What Secretary Duncan Should Say on Back to School Tour
In September, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will embark on his third annual “Back-to-School” Bus Tour to highlight education success around the country. However, based on the lackluster state of student achievement around the country, Secretary Duncan should address the following “failures” instead of “successes:”
States, through their U.S. Department of Education granted waivers, are retreating from strong accountability for the success of ALL kids. Ten of the thirteen states Secretary Duncan is visiting have either applied for, or been granted a waiver from the accountability measures in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) since February 2012.
In each of these states, the Department of Education will have to make sense of different accountability systems, different target goals (if any), and different reporting systems. For example, according to a recently released report by the Center for American Progress, Nevada’s “goal would vary for proficiency, growth, and college- and career-ready categories. The goals would be calculated by norming performance on 2011 state assessments and awarding maximum points for schools that then achieve at the 95th percentile in subsequent years. Of course, if state performance was low in 2011, being at the 95th percentile does not necessarily indicate rigor.”
The complexity and resulting lack of transparency risk sending us back to a time before NCLB’s rigorous accountability standards where massive underachievement was masked and students, particularly low-income and minority, were hidden in the averages.
A change in school rating systems will make it more difficult for parents to gain insight and information about their children’s school.
Under NCLB, schools are rated based on whether they meet their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goal. However, none of the 10 states that Secretary Duncan is visiting will continue with this reporting system. In fact, in two of the states that he is visiting (Missouri and Nevada) there will be no alignment between the goals set and the school rating system. If they are not reporting on progress, then how will schools be rated?
A lack of access to effective teachers.
Research continues to show that the most important in-school factor to a student’s success is the quality of their teacher. As the Center for American Progress report states, “it is not enough to define teacher effectiveness and build better systems to determine teacher effectiveness. The next step is to use this information to ensure that students have access to effective teachers. Evaluation systems that fairly and accurately determine educator effectiveness are important tools but they must have actionable components.”
The majority of NCLB waivers are silent about how states will ensure students have access to effective teachers. Though the application requires that states uphold the current laws to ensure students have access to effective teachers, many states do not. Furthermore, since states are not required to use the data that their new accountability systems provide to guarantee equitable distribution of effective teachers, high-risk students will ultimately pay the price.
Having a back-to-school bus tour is a fine idea, but there is a need for honest discussion. Hopefully, Secretary Duncan will use this opportunity to explain to parents what the waivers will really mean to their children’s education.
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