legislators save time, here’s a little timeline:
2011: Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared that his pleadings to Congress to fix NCLB and AYP had failed and that AYP was such a disaster that states were begging for relief. So he had come up with what he said was a solution: He would start granting waivers from key provisions of NCLB to states that agreed to move ahead with a specific kind of school reform. He said that it looked as if the vast majority of public schools would soon be declared failures under the flawed AYP system.
2010: The Obama administration released its blueprint for revising NCLB, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Conspicuously missing was the AYP system of accountability and the 2014 deadline. (Critics argued that the blueprint had its own set of punitive consequences for troubled schools, but that’s another blogpost.)
2009: Duncan said in a speech to a group of education stakeholders: “We're still waiting for a testing and accountability system that accurately and fairly measures student growth and uses data to drive instruction and teacher evaluation.”
2008: A report on AYP by the Congressional Research Service said:
“Others have consistently expressed concern about the accuracy and efficacy of an accountability system under which such a high percentage of schools is identified as failing to make adequate progress, with consequent strain on financial and other resources necessary to provide technical assistance, public school choice and supplemental services options, as well as other corrective actions. In addition, some have expressed concern that schools might be more likely to fail to meet AYP simply because they have diverse enrollments, and therefore more groups of pupils to be separately considered in determining whether the school meets AYP standards. They also argue that the application of technical assistance and, ultimately, corrective actions to such a high percentage of schools will dilute available resources to such a degree that these responses to inadequate performance would be insufficient to markedly improve performance. A few analysts even speculate that the AYP system under NCLB is intended to portray large segments of American public education as having “failed,” leading to proposals for large scale privatization of elementary and secondary education.”
2007: According to a newsletter from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing before spring recess to discuss AYP. It said: “Though the witnesses were all careful to praise the original intent of NCLB as an important tool for states, districts, and schools to assess proficiency and reveal gaps in performance, they also were united in the opinion that AYP had served its purpose and that multiple mechanisms for measuring proficiency were now needed to allow students and schools to progress further.
2006: Bill Mathis, a former Vermont superintendent wrote in this report: “AYP in its 2006 form as the prime indicator of academic achievement is not supported by reliable evidence. Expecting all children to reach mastery level on their state’s standardized tests by 2014, the fundamental requirement of AYP, is unrealistic. The growth model and other improvement proposals now on the table do not have sufficient power to resolve the underlying problems of the system. In addition, the program, whether conceived as implementation costs or remedial costs, is significantly underfunded in a way that will disproportionately penalize schools attended by the neediest children. Further, the curriculum is being narrowed to focus on tested areas at the cost of other vital educational purposes.
I could go back further but you undoubtedly get the point.
Wednesday’s hearing will also discuss the issue behind the actual title of the event, “Examining the Federal Role in Public School Accountability.”
The Republican chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), has no love for federal involvement in education policy and believes the U.S. government has long overstepped its proper role in school reform.
Other Republicans in Congress agree; when Rand Paul was successfully running for the Senate from Kentucky in 2010, he called for the dismantling of the Department of Education and declared, “I am against any federal funding or control of education. Historically, education was funded and controlled locally.”
Not really, according to a 2011 paper by Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy: “Federal involvement in education took shape 225 years ago at the same time the United States was becoming a nation,” he wrote, with ordinances enacted in 1785 and 1787 granting federal lands to states to create and support public schools.
But I digress.
No Child Left Behind, the major education initiative of former president George W. Bush, greatly increased the reach of the federal government into public school classrooms, ultimately, if not intentionally, changing what teachers did and didn’t do and what was taught and what wasn’t.
Obama’s education policies don’t include Adequate Yearly Progress but has its own punitive measures that some critics say are even worse for schools than NCLB.
The problem isn’t really that the federal government has the authority to do this. It is that the federal government has chosen to implement bad education policies that are concentrated on using standardized test scores to evaluate schools and students and teachers.
It was bad 10 years ago, and it’s bad now.
That’s what needs to be fixed. And we don’t need any more congressional hearings to tell us what we already know.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Race to the Top eliminated Adequate Yearly Progress. It does not. The administration does want to eliminate AYP, however.
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