America’s Kids Need a Better Education Law

This op-ed originally appeared in August 25 edition of The Washington Post.

The nation’s most sweeping education law — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, better known as No Child Left Behind — is outmoded and broken. Congress has gone home for its summer recess without passing a responsible replacement.

That’s too bad. America deserves a better law.

At the heart of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a promise: to set a high bar for all students and to protect the most vulnerable. Success in that effort will be measured in the opportunities for our nation’s children, in a time when a solid education is the surest path to a middle-class life. Tight global economic competition means that jobs will go where the skills are. Raising student performance could not be more urgent.

NCLB Logo

“The nation’s most sweeping education law — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, better known as No Child Left Behind — is outmoded and broken,” writes Secretary Arne Duncan

No Child Left Behind has given the country transparency about the progress of at-risk students. But its inflexible accountability provisions have become an obstacle to progress and have focused schools too much on a single test score. NCLB is six years overdue for an update, and nearly all agree that it should be replaced with a law that gives systems and educators greater freedom while continuing to fulfill the law’s original promise.

The vision of American education that President Obama and I share starts in the classroom — with fully engaged students, creative and inspiring teachers, and the support and resources needed to get every child prepared for college and career. Students in our poorest communities should enjoy learning opportunities like those in our wealthiest communities. Zip code, race, disability and family income should not limit students’ opportunities or reduce expectations for them. The progress of U.S. students should remain transparent.

Washington’s role is to protect children at risk and promote opportunity for all. The federal government is not, and will never be, in the business of telling states or schools what or how to teach. But it cannot shirk its role of ensuring that schools and students meet the high bar that prepares them for the real world. History shows that, without some kind of accountability, states and districts do not always meet the needs of the most vulnerable students.

Yet the backers of a bill passed by the House last month would use this moment to weaken that role and reverse reforms that carry enormous benefits for children. Others would retreat from ongoing efforts to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession. Neither would be a smart move.

Let’s not kid ourselves that things are fine. The United States once led the world in the proportion of its young people who had completed college; today, we are 12th. Three-quarters of our young people are deemed unfit for military service, in part because of gaps in their education. This is no time to sit back.

States must play the central role in leading the education agenda — and their work in partnership with the Education Department provides a road map toward a better law. These states have established high standards, robust teacher and principal evaluations and support systems, smart use of data, and ambitious learning goals. They have made bold efforts to improve our lowest-performing schools. They are also adopting assessments that move beyond today’s fill-in-the-bubble tests.

Consider the new teacher and principal evaluation systems that Tennessee has pioneered. Not only has student proficiency improved in every area — but so has teachers’ support for these rigorous new systems, according to an independent survey. Massachusetts has used its greater flexibility to target federal funds to improve the lowest-performing schools, with significant success.

Such progress offers a vision of what the core principles of a new elementary and secondary education law should be. It must set states free to use their best ideas to support students and teachers. It also must align student learning and growth with career- and college-readiness.

Yet some in Congress would reduce the federal government to a passive check-writer, asking nothing in return for taxpayers’ funds. And they would lock in major cuts to education funding at a time when continued investment in education is the only way we can remain globally competitive. Far better ideas, which build on state and local reform efforts, can be found in the bill passed in June by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

In the months ahead, I will ask Congress to listen to those doing the real work of education change. Principals, teachers, governors, state education chiefs, superintendents, parents and students themselves know what is and isn’t working. They can guide us to a better law.

Lawmakers in both chambers and parties should agree on a bill that raises the bar, protects children, supports and improves effective teaching and school leadership, and provides flexibility and supports good work at the state and local level. We should give them the resources and the flexibility and make sure we all are accountable for the job we are doing on behalf of our children.

We are fighting not just for a strong education system but also for our country. A good law is part of that fight.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

State and Local Education Agencies “Like” Social Media

Throw out the word “mimeograph” to high school students today and you’re likely to receive a classroom full of puzzled looks. How educators and schools transmit information in and out of the classroom has rapidly evolved in a relatively short amount of time. Mimeographed assignments and fliers have now given way to interactive and engaging electronic and social communication.

mimeograph

Mimeograph machine. Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Library.

A recent questionnaire by the Reform Support Network shows that state and local education agencies are increasingly using social media as a tool to engage with and inform parents, students, teachers and the entire community.

According to the survey, local education agencies are adopting well-known tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with 96 percent of respondents stating that parents were their key targeted audience.

For more information on the survey, including how state and local education agencies measure results and deal with implementation challenges, read the Reform Support Network’s report entitled “Measurable Success, Growing Adoption, Vast Potential: Social Media Use Among State and Local Education Agencies.

To see how the U.S. Department of Education uses social media, check out our listing of official social media sites.

The Stakeholder Communications and Engagement Community of Practice is developing and presenting a series of webinars to help state and local education agencies communicate with and engage stakeholders in education reform initiatives – see past webinars here, and register for the June 26th webinar here.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

New Flexibility for States Implementing Fast-Moving Reforms: Laying Out Our Thinking

Over the last four years, states and school districts across America have embraced an enormous set of urgent challenges with real courage: raising standards to prepare young people to compete in the global economy, developing new assessments, rebuilding accountability systems to meet the needs of each state and better serve at-risk students, and adopting new systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals. Meeting this historic set of challenges all at once asks more of everybody, and it’s a tribute to the quality of educators, leaders, and elected officials across this country that so many have stepped up.
Secretary Duncan talking with student

One crucial change has been the state-led effort to voluntarily raise standards. That effort dates back to 2006, when a bipartisan core of leaders – governors, state superintendents, business people — came together because they recognized that America’s students needed to be prepared to compete in a global economy that demanded more than basic skills. They began a movement that has ended up with nearly every state adopting standards that reflect the knowledge and skills young people actually need to succeed in college and careers. Especially in communities where students historically have not been held to high standards, this state-led push is nothing less than a civil rights issue.

To put student learning squarely at the center of school decisions, states agreed to evaluate principals and teachers based in part on student growth, as measured by test scores, along with measures like principal observation, peer review, feedback from parents and students, and classroom work. These commitments became part of waiver agreements that have helped states dispense with the most broken parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The US Department of Education also provided $350 million to two consortia of states to develop online assessments, benchmarked to the new standards, which will improve significantly on today’s “bubble tests.” All but a few states have agreed to implement these new evaluation systems by the 2015-16 school year.

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2014 Education Budget: What’s the Bottom Line?

Budget LogoAs Education Secretary Arne Duncan often says, budgets aren’t just numbers in a ledger – they are a reflection of our values. President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal, released today, demonstrates his belief in education as the engine that will keep America competitive in a global innovation economy and grow a thriving middle class.

The proposal builds on momentum for reform and protects the most vulnerable.  Nowhere is this more true than in the president’s historic proposal to make high-quality preschool available to all four-year-olds.

The administration’s request for $71 billion in discretionary appropriations for education represents an increase of more than 4 percent over the previous year. Nearly three-quarters of that funding goes to financial aid for students in college, special education, and aid to schools with high numbers of children in poverty (Title I).

The remaining 28 percent of the budget invests in specific areas that can move major change – particularly through making preschool accessible for all students; funding a set of strategic reforms at the K-12 level; ensuring that college is affordable; and coordinating services that help students living in poverty.

What’s the bottom line?:

Early learning: Making quality preschool available for all 4-year-olds

President Obama has committed to a historic new investment in preschool education that supports universal access to high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and creates an incentive for states to serve additional middle-class children.

The President’s budget request includes $1.3 billion in 2014 and $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding, along with $750 million for competitively awarded Preschool Development Grants and other funds.

Learn more about Preschool for All.

K-12: Deepening reform in key strategic areas

President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposes significant new investments in areas where states and school districts face key implementation challenges from earlier investments such as Race to the Top and the Race to the Top-District competition, as well as continuing substantial investments in critical formula programs that support state and local reform efforts.

Learn more about the K-12 reforms.

The 2014 budget proposal also includes:

High School Redesign and Career Readiness

President Obama has called on all Americans to commit to at least one year of postsecondary education. Yet, for too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success. That’s why the Obama administration has laid out plans to redesign high schools and career and technical education (CTE).

Learn more about high school redesign and career readiness.

Strengthening Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education

Economists project strong growth in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but far too few American students are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. The Obama administration proposes an aggressive STEM push that will improve the delivery and impact of STEM education.

Learn more about STEM.

Teachers and Leaders

The Obama administration has laid out a plan to strengthen teaching and school leadership, building on significant investments in the first term.

Learn more about the teachers and leaders plan.

School Safety

The President’s plan to increase school safety and to decrease gun violence includes investments not only to prepare schools for emergencies, but also to create nurturing school climates and help children recover from the effects of living in communities plagued by persistent violence.

Learn more about school safety.

Making College Affordability

The Obama administration has taken major steps to help students afford college, and proposes to build on that momentum with programs that will drive major reforms to reduce the escalating costs of higher education.

Learn more about making college affordable.

Ladders of Opportunity

Through “Ladders of Opportunity,” the Obama administration will establish comprehensive, coordinated approaches to improving support for America’s most vulnerable students.

Learn more about ladders of opportunity.

Additional Budget Resources:

In State of the Union, Obama Outlines Bold Education Proposals to Grow the Middle Class

President Obama Delivers the State of the Union

Education was one of the main themes in President Obama's State of the Union address. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

In a State of the Union address focused on growing a strong middle class, President Obama outlined a series of bold proposals that will increase access to high-quality education. Among them were initiatives to make quality early education accessible to every child, to tame the spiraling cost of college, and redesign the country’s high schools to meet the needs of the real world. The President called for a new College Scorecard to show parents and students “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

These proposals complemented other efforts to strengthen the middle class, including calls to raise the minimum wage and reform immigration. Education was one of the major themes of the President’s annual speech delivered to Congress and the country.

Educators and students were also well represented as guests to First Lady Michelle Obama. Here are the education excerpts from the speech:

Early Learning

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.

In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Building the Skills that Lead to High-Quality, High-Wage Jobs

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

In the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & A Strong America, released in conjunction with the address, the President is calling on Congress to commit new resources to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps, enlisting 10,000 of America’s best science and math teachers to improve STEM education. The President continued by saying,

Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.

We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Holding Colleges Accountable for Cost, Value and Quality

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.

Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

Rebuilding our Schools

The President also proposed a “Fix-It-First” program that would focus on urgent infrastructure repairs, which included schools.

And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.

Read, watch and share your “Citizen Response” to the State of the Union address, and read the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & a Strong America.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Duncan to Congress: Giving States Flexibility is Working

Secretary Duncan testifies at Senate Hearing

Secretary Arne Duncan testified on Capitol Hill Thursday during a hearing on ESEA flexibility. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

States and their schools are breaking free from the restrictions of No Child Left Behind and pursuing new and better ways to prepare and protect all students, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a Senate committee Thursday.

In a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Duncan promoted the value of providing flexibility to states under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which the Department of Education began offering in 2011. Duncan said that granting states new flexibility through waivers was not his first choice—he would have preferred that Congress reauthorize, or amend the law instead. But in light of congressional gridlock over reauthorization, Duncan said that he was “not willing to stand by idly and do nothing while students and educators continue to suffer under NCLB.”

NCLB is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). And Duncan said that NCLB has become a well-intended, but overly-prescriptive law that created incentives to lower standards, encouraged teaching to the test, mislabeled many schools as failures, and prescribed a one-size-fits-all accountability system that failed to support local solutions and innovation. With ESEA years overdue for congressional reauthorization, the Obama Administration sent Congress a Blueprint for Reform of ESEA in 2010.

Nearly two years later, after Congress failed to authorize ESEA, the Administration offered states the chance to pursue waivers to NCLB in September 2011. Duncan told the committee that “providing waivers was always, always our plan B.”

In his testimony, and during questions from the Committee, Duncan outlined in detail the ways in which the waiver approach, or “ESEA Flexibility,” – has strengthened accountability for at-risk students, improved evaluation and professional development for teachers and principals, and unleashed a wave of  state-led innovation.

ESEA flexibility supports states and districts in replacing the “one-size-fits-all” interventions of NCLB and empowers states to tailor reforms that meet the needs of their students. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have been approved for ESEA flexibility, and nine states, plus Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education, have pending requests.

Map of ESEA Flexibility

Duncan noted that states receiving NCLB flexibility “must demonstrate a commitment and capacity to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.”

Multiple Measures of Growth and Gain

One of the unintended effects of NCLB is that it provided incentives to lower academic standards—and 19 states actually lowered their standards after NCLB was enacted in 2001. The law’s narrow measures for school progress—annual reading and math test scores and high school graduation rates—also prompted teaching to the test and an overly simplistic model for assessing school progress. “Under No Child Left Behind there was far too much focus on a single test score,” Duncan said. “I’m more interested in outcomes,” Duncan added. “If you have the best third grade test score in the world but 50 percent of your students are dropping out of high school, you are not changing student’s lives. You can’t get a job with a third grade test score.”

Under ESEA flexibility, states are using multiple measures of growth and gain in student learning, rather than NCLB’s narrow measures. “This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Duncan. “All of the leadership, all of the creativity, is coming from the states.”

Multiple Measures of Growth and Gain Graphic

Better Serving At-Risk Students

At the hearing, Duncan said he was surprised to learn that under NCLB, low-income and minority students, English learners, and students with disabilities were  “invisible” because schools were not held accountable for the performance of subgroups of students if there were not enough students in their subgroup to “count” under state rules. Duncan explained during his testimony that under flexibility, these students are no longer invisible, which “is a significant step in the right direction,” he said.

At Risk Bar Chart

One example of how flexibility is helping at-risk students can be found in Arkansas. Under ESEA flexibility, Arkansas is now holding more than 1,000 schools accountable for subgroups that weren’t accountable under NCLB. Across all states receiving waivers to date, at least 9,000 additional schools are now accountable for subgroups for which they weren’t accountable before.

Duncan pointed out that states with waivers have set aggressive performance targets for all subgroups. They are using performance targets to tailor local interventions, rather than as a tool to label schools as failures. Waiver states are expecting progress for all subgroups–but much faster rates of progress for those that are furthest behind.

Recognizing and Rewarding Schools for Progress and Success

Under ESEA flexibility, states are recognizing a school’s student growth and success–and supporting interventions that work. Secretary Duncan cited the example of Columbus Park Preparatory Academy in Worcester, Mass. Under NCLB, the school was deemed to be among the bottom 20 percent of schools in the state, despite the fact that it was making significant progress in boosting achievement for traditionally low-performing students. “That school’s not a failure,” Duncan said. “That school’s a success … think of how demoralizing it is to teachers who are working so hard to be labeled a failure when you are seeing improvement each year.”

Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness

“Talent matters tremendously in education,” Duncan said in talking about the new and far more robust evaluation systems that states are building under flexibility. States are developing evaluation systems that go far beyond NCLB’s minimum “highly qualified teacher” standards, and are using systems that measure and support effective teaching and leadership based on multiple measures, including student growth. “Great principals lead great schools. Great teachers do miraculous things with children,” he said.

Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness Pie Chart

Duncan described how Tennessee has been at the forefront of improving teacher and principal evaluation systems with the input from 17,000 teachers and administrators. The state also continues to receive feedback so it can refine and improve its evaluation system. “I have yet to meet a teacher who is scared of accountability,” Duncan said. They just want it to be fair. They want it to be honest.

Providing States with Flexibility to Move Forward With Reform

The federal role in education is relatively narrow, Duncan told the committee. “What’s exciting about ESEA flexibility, is that states are leading the way in strengthening education for all children,” he said. In explaining the federal role, Duncan said:

The federal government does not serve as a national school board … We don’t dictate curriculum, levy school assessments, or open and close schools. We don’t specify the content of academic standards or negotiate teachers’ contracts. We do have a responsibility to set a high bar to protect the interests of students, especially at-risk students. But how to reach that bar, I believe, should be left to the states.

Duncan concluded his testimony by noting that in a time of partisan rancor, ESEA waivers had an unusual bipartisan appeal in statehouses across the country. He observed that “we approach this work with both a tremendous sense of excitement, coupled with a real sense of humility.”

In the end, Duncan said, he didn’t have “a moment’s doubt” that state flexibility “is a major improvement for children and for adults over NCLB.” But he stressed the need to learn from any mistakes in the waiver process, correct them quickly, and share that learning across the country. “We can never let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” he cautioned.” And that is what we have done for far too long in education.” Ensuring a world-class education for every child, Duncan added, “is both a demanding challenge and an urgent imperative for our nation, our communities, and our children.”

Click here to read Secretary Duncan’s prepared testimony, and click here to watch a video of Secretary Duncan’s opening statement and the entire hearing.

Read the Department’s recently released publications highlighting ESEA flexibility.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

How Are Race to the Top States Doing in Year Two?

In only two years, the 12 states with Race to the Top grants continue to show improvements in teaching and learning in their schools. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released state-specific reports for the 12 Race to the Top states, providing detailed, transparent summaries of each state’s accomplishments and challenges in year two, which covered the 2011-12 school year.

Race to the Top logoThe 12 states—Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee—reached a number of benchmarks in year two, as they implemented unique plans built around Race to the Top’s four assurance areas:

    • Implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments,
    • Building robust data systems to improve instruction,
    • Supporting great teachers and school leaders, and
    • Turning around persistently low-performing schools.

Some of the exciting new investments states are making include development of new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) schools or programs, new pipelines for teachers and leaders, and building robust data systems to improve instruction.

“Race to the Top has sparked dramatic changes, and in only the second year of the program we’re seeing those results reach the classroom,” Secretary Arne Duncan said about the reports. “Comprehensive education reform isn’t easy, and a few states have faced major challenges in implementing their plans. As we reach the halfway point, we need to see every state show results.”

Learn more about Race to the Top, and read the reports.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Department Releases New Publications Highlighting ESEA Flexibility

With 34 states and the District of Columbia approved for ESEA flexibility, the U.S. Department of Education released a series of new publications this week, describing the flexibility program and the ways in which some participating states are advancing important education reforms.

ESEA Flex LogoESEA flexibility enables states and districts to maintain a high bar for student achievement while better targeting resources to schools and students most in need of additional support. The publication series includes a brochure and fact sheets on topics that relate to five priority areas under ESEA flexibility (pdf files):

  1. Continuing to expose and close achievement gaps;
  2. Advancing accountability for graduation rates;
  3. Turning around the lowest-performing schools;
  4. Protecting school and student accountability; and
  5. Supporting teachers, leaders, and local innovation.

The Department announced voluntary ESEA flexibility in September 2011 in the absence of a reauthorization – or congressional update – to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The most recent update to the federal education law – the No Child Left Behind Act – was due for reauthorization in 2007, but has governed a changing national education landscape for more than a decade. ESEA flexibility allows states and districts to replace the “one-size-fits-all,” prescriptive provisions of NCLB with state-led reforms tailored to address their most pressing education challenges.

For more information about ESEA flexibility and to access the new brochure and fact sheets, please visit this Web site.

Tiffany Taber is senior communications and events manager at the U.S. Department of Education

Kansas Students Weigh in on Education Reform

Mr Newell's Class

Dennis Newell and Abbi Moser with their class at Turning Point Academy. Newell is a National Board Certified Teacher who contacted the Department and collaborated on their students’ project.

A class of freshman and sophomore high school students from Turning Point Academy (Emporia, Kan.) participated in a video teleconference conversation with Department officials this week, to discuss their advice for reforming education in the U.S. Prior to the meeting, the students produced a 25-minute video outlining nine recommendations for improving the teaching profession and 21st century learning.

During the meeting, students urged the Department to promote project-based learning, access to educational technology, and the concept of flipped classrooms, among other things. Students told Brad Jupp, a senior advisor to Secretary Arne Duncan, that the goal of education should be broader than simply graduating from high school. Instead of helping students to retain facts, they argued that school should “teach me how to learn.” Morgan, a student at Turning Point, explained, “There’s more to life than just academics. It is about giving back to society in the end.”

ED Conference Call

ED staff hold a video teleconference with high schools students at Turning Point Academy.

Students also extolled the virtues of small school environments where they can learn at their own pace and follow their interests. Keegan said he benefits from being in a place where “failure is not an option,” where teachers insist on everyone learning the content. Keegan described an experience in another school where he was not motivated because he felt like “part of a factory assembly line” rather than like an individual. “Everyone needs something different,” Keegan said, “the other schools punish you for that.”

At the end of the session, Dillon described why this type of learning worked so well for him and his classmates. He said they learned to collaborate because “everyone had a stake in [the product]” because they “didn’t want to look like fools” in front of the U.S. Department of Education.

Mission accomplished.

Laurie Calvert is the Teacher Liaison at ED.  She is a 2010-11 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and a classroom teacher from Asheville, N.C.

Read the blogs written by students at Turning Point Academy who participated in the project.

What is ED’s Stance on Using Testing Data in Teacher Evaluation?

A recent letter to the Department of Education from a teacher in Cincinnati contained a quote that really struck me: “It is not at all that I am afraid of what my test scores might reveal.  I am more concerned about what my student’s test scores will not reveal.”

The quote rings true of so many classrooms across the country, including my own. I teach students who have been removed from other institutions due to behavior, chronic absences or other issues that have prevented them from being successful in the traditional school setting. Each of my students has been identified as a potential dropout and each has a profound set of challenges that manifest in the classroom.

Marciano Gutierrez

Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, CA.

As a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have been able to engage with Secretary Duncan’s senior staff and have learned more about the Department’s stance on teacher evaluation. Like most teachers in the United States, Secretary Duncan strongly believes that a single test result does not adequately reflect the quality or complexity of excellent teaching.

At a speech to the National Council for Social Studies, Mr. Duncan stated, “Just to be 100 percent clear—evaluation should never be based only on test scores. That would be ridiculous. It should also include factors like principal observation or peer review, student work, parent feedback. It should be designed locally—and teachers should be at the table to help design it.” The Department’s work on educator evaluations has thus been to promote multiple measures to elicit a well-rounded perspective on one’s craft and to encourage districts and schools to primarily use these tools as a means for quality professional development. This thinking was also captured in a speech that the Secretary made to Baltimore County teachers this past fall.

As a teacher of students who historically struggle on standardized tests, I understand the concern about tying testing data- which is often influenced by factors outside of my control- to my performance. I am also sometimes frustrated by the quality of the multiple-choice assessments used to assess my students’ learning which are ultimately a reflection upon my practice. Despite these challenges, I do believe that there does need to be some measurement of student performance and growth. This information should be collected and analyzed so that we can continuously improve the learning experience for all students and to ensure that we hold ourselves to high standards and continuous improvement.

While the Department’s policy has been that measures of student growth and gain should be a ‘significant’ factor in teacher evaluations, the Secretary has said that, “we intentionally leave that undefined—because different states will have different approaches—and different confidence levels in their assessments.”

As a previous Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, and in my current work with Race to the Top states, I have seen a variety of state-developed approaches and strategies that aim to meet this vision. I have come to realize that the strongest evaluation systems have been developed with robust teacher input at every stage of the process.  These evaluation systems, which are designed and improved with the practical insight of teachers, use test scores as only one of multiple measures of effectiveness, therefore allowing teachers of students like mine, to demonstrate quality teaching in ways that transcend test scores alone.

Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, Calif.

On Charter Schools and Swimming Pools: A Changing Tide in School Choice

Summer is a time when I am reminded that the world is divided into two kinds of people:  those who, when confronted with a cold swimming pool, enter one toe at a time and those who dive right in.

In the world of education, there exists a similar divide: those who are taking their time to warm up to education reform, and those who just dive in.

I was reminded of this analogy earlier this month when I attended the Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s K-12 Education Reform Summit. There an unprecedented collection of Virginia’s education stakeholders gathered in Richmond to dissect, praise, question, and challenge all aspects of education reform. Virtually every education role in the Commonwealth was represented, from university presidents to classroom teachers and principals, union leaders to state board members.

The whole time I was amazed by educators’ changing views about school choice. It seems more and more are simply diving in. 

Charter schools, for instance, no longer seem be the feared, misunderstood pariahs that they once were. Issues that at one time would have caused vigorous debate—for example that public charters are public schools—have shifted toward universal acceptance. Perhaps aided by the creation and continued success of a number of charter efforts in DC (think, the SEED school), Virginia educators are beginning to embrace the charter concept.

Despite this regional warming to the charter movement, presenters were careful to point out that they should not be seen as a panacea for all of education’s woes. There are, after all, terribly ineffective charter schools. But educators I met acknowledged that the charter model itself, if done correctly, offers parents a choice when it comes to their children’s education, and with more choices come more opportunities for success. This was the mantra of speaker after speaker who was handed a microphone.

While at the Summit, I was able to share a few meals with Eric Welch, a J.E.B. Stuart High School teacher in Fairfax County who is in the process of bringing the first public charter to the Northern Virginia area, Fairfax Leadership Academy. Eric lamented the county’s recent actions, caused by budget constraints, to eliminate a few of Stuart’s longstanding services that were really working for students, including an effective summer program. For him, creating a new charter offered a way to deliver many of these educational services that were being taken away. 

Eric no longer fears the charter movement, and many of Virginia’s educators seem to be jumping right in with him.

Mike Humphreys is a 2012-2013 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches physical education in Arlington, Va.

Duncan Tells Teachers: Change is Hard

Duncan speaks to hundreds of teachers in Baltimore County, Maryland

Secretary Duncan spoke to over 800 teachers in Baltimore County, Maryland. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Teaching is really hard work, Secretary Duncan told a group of more than 800 teachers this morning in Baltimore County, and the job is becoming more challenging as education reforms take hold in classrooms.

The Secretary spoke frankly about the changes that teachers will face as states implement rigorous academic standards and introduce new evaluation systems. These changes are necessary, he noted, because nearly 25 percent of America’s youth don’t graduate from high school, and about half of all students who go to community college need remedial education.

“We won’t change those numbers without high standards and high expectations,” Duncan said.

The Secretary explained how the Obama Administration through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers has given states flexibility in exchange for raising standards, setting performance targets that are ambitious and achievable, and designing local interventions that focus closely on the neediest children.

We also asked states to come up with a better way to support teachers and principals.  Look at annual student growth rather than proficiency — and use other measures of effectiveness – like classroom observation, peer review, and parent and student feedback.

We further encouraged states to develop new ways to support and evaluate teachers in all subjects –the arts, foreign languages, science, history, and physical education.

We didn’t eliminate testing because we believe it is important to measure progress.  We need to know who is ahead and who is behind – who is succeeding and who needs more support.  In an ideal world, that data should also drive instruction and drive useful professional development.

We fully understand that standardized tests don’t capture all of the subtle qualities of successful teaching.  That’s why we call for multiple measures in evaluating teachers.

Duncan also spoke about the ongoing conversation about teacher evaluation that now includes a full range of issues like teacher prep, professional development, career ladders, tenure, and compensation. He cited ED’s labor-management conference and RESPECT project as recent examples of the department seeking input from teachers, unions, administrators and school boards.

“You know what success looks like,” he said. “You know what it would take to transform the field.”

Watch the video and read the entire speech here.