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ESEA/NCLB Update #128

NEA President says NCLB missed the mark

NCLB’s 10th anniversary is no cause for celebration, according to an NEA statement released today. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel calls for major changes in the act that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002. "I meet with thousands of educators as I travel around the country, and the concern I hear most often is the overwhelming burden NCLB presents in classrooms and schools," said Van Roekel. "From high-stakes testing to narrowing of the curriculum, this law has missed the mark. Instead of creating a generation of critical thinkers, we are graduating a generation of test takers. Let’s get back to the core purpose of public education and let’s re-balance the federal role: ensuring every student has access to a great education that prepares them for lifelong learning and success in the 21st century.”  

Van Roekel elaborated on NEA's concerns about high-stakes testing in a separate statement.  “Well-designed assessment systems do have a critical role in student success,” he said, adding that poor quality, “high-stakes standardized tests that are used to punish students, teachers and schools, make testing companies more money, but they don’t make students any smarter.”

Study: NCLB led to lost decade for school progress

A new study marking the 10th anniversary of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) finds that the law “failed badly both in terms of its own goals and more broadly.” Published by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), the study reviewed NAEP and other data and found that: "NCLB neither significantly increased academic performance nor significantly reduced achievement gaps, even as measured by standardized exams. In fact, because of its misguided reliance on one-size-fits-all testing, labeling and sanctioning schools, it has undermined many education reform efforts. Many schools, particularly those serving low-income students, have become little more than test-preparation programs."

The study, NCLB’s Lost Decade for Educational Progress: What Can We Learn from this Policy Failure?, urges policy makers to “abandon their faith-based embrace of test-and-punish strategies and, instead, pursue proven alternatives to guide and support the nation’s neediest schools and students.” Among the alternatives suggested by the report are the approaches of high-performing nations like Finland, as well as the detailed legislative recommendations from the Forum on Educational Accountability.

House Republicans release two draft ESEA bills

Representative John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, today released two new pieces of draft ESEA legislation: the Student Success Act, and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act. Kline issued a detailed statement on the legislation. NEA will join other stakeholders in providing input to the House Committee after reviewing the bills.

Congress approves funds through September 30

With great difficulty, Congress finalized spending bills for federal fiscal year 2012, which runs through September 30 of this year. The Department of Education will have to work with $192 million less than it received in FY 2011, while inflation and enrollment growth in public preK-12 and postsecondary degree-granting institutions moves upward. Title I, Part A grants will increase by $74 million compared to the prior year, and Special Education Grants to States will increase by $112 million. School Improvement State Grants will decrease by $1 million, 21st Century Community Learning Centers will lose $2 million, and English Language Acquisition State Grants will lose more than $1 million. The Teacher Incentive Fund was cut by $100 million, while Race to the Top received $549 million and Investing in Innovation program garnered $149 million. Congress did find $160 million for a new literacy initiative to replace the funding eliminated in FY 2011 from Striving Readers, $60 million for Promise Neighborhoods, and an additional $4.7 million for Rural Education.  

White House announces $500 million in Early Learning Challenge grants

The White House announced that nine states—California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington—will share $500 million in Early Learning Challenge grants. Seven (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington) of the 9 winners described how they would use the grant to promote alignment with elementary grades and other initiatives across the Pre-K-3 spectrum. “Education must be our national mission,” said President Barack Obama in a press statement. “All of us must work to give all our children the best education possible. And today, we're acting to strengthen early childhood education to better prepare our youngest children for success in school and in life,” President Obama said.

Seven states receive $200 million in Race to the Top Funds

Seven states have won the latest Race to the Top competition: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. These states will split $200 million in Race to the Top Round 3 funds. Nine states were eligible to apply, but South Carolina did not submit an application, and the Department considered California’s application incomplete. 

Nearly half of schools miss AYP

The Center on Education Policy reports that 48 percent of schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks in 2010-11, up from 39 percent in 2009-10. “The fact that half of American schools are considered ‘failing’ under NCLB shows how crudely the law measures the quality of a school,” said Jack Jennings, head of the Center. 

Federal education policies ignore impact of poverty

Duke University professor of public policy and economics Helen F. Ladd and education author Edward B. Fiske recently charged that federal education policy fails to acknowledge and address the impacts of childhood poverty on school performance, noting that National Assessment of Education Policy (NAEP) data show that nearly 40 percent of the variation in student reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in math scores are associated with child poverty rates. According to their New York Times op-ed piece, Ladd and Fiske contend that rather than confront this issue directly, “policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.” NCLB did this, the authors state, by “setting unrealistically high — and ultimately self-defeating — expectations for all schools” while at the same time failing to help schools address the challenges disadvantaged students face.

Citing research in areas such as nutrition, health, early childhood education, and summer learning loss, Ladd and Fiske argue that comprehensive steps should be taken “to provide poor students with the social support and experiences that middle-class students enjoy as a matter of course.” They favorably cite community-wide support programs such as Say Yes to Education in Syracuse, N.Y. and Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods program. All students should have access to good schools, they conclude, “but let’s not pretend that family background does not matter and can be overlooked.” 

Finnish lessons worth learning

While many policymakers in America continue to promote test-based accountability systems, Finland provides an example of a high-performing education system based on a commitment to equality of opportunity, broad student supports, respect and support for administrators and teachers, and a near absence of standardized testing. These and other attributes of the Finnish system are highlighted in an Atlantic article focusing on Finnish education leader Pasi Sahlberg and his new book, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland

Take Action: Speak up for a better ESEA

As ESEA reauthorization continues to move forward, now is the time to make sure policymakers hear and understand the experiences of educators working with students every day. Speak up for the students who are suffering under too much testing and not enough individual attention. Tell Congress to craft an ESEA reauthorization bill that will work for students, educators, and schools.

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