Published Online: January 14, 2014
Published in Print: January 15, 2014, as Blogs

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No Child Left Behind Law Turns 12. Now What?

Flashback, 12 years ago: President George W. Bush travels to Hamilton, Ohio, to put his signature on a law that was supposed to forever change the nation's schools by giving the federal government far more say over accountability, particularly for poor and minority children. In exchange, schools were supposed to get vastly more federal resources.

Even at the signing, some folks privately expressed doubts about the law's vision. Today, if you threw a rally to keep NCLB the way it is, no one would show up, as Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., likes to say.

On this birthday, the law hits its dozen-year mark in which it specifies that, technically, all children are supposed to be "proficient" in reading and math. And a child who entered the 1st grade when NCLB passed is now a senior in high school, taking the SAT and sending off college applications.

Of course, the deadline comes with a big asterisk, as the law has some built-in breathing room so that not every kid has to score proficient, as long as the major at-risk populations make gains.

It's really (mostly) academic at this point. Nearly every state has a waiver from the law. And bills under consideration in Congress to reauthorize it would amount to a significant watering-down of key provisions, putting states largely in the driver's seat.

What's more, other than the first few years of implementation, Congress didn't come anywhere close to providing the promised funding boosts to the major formula programs in NCLB.

Nearly everyone agrees the law is due for a makeover, but there is little agreement in Congress on what structure the new law should have, and there's almost no chance for new resources (the usual sweetener for reauthorization), so it's difficult to see a road forward.

–Alyson Klein


Weingarten Backtracks on Using 'Value Added' for Evaluations

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has announced that she'll call for the end of using "value added" measures as a component in teacher-evaluation systems.

Politico first reported that the AFT is beginning a campaign to discredit the measures, beginning with the catchy (if not totally original) slogan "VAM is a sham." We don't yet know exactly what this campaign will encompass, but it will apparently include an appeal to the U.S. Department of Education, generally a proponent of VAM.

Weingarten's announcement is less major policy news than it is something of a retreat to a former position. In 2008, she said that educators have "a moral, statistical, and educational reason not to use these things for teacher evaluation." Two years later, she stated that student test scores could be appropriate if they measured growth in learning and were coupled with other measures.

So what accounts for this reversal?

Weingarten told Politico that the situation in the District of Columbia, where a contractor goofed up more than 40 teachers' scores, was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back. On Twitter, she cited research that has found the VAM estimates to be quite volatile from year to year.

Weingarten's decision has probably been bolstered by an increasing anti-testing sentiment within the union. There's a political element, too: Factions within the AFT deeply critical of testing have gained power.

–Stephen Sawchuk


Stanford Engineer Develops Virtual Science Labs for MOOCs

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, have been slowly making their way into the K-12 arena, though there's continued debate about whether the model is a good fit.

Now, an engineering professor at Stanford University has devised a way for students in MOOCs to conduct virtual lab experiments—an "iLab," as he calls it—that's scalable and cost-friendly.

According to The Stanford Report, the iLab built by Lambertus Hesselink and colleagues is completely virtual. For instance, in building a diffraction experiment, the team rigged a camera to take snapshots of every possible permutation of the experiment. So when students interact with the controls, they see a video of what would have happened if they'd done the physical experiment.

The Report also notes that this sort of virtual experiment is inexpensive, can be created in "just a few hours," and can be used by as many students as needed at once.

–Liana Heitin


House GOP Leader Slams Efforts Seen as Hurting School Choice

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the U.S. House majority leader, used a high-profile speech on education to draw attention to what he sees as a concerted effort to tamp down school choice in education overhaul hotspots, including Louisiana, New York City, and the District of Columbia.

His remarks came in a speech last week at the Brookings Institution, which released its annual "school choice" index that day. All three areas singled out by Mr. Cantor earned high marks in the Brookings report.

"School choice is under attack in the very places that top this year's rankings," Rep. Cantor said. "It is up to us in this room, and our allies across the nation, to work for and fight for the families and students who will suffer the consequences if school choice is taken away."

Specifically, he drew attention to the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against Louisiana's voucher program. He said the program has "brought hope and opportunity to thousands of students," and urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to visit the program and see it for himself.

Rep. Cantor also hit Bill de Blasio, a Democrat and New York's new mayor, for considering a change to school facility regulations that allow charter schools to share space with regular public schools, saving them big cash in the city's pricey real estate market.

And he chided President Barack Obama for not including new money for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program in his budget requests.

–Alyson Klein


SIG Schools Short on Extra Help In Crucial Areas, Analysis Finds

Congress and the Obama administration have poured more than $3 billion into the School Improvement Grant program—and it's unclear whether that has made a big difference in actual student achievement, according to early (and flawed) data released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Now, analysis by Mathematica Policy Research finds that SIG schools weren't any more likely to report getting help when it comes to working with parents, school improvement planning, and recruiting or retaining teachers than non-SIG schools.

SIG schools did, however, report getting an extra hand to identify turnaround strategies and effective principals—and use student-achievement data.

The Mathematica analysis also took a look at state supports and found that:

• All the states surveyed (21 total) said they were monitoring low-performing schools, typically through analyzing student-achievement data and conducting site visits. But only 13 states reported giving districts a role in helping to monitor school improvement efforts. The lack of clarity on the role of districts in turnarounds has been a major criticism of the SIG program.

• Districts reported giving schools more help in implementing school improvement plans by spring 2012, when the newly revamped version of the program was about 2 years old, than they did before it began, back in the 2009-10 school year. For instance, 46 of 60 districts surveyed said they provided low-performing schools with external consultants in spring 2012, compared with just 33 in 2009-10. And 18 districts had a turnaround office with designated staff in spring 2012, compared with just eight in 2009-10.

The report was based on a survey of 450 school administrators and interviews with administrators in 60 districts and 21 states.

–Alyson Klein


Groups Ask U.S. Supreme Court To Hear 'I ♥ Boobies' Dispute

Four major education groups are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that upheld the right of students to wear "I ♥ Boobies" breast-cancer-awareness bracelets.

The National School Boards Association and its Pennsylvania affiliate, along with the National Association of Secondary School Principals and AASA, the School Superintendents' Association,filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the side of the Easton Area school district in Pennsylvania in a major battle over students' speech rights.

The Pennsylvania district filed its appeal last month of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, that the bracelets worn by middle school students were not plainly lewd and were a form of commentary on a social issue that did not disrupt school.

School administrators view the breast-cancer bracelets as vulgar and inappropriate for middle school students. Two students who were suspended for defying the prohibition challenged it in court through their parents as a violation of their First Amendment free-speech rights.

The 3rd Circuit majority in August said that a school's leeway to categorically restrict ambiguously lewd speech ends when that speech could also plausibly be interpreted as expressing a view on a political or social issue, and the "I ♥ Boobies" bracelets were clearly a form of social commentary.

In their friend-of-the-court brief in Easton Area School District v. B.H., the education groups contend that the 3rd Circuit court misread a key 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Bethel School District v. Fraser, that gives administrators a freer hand to discipline lewd student speech.

–Mark Walsh

Vol. 33, Issue 17, Pages 9,17

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