Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How good are we?


Tennessee recently received a waiver that will alleviate some of the strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. This news was given a lukewarm reception within the education system. I saw no jumping in the hallways, no parties or other celebration in the teacher workroom. This lackluster reaction led me to think... is this really good news? Or more importantly, what does it mean for us? What is changing?

Let's start here - NCLB has guided education for the last decade, so what is it really about?

NCLB requires standardized testing and reporting of student achievement. Schools must meet certain standards in order to maintain funding.  I'll let you do your own research here, I get lost in the legalese of it all.....  http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/landing.jhtml

Most importantly, NCLB set a 2014 goal that 100% of students would test at grade level (yes, this includes special education students and those students who are new to the English language).  Many of the test reporting and AYP (adequate yearly progress) relate to eliminating those differences seen in standardized test results among student population groups.  Former President Bush is quoted saying "...if you are going to fund [schools], like we've been doing for years, we in the federal government ought to demand accountability..." (Break out, 2012).  However, NCLB (Bush administration) and Race to the Top (Obama administration) "assume that schools alone can eliminate the achievement gap, regardless of whether that gap is based on race/ethnicity, dominant language, or income" (Smith, 2012).

Mind the Gap
Closing the achievment gap will take more effort than schools alone can give. In 1966 James Coleman (John Hopkins University) deduced that 10% of the difference in achievement can be explained by school related factors.  For minority groups that jumps to 20%.  Still, the remaining 80-90% of the achievement gap is better explained by socio-economic status (SES) and the level of parents' education (Smith, 2012).  

In layman's terms (with a little math):

Student 1 is earning 95% mastery (or an A) and Student 2 is earning 80% mastery (or a C)
  • Math-wise they have a 15% difference in mastery.  
  • Schools could potentially close the achievement gap by 10-20%.  
  • This means that Student 2 could have an average of 81.5-83% if the schools put in place rigorous standards for student learning and achievement.

Wait.... 83%....that's still a C.....

The Waiver
So it seems that someone finally understands that NCLB, while an amazing act of legislation that has proven to reduce achievement gaps among subgroups, is a little over zealous.  Still, the U.S. Department of Education had to ensure that schools receiving waivers continue to be held accountable for student achievement, especially academically at risk students including special education and English learners. To do this states must create their own accountability systems and plans to target subgroups and at risk students.  In addition, states receiving waivers must adopt college- and career-readiness standards, provide student growth data and continue to report achievement and graduation gaps for each NCLB subgroup (McNeil, 2012).  

The Bottom Line
So why the lack of celebration over Tennessee's recent waiver?  Because we don't know what happens next.  Yes, Tennessee has a plan to continue to meet what the U.S. Department of Education demands and it is one of the recipients of the Race to the Top funding.  As a result, we are in the first year of a new teacher/school evaluation process and frankly, we just don't know where it's going to go.

"Break out the measuring stick."  The Hotline (2012).

McNeil, M. (2012). "Waiver hopefuls put through paces by review process." Education Week 22 Feb. 2012: 1. 

Smith, R. G. (2012). "Educating children of poverty: school action alone is not enough." Reading Today 29(4): 31+.