Top 5 Questions About NCLB Flexibility

“We’re still hopeful that Congress can continue its work this fall. In the meantime, states and districts have an opportunity to move forward,” said Secretary Duncan in a statement earlier today announcing the Obama Administration’s plan to provide a process for states to receive flexibility under the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.  While more details on the flexibility plan are forthcoming, here is a list of the top five questions about the announcement we are hearing.

1. Why now?

Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—is four years late. The Obama administration introduced its Blueprint for Reform sixteen months ago, and President Obama called on Congress in March to finish a bill before the start of the new school year. States, districts, schools and most importantly students cannot wait another school year for this broken law to be fixed.

2. Does the administration’s plan replace Congressional reauthorization?

No, the plan to provide flexibility does not replace a comprehensive reauthorization from Congress. The administration’s plan will provide flexibility to districts and schools to improve student achievement by raising standards while Congress continues to work on reauthorization.

3. Does this regulatory flexibility package offer blanket flexibility to states and districts?

While all states will be eligible for this regulatory flexibility, only states that agree to meet a high bar will receive the flexibility they need to improve education on the ground for students. States granted flexibility would be expected to maintain rigorous accountability, including for subgroups of students.

4. Is there legal authority for the Department to allow this flexibility?

Section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act) allows the Secretary to waive certain statutory or regulatory requirements of the ESEA.

5. When will this flexibility have an impact on the ground?

We will continue to gather ideas from states in the coming month and plan to roll out details of the package in mid-September. We anticipate that this flexibility will begin to have an impact at the end of the 2011-2012 school year and have the most significant impact beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

 

A Teacher’s Agreement and Frustration at the Save Our Schools Rally

At the SOS rally with other teachers at the ellipse in front of the White House this weekend, I wrestled with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, signs everywhere testified to our universal frustration with the failed policies of NCLB and to damaging cuts to education:  Education Cuts Never Heal . . . Education is Not Just for the Rich & White . . . No Teacher Supports the Status Quo . . . Education is Not Test Prep . . . Build Schools, Not Bombs.

I came to ED one year ago as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, and have extended my position for one additional year. I share teachers’ concerns expressed at the rally. But, unlike them, I have witnessed Arne Duncan’s team working tirelessly to fix these very problems and overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act. President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform would dramatically reduce the number of schools labeled as failing for not making AYP so that only the bottom five percent would be identified, and those schools would receive considerable support to turn around. It would end the flawed practice of requiring students to reach an arbitrary bar on a poor proficiency test and ask states to focus on each student’s growth instead. It would provide incentives for programs to support teachers’ professional learning and use multiple measures to evaluate them, not only student growth scores. It would encourage states to expand their curricula to include the arts, history, and others neglected under NCLB. And the plan would support the states in their efforts to create better tests that cover critical thinking and really show what students know and can do.

And this is the source of my frustration:  that the teachers at the rally seemed unaware that the administration is with them on so many of the issues they care about. Since he took office, Arne Duncan has been calling for ESEA to be reauthorized so that we can fix the very problems that plague our schools, handcuff teachers, and handicap students. He talks with teachers continually and listens to their concerns. Secretary Duncan is working hard with Congress to pass a bill. If Congress fails to act before the beginning of the school year, he will consider offering regulatory flexibility to help alleviate the burdens of NCLB.

The Arne Duncan who I know developed a passion for education while his mom tutored students in her inner city Chicago Sunday school class who couldn’t read. He worked with her to help these kids, and since then he has built a career focused on educational equity, on ensuring that students do not to become victims of their zip code. He believes the fight for education is a fight for social justice.

At the rally, however, teachers clearly were angry at Arne Duncan for the law that he did not create and that he does not support.  Instead of blaming him, teachers and policymakers need to work together as a team to fix a law that we all agree is broken.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is a teacher liaison on loan from Buncombe County Schools in N.C. and working temporarily at the Department of Education.

View A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind

Duncan and DC Students Talk on NPR

Secretary Duncan at NPR

Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood

In an interview earlier this week on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” Arne Duncan discussed plans to provide regulatory flexibility to states seeking relief from the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) in exchange for enacting educational reforms.

Secretary Duncan Takes Questions on NPR

Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood

During the live broadcast, the Secretary explained to students in the audience and to host Neal Conan, that doing nothing is not acceptable, and that “where states are raising the bar, where they’re doing the right thing by children, we need to provide them greater flexibility, and we need to meet them half way.”

The Secretary said the best way to fix NCLB’s problems is for Congress to reauthorize NCLB. Yet, with the new school year just months away, the Department of Education is considering ways to provide flexibility for states and districts.

For most of the interview, Duncan took questions from District of Columbia students about Duncan’s support for arts education, his perspective on why teaching quality varies so widely, and his opinion about lengthening the school day. Duncan also answered questions from listeners around the country, including questions regarding how to best serve students with disabilities and over-use of standardized testing.

Listen to the  44-minute interview.

Read the transcript.

 

Preparing Teachers to Lead and Succeed: Emporia State University’s Teachers College

One of the most important strategies of the President’s blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is its focus on one simple but transformative premise: great teachers matter. Decades of research indicates that the single most important school-based factor in a child’s education is the quality of the teaching he or she gets in the classroom. The quality of the training, development and professional practice an aspiring teacher receives throughout his or her pre-service program will impact the teacher’s future effectiveness, ability to persevere, persist and thrive in the classroom, and, ultimately, the amount of student learning that occurs in the classroom.

A new video produced by the U.S. Department of Education spotlights an institution that has a proven strategy for instilling new teacher candidates with the knowledge, skills, resources and fortitude to lead and succeed in the 21st century classroom. At Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan., home of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, the Teachers College is the crown jewel of the school. The hallmark of the Teachers College experience is its involvement with 34 professional development schools – public schools that are modeled after teaching hospitals – where teacher education students do much of their learning in real world situations, working with faculty and public school teachers.

Graduates of the Teachers College are highly sought-after by school districts because of their depth of knowledge and thoroughness of training and experience they bring to the classroom. Each beginning teacher comes to the hiring district with a guarantee and, in the 18 years of the program, only five teachers have been referred for remediation. Ninety-two percent of ESU teachers remain in the classroom for more than five years—almost twice the national average—and principals rate alumni highly on a wide range of knowledge and skills.

For more information on Emporia State University’s Teachers College, visit: http://www.emporia.edu/teach/


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Music provided by Andrew Bird.

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Duncan: “Fix No Child Left Behind – Now”

Another school year is coming to a close, and schools across the country are still operating under the restrictive rules of No Child Left Behind. Unless the law is changed, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be mislabeled as failing. This will trigger impractical and ineffective sanctions. It’s confusing to students and parents and demoralizing for teachers and principals.

The Obama Administration continues to work closely with Congress to reauthorize NCLB, but with the new school year just months away, ED is beginning to investigate how to address NCLB’s problems through regulatory flexibility, if necessary.

Secretary Duncan said that regulatory flexibility will not replace comprehensive reform, or give states and districts a pass from accountability. Instead, the goal is to “unleash energy at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law, giving states, districts and schools the flexibility they need to raise standards, boost quality, and improve our lowest-performing schools.”

In today’s Politico, Secretary Duncan penned an op-ed explaining the importance of reauthorizing NCLB:

Everyone responsible for educating children for the knowledge economy of the 21st century agrees that America’s federal education law is in dire need of reform. Teachers, parents, school leaders, governors, members of Congress and the Education Department have all called for an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act.

I commend Congress for the hard work under way on reauthorizing NCLB, now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. Senate and House leaders should continue their work toward a bipartisan reauthorization bill by the start of the school year. While we don’t expect agreement on all of the details, there is real goodwill and support for reauthorizing ESEA and virtually no one — inside or outside government — is defending the status quo.

I remain hopeful and confident that Congress will soon take action to strengthen and upgrade the nation’s education law. But while Congress works, state and local school districts are buckling under the law’s goals and mandates. Despite our shared sentiment for reform and the Obama administration’s long-standing proposal to reshape NCLB, the law remains in place, four years after it was due for reauthorization. Our children get only one shot at an education. They cannot wait any longer for reform.

For this reason, our administration will develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform. If Congress does not complete work on reauthorization soon, we will be prepared with a process that will enable schools to move ahead with reform in the fall. States, districts and schools need the freedom to implement high standards, strengthen the quality of their teachers and school leaders and embrace a more flexible, fair and focused system of accountability. Many members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have voiced support for these nonpartisan goals.

The stakes are high. As it currently exists, NCLB is creating a slow-motion educational train wreck for children, parents and teachers. Under the law, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be labeled as “failing,” eventually triggering impractical and ineffective sanctions.

To avoid these sanctions, many states have lowered academic standards instead of making them more rigorous. The law also makes no distinction between a high-performing school with one or two subgroups underperforming and a low-performing school where everyone is struggling. As a result, states and districts are spending billions of dollars each year on one-size-fits-all mandates dictated from Washington rather than on locally tailored solutions that effectively reach the students most at risk and close achievement gaps.

Under the umbrella of the Learning First Alliance, 16 national organizations representing tens of thousands of local administrators and school board members as well as millions of teachers are seeking flexibility from NCLB’s deadlines and mandates. Separately, a number of state education chiefs have echoed the call for flexibility tied to education reform.

Louisiana, for example, is seeking flexibility to put in place a comprehensive reform plan, as is Tennessee, a winner of the administration’s key reform program, Race to the Top. Nine other states are seeking flexibility from the law, while others have threatened to simply ignore the NCLB deadlines.

Meanwhile, many states are moving forward with reform, voluntarily adopting higher standards and collaborating on a new generation of assessments. They are developing new systems of evaluating and supporting teachers, building comprehensive data systems to improve teaching and to track student gains and transforming chronically low-performing schools — including the high schools that produce a disproportionate share of America’s dropouts.

The purpose of our administration’s plan is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability but, rather, to unleash energy for reform at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law. It’s a meaningful step to help educators, parents and community leaders transition from today’s stifling, top-down approach toward a climate of locally designed innovation and excellence.

Fifteen months have passed since the administration unveiled its blueprint to reform NCLB. On two separate occasions, President Barack Obama has convened House and Senate leaders at the White House to help spur action. I’ve held countless bipartisan meetings across Capitol Hill. The president reissued the call for reform in March.

More and more people recognize education is the game-changer in the global economy. A world-class education system is the engine of economic growth, innovation, competitiveness and job creation. Our children, our teachers and our parents deserve a world-class education — not some day, but today.

NCLB: ‘Getting in the Way of Where We Need to Go’

Secretary Duncan emphasized once again that we need to fix NCLB in real time, not Washington time.

The current law doesn’t reward schools that are making significant progress and prescribes interventions based on absolute test scores, the Secretary said last Friday at a lunchtime question and answer session during the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network annual conference.

Measuring growth and gains needs to be the focus of any accountability system, he said in response to a question from YEO Network member and Georgia State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan.

The Secretary explained that No Child Left Behind is an impediment which results in too many schools being labeled as failures, “and is getting in the way of where we need to go.”

In March of 2010, President Obama released the administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, and earlier this year he called on Congress to fix NCLB before the next school year begins. Click here to read A Blueprint for Reform.

Now’s the Time to Act on NCLB


Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “can’t be done in Washington time. It has to be in real people’s time,” said Secretary Duncan on Tuesday at Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus elementary school in St. Paul, Minn.

Duncan, joined at the school by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), was responding to a growing chorus of voices saying that NCLB should be fixed before the start of the upcoming school year. “We need Congress to work with a much greater sense of urgency,” the Secretary noted.

Duncan explained that NCLB is too punitive as well as too loose on goals and too tight on how schools can succeed. The Secretary repeated that the reauthorized law should allow creativity to flourish at the local level. “We won’t dictate curriculum from Washington,” he said. “We need to get out of the way.”

For more information on the Obama Administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, which is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, read “A Blueprint for Reform” which President Obama released in March of 2010.

Stakeholders Express Frustration Over Lack of Change in ESEA

This week, national organizations representing school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and other stakeholders sent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a letter asking for regulatory relief from the No Child Left Behind Act. While Congress and the Obama administration work on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to fix NCLB’s flaws, the organizations asked the Secretary to consider using his regulatory authority to alleviate some of NCLB’s flaws.

In a letter, 16 organizations from the Learning First Alliance wrote:

“Absent swift reauthorization of ESEA, LFA member organizations urge the Department of Education to explore its authority for offering regulatory relief around NCLB. Once those areas are identified, we would recommend that the department then engage in collaborative discussions with our individual member organizations – as well as other interested stakeholders, including Congress – and focus on building consensus around proposals offering appropriate and immediate regulatory relief for the upcoming 2011-12 school year.”

Separately, two Learning First Alliance members, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, started gathering signatures for an online petition supporting “regulatory relief for the 2011-12 school year, and any efforts to rescind or modify current regulations and alleviate undue pressure on the nation’s schools.”

Secretary Duncan has been working closely with Congress to create a bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESEA. The President has called on Congress to pass an ESEA bill before the next school year begins. The Obama administration’s main goal is to change the accountability framework to fix the problems created by NCLB, which mislabels too many schools as low-performing and doesn’t reward successful schools.

The Secretary understands the frustrations of education stakeholders and shares their concerns about the slow pace of work in Congress. He remains committed to fixing NCLB so that its flaws are addressed as we move into the new school year.

Supporting Teachers Through Family Engagement

Ed. Note: Mandy Grisham is an urban music educator from Memphis Tennessee, and a mother of two boys, ages five and two. She was a recent delegate to Parenting Magazine’s second annual meeting of the Mom Congress. Here she shares her impressions from a recent town hall on education reform and offers her own suggestions for how parents can support their child’s education.

Last week I had the opportunity to join, via satellite, some of the country’s leading education reform advocates in an education reform National Town Hall Meeting, held in Washington, D.C. The town hall participants included Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, House Committee on Education and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada.

After hearing about many different reform efforts, it’s obvious that government at all levels can have a significant impact over what happens in a child’s life during school hours. But what goes on in the child’s life after school is often out of the hands of our elected officials.

Most of us can agree that the people who influence a child during these post-school hours are an important factor that cannot be left out of the reform movement equation.  So what can we do as parents to support teachers, and improve the quality of education our children receive?

1. Engage with your child, first and foremost. Family engagement begins at home. Whatever your family looks like, take time to play and talk with your child. Ask questions like “what was your favorite part of the day?” Or, “Tell me something interesting that happened today?” If this is the most you can do, then stop right here and do it well!

2. Engage with your child’s friends and their families. “It takes a village to raise a child.” So find out what other parents are learning from their children.

3. Engage with your child’s teachers. Most teachers are eager to partner with you to help make the most of those hours your child is at school. The more they hear from you, the more they know you really care.

4. Engage with your child’s school. Look for ways to serve the PTA or Leadership Council. Ask what skills you have that may serve them.

5. Engage with the system. Get to know your school board members and learn about the budget. Districts will be spending the most money on the matters most important to them. If you don’t agree with the choices, get involved.

6. Engage the government. It only takes a few squeaky wheels to get a politician’s attention and make a difference. Make yourself available to be a “parent on the field.” When they need feedback from their constituents, be available to offer your opinion.

– Mandy Grisham

If you missed the reform town hall, you can still watch it by clicking here.

More than a Memory: Teacher Appreciation Week

Secretary Duncan stops at Randolph Elementary on Teacher Appreciation Day

No doubt about it, last week was a great time to be a teacher at the Department of Education. During Teacher Appreciation Week, the atmosphere brimmed with teacher focus and teacher gratitude.

All week our staff wrote pieces reflecting on the value of teachers. Arne Duncan opened the week with a video message thanking English teacher Darlene McCampbell and encouraging the nation to thank teachers. Later Duncan wrote an open letter to America’s teachers that triggered hundreds of impassioned comments from teachers and generated a robust debate around issues of testing, teacher evaluation and ways to strengthen the profession.

Assistant Secretary Thelma Melendez wrote an homage to her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Silverman, and followed with a video message. Elizabeth Williamson, who works in Region III, posted a message thanking two teachers whose kindness changed her life, while Deputy Secretary Martha Kanter praised Miss Leverich, and Assistant Secretary Alexa Posny commended Mr. Otto. The president of the Future Educators Association, Leilani Bell, weighed in on our blog with a note of appreciation for Ms. de Costa. The Department also launched Twitter and Facebook campaigns to #thankateacher and sponsored a blog encouraging students to create videos thanking teachers. The #thankateacher tweets and retweets garnered a number of celebrity messages including those from Al Roker, Randi Weingarten, Kurt Warner, and Nancy Pelosi.

The week was also spent celebrating teaching and talking with teachers about issues they face in the classroom. Arne Duncan began Teacher Appreciation Day with a surprise visit to the Arlington County Teacher of the Year at Randolph Elementary School, and he thanked all of the teachers at the school for making a difference in children’s lives. He also congratulated the State Teachers of the Year at a ceremony in their honor at Rose Garden of the White House with President Obama.

On Thursday, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows hosted the Teachers of the Year at the Department for roundtable discussions about important issues in education and a Town Hall with senior staff. New Jersey Teacher of the Year, Danielle Kovach, captured her experience at the roundtable and Town Hall in a post on our Strengthening Teachers Page. While at the Department, several of the Teachers of the Year also took a few minutes to record short videos thanking teachers who had changed the trajectory of their lives.

Besides our respect and admiration for these teachers, the Department of Education offered teachers something that they can use every day of the school year: relief from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Following the Town Hall, the teachers viewed a preview of a new video entitled “A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind,” which explains the President’s plan to solve many problems created by the flawed law, including an over-reliance on testing, narrowing of the curriculum, and evaluating teachers based on one limited measurement.

Over cake afterward, teachers commented that when we truly fix NCLB, every day will be a great day to be a teacher.

See photos

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, NC. Read an EdWeek blog article published about the Fellows this week.

Listening to Champions of Change

Receiving input directly from educators is a high priority for the Department of Education and the Obama administration, which is why the White House recently invited a group of teachers to the White House to participate in a roundtable discussion as part of their “Champions of Change series: Winning the Future Across America.”  The White House’s weekly series spotlights individuals who have done extraordinary things in their communities, and teachers came from across the country to discuss with senior administration officials the need for transformational change within the educational system to turn the teaching profession into an “iconic profession.”

Champions of Change roundtable discussion at the White House

“As educators we can and should have a voice in moving student learning forward not only in our own classrooms and schools, but in the broader landscape of policy as well,” said roundtable attendee Kris Woleck, a K-5 Mathematics Coordinator at the New Canaan Public Schools in New Canaan, Conn., and a former ED Teaching Ambassador Fellow.  Woleck noted that the most powerful part of the discussion “was the opportunity to hear about the work of so many other tremendous educators from across the country.

To hear each of them share not only their experiences but also their insights into the solutions and next steps that might support education in this country was inspiring. It brought me great pride to know that as a teacher, I have colleagues who have such a voice and the potential to make impact on policy at the national level, in their states, and in their local districts.

Tracey Van Dusen, another Champion of Change, an AP Government and American Studies teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow explained that senior administration officials were eager to hear ideas from teachers:

We discussed the desire for more effective communication and partnerships with parents, differentiated professional development opportunities, and improved evaluation and accountability systems.

After attending the conference, Lisa Coates, a teacher at Liberty Middle School in Hanover, Va., and an ED Teaching Ambassador Fellow, noted that the most powerful movement in education reform can start within the communities we work. “Everyone has to play a part in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” she said.

Teachers across the nation are working tirelessly to provide, safe, high-quality learning environments in classrooms to help secure America’s competiveness in the 21st century and are the true “champions of change.”

For more information on the Champions of Change series, including a video of Kris, Tracey, and Lisa, visit whitehouse.gov/champions.

Video Released: A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind

Fixing NCLB logo

Test obsession, narrow curricula, blaming teachers—these are a few of the problems created by the No Child Left Behind law that are unpacked in this animated video available online now.

The video details some of the problems created by NCLB and describes President Barack Obama’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and solve them. Written by a teacher at the U.S. Department of Education, the video offers a vision that strengthens teaching, narrows achievement gaps, raises standards, and prepares all students for colleges and careers in a global economy. It includes video clips of Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

View the video or leave a comment below.

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County Schools in North Carolina and the author of the video. She is also the author of Built for Teachers: How the Blueprint for Reform Empowers Educators.