The first is September, 2011. That is the time when Secretary Duncan announced his grand waiver scheme to deal with problems arising from implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB was then four years overdue in being reauthorized. More schools were at risk of being identified as in need of improvement than the authors had intended in 2001, when the Act was passed. Instead of addressing this problem through legislation or administrative action, Secretary Duncan used the problem as leverage to force states to accept input policies the Administration favored.
The Administration had a choice about how to resolve the problem. It could have gone one of two directions. Unfortunately, the manner in which the Administration implemented its decision represented a huge mistake that has had and will continue to have serious negative consequences for our nation’s schools and its students.
The Administration could have, absent legislation, chosen to give states flexibility specifically to avoid over-identification in return for improvements and strengthening of their accountability systems. This would have been a superb occasion to move the nation to Accountability 2.0.
Had this been the basis of administrative action, several good results would have likely occurred. First, accountability would have been improved. Second, relief would have been appropriate to deal with problems that were then arising from NCLB. Third, the Congress would likely have accepted the action because it fit within the legislative intent behind NCLB. And, fourth, making accountability work smarter and better would have likely lessened the public opposition to accountability that has developed in the wake of a system that has not been updated and improved.
Instead the Administration chose a different, fateful path. It weakened accountability. It did so by reducing the scope of accountability to a very few schools, permitting super-subgroups to be used to mask subgroup problems, and arbitrarily voiding certain consequences permitted under NCLB. Further, the Administration decided without any Congressional authority whatsoever to create its own quid pro quo requirements for granting the waivers. Among other things, it demanded that states adopt certain content standards, which were generally deemed to be the Common Core standards. And it required that states develop certain kinds of teacher evaluation systems. None of this was authorized by the Congress, and all of this was highly controversial.
The point here is not to debate whether these were good or bad policies. The point here is simply to say that the Administration weakened accountability in return for demanding state action to adopt policies based on its favored input strategies, using un-repaired features of NCLB as the basis for the deals.
This strategy has failed. Not only has state performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) been stagnant since this waiver scheme was put in place, the achievement in those states blessed with billions of extra dollars in the Race to the Top program has been totally flat as well. See http://sandykress.weebly.com/blog/did-states-race-to-the-top
Bottom line: since 2011, when accountability was substantially weakened, the gains of the 2000s in student achievement as measured by the NAEP stalled.
The second date is December, 2015, this month. This is the month when the Congress will pass, and the President will sign, the so-called Every Student Succeeds Act. While annual testing and the provision for states to put together accountability plans with certain features continues to be required, this legislation fundamentally finishes off the evisceration of accountability begun by the Administration four years ago.
The Secretary will have virtually no authority to enforce the meager “requirements” that remain, and the Federal government will have no power whatsoever to require any consequences for schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps.
One can certainly hope that states and districts will become accountable on their own in instituting the changes that will stir needed improvement. I certainly hold to that hope. But, if Texas is any sort of example of what states will do, one has little basis for optimism. http://sandykress.weebly.com/blog/the-texas-problem-pretending-its-good-when-its-not
Let’s hope for the best, and let’s work toward a far better end than I am predicting. But, from this month on, we must be exceedingly vigilant about the policies and practices that are adopted across the nation in the absence of federal pressure to improve and reform. We must watch all measures of student achievement, and if this month indeed proves to be the second red letter date marking the continuation of a long period of stagnation in student achievement, we must vow to bring news of such stagnation to the awareness of our fellow countrymen and women. And we must then press with all our strength for a return of the accountability we must bear if our young people are to be educated effectively to the high standards that are required for their success.