Obama calls for Education Reform, Hints that reform will be implemented after 2014, Blueprint for Reform analyzed
On Saturday, May 21, 2011, President Obama once again urged Congress to take up reauthorization of the ESEA saying, “We need to promote reform that gets results while encouraging communities to figure out what’s best for their kids. That why it’s so important that Congress replace No Child Left Behind this year – so schools have that flexibility, reform just can’t wait.” He pointed to the success of Booker T. Washington school in Tennessee as a model that others should follow and he stressed the need to get it done now. What is unclear is what reform looks like.
In March of 2010, President Obama released his Blueprint for Reform, (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, ESEA Blueprint for Reform, Washington, D.C., 2010) a 41-page document that outlined what reform looks like from Mr. Arnie Duncun and the Department of Education’s point of view. An analysis of the document reveals the administration’s concepts for change are sure to be challenged by a number of groups.
Supplemental Education Services in the Blueprint for Reform
Supplemental Education Services providers would be relieved to note that implementation of a new program seems to be scheduled for 2015, on page 11 of the Blueprint for reform, it states, “Beginning in 2015, formula funds will be available only to states that are implementing assessments based on college- and career-ready standards that are common to a significant number of states.” Given the requirements suggested in the Blueprint for reform, this only makes sense.
In the Blueprint, Supplemental Education Services are mentioned explicitly twice:
a. “For all Challenge schools, districts may implement strategies such as expanded learning time, supplemental educational services, public school choice, or other strategies to help students succeed.” (page 10)
b. “Challenge districts whose schools, principals and teachers are not receiving the support they need to succeed may also face significant governance or staffing changes, including replacement of the superintendent. Both Challenge districts and states will face additional restrictions on the use of ESEA funds and may be required to work with an outside organization to improve student academic achievement.” (page 10)
State requirements in the Blueprint for Reform
States are directed to take on a number of reforms that will undoubtedly increase both workload and operational costs. The Department of Education would require States to:
a. “adopt state-developed standards in English language arts and mathematics that build toward college- and career-readiness by the time students graduate from high school, and high-quality statewide assessments aligned with these standards…or work with other states to create state-developed common standards that build toward college- and career-readiness”; (page
b. “develop and adopt statewide English language proficiency standards for English Learners, aligned so that they reflect the academic language necessary to master the state’s content standards”; (page
c. “ensure that its statewide system of accountability rewards schools and districts for progress and success, requires rigorous interventions in the lowest-performing schools and districts, and allows local flexibility to determine the appropriate improvement and support strategies for most schools”; (page
d. “collect and make public data relating to student academic achievement and growth in English language arts and mathematics, student academic achievement in science… At the high school level, this data will also include graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and rates of college enrollment without need for remediation”; (page 9)
e. “[develop an]accountability system…[that] recognize[s] progress and growth and reward[s] success, rather than only identify failure;” (page 10)
f. “identify Challenge schools that are in need of specific assistance. (page 10)
g. “In [challenge] schools, … implement one of four school turnaround models, to support better outcomes for student”; (page 10)
h. “put in place a few specific policies and systems, including: statewide definitions of “effective teacher,” “effective principal,” “highly effective teacher,” and “highly effective principal,” developed in collaboration with teachers, principals, and other stakeholders, that are based in significant part on student growth and also include other measures, such as classroom observations of practice; state-level data systems that link information on teacher and principal preparation programs to the job placement, student growth, and retention outcomes of their graduates; District-level evaluation systems that (i) meaningfully differentiate teachers and principals by effectiveness across at least three performance levels; (ii) are consistent with their state’s definitions of “effective” and “highly effective” teacher and principal; (iii) provide meaningful feedback to teachers and principals to improve their practice and inform professional development; and (iv) are developed in collaboration with teachers, principals, and other education stakeholders;” (page 14, 15)
i. “develop comprehensive, evidence-based, Pre K–12 literacy plans and to align federal, state, and local funds to provide high-quality literacy instruction.” (page 26)
j. “develop comprehensive, evidence-based plans and to align federal, state, and local funds to provide high-quality STEM instruction.” (page 26)
Teachers, Accountability, Standardized Tests/Assessments
The word accountability suggests that something that has gone wrong and someone must be held accountable. Interestingly, the word is used several times throughout the Blueprint for Reform. Teachers have longed complained that the NCLB unfairly places the blame on them for poor student achievement. NCLB ignores various factors outside of teacher effectiveness that do affect achievement, namely, transitioning from one school to another in the middle of a school year, starting the year more than two grades below grade level, lack of parental involvement, student apathy (particularly in secondary school and high school), large class sizes, etc. Teachers will not suggest that these factors cannot be overcome; they do bristle however, when their achievements in overcoming some of these obstacles are ignored in favor of a standardized test. Under the current No Child Left Behind Act, teachers, in an effort to shed the label of failing to make, “Adequate Yearly Progress”, are essentially forced to teach to the test, focusing on English and Math and de-emphasizing subjects like Social Studies and Art. The Blueprint for reform uses the appropriate words to placate teachers by suggesting on pages 8 & 9 that individual States, School districts and Schools will be held accountable and consequently labeled as well. The Blueprint for Reform suggests that states, school districts and schools can be labeled as “Challenged”. The Blueprint also directs states to codify, identify and label “effective” and “highly effective” teachers. In addition, the blueprint directs the states to ensure even distribution of “effective” and “highly effective” teachers among school districts to avoid high concentrations of “highly effective teachers” in one school. Conceptually, this is a noble ideal, practical application is sure to be challenging.
Charter Schools – Laying the Groundwork for KIPP?
There are those who suspect that reauthorization is going to be used to significantly expand Charter schools and charter school enrollment. KIPP is the name the often comes to mind when one thinks about charter schools and KIPP addresses their potentially expanded role in the coming years on their website in their FAQ section. In response to the question, “Will KIPP ever take over an existing public school rather start a school from scratch?”, KIPP responded, “U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has visited several KIPP schools and has expressed his support for KIPP. He is interested in bringing the KIPP approach to more students across the country, but he also respects KIPP’s disciplined approach to innovation, which follows a ‘design, pilot, rollout’ approach.”
With respect to charter schools, the Blueprint mentions them specifically a few times:
a. “We will support the expansion of high performing public charter schools” (page 6)
b. “To support effective programs, we will expand eligibility to school districts and public charter schools” (page 22)
c. “Supporting Effective Charter Schools. Our proposal will provide competitive grants to states, charter school authorizers, charter management organizations, districts, and nonprofit organizations, to start or expand high-performing public charter schools…” (page 37)
What about the money – Competitive Funding?
One of the biggest complaints related to the No Child Left Behind act is that it has never been fully funded. Congress has traditionally viewed the promise of funding to be a limit on the maximum amount of funds they could authorize rather than a promise to provide the full amount of funds requested. In addition, competitive funding in the Blueprint plays a large role and seems to create a, “Race to the Top” like environment to initiate change. There are several potential pitfalls with this concept, the most glaring of which are wasted resources. As with any “race” there are winners and there are losers, in this education race the ultimate losers will be the children. The reason the children will lose is because resources that might have been directed toward their education will instead be directed toward grant writing proposals and changes initiated with the hope of qualifying for additional funding. If the school or institution does not “win” the additional funding they actually lose both time and money. There is also the question of the criteria involved in selecting the “winners”, it appears as though a savvy school district can ensure they “win” year after year while a struggling district, unsure of how to qualify, continues to “lose”. This type of initiative can only lead to a significant expansion in the budgets of the various Departments of Education to try to “win” the race rather than its stated purpose to provide significant funds to promote college ready students. With respect to funding the Blueprint promises:
a. “Our proposal will maintain formula grants to high-poverty school districts” (page
b. “States will receive funds to design innovative programs to reward high-poverty Reward schools and Reward districts. Rewards may include financial rewards for the staff and students and development of and participation in “communities of practice” to share best practices and replicate successful strategies to assist lower-performing schools and districts.” (page 10)
c. “Our proposal will allow states and districts to reserve funds to carry out such activities as (i) supporting and complementing the adoption of rigorous standards and high-quality assessments, and supporting teachers in teaching to those standards; (ii) supporting the more effective use of data to identify local needs and improve student outcomes; (iii) improving capacity at the state and district levels to support the effective use of technology to improve instruction; (iv) coordinating with early learning programs to improve school readiness; or (v) carrying out effective family engagement strategies.” (page 11)
d. “States will receive formula grants to develop and implement high-quality assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards in English language arts and mathematics…States may also use funds to develop or implement high-quality, rigorous statewide assessments in other academic or career and technical subjects, high school course assessments, English language proficiency assessments, and interim or formative assessments.” (page 11)
e. “The program also will support competitive grants to consortia of states, and to other entities working in partnership with states, for research on, or development and improvement of, additional high-quality assessments to be used by multiple states in such areas as science, history, or foreign languages; high school course assessments in academic and career and technical subjects; universally designed assessments; and assessments for English Learners and students with disabilities.” (page 12)
f. “Our proposal will make available significant grants to help states, districts, and schools implement the rigorous interventions required in each state’s lowest-performing Challenge schools under the College- and Career-Ready Students program.” (page 12)
g. “Districts and their partners will receive 3-year awards to fully and effectively implement one of these intervention models, and will be eligible for two additional years of funding to support a school’s ongoing improvement if the school is showing progress.” (page 12)
h. “In addition, the Secretary will reserve a portion of School Turnaround Grants for additional activities designed to enhance state, district, and nonprofit capacity to improve schools, such as investing in model school quality review teams to identify school needs and support school improvement.” (page 12)
i. “Our proposal will continue and improve formula grants to states and school districts to improve the effectiveness of teachers and leaders, and ensure that students in high-need schools are being taught by effective teachers in schools led by effective principals.” (page 14)
j. “Our proposal will continue competitive grants for states and school districts that are willing to implement ambitious reforms to better identify, recruit, prepare, develop, retain, reward, and advance effective teachers, principals, and school leadership teams in high-need schools.” (page 16)
k. “Our proposal will continue competitive grants to improve and strengthen the recruitment and preparation of effective teachers, principals, and other school leaders by nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, and school districts, through high-quality preparation programs that prepare educators for high-need districts, schools, subjects, areas, and fields.” (page 17)
l. “To strengthen traditional and alternative pathways into school leadership, our proposal includes competitive grants for the recruitment, preparation, and support of effective principals and leadership teams to turn around persistently low-performing schools.” (page 18)
m. “Our proposal will continue to provide significant formula grants to help states and school districts implement high-quality language instruction educational programs to improve the education of English Learners.” (page 20)
n. “Our proposal will also provide new competitive grants to states, districts, and nonprofit partners to support the development of innovative programs, build the knowledge base about promising practices, and scale up effective practices to improve instruction for English Learners, including funding for graduate fellowships to support research and leadership in developing effective practices to improve English Learner outcomes, as well as state or district partnerships with colleges and universities for developing effective teachers.” (page 21)
o. “Our proposal will continue and strengthen formula grants to states, districts, and other providers to meet the educational needs of migrant students.” (page 21)
p. “Our proposal will continue and strengthen formula grants to help states and districts put in place systems and services to meet the educational needs of homeless students.” (page 21)
q. Our proposal will continue and strengthen formula grants to states to improve educational services for students in state-operated institutions and community day programs for neglected or delinquent children and youths. (page 21)
r. “Our proposal will continue strong support – through formula and competitive grants to states; districts; Indian tribes; Indian institutions of higher education; Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native educational and community-based organizations; and nonprofit organizations, agencies, and institutions – to help meet the unique needs of Indian students, Native Hawaiian students, and Alaska Native students.” (page 22)
s. “Our proposal will continue formula grants to rural districts to address the specific needs of students in rural areas, through the Small, Rural School Achievement (SRSA) and the Rural and Low-Income School (RLIS) programs.” (page 23)
t. “Our reauthorization proposal will continue significant formula grant support designed to compensate districts for the expense of educating federally-connected children and for the presence in their districts of tax-exempt federal property or other property removed from the tax rolls by the federal government.” (page 23)
u. “Our proposal will provide competitive grants to support the transition to higher standards by assisting states in strengthening their literacy programs and by providing substantial support to high-need districts in implementing high-quality literacy instruction.” (page 26)
v. “Our proposal will provide competitive grants to support the transition to higher standards by assisting states in strengthening their STEM programs and by providing substantial support to high-need districts in implementing high-quality instruction in at least mathematics or science and may also include technology or engineering.” (page 26)
w. “…our proposal will provide competitive grants to states, high-need districts, and nonprofit partners to strengthen the teaching and learning of arts, foreign languages, history and civics, financial literacy, environmental education, and other subjects.” (page 28)
x. “Our proposal will provide competitive grants to states, districts, and nonprofit partners to increase access to accelerated learning opportunities for students.” (page 29)
y. “Under our proposal, the Secretary will set aside funds to carry out additional activities to improve teaching and learning in academic subjects, such as grants for the creation of high-quality educational digital content; grants to states to develop and improve their capacity to use technology to improve instruction; or grants to nonprofits to develop and implement innovative and effective strategies to improve the teaching and learning of specific subjects.” (page 29)
z. “Our proposal will provide new, competitive grants to support the development and implementation of a continuum of effective community services, strong family supports, and comprehensive education reforms to improve the educational and life outcomes for children and youths in high-need communities, from birth through college and into careers.” (page 32)
aa. “Our proposal will provide competitive grants for states, school districts, nonprofit organizations, and partnerships to implement in school and out of school strategies that provide students and, where appropriate, teachers and family members, with additional time and supports to succeed.” (page 32)
bb. “Our proposal will provide competitive grants to support states, school districts, and their partners in providing learning environments that ensure that students are successful, safe, and healthy.” (page 33)
cc. “Modeled after the Race to the Top program authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, our proposal will provide competitive grants to states and school districts to take on ambitious and comprehensive reforms, and to encourage the broad identification, dissemination, adoption, and use of effective policies and practices.” (page 36)
dd. “This program builds on the i3 program launched through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and will provide additional competitive grants to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative and evidence-based practices, programs, and strategies that significantly improve student outcomes.” (page 36)
ee. “Our proposal will provide competitive grants to states, charter school authorizers, charter management organizations, districts, and nonprofit organizations, to start or expand high-performing public charter schools and other high-performing autonomous public schools, with a priority for applicants proposing to start or expand high-performing public charter schools.(page 37)
ff. “Our proposal will continue to provide competitive grants to districts, consortia of districts, and states in partnership with districts to expand high-quality public school educational options for students, especially students in low-performing schools, and ensure that students and families are aware of these options.” (page 38)
gg. “Our proposal will continue to provide competitive grants to districts to support magnet schools under a desegregation plan ordered by a federal court, state court, or other authorized state agency or official, or approved by the Secretary.” (page 38)
Where do we go from here?
It is true that Congress is obligated within the next few years to address the current ESEA because of its expiring mandate, however, it is also true that any reauthorization must properly balance fiscal reality with challenging goals. At this time the Blueprint for Reform is just that, a Blueprint that lays out the administration’s concept of the path we need to take to achieve an educated, productive populace. In the end it will be interesting to see how the Blueprint and final document align.
For the full text of the Blueprint for Reform, please visit please click here.[divider top=”1″]