Monday, December 21, 2009

Money for California's schools

When teachers argue that school funding should not be cut, we are told by the  Republicans in the legislature that there is not choice, there just is no money.
Well, that is not really true.  Here is where reasonable people would get the revenue.

1.     Repeal the September 2008 and February 2009 tax cuts.  As a part of the Sept. 2008 and Feb. 2009 budget deals, the legislature created huge new corporate tax breaks.  That right.  To respond to a budget crisis, they gave new tax reductions to corporations.  These take effect in 2011 and will make the budget crisis worse.  What is to be done ? Repeal of tax credit sharing to  raise 2009-10 revenues by $80 million, over time, the permanent tax cuts will cost the state $2.0 billion to $2.5 billion.

2.      Reinstate 10 percent and 11 percent tax rates to 1991 levels, adjusted for inflation. The February tax increases disproportionately affect low- and middle-income taxpayers. Reinstatement of the top brackets would restore balance to the state’s tax system and raise $4 billion to $6 billion in additional revenues.

3.     Impose on oil severance tax. California is the only oil producing jurisdiction in the world without a severance tax. A tax of 9.9 percent, such as that proposed by the Governor, would raise upwards of $1 billion dollars.

We, the people, own this oil.  It is under California soil.  Oil companies only take it out.  They should pay to take our oil out of the ground and to sell it to us.  Even arch conservative Texas, Louisiana, and Alaska have oil severance taxes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Economic Crisis and School budgets

    The nation  including California is suffering a severe recession.  Twenty Six million  are unemployed and under employed. This crisis was created by finance capital and banking, mostly on Wall Street ,ie. Chase Banks, Bank of America, AIG, and others.   Finance capital produced a $ trillion bailout of the financial industry, the doubling of America’s unemployment rate and the loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs in 2008.  Fifteen million people are out of work.  You and I, and college students did not create this crisis.  Finance capital stole the future of many young people.   It is important in developing  responses  to distinguish between the financial bail out (TARP) and the stimulus plan (ARRA, 2009).  Fox News and the Republican Right like to merge these two as one.
            If we don’t find a way to stop Wall Street from controlling  our government, the standard of living of working people will continue to decline and we will continue to have economic crises.  As a minimum, we need to extend unemployment benefits for long term unemployed.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Race to the Top: consultant employment project ?

On Wed. Dec.2,2009, the California Assembly held  a hearing on Race to the Top, chaired by Julia Brownley, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee.
In her testimony,  Jennifer Kuhn of the Legislative Analyst Office testified that

Because California has a severe budget crisis in k-12 education, we recommend that th RTTP funds  be used to
develop plans and strategies for RTTT.  We should not commit funds for  direct service efforts that the state can not sustain.

(Not quite a quote.  I encourage readers to look for the video on line on the California Channel. It was as I could catch it.)

In other words, the LAO  encourages   funding advisors and consultants to talk about what should be done. She argued that money  should not be allocated to program that serve children. Rather, it will be used to plan and build strategies.

This seems like a make work projects for consultants, advisors and charlatans.   One of the consistent problems of schools in the U.S. and California is that too much money is taken from the school budgets to fund other things, such as consultants , program designers and hucksters.  
 The new regulations in RTT Top require that the local unions are required to sign off on their participation.  I argue that unions should not sign off unless the majority of the money go into the classroom not to consultants and planners.

Based upon the requirements of RTTT, it  is not about teaching, it is about building infrastructure and implementing policies that in theory will help teaching and learning.  We have been here before. This is “drive by school reform.”
See the excellent responses to Race to The Top by Monty Neill of Fair Test.
He says it well here.
FairTest website at

Of particular value in the hearing  was the testimony of Roberta Feurger representing PICO in favor of how to increase parent participation.
Duane Campbell, Sacramento

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Right to a great public education; California

We've got to stop cutting public education. To ease the budget crisis, one state after another is taking an ax to higher education. This is cruel and shortsighted.
Cruel because it denies students the right to a decent education. Shortsighted because how will this generation of students get prepared to compete globally or even to clean up the financial mess brought about by Wall Street?
I'm a product of the worst and best public education California has to offer. I grew up in an East Los Angeles housing project in the 1970s and 1980s. I attended overcrowded public schools in the inner city. Like many racial minorities from America's barrios and ghettos, I received an inadequate education.
While I excelled in mathematics, I was never taught to read or write at a competent level throughout my K-12 schooling. To complicate matters, the longest paper assigned to me in high school was two pages long.
I taught myself how to properly read and write while going through college to compensate for my poorly funded K-12 education. But what will happen to those without this same self-drive that I learned from my Mexican immigrant mother? Fortunately, I also benefited from affirmative action and from numerous educational outreach programs and policies like Occident College's Upward Bound - a preparatory program for students from disadvantaged communities.
If not for such programs, I wouldn't have made it to UCLA as an undergraduate. I wouldn't have earned a master's degree in urban planning there. And I wouldn't be pursuing my doctorate at Berkeley.
So I worry about those who grow up in poor neighborhoods without the same educational safety nets that allowed for me to attend some of the best universities in this country. I can't help but be concerned about the plight of my wife's elementary school students in East Los Angeles today.
Those who fight affirmative action and against government-sponsored early educational outreach programs conveniently wash their hands of any responsibility toward those who lack the financial resources and access to human capital to go to college.
And fewer and fewer have those resources, with one state after another raising tuition and other fees. These fee hikes couldn't come at a worse time.
If we care about equality of opportunity, if we are concerned about our ability to compete in the global economy, it's time to give everyone, including those from America's barrios and ghettos, a shot at a great public education.
Alvaro Huerta is a doctoral student at the University of California at Berkeley and a visiting scholar at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail:; Web site: For information on PMP's funding, please visit
This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sacramento Multicultural Education Conference : Free

Social justice educator Brian D. Schultz is the keynote speaker for the 16th annual Multicultural Education Conference, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 14, in Sacramento State’s University Union.
Titled, “Social Justice Through Civic Engagement and Action,” the free conference is sponsored by Sacramento State’s Bilingual/Multicultural Education Department (BMED) and co-sponsored by the Serna Center and Project Citizen. The conference provides an opportunity for university faculty and local educators to promote multicultural education in K-12 public schools in the Sacramento region
Schultz is the author of Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way: Lessons from an Urban Classroom. A panel discussion by candidates for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction will follow Shultz’ talk. The rest of the day will be filled with 30 break-out sessions on a range of topics including Peace and Conflict Resolution, Technology Integration and Anti-Bias Media Analysis, and Impact of Educational Reform Polices on English Learners.
For more information or to register for the conference, visit, e-mail Maggie Beddow at, or call the BMED Office at (916) 278-5942. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Some Californians promote a constitutional convention

That California government is in a financial crisis is not news – but it is in crisis. And, that only 13% of Californians think that the legislature – both Republican and Democrats are doing a good job, indicates a that an opportunity exists to throw the baby out with the bath water. Or, as Rahm Emanuel says, “don’t allow a good crisis to go to waste.”
At an interesting conference, “Getting to Reform: Avenues to Constitutional Change in California,” on October 14, at the Sacramento Convention Center, Prof. Kimberly Nalder, an associate professor of Government at Sacramento State said California voters are like a person who contracts with a personal trainer to lose weight, then says, “but I don’t want to do any exercise and I don’t want to go on a diet.” and then blames the trainer for not producing results. The conference was sponsored by the Center for California Studies at CSU-Sacramento and others.

New Field Poll figures released Wednesday Oct.14, at the conference show that voters think the state needs fundamental reform. And, majorities would favor a constitutional convention to propose revisions.
However, they tend to oppose commonly discussed changes such as reducing the two-thirds voting threshold to pass a state budget or raise taxes, modifying or eliminating term limits and altering the state tax system.
"The rub is, what are we going to reform?" Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. "With these results, it's going to be a tall order to put a package before voters that they will support."
There are two major groups promoting fundamental change, Repair California a mostly business interests group that plans to place a measure on the ballot for November 2010 calling a convention (, and California Forward (, a mostly business interest group –along with the State Building and Construction Trades Unions and other bipartisan advocates- who prefer to change the constitution with a series of concrete proposals rather than a convention. For example, a proposition could be placed on the ballot calling for a majority rule in the legislature rather than the current 2/3 requirement to pass a budget or to raise taxes. The Repair California convention approach assumes that delegates to a convention would be selected rather than elected and the 2/3 vote requirement would be off the agenda of the convention.
A constitutional convention could, for example, change the laws on labor rights or educational rights.
Scholars and advocates at the conference noted that California voters want more services and to pay less taxes, and some hope that a Constitutional Convention will achieve this improbably end. R. William Hauk, of the California Roundtable ( a business lobbying power house), the pre eminent Capitol insider argued that “the sky really is falling,” and that excessive partisanship prevented the legislature from fixing the very real financial problems of the state. This is a position- it should be noted- frequently taken when your side is not winning.
Prof. Amy Bridges of U.C. San Diego gave a historical analysis of the last time a constitutional convention revised the California Constitution in 1879 and Glen Gendzel, of History at San Jose State U. reported on the reform efforts of 1911 which brought us the initiative, the referendum, and the recall processes.
The history was informative, however it failed to note that the 1879 constitution replaced the 1849 constitution, and in so doing it eliminated the protections of bilingualism, of Mexican American political and property rights, and established a regime of White Supremacy. They did note the infamous efforts to ban Chinese immigration. These issues continue to resonate as recently as California Prop. 187 and 227. Proposition 187 itself was somewhat inaccurately described at the conference as having no practical effect because of the federal court injunction. That is partly correct. However, as those of us who were active in the campaign for No on Prop. 187 know, most of the provisions of California Prop. 187 went on to be included in the Immigration Reform and Control act of 1996 and thus apply throughout the nation.
So, for ethnic minorities, the constitutional convention route may be fraught with peril. Noticeably, the conference was almost 90% Anglo with an roughly equal distribution of men and women participants. California’s registered voters are 65% White, 21% Latino, 5.8 % African American, and 8.2 % Asian and other.
There was a significant presence of English speaking media participating on panels so I anticipate that readers will soon see essays based upon the polls and the presentations at the conference. For details on the many aspects of the reform efforts see

The precedings of the conference will be on line at And will be broadcast on the California Channel.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

California Assembly Committee on Race to the Top

Hearing today at the Capitol . The 5th. Extraordinary Session. Assembly Committee on Education considering the Race to the Top Funds of the Obama Administration.
Note; These funds are a part of the American Recovery and Re-investment Act, also known as the stimulus package.
There will be about $5 Billion available. At best California could hope for $1 b. Note, the California Legislature and the Governor cut $6.1 B from the state school budgets this year. Of this. $2.1 was “backfilled” by the federal government stimulus package. Deputy Supt. Of Public Instruction Miller stressed that Race to the top was totally voluntary, unlike NCLB. However, in local districts that have lost up to $35 million dollars, an opportunity to get $5 million back is definitely not voluntary.
It is noteworthy that the same people who made these slashing brutal cuts to education ( the Schwarzenegger admin.) are in charge of deciding how to pursue Race to the Top. Does that make you confident?
The representative from the California Federation of Teachers and Rucker of CTA again made the detailed and appropriate points that the assessment systems being proposed are totally invalid and unreliable. The professional literature on this is overwhelming, but not of interest to Arne Duncan, and apparently Supt. O’ Connell and Governor Schwarzenegger .
Student Data
The California Federation of Teachers believes that student achievement and student growth data may be worthwhile tools in helping to improve school instruction when the data instruments contain information that is useful to the teacher. We do not believe that current standardized tests being administered as part of the No Child Left Behind Act meet those criteria.
School reform will come when we can engage teachers, students and families. We need to engage the teachers in the classroom. It will not come from consultant class. My 35 + years of experience in working with schools convinces me that the political consultants and the bureaucrats may receive the funds, but the solutions will come from dialogues with the teachers, families, and community activists.
The most basic decisions on class size in schools are made by the Governor, the legislature, and the voters. In last year’s budget deal, the legislature and the Governor cut some $6 billion from the k-12 schools forcing lay offs of teachers and increasing class sizes. This cut was forced on California because the Governor and the Republicans would not raise taxes. Many art, music, and career technical teachers will be layed off. Class sizes in high schools will rise to over 40 and the drop out crisis will grow. Did you know that California already ranks 49 out of the 50 states in counselors per student? That is why there are so few counselors in schools. California now has the largest class sizes in the nation. Our Senators and our Assemblypersons voted for this. They argue that they had no choice.
The legislature, enjoys a 16% approval rating from voters. The federal competition for Race to the Top is a distraction from the more basic issues. Until the schools are adequately funded and class sizes reduced to at least the national average- no amount of pubic relations efforts will improve test scores.
At best, the Race to the Top funds would provide $100 per student to work toward reform. The California legislature reduced the per pupil expenditure this year by about $1,400 per student. So, their argument is that reform will come from a competition for $100 per students, but please don’t notice that we have cut $1,400 per student. I guess they think that the public can be distracted from basic realities.

Duane Campbell

Friday, September 25, 2009

Teachers Unions criticize Obama school reform plans

Unions Criticize Obama's School Proposals as 'Bush III'
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009

To the surprise of many educators who campaigned last year for change in the White House, the Obama administration's first recipe for school reform relies heavily on Bush-era ingredients and adds others that make unions gag.

Standardized testing, school accountability, performance pay, charter schools -- all are integral to President Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition to spur innovation. None is a typical Democratic crowd-pleaser.

Labor leaders, parsing the Education Department's fine print, call the proposal little more than a dressed-up version of the No Child Left Behind law enacted seven years ago under Obama's Republican predecessor.

"It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "That's Bush III." Weingarten, who praises Obama for massive federal aid to help schools through the recession, said her 1.4 million-member union is engaged in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the administration about reform.

Debate over Race to the Top among Democrats, education groups and others is widespread, with thousands of written comments pouring into the government since late July. It previews the clash to come when Obama and the Democratic-led Congress update No Child Left Behind. The controversial law is certain to be renamed and reworked. But those who want to scrap it entirely might be disappointed because federal education policy has been largely bipartisan for the past two decades.

"Obama's the fourth president in a row who has been in favor of standards-based reform and test-driven accountability," said Jack Jennings, a former Democratic congressional aide and president of the Center on Education Policy. "Obama's very much in a line of four consecutive presidents -- two liberals, two conservatives; two Democrats and two Republicans -- who are all in favor of the same kind of reform."

On Thursday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told interest groups in Washington that the administration hopes to improve the 2002 federal law by raising expectations for students, giving schools more flexibility and tracking classroom gains rather than how far test scores fall short of what he called "utopian goals."

But Duncan reiterated his commitment to testing and accountability: "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. . . . Today, we expect districts, principals and teachers to take responsibility for the academic performance of their schools and students."

The standardized testing culture has sunk deep roots in public education under the federal mandate to assess students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. State tests are widely criticized for uneven rigor and quality, but they provide data crucial to many reform efforts. The administration has set aside funding to help develop a new generation of exams as a group of states seeks to write what could become the first nationwide academic standards. But for now, the regular state tests will feed into Race to the Top.

The administration's proposed rules for the grants challenge the education establishment on several fronts:

-- To create systems to track individual student achievement over time and link growth in scores to individual teachers and principals;

-- To use those data in part to evaluate and compensate teachers and principals;

-- To lift limits on independently operated but publicly funded charter schools, which usually are not unionized; and

-- To shake up perennially struggling schools identified through No Child Left Behind.

The proposal could be revised this fall before states apply. No money has been awarded yet. Still, details embedded within the proposal have sent shock waves through the education world.

For example, it defines an "effective teacher" as one "whose students achieve acceptable rates (e.g., at least one grade level in an academic year) of student growth" -- and it requires such growth to be measured through state test scores when applicable. To revive struggling schools, including many Duncan calls "dropout factories," the proposal urges states to sweep out their staff or management, convert them to charter schools or close them entirely, with a fourth option of "school transformation" recommended only when the more aggressive strategies "are not possible." And the proposal declares ineligible for funding any state that prohibits the linkage of student achievement data to teachers and principals for job evaluations.

California might soon repeal a statute that appears to run afoul of that provision. It is one of several states that have in recent months passed or proposed measures to position themselves to secure grants.

The comments on Race to the Top -- more than 3,700 in all, from more than 1,100 sources, according to a government official -- range from scathing to enthusiastic.

The National Education Association, with 3.2 million members, called it a "disturbing" federal intrusion. "We have been down that road before with the failures of No Child Left Behind," the union writes, "and we cannot support yet another layer of federal mandates that have little or no research base of success and that usurp state and local government's responsibilities for public education." Union affiliates from 19 states weighed in, many echoing such views.

The National School Boards Association declared itself generally supportive but worried that the program is "overly prescriptive," with an "overemphasis on charter schools and school takeovers."

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell (R) commended the administration's push for performance pay and charter schools. "Education reform is not a partisan issue," he wrote in a letter to Duncan last month.

In a joint statement, the Center for American Progress, Democrats for Education Reform, the Education Equality Project and the Education Trust called the proposal "a strong and good-faith effort" to fix education problems.

"There hasn't been enough focus by those on the left on innovation and entrepreneurship. It's ironic because it's those traits of America that have pushed this country into world leadership," Cynthia G. Brown of the Center for American Progress said in an interview. Said Brown, who was an assistant education secretary in the Carter administration: "We have to move forward and try some new ways of doing things. We need to do it in partnership with those who teach in our classrooms and those who govern our schools. But we've got to move forward."

Duncan said Thursday that he is prohibited from responding to all of the Race to the Top input as the government prepares its rules. "Great feedback," he called it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Response to Time on Duncan

Time Magazine published a feature on Arne Duncan. Here is one teacher's response.
Dear Editor,

Gilbert Cruz's feature on Arne Duncan and the Race To The Top program entirely missed the boat, misrepresenting the issues and ignoring years of evidence about what it takes for students to learn. The idea that teachers should be held accountable for the success or failure of their students is neither new nor (amongst teachers) controversial. The controversy surrounds the means by which we evaluate both students and teachers. With Race To The Top, President Obama and Secretary Duncan lay all of the responsibility for students' success or failure squarely on the backs of classroom teachers, while giving them no authority to do anything whatsoever to change the status quo. Today's teachers are regularly forced to use scripted lessons and follow pacing guides that leave no room at all for creativity or professional judgement. If teachers have no power, how can we hold them accountable? Would you hand a firefighter a set of procedures to follow at every fire, regardless of its size, location, or nature? Would you require doctors to use the same treatment with every patient, regardless of the disease? That's what is happening to our teachers and students.

In his effort to blame teacher unions for standing in the way of reform, Mr. Cruz fails to note what an abject failure No Child Left Behind and its era of high-stakes standardized testing have been. States spend billions on tests that are not reliable and are often inappropriate. School districts have responded by narrowing the curriculum so that teachers teach only what is to be tested that year. Many elementary students never touch a history or science textbook. Art and music are things of the past. Physical education is disappearing --And research shows us that these subjects and programs are vital to student achievement.

There is no evidence whatsoever that our testing mania is helping children; there is mounting evidence that it does them terrible harm. Educators are challenging Race To The Top because it's going to make things worse, not better. Once salaries are tied to test scores teachers will compete to work with the best and brightest students, those who are likely to test well. Our students with the lowest test scores and the greatest needs will get the inexperienced and less capable teachers. I have taught English Learners and immigrant children for over twenty years. My students learn a great deal, and make tremendous advances, but they traditionally score poorly on standardized tests because they have yet to master English. But we still keep giving them the same tests we give the English-only students, knowing in advance what the results will be. Who is this helping? And more importantly, who is going to want to work with these students once salaries are tied to test scores?

Charles Finn
Teacher, Oceanside Unified School District

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

California Senate testimony on Race to the Top

Testimony before the California State Senate on California’s response to the demands of the Duncan Administration Race to the Top.
The Senators asked excellent questions. They probed the real issues.
California Secretary Glenn Thomas made important comments that no teacher was going to be measured by a single test nor a single test score. He asserted that the Race to the Top provided the basic architecture for the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He argued for a growth model , a value added approach to measurement. A major demand is “effective support for struggling teachers.” and a second measure is that the state has a process for restructuring of low performing schools.
An argument was made by Jennie Oropeza of the state Department of Finance that funding under Race to the Top will be used to improve the gathering better data. She argued that providing a robust data system will allow policy makers information to make better decisions. Well, perhaps, but developing further data gathering will not improve teaching one step.

If the state wishes to improve schools – as they should- there is a need to assist and support teachers. Developing a “more robust” testing system does not do this.

Lets take an example. If a person has the flu, a nurse takes the person’s temperature. ( Like taking a test.) Taking the students’ temperature does not treat the disease, it does not even treat the symptoms. It only measures the temperature. That is what we are doing with test scores. We are investing in testing, not in treating the problems.

Marty Hittleman of California Federation of Teachers gave testimony on the limits of current testing. The views are well developed here:

There is yet no evidence that the official policy makers understand the problems of testing, of assessment, or with teaching support.

Clear testimony from the Vice President of United Teachers of Los Angeles. And Pat Rucker representative of Calif Teachers Association called for slowing down and developing good schools, not in responding to Race to the Top.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

NEA Slams Obama's School Reform Plan

From Class Struggle: by Jay Mahews. Here's a dispatch from my colleague Nick Anderson on the national education beat:

The nation's largest teachers union sharply attacked President Obama's most significant school improvement initiative on Friday evening, saying that it puts too much emphasis on a "narrow agenda" centered on charter schools and echoes the Bush administration's "top-down approach" to reform.
The National Education Association's criticism of Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" initiative came nearly a month after the president unveiled the competitive grant program, meant to spur states to move toward teacher performance pay; lift caps on independently operated, publicly funded charter schools; and take other steps to shake up school systems.

Excerpts selected by James Crawford. ELL Advocates.{ See post below}

"Achievement is much more than a test score, but if test scores are still the primary means of assessing student learning, they will continue to get undue weight. ...

"[T]he most prominent research organizations in the United States have confirmed that test-based measures of teacher “effects” are too unstable and too dependent on a range of factors that cannot be adequately disentangled to be used for teacher evaluation, much less for teacher preparation program evaluation. ...

"The use of these measures can also create disincentives for teachers to work with the neediest students—such as special education students and English language learners—whose learning might not validly be assessed on traditional grade-level tests. ...

"We need to offer incentives so that our best teachers teach the students most in need of assistance, not necessarily teach the students most likely to score highest on a standardized test."

To download the 26-page document, go to:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Race to the top- A failure in Education

The Honorable Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Duncan,

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund presents you with a unique opportunity. By using this program to reward boldness and creativity, you could support a wide range of projects to expand the knowledge base about teaching and learning, fostering valuable innovations in our nation’s schools.

Unfortunately, your proposed priorities for Race to the Top would squander that opportunity by restricting federal funding to a set of preconceived notions about “reform,” which may be ideologically fashionable but are largely unsupported by scientific research.

Our organization is especially concerned by your insistence that standardized test scores be used as part of teacher-compensation systems. In the absence of evidence that such a change would be beneficial, it would be irresponsible – not to mention undemocratic – to force states to bring their laws into conformance with your plan.

As evidence for this mandate, your proposal cites only a handful of economists, far removed from actual classrooms, who were unable to isolate the observable characteristics of effective teachers – “effective” as determined by their students’ test scores. So, the logic goes, why not just evaluate and pay teachers on the basis of those scores rather than on their years of teaching experience or academic credentials?

Perhaps, lacking any background in education, the economists were “observing” in the wrong places and failed to consider the myriad of talents and skills that inspire children to learn. Or maybe their study designs were slanted, consciously or otherwise, to bolster a hypothesis that monetary incentives based on test data are key to improving teacher quality. (Several of the authors are members of the Future of American Education working group at the American Enterprise Institute, which is associated with that position.) Whatever the case, your proposal is based on research that is admittedly inconclusive and on a theory of teacher motivation that remains unproven.

The grant criteria would also place an undue reliance on standardized tests that offer, at best, a blurry snapshot of student progress. For English language learners (ELLs) in particular, such tests are rarely valid or reliable. Because these students cannot fully show what they have learned when assessed in a language they have yet to master, their scores typically lag far behind those of English-proficient peers. If teachers are to be penalized for an “achievement gap” over which they have no control, how many will want to teach ELLs? It is also well established that these children’s progress in speaking, comprehending, reading, and writing English is never a straight-line trajectory.[1] How could any “growth model” fairly accommodate that reality?

During his campaign, President Obama raised hopes that his administration would limit the uses (and abuses) of high-stakes testing. But paying teachers on the basis of test scores can only raise those stakes, at considerable cost to kids.

Surely, Mr. Duncan, you must be aware of the growing body of evidence about the perverse effects of high-stakes testing: narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, stressing basic skills over critical thinking, limiting bilingual instruction, unfairly labeling and sanctioning schools, demoralizing dedicated educators, fostering corrupt practices, encouraging educational triage, and – worst of all – creating incentives to push low-scoring students out of school before test day.[2]

Or perhaps you, like the economists you cite, are unfamiliar with what takes place in actual classrooms after your ceremonial visits are over. So here’s a basketball analogy that you and the President should be able to appreciate.

Suppose that NBA team owners woke up one day and decided they no longer trusted scouts and coaches to rate players. There were just too many unobservable traits that required human judgments to assess: motivation, leadership, flexibility, ability to work as a team, court smarts, and so forth. It wasn’t clear how those characteristics correlated with player effectiveness, as measured by objective performance data. How could the owners tell whether they were getting their money’s worth? So they decided it would be simpler to pay the players based on a single measure: points scored per game.

You can imagine how that would work out. The long jump-shot would be highly valued, while skills like ball-handling, rebounding, and assists would be expendable. Nobody would pass the ball or worry about playing defense. In fact, the players would all be competing against their own teammates in an individual “race to the top.” Winning wouldn’t matter anymore – only point totals. Basketball would be an entirely new game, drudgery to play or watch. But whoever said it had to be fun?

Can you now envision how schooling, a far more complex endeavor than basketball, might be harmed by a pay system that gives significant weight to one crude performance indicator? You yourself have complained about the quality of standardized tests. So how can you propose a central role for such tests in making major decisions about teachers, which, in turn, could have cascading, negative effects on their students?

We encourage you to rethink this approach and consider not only the potential waste of federal funds but, more importantly, the potential damage likely to be done by Race to the Top as presently conceived.

You might also consider the need for a kind of Hippocratic Oath among self-styled school reformers: First, do no harm. Or to put it another way: Until you have solid evidence to support your policies, don’t try to impose them on our schools.


James Crawford, President
Institute for Language and Education Policy

[1] See, e.g., De Avila, E. (1997), Setting Expected Gains for Non and Limited English Proficient Students, NCBE Resource Collection Series, No. 8, Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

[2] Nichols, S.L., and Berliner, D.C. (2007), Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press; McNeil, L.M., Coppola, E., Radigan, J., and Heilig, J.V., (2008), “Avoidable Losses: High-Stakes Testing and the Dropout Crisis,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol. 16, No. 3; Menken, K., (2008), English Language Learners Left Behind: Standardized Testing as Language Policy, Clevedon, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Listen to the Teachers, not the corporate shills

I was giving a speech on the political control of public schooling to a forum here in Sacramento. A teacher in the conference asked, “ I understand your points on NCLB, on multicultural education, and on testing, but what can we do about these things?”
What a great question.

Money buys power in Washington. We need to propose alternatives. There are numerous clear voices to explain the education crisis, the economic collapse and the health crisis. We need to magnify and extend these voices.
The appointment of Arne Duncan was symptomatic of the problems. He represents the kind of corporate/media approach to reform that I feared. The earlier post on history in Chicago was insightful and helpful. Just as corporate money distorts the health care debate and prevents reform, corporate influence distorts the discussion of school realities and school reform.

A major problem with our campaigns for a democratic approach to schooling is that most of the media has been sold a mindset or framework of accountability. Corporate sponsored networks and “ think tanks” such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Bradley Foundation, the Olin Foundation and their access to the media is not likely to change. The domination of the accountability frame within the media and political circles must be opposed. Certainly in the current battle with Arne Duncan he has ceased the high ground with a claim of accountability – it’s a false claim- but it works. Education and explaining will be a constant struggle.
There are many strategies. However, the most important is to share and magnify teacher voices. Politicians make bad decisions – such as the current budget cuts- because they are not listening to teachers voices. Instead they are listening to paid consultants, and “experts” from the corporate establishment.
Newspaper writers and other media writers make the same mistake. They call their favorite “source” which just happens to be a corporate promoter like Arne Duncan, Michele Rhee, or one of the “experts” at elite universities. Note: the elite universities work with few teachers. They are several steps removed from the classroom. You can read more about this on this blog by searching for PACT. Or here:
More strategies to come in future days, but the most basic is insist on teacher participation in the development of policies. Get the politicians and the corporate shills out of the classroom. – they have failed our children.
Of course there is much more on this in my book, Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education, (2010) Allyn and Bacon.
Duane Campbell

Friday, July 24, 2009

California excluded from school reform funds?

A $4 Billion Push for Better Schools
Obama Hopes Funding Will Be Powerful Incentive in 'Race to the Top'
By Michael D. Shear and Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 24, 2009

President Obama is leaning hard on the nation's schools, using the promise of more than $4 billion in federal aid -- and the threat of withholding it -- to strong-arm the education establishment to accept more charter schools and performance pay for teachers.

The pressure campaign has been underway for months as Education Secretary Arne Duncan travels the country delivering a blunt message to state officials who have resisted change for decades: Embrace reform or risk being shut out.

"What we're saying here is, if you can't decide to change these practices, we're not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we're not going to send those dollars there," Obama said in an Oval Office interview Wednesday. "And we're counting on the fact that, ultimately, this is an incentive, this is a challenge for people who do want to change."

On Friday, Obama will officially announce the "Race to the Top," a competition for $4.35 billion in grants. He wants states to use funds to ease limits on charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and move for the first time toward common academic standards. It is part of a broader effort to improve school achievement with a $100 billion increase in education funding, more money for community colleges and an increase in Pell Grants for college students.

Duncan has used the Race to the Top fund, created through the economic stimulus law, as leverage to drive the president's education agenda in Rhode Island, Tennessee, Colorado and elsewhere. Never has an education secretary been given so much money by Congress with such open-ended authority, according to current and former federal education officials. Margaret Spellings, Duncan's predecessor under George W. Bush, had a tiny fraction of that amount at her disposal.

Obama says stagnating student achievement is part of a "slow-rolling crisis" and represents a threat to the country's economic future. Stark achievement gaps remain for minority and low-income students. In some big cities, fewer than half of high school students graduate on time. The United States trails international competitors in math and science.

In trying to reverse those trends, he faces the same decentralized educational system and resistance to change that hampered Bush's No Child Left Behind law, which required annual testing to hold schools accountable for closing achievement gaps. Like his predecessor, Obama is using the federal treasury to power through the obstacles.

Unlike Bush, Obama must try to carefully bring along the teachers unions, a key Democratic constituency that so far has praised the president's goals but remains wary of the threat to members' paychecks and the promise of tenure.

"There are going to be elements within the teachers union where they're just resistant to change, because people inherently are resistant to change," Obama said during the 20-minute interview. "Teachers aren't any different from any politicians or corporate CEOs. There are going to be certain habits that have been built up that they don't want to change."

Already, some legislatures, eager for a share of the massive federal money pot, have begun clearing the way for more charter schools and taking other steps to show they are pro-reform.

The effort has helped Obama enlarge the federal role in an arena dominated by state and local governments, but there is deep skepticism about his approach. Congressional Republicans say the initiative, coupled with another $650 million for school reform under Duncan's control, is wasteful.

"We just took a big old checkbook with a $5 billion total behind it and handed it to the secretary and said, 'Write a whole bunch of checks,' " said Rep. John Kline (Minn.), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. "I'm uncomfortable that we're doing that."

Obama says the money will be distributed to states that can demonstrate results backed by data that show student scores and teacher performance are improving.

"It's not based on politics, it's not based on who's got more clout, it's not based on what certain constituency groups are looking for, but it's based on what works," he said. "Now, what we're also doing, though, is we're saying this is voluntary. If there are states that just don't want to go in this direction, that's their prerogative."

Leaders of the two largest teachers unions praise Obama's intentions to lift standards, raise teacher quality and turn around low-performing schools. But they acknowledge concerns about specifics.

"We're absolutely in sync with where they're going," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. Van Roekel said performance pay, charter schools and links between student and teacher data raise difficult issues for his union. On the data issue, Van Roekel said he told Duncan: "This is going to be a tough one for us."

"The devil really is in the details," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said. Many teachers fear they will be fired if they are judged unfairly on student test scores, Weingarten said. "You want to be respectful of an administration that believes in public education. And on the issues where you have differences, you try to work those out."

For Duncan, the stimulus law has provided an opportunity to steer billions of dollars to school reform on his own terms. Duncan has broad control over the Race to the Top fund and the $650 million to spur innovation through local school systems and nonprofit groups.

Since the law's enactment in February, states have inundated the department with queries about how to share in the bonanza. Duncan has dispensed plenty of tips: Lift restrictions on the growth of charter schools; build data systems that show individual student progress under specific teachers and principals; seek out new ways to turn around perennially struggling schools; and sign on to efforts to develop common academic standards that are tough enough to withstand international scrutiny.

Today, the department will formally unveil its criteria for the competition. Applications will be accepted starting late this year for states that want to be first in line, or next spring, for those needing more time. (The District is also eligible.) Money will be awarded in two waves next year. Up to $350 million from the fund will be carved out to support a recently announced effort by 46 states to develop common academic standards.

But even before applications begin, Duncan has scored several policy victories around the country by making carefully worded statements designed to send signals to lawmakers and school officials.

As the Rhode Island legislature debated $1.5 million in spending for two charter schools, Duncan said June 22 at a charter school conference in Washington: "We are fighting this on a state-by-state battle, that's the battleground. And places like Rhode Island that are thinking of underfunding charters are obviously going to put themselves at a huge competitive disadvantage going forward. So we don't think that's a smart thing for them to do, and we're going to make that very, very clear."

The money was restored.

In similar ways, Duncan has stepped into legislative debates in Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and Massachusetts to advance or defend charter schools, though he points out that he wants to shut failing charter schools as much as he wants to open new ones.

In Tennessee, a law was enacted in June to expand the pool of students eligible to attend charter schools. Tennessee Education Commissioner Tim Webb said Duncan's advocacy helped move the bill through a divided legislature. Without the intervention, Webb said, "I don't think it would have passed."

Some are wary of the long arm from Washington. A Tennessee newspaper editorial railed against an "inappropriate threat" from federal officials. California officials are pushing back against suggestions that a state law on teacher evaluations could disqualify them from receiving funds.

"Don't count California out," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said in a telephone interview. "We plan on vigorously attempting to secure this funding."

Other states are maneuvering for advantage, too. The Colorado legislature passed three laws this year aimed at aligning state and federal goals on turning around low-performing schools, linking teacher and student data and helping students at risk of dropping out, according to Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien (D). One of the state laws "lifted language" verbatim from a federal education document, she said.

"I have read every speech that Arne Duncan and President Obama have given on education like a literary critic," she said. O'Brien has noted it all on a spreadsheet, and she is aggressively reviewing policies and developing coalitions to maximize the state's chances.

"We all know Colorado needs this money," she said. "Nobody wanted to be the group that threw up the roadblock that would kick us out of the competition."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Arne Duncan and Chicago Schools

Crain's Chicago Business -- June 30, 2009
By Gregory Hinz

Chicago Public School reform largely has failed, with the vast bulk
of students either dropping out or unprepared for college and apparent
gains at the grade-school level more perceived than real.
That's the bottom line of a blockbuster report released Tuesday by
the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, a report that directly
challenges the legitimacy of one of Mayor Richard M. Daley's major
claimed accomplishments.
Titled "Still Left Behind," the report freely uses terms like
"abysmal" to describe the true state of public education in Chicato. The
report was prepared by committee President R. Eden Martin, a lawyer,
with analytical support from Paul Zavitkovsky of the College of
Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Half of the students drop out by high school, and of those who remain
until 11th grade, 70% fail to meet state standards, the report says. In
fact, "In the regular (non-magnet) neighborhood high schools, which
serve the vast preponderance of students, almost no students are
prepared to succeed in college."
The report directly challenges widespread claims by current and former
CPS officials that local students have shown substantial progress over
the last decade on standardized tests.
For instance, it notes a 2006 letter from then schools CEO Arne
Duncan, now U.S. secretary of education, stating that the share of CPS
students meeting or exceeding state standards had leapt 15 points in one
In fact, it says, the change occurred because of a change in the test,
not because of real educational gains. As a result, it points out, while
a test cited by local officials showed that 71% of 8th graders met or
exceeded state standards in 2007, a national test taken here the same
year showed just 13% were up to par.
Similarly, while the test employed locally reported that the share of
8th graders meeting math standards grew from 32% to 71% from 2005 to
2007, the national test, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education,
showed scores effectively flat, moving from 11% to only 13%.
The report does note that the changes in the test were ordered by the
state, not by CPS
CPS officials and Mayor Richard M. Daley had no immediate response to
the report, but Ron Gidwitz, former chairman of the State Board of
Education, said he believes its results are on point.
"It hard to refute their conclusions when you look at the evidence,"
including how CPS students do on college-enrollment tests, Mr. Gidwitz
said. "We haven't made nearly as much progress as people thought."
A spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union said she hopes the report
spurs more cooperation between school management and teachers. "We know
what's needed," she said.
Mr. Duncan's office did push back some.
While the data in cited in the report may be accurate, "We disagree
with their conclusions," a spokesman for the secretary said. "There's
been tremendous progress in Chicago schools" in recent years.
The spokesman noted that, even using test data as adjusted by the
committee, the share of 8th graders performing at or above the statewide
average incrased a third beween 2001 and 2008, from 24.3% to 32.1%. In
addition, the average ACT college score increased a point, to 17.9%, and
the number of students taking advanced-placement courses sharply
increased, the spokesman said.
The committee's Mr. Martin said he would not call the entire
school-reform process a failure largely because it also has sparked the
formation of more charter and other innovative schools, schools that
according to the report perform better than CPS schools.
Mr. Martin denied that his groups advocacy for charter schools at all
affected its data or analysis. The committee, which represents Chicago's
largest firms, has helped raise $70 million to open new, small schools,
Mr. Martin said.
Mr. Martin did praise new schools CEO Ron Huberman. "He's doing
everything right," Mr. Martin said. "They're going to squeeze everything
possible out of the operation and put it into charters."

- "Still Left Behind: Student Learning in Chicago Public Schools" is
online at

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Scapegoating of teachers

Jonathan Alter Joins the Teacher-Scapegoating Chorus: I'm Calling BS
Dan Brown. The Huffington Post
It is convenient to blame teachers for America's education woes because it lets everyone else off the hook. Tragically, this has become the vogue opinion in the mainstream media, and I'm calling bullshit. Jonathan Alter's latest column in Newsweek pushed me over the edge. (See post below) Here's the implicit argument:

Why do kids drop out? Not the stultifying test prep, overcrowded rooms, chronic absenteeism, or lack of personal connection to a counselor. It's bad teachers.

Why are America's test scores lagging compared to other countries around the world? Not deep-seated cycles of drugs/violence/ignorance in many neighborhoods or an antiquated school calendar with a ridiculous summer vacuum. It's complacent, unionized teachers.

What's the solution? Scrap the unions, clean house, and let the market sort it out.

Alter writes with certainty, "the key to fixing education is better teaching, and the key to better teaching is figuring out who can teach and who can't."

This spirit of exceptionalism is dangerous. According to Alter, you're either born with the teaching gene or not. You may have spent years earning a teaching degree, but that's worthless because, as Alter bizarrely claims, "most teachers' colleges teach the wrong stuff."

So who are among the special, birthrighted good teachers, benighted with secret understandings unavailable in higher ed institutions whose sole job is to prepare teachers?

Wendy Kopp, influential founder and leader of Teach For America, offered living examples of her vision for what teachers need to do in her recent commencement speech at Washington University. She cited Colleen Dunn, a rookie teacher working with struggling first-graders in St. Louis:
At the end of the school year, after nine months of days that began for Colleen at 4:30 in the morning and ended with her falling asleep over grading papers, lesson planning, writing parent newsletters, her students had made two years of progress in reading and math. The students who had started out so far behind were ready to enter second grade ahead of average second graders.

Judging from Colleen's example, the achievement gap doesn't need to exist...

Kopp's speech advances the argument for a paradigm of superteacher messiahs, one Alter appears to embrace. Surely, every example of an individual superteacher is above reproach and deserving of great praise.

But if Colleen is the model, working from 4:30 a.m. until a daily collapse, who's out? Forget single parents, who know more about facing challenges than just about anyone. Forget most that don't have the access to accrue the eye-catching resumes of Teach For America applicants. Forget people who choose balance over being a workaholic. The hero-martyr superteacher, cast in the mold of Hollywood friendly Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds, is not replicable or realistic.

I agree with Alter that there are some complacent, ineffective teachers out there who should be fired. I also agree with Kopp that Colleen sounds like a superb teacher. However, this obsessive focus on cleaning house and demanding superhuman performance misses a larger point. (Time Magazine drew similarly raised blood pressure when they featured DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee on their cover in December 2008, scowling and holding a broom. The headline spotlighted her gutsy "battle against bad teachers.")

Most teachers in America are smart and dedicated enough to help their students achieve. They're not the unaccountable fiends holding kids back, as Alter portrays them with his broad brush. Poverty, deficiency of support services, disjointed curricula, overemphasis on testing, and overcrowded classes do far more to impede student achievement.

If you are reading this with the slightest inclination to agree with anything I've written, Alter has already prepared for and discounted us. He'd refer to you and me as parts of

"the Blob, the collection of educrats and politicians who claim to support reform but remain fiercely committed to the status quo."
BS. I want kids to learn and I want bad teachers to go. I welcome reform and genuine accountability in my classroom, but to do that right it needs to come from more than a single, reductive standardized test.

We need those with the biggest microphones to stop scapegoating teachers and their right to have a collective voice, and to start stepping into living classrooms to see what's really happening on the ground. Then they can tell the real story.

Dan Brown is a teacher in Southeast Washington, DC and the author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle. From the Huffington Post.

Education funding is the issue

Education Funding is the issue:
Jonathan Alter: Newsweek.
"Education is the dullest of subjects," Jacques Barzun wrote in the very first sentence of his astonishingly fresh 1945 classic, Teacher in America. Barzun despised the idea of "professional educators" who focus on "methods" instead of subject matter. He loved teachers, but knew they "are born, not made," and that most teachers' colleges teach the wrong stuff.
Cut to 2009, when Barack Obama thinks education is the most exciting of subjects. Even so, Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, get Barzun. They understand that the key to fixing education is better teaching, and the key to better teaching is figuring out who can teach and who can't.
Just as Obama has leverage over the auto industry to impose tough fuel--economy standards, he now has at least some leverage over the education industry to impose teacher-effectiveness standards. The question is whether he will be able to use it, or will he get swallowed by what's known as the Blob, the collection of educrats and politicians who claim to support reform but remain fiercely committed to the status quo.

Teacher effectiveness–say it three times. Last week a group called the New Teacher Project released a report titled "The Widget Effect" that argues that teachers are viewed as indistinguishable widgets–states and districts are "indifferent to variations in teacher performance"–and notes that more than 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory. The whole country is like Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon, except all the teachers are above average, too.
Why? The short answer is teachers' unions. Duncan complained recently that the California school system has a harmful "firewall" between student evaluation and teacher evaluation. In other words, teachers can't be evaluated on whether their students actually learned anything between September and June. The head of the San Francisco union says it's nuts to judge teachers on whether there's evidence that shows improvement in their classrooms. An A for accountability, eh?
Fortunately, Duncan has a huge new club in his hands–billions in stimulus money and Title I aid for poor schools. A chunk of it (about $10 billion total) is reserved for innovative "Race to the Top" funds. Duncan's idea (with backing from Obama) is that a few states that are moving fast on turning around failing schools and improving measurable teacher effectiveness should get most of that money.
This is spot-on substantively, but treacherous politically. Congress likes to see money spread like peanut butter across the country. It makes members look like they're "doing something for education." Recall how Duncan's predecessor, Margaret Spellings, saw her "Innovation Fund" used for such cutting-edge projects as a whaling museum.
Like Obama and Duncan, Rep. George Miller, the leading reformer in Congress, wants the money to be targeted on just a few programs with track records in turning around poorly performing schools and training teachers better. He rightly figures we know what works now and should just go ahead and fund it. But his colleagues have their own whaling-museum ideas, so the peanut-butter politics continue.
On Capitol Hill last week, members of Congress insisted that the administration stick to the "formulas"–Washington-speak for the same old, same old. And they want to make sure the $48 billion (real money, even by Geithnerian standards) in education stimulus funds continue to be spent exclusively on preventing teacher layoffs, not on reform. Too many members apparently didn't get the word from their old colleague Rahm Emanuel that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
The big question now is how to tighten the weak strings that were attached to the stimulus. Those strings merely ask states to show they are "making progress" and "making improvements" in critical areas like standards, data systems to measure success and incentives for teachers to work in at-risk schools.
With some bureaucratic cojones, Obama can enforce those requirements before the last $16 billion in "state stabilization" stimulus funds get disbursed this fall. This is easier said than done. The incentive to peanut-butter (sorry, Teacher, I turned it into a verb) the money is powerful not just on Capitol Hill but inside the Department of Education, where making nice to Congress is the path of least resistance. It takes a tough man to say, in the middle of a recession, "no improvement, no check." But if not now, when?
Barzun wrote that almost everyone has an attention span "as short as the mating of a fly." Obama has the attention, for now, of the educrats. In fact, he's got his foot on their necks. It's a teachable moment about how to use political power for real change.
© 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

An open letter to Arne Duncan

Rethinking Schools, Summer 2009

From Herbert Kohl

Dear Arne Duncan,

In a recent interview with NEA Today you said of my book 36 Children, "I read [it] in high school … [and] … wrote about his book in one of my college essays, and I talked about the tremendous hope that I feel [and] the challenges that teachers in tough communities face. The book had a big impact on me."

When I wrote 36 Children in 1965 it was commonly believed that African American students, with a few exceptions, simply could not function on a high academic level. The book was motivated by my desire to provide a counter-example, one I had created in my classroom, to this cynical and racist view, and to let the students' creativity and intelligence speak for itself. It was also intended to show how important it was to provide interesting and complex curriculum that integrated the arts and sciences, and utilized the students' own culture and experiences to inspire learning. I discovered then, in my early teaching career, that learning is best driven by ideas, challenges, experiences, and activities that engage students. My experience over the past 45 years has confirmed this.

We have come far from that time in the '60s. Now the mantra is high expectations and high standards. Yet, with all that zeal to produce measurable learning outcomes we have lost sight of the essential motivations to learn that moved my students. Recently I asked a number of elementary school students what they were learning about and the reactions were consistently, "We are learning how to do good on the tests." They did not say they were learning to read.

It is hard for me to understand how educators can claim that they are creating high standards when the substance and content of learning is reduced to the mechanical task of getting a correct answer on a manufactured test. In the panic over teaching students to perform well on reading tests, educators seem to have lost sight of the fact that reading is a tool, an instrument that is used for pleasure and for the acquisition of knowledge and information about the way the world works. The mastery of complex reading skills develops as students grapple with ideas, learn to understand plot and character, and develop and articulate opinions on literature. They also develop through learning history, science, and technology.

Reading is not a series of isolated skills acquired in a sanitized rote-learning environment utilizing "teacher-proof" materials. It develops through interaction with a knowledgeable, active teacher—through dialogue, and critical analysis. It also develops through imaginative writing and research.

It is no wonder that the struggle to coerce all students into mastering high-stakes testing is hardest at the upper grades. The impoverishment of learning taking place in the early grades naturally leads to boredom and alienation from school-based learning. This disengagement is often stigmatized as "attention deficit disorder." The very capacities that No Child Left Behind is trying to achieve are undermined by the way in which the law is implemented.

This impoverishment of learning is reinforced by cutting programs in the arts. The free play of the imagination, which is so crucial for problem-solving and even for entrepreneurship, is discouraged in a basics curriculum lacking in substantial artistic and human content.

Add to this the elimination of physical education in order to clear more time to torture students with mechanical drilling and shallow questioning and it is no wonder that many American students are lethargic when it comes to ideas and actions. I'm sure that NCLB has, in many cases, a direct hand in the development of childhood obesity.

It is possible to maintain high standards for all children, to help students learn how to speak thoughtfully, think through problems, and create imaginative representations of the world as it is and as it could be, without forcing them through a regime of high-stakes testing. Attention has to be paid to the richness of the curriculum itself and time has to be allocated to thoughtful exploration and experimentation. It is easy to ignore content when the sole focus is on test scores.

Your administration has the opportunity, when NCLB comes up for reauthorization, to set the tone, aspirations, and philosophical and moral grounds for reform that develops the intelligence, creativity, and social and personal sensitivity of students. I still hold to the hope you mentioned you took away from 36 Children but I sometimes despair about how we are wasting the current opportunity to create truly effective schools where students welcome the wonderful learning that we as adults should feel privileged to provide them.

I would welcome any opportunity to discuss these and other educational issues with you.

Sincerely, Herbert Kohl

Friday, May 29, 2009

California and the schools budget problem: Prop.13

Harold Meyerson: Prop. 13 opened state's road to insolvency
By Harold Meyerson
Published: Friday, May. 29, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
To understand why the woes of California's economy threaten the nation's economy, we must understand the state's road to insolvency. The Age of Reagan did not commence with the Great Communicator's inauguration in 1981. For its real beginning, we need to go back to June 1978, when Californians went to the polls and enacted Proposition 13.
By passing Howard Jarvis' malign initiative, California voters reduced the Golden State to baser metal. Under Republican Gov. Earl Warren and Democratic Gov. Pat Brown, California epitomized the postwar American dream. Its public schools, from kindergarten through Berkeley and UCLA, were the nation's finest; its roads and aqueducts the most efficient at moving cars and water – the state's lifeblood – to their destinations. All this was funded by some of the nation's highest taxes, which fell in good measure on the state's flourishing banks and corporations.

Amid the inflation of the late 1970s, however, the California model began to crumple. As incomes and property values rose, Sacramento's tax revenue soared – but the parsimonious Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, neither spent those funds nor rebated them. With the state sitting on a $5 billion surplus, frustrated Californians grumped to the polls and passed Proposition 13, which rolled back and limited property taxes – effectively destroying the funding base of local governments and school districts, which thereafter depended largely on Sacramento for their revenue. Ranked fifth among the states in per-pupil spending during the 1950s and '60s, California sank to Mississippi-like levels – the mid-40s in rank – by the 1990s.

Since 1978, state and local government in California has been funded more by taxes on personal income and sales. Bank and corporation taxes have been steadily reduced. In the current recession, with state unemployment at 11 percent, tax revenue has fallen off a cliff.

But the problem with Proposition 13 wasn't merely that it reduced revenue. It also made it very difficult to increase revenue.

Raising taxes now requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, though in 47 other states, a simple majority suffices. California has become overwhelmingly Democratic in the past two decades, but Republicans have managed to retain footholds – representing just over one-third of the districts – in both houses of the Legislature.
The conservative backlash of 1978 also swept into the Legislature a proto-Reaganistic generation of Republicans, later dubbed "the Cavemen." Compared with today's GOP state legislators, though, the Cavemen look like Diderot's Encyclopedists. The current Republican crop has refused in good times as well as bad to raise business or other taxes. (Increasing the tobacco tax, for instance, has failed each of the past 14 times it has come up for a vote.)

Abetted by little local Limbaughs who inflame Republican brains, they protest that the state already has the nation's highest taxes. In fact, California ranks 18th among the states in percentage of personal income paid to state government, and its presumably beleaguered wealthiest 1 percent, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, pay just 7.4 percent of their income to the state while the poorest pay 10.2 percent.

But the myth of soak-the-rich high taxation persists among Republicans – so much so that the GOP front-runner to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger in next year's gubernatorial election, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, is calling for cuts in business tax rates, even though the state is staring at a $24.3 billion deficit that it somehow has to close. In short order, unless the federal government steps in with a bridge loan, the state will throw 940,000 poor children off its health-care rolls and lay off tens of thousands of teachers.

Because California is so much larger than any other state, and its unemployment rate is among the nation's highest, the collapse of its capacity to spend will counteract some of the effect of the federal stimulus and retard the nation's recovery – much as its aerospace slump retarded the recovery of the mid-1990s. The Obama administration ignores California's plight at its own – and the nation's – peril.

The nation's banks are stuck with so much bad paper from California mortgages gone awry that a huge contraction in state spending would make their assets even more toxic. In the short term, the only way to avoid a further downturn may be a federal loan to the state.

A more permanent, homegrown solution to California's woes (and it may take a state constitutional convention to get it) would require the state to eliminate the two-thirds threshold for enacting taxes, to repeal Proposition 13's freeze on the value of commercial properties (some of which are still assessed at their 1978 levels) and to end the process of ballot-box budgeting through the initiative process, which is now more dominated by monied interests than the Legislature ever was.

In Washington, the Age of Reagan may have shuddered to an inglorious end, but we also need action from state governments – and Sacramento in particular – to move us toward a more sustainable economic future.

Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of American Prospect and the L.A. Weekly. This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

School budget cuts

I may have too simply of a response here, but if so, I am confident readers will explain it to me.
We know that we have a major state budget crisis and a major school funding crisis. That is explored in detail on prior posts. What should be done?
I think the best response is to cut the number of school days by 7-10 days as the Legislative Analyst’s office describes. The voters, the taxpayers, and the legislature has decided to fund less education.
Such a reduction would leave in place the many valuable programs that would otherwise be eliminated. With over 36 years of teaching experience I am confident that number of days of instruction is not the key variable, it is the quality of the relationships between teachers and students. Certainly if a district chooses to cut the days of instruction, they should make parallel reductions in the administrative and support services. Less than 54% of school budgets actually get into the classroom. The other 46% is spent on auxiliary items, special education and administration. These too should be reduced in a comparable manner.
Duane Campbell, Sacramento

Sunday, May 17, 2009

CSU Fee increases; $378 - $6,300

CSU Trustees Increase Student Fees for 2009-10 as State Funding Declines

Fees increase $306 per year for undergraduates. Up to $6,300 for some MBA grad students

(May 13, 2009) – Facing serious reductions in state funding, the California State University Board of Trustees today increased undergraduate, credential and graduate student fees for the 2009-10 academic year.

Effective in fall 2009, full-time annual fees will increase by $306 for undergraduate students, $354 for teacher credential students and $378 for graduate students. The undergraduate State University Fee will go up from the current $3,048 to $3,354 per year. Including the current average campus fee of $801, CSU undergraduate students will pay approximately $4,155 for one academic year, which is the lowest fee among comparable public institutions.

“It is never an easy choice to raise fees, but we are faced with a dire state budget, and today’s increase is necessary to maintain and operate our university campuses,” said CSU Board Chair Jeffrey Bleich. “It is critical that students get their financial aid requests in. This year, benefits for programs such as the Pell Grant are more generous than ever.

The student fee increase, which represents $127 million in revenue, was included as part of the 2009-10 budget adopted by the legislature.The university will set aside one-third of the revenue from the fee increase ($42 million) to augment financial aid to cover the fee increase for financially needy students.

The CSU Trustees voted 17 to 2 in favor of the fee increase with Lt. Governor John Garamendi and student trustee Curtis Grima casting dissenting votes.

New Professional MBA Fee Also Adopted

Trustees also adopted a professional fee for state-supported Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) programs and similar business graduate degrees. The fee adds $210 per semester unit and $140 per quarter unit for an annual cost of $9,174. The CSU’s MBA programs remain well below the price for comparable institutions.

Up to one-third of the new fee revenue will be set aside for financial aid with the remainder used to recruit highly skilled faculty to make accreditation of the MBA programs more secure. The proposed fee would apply to professional business master’s programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB).

The trustees voted 18 to 1 in favor of the professional MBA fee increase with Lt. Governor Garamendi casting the lone dissenting vote.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Economic Crisis and schools

Last year California had a serious budget crisis, over 34 billion in missing revenue. The legislature and the governor passed some temporary tax increases and made harsh budget cuts to get us through this year. Propositions 1 A- 1E, would continue this budget “solution” for a total of 4 years. However, the state, like other states continues to fall further behind. We will soon receive an estimate from the Legislative Analyst’s office, but it appears that California is at least $21.3 billion behind at this time even with the increased taxes and budget cuts.
California, and most other states, have a budget crisis as a result of the national economic crisis – significantly a banking crisis. The robber barons of finance capital have stolen the money, they have looted the treasury and our pensions and now they want to return to business as usual without any significant reform of the economic system. Just give them more tax payer money to bail out the banks.

It is past time for us to say- NO. It is time to restore Glass -Steagal, gain ownership of some major banks, and to get a national health care system along with bailing out the states to avoid draconian cuts in schools and other human services.

The severity of the national and international economic collapse has created budget shortfalls for state and local governments. Dean Baker, CEPR Co-Director and an author of a report says "Since many states are required by their charters or constitutions to balance their budgets, states will end up using federal stimulus dollars to offset these shortfalls." It currently looks as if much of the stimulus package will be used to back fill state budget shortages which sharply limits the potential success of the stimulus.
California will receive a great deal of money for education. The proposals have been approved. Most of the money will go to hire teachers who have been scheduled to be laid off.
As we debate the ballot issues, it is important to keep in mind that the economic crisis was not created in Sacramento, it was not created by schools and teachers. There is a great deal of misplaced anger being posted and shouted.

No on Prop. 1 A.
Since 2002 the CSU has lost almost $1 billion in state funding. Students have been charged more fees to make up the losses. Prop. 1A places a spending cap on the state budget that will make these cuts permanent. The CSU budget will not be restored to the levels of 2002 and your tuition will continue to rise. The Board of Regents is voting this week to increase tuition for the Fall by 10%.

[Prop 1A] would actually make it more difficult for future governors and legislatures to enact budgets that meet California's needs and address state priorities. It would amend the state Constitution to dictate restrictions on the use of funds put into the reserve and limit how "unanticipated" revenues can be used in good years. It could lock in a reduced level of public services, including university education, by not taking proper account of the state's changing demographics and actual growth in costs.

Yes on 1 B.
California's k-12 education system is in crisis because it is underfunded. Contrary to the wishes of the voters, politicians continue to fail to adequately fund our schools. When comparisons include cost of living- California ranks 47th. out of the 50 states in per pupil expenditures. Our schools are suffering. This is unacceptable.

Prop. 1 B would begin to repay the schools some $9 Billion taken by the Legislature from school funding this year in response to the economic crisis. The money would be repayed beginning in 2011, when we hope this economic crisis will have passed. Prop 1 B would return California to the minimum guarantee of funding for schools that exists in current law.
Note in the post below, the public votes with the teachers and does not have confidence in the legislature.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

NCLB : listening tour

White House seeks input on education law

By LIBBY QUAID The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 5, 2009; 12:57 PM
BUNKER HILL, W.Va. -- Embarking on a "listening tour," Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked teachers, parents and students Tuesday how they would improve No Child Left Behind, the controversial education law championed by former President George W. Bush.

Duncan visited West Virginia, the first stop on a 15-state tour as the Obama administration prepares to try to overhaul the program.

"What do we need to do to get better?" Duncan asked about a dozen teachers and parents at Bunker Hill Elementary, a high-achieving school in West Virginia's eastern panhandle.

President Barack Obama has pledged to rewrite the law, but he has been vague about how far he would go, or whether he would scrap it altogether.

"I don't know if 'scrap' is the word," Duncan told reporters last week. "Where things make sense, we're going to keep them. Where things didn't make sense, we're going to change them."

Traveling through the rural terrain was a new experience for Duncan, a former big-city school superintendent in Chicago, where he was born and raised. In addition to holding forums where teachers, parents and administrators could vent, he visited a first-grade class to read the book, "Doggie Dreams" at Bunker Hill and ate lunch with fourth graders at Eagle Intermediate School in Martinsburg.
"Who's the president now?" Duncan asked the first graders, one of whom correctly identified Obama. "Barack Obama, that's important," he said.

Duncan said little about the law Tuesday, preferring to listen to the concerns of teachers.

Special education teacher Lynn Reichard told him she works all year long to boost the self-esteem of mentally impaired students at Bunker Hill, only to see them fall apart over standardized tests.

"They feel so good about themselves, and then they look at a two-paragraph reading passage, and they know six words," Reichard said. "I have one child here that's a non-reader, and she's going to have to take the test, and she's going to cry.

"There's just got to be another answer for that," Reichard said.

The law does make allowances for different tests for severely impaired kids, but many don't fall into that category.

Whatever the administration decides to do, it needs the approval of Congress, which passed the law with broad bipartisan support in 2001 but deadlocked over a rewrite in 2007.

Duncan gives the law credit for shining a spotlight on kids who need the most help. No Child Left Behind pushes schools to boost the performance of low-achieving students, a group that typically includes minority kids, English-language learners and kids with disabilities.

"Forevermore in our country, we can't sweep those huge disparities with outcomes between white children and Latino children and African-American children, we can't sweep those under the rug ever again," Duncan said last week.

Yet Duncan has many criticisms of No Child Left Behind, and he has plenty of company. Opponents insist the law's annual reading and math tests have squeezed subjects like music and art out of the classroom and that schools were promised billions of dollars they never received.

Critics also say the law is too punitive: More than a third of schools failed to meet yearly progress goals last year, according to the Education Week newspaper.

That means millions of children are a long way from reaching the law's ambitious goals. The law pushes schools to improve test scores each year, so that every student can read and do math on grade level by the year 2014.

"What No Child Left Behind did is, they were absolutely loose on the goals," Duncan told the Education Writers Association meeting in Washington. "But they were very tight, very prescriptive on how you get there.

"I think that was fundamentally backwards," he said.

Duncan said the federal government should be "tight" on the goals, insisting on more rigorous academic standards that are uniform across the states. And he said it should be "much looser" in terms of how states meet the goals.

The education community is watching closely to see just what Duncan means by "tight" and "loose." So far, the administration has offered few clues.

Since the law's passage, students have made modest gains, at least in elementary and middle school, the grades that are the focus of No Child Left Behind. The biggest gains have come among lower-achieving students, the kids who now are getting unprecedented attention.

The story is different in high school, where progress seems stalled and where the dropout rate, a dismal one in four children, has not budged.
If anyone sees the schedule, please post it.

May Day : International Unions Statement

Check out the excellent statement on May Day, and a post on the California initiatives at

Monday, April 27, 2009

Does NCLB work?

New Study by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project:
NCLB Ignores What We Know about School Change and
Is Motivated by Politics

A new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, a non-partisan research
center which has been systematically studying the implementation of the
federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) since its inception, finds that some of the
basic assumptions of the law are not working and may well be mistaken. In
this study, Why High Stakes Accountability Sounds Good but Doesn’t Work-- And Why
We Keep on Doing It Anyway, commissioned by the Civil Rights Project,
Researchers Gail Sunderman and Heinrich Mintrop evaluate whether the
accountability system endorsed by NCLB is likely to succeed or fail, and
whether it is compatible with what researchers across the country have
learned about the conditions needed for lasting school reforms.

The report finds that NCLB is failing on three fronts. First, there is
little evidence that high stakes accountability under NCLB works. It has not
improved student achievement and the sanctions have had limited effects in producing
real improvement. The law also results in high numbers of schools being
mislabeled as “failing” and far outstrips the ability of states to
intervene effectively in the schools it sanctions. Third, the law has
failed to connect in a meaningful way to the educators who must implement it --
they do not see the accountability goals as realistic and consider the sanctions
to be misguided and counterproductive for improving schools.

The most important finding is the damage the NCLB is doing to our
educational system. Under NCLB, the system “works” when education systems operate
within only a basic skills framework and with low test rigor. The cost to
our nation is revealed in an educational system stuck in low-level intellectual

Civil Rights Project Co-Director, Gary Orfield, concludes, “The new
administration has a unique opportunity to address the serious structural
problems of NCLB and to forge a more constructive and effective federal
role. To persist in sound-bite educational politics that sound tough but have
failed for a generation would be a tragic mistake. To claim that it would further
the civil rights of children increasingly segregated in schools that have been
officially branded and sanctioned as failures -- but not provided help that
makes a real difference -- would be a blunder.”

Even though the law is failing in some critical respects, the authors argue
that we may maintain NCLB anyway because many derive secondary benefits from
the system, specifically those who are politically and ideologically
committed to NCLB and those deriving economic or political benefits from the law.

The authors contend that after fifteen years of state and federal
sanctions-driven accountability that has yielded relatively little, it is
time to try a new approach. A system based on mandates and legal administrative
enforcement should be replaced with one that emphasizes respect for the
professionalism of educators and active involvement of communities in
developing the capacity to implement lasting changes.

The full report can be found at

A copy of the Executive Summary and Foreword can be found at the end of this
advisory. Copies of CRP’s previously released NCLB reports may also be
found on our web site above. Funding for this research was generously provided by
a grant from The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

About the Authors:

Heinrich Mintrop, Ph.D. taught middle school and high school for over a
decade in both the United States and Germany. He received a Ph.D. in education from
Stanford University in 1996. He is currently an associate professor of
education at the University of California, Berkeley. As a researcher, he
explores issues of school improvement and accountability in both their
academic and civic dimensions. He has recently published the book Schools on
Probation. How Accountability Works (and Doesn’t Work) at Teachers College Press. At UC
Berkeley, he is involved in programs that prepare strong leaders for
high-need urban schools.

Gail Sunderman, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the George
Washington University Center on Equity and Excellence in Education where she directs
the Mid Atlantic Equity Center (MAEC). Prior to that, she directed a five-year
study examining the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
for the CRP. She is co-author of the book, NCLB Meets School Realities: Lessons
from the Field (with James S. Kim and Gary Orfield, 2005) and editor of
Holding NCLB Accountable: Achieving Accountability, Equity, and School Reform,
published in 2008. She is a former Fulbright Scholar to Afghanistan and
received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.

Executive Summary

The federal accountability system, made universal though the No Child Left
Behind Act of 2002, is at its heart a quota and sanctions system. This
system stipulates the progression of underperforming schools through a set of
increasingly severe sanctions based on meeting performance quotas for
specific demographic groups. While it includes standards, assessments, and
performance targets, sanctions are the means by which the higher levels of the system
put pressure on lower-levels of the system to take accountability seriously.
Even though the law formulates the sanctions in the language of improvement,
support, and radical renewal, the punitive core for districts and schools is
apparent: when improvement efforts fail, loss of control and threat of
organizational survival is at stake.

But whether this system is up to the job of achieving its goal of improving
the performance of persistently underperforming schools is an open question.
Using findings from the best available research, this report examines whether an
accountability system based on the imposition of sanctions is likely to
succeed or fail and, if it does persist, what the consequences may be for sustaining
an educationally rigorous system. The report asks three questions: (1) does
the system work, that is, does it produce the intended results, (2) is it
practical, that is, can it be implemented, and (3) is it legitimate, or is
it valued among those who must implement it. We conclude with a discussion of
the costs of maintaining the current sanctions system.

Does the System Work? There are two aspects to this question: does the
system as a whole produce the expected outcomes; and do the actual sanctions result
in school improvement.

Does the system produce the expected outcomes? There is little evidence
that high stakes accountability under NCLB improves student achievement.
Although state accountability systems appear to be a success since test scores
continue to rise in most systems, the picture looks far less positive when one looks
at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). When NAEP scores are
used, gains appear to be much lower, there is substantial variation among
states, and few states have narrowed the achievement gap among racial and
socioeconomic subgroups while improving overall performance at the same
time. Given the large discrepancies between NAEP and state assessments results, it
is not quite clear what the state tests measure. By all indication, state
accountability systems with their own pressures and sanctions are successful
at focusing schools’ and districts’ attention on state assessments.

Do the sanctions work? There is also a lack of evidence that the sanctions
themselves have been successful as an effective and universal treatment for
low-performing schools. Neither the transfer option nor the supplemental
educational service provisions have been widely embraced by parents or
districts. Whether or not the transfer option produces improvements in
school performance is a moot point since the percentage of students taking
advantage of this option (about 1% of eligible students) is so low. The response to
supplemental educational services has also been low (14% of eligible
students); and third party evaluations of these services are finding small, if any
statistically significant effects of the program on improving student
achievement. The corrective action and restructuring options, such as
reconstitution, charter school conversion or take-over by education
management organizations (EMOs), may work in some limited situations but are not
effective across the board. Among the variety of corrective action and restructuring
strategies that have been tried, none stick out as universally effective or
robust enough to overcome the power of local context.

Is the Sanctions System Practical? If the NCLB system was practical, it
would identify schools in need of improvement and restructuring with high
accuracy; appropriately direct schools to pay attention to students most in need of
help; produce an intervention burden for states and districts commensurate with
capacities to provide new impetus, ideas, resources, and personnel; and
lastly, through the imposition of sanctions, create momentum for deliberate and a
well articulated improvement processes for schools and districts stuck in low
performance. NCLB fails those practical criteria.

In state systems with at least moderately high performance demands, NCLB has
led to high numbers of failing schools that by far outstrip district and
state capacity to intervene. But it is not even clear if the bulk of these
schools are in fact correctly classified. Most notably, the system has no practical
answers to address the full spectrum of student performance and learning
needs, particularly for students far-below proficient, special needs students, and
marginally performing students; moreover, it does not speak to the
predicament of low-capacity schools and districts. While it may appear that the
sanctions system has succeeded in fermenting a climate of reform, such ferment, in
many instances, is more likely to result in unproductive turbulence than
sustained school improvement.

Is the Sanctions System Legitimate? Despite an almost twenty year period in
some states, accountability systems, and particularly NCLB, continue to
encounter serious legitimacy and acceptability problems among the groups
that they are designed to target—teachers, principals, and administrators in low
performing schools and districts. In general, while standards, assessments
of performance, and consequences for low performance are widely accepted ideas
in general, research suggests that attitudes about high stakes accountability
systems are more negative. This is because accountability systems designed
around sanctions violate core professional norms of educators and produce
widespread frustration and de-moralization among those charged with carrying
out school improvement efforts. Accountability goals are often not seen as
realistic, and the sanctions are considered to be misguided and not very
useful for improving schools. In efforts to improve test scores, teachers widely
report that they must compromise standards of good teaching in order to meet
accountability goals.

What are the Costs of Maintaining a Sanctions System? The combination of
uncertain effects, loose connections to the broader educational values and
norms of educators, and the difficulties or impossibilities of carrying out
the system day-to-day makes the sanctions system a prime candidate for declaring
it a failing system. But there is a way to maintain the system, although this
way produces high educational costs. As long as states maintain low-rigor
systems that concentrate on basic skills, and the more lenient options for school
improvement or restructuring are chosen, the system can persist with
relative ease. NCLB “works” when systems place low demands on the cognitive
complexity of learning tasks and, subsequently, on teacher capacity
building. State accountability systems that operate within a basic skills framework
and with low test rigor tend to produce lower numbers of failing schools.
Because such systems tackle school improvement goals that are fairly light,
affordable, and manageable, they are more practical within the NCLB framework. Systems
that are more ambitious produce an intervention burden that makes them