January 2008 Archives

At some point during January, someone downloaded a spreadsheet from this link on the Department of Education Web site. The document contains every state's allocation under the department's state-grant programs, dating back to fiscal 2001. But this curious Excel expert clicked on a button to "unhide" data, and PRESTO: A new column appeared. It included estimates for fiscal 2009. Through the magic of e-mail, the spreadsheet started flying around Washington. Just about every Capitol Hill aide with an interest in education appropriations has seen the numbers, one source tells me. And plenty of people in the lobbying community have looked ...


The National Education Association plans to spend $40 million on campaign activities this year. Most of that will go to phone banks, get-out-the-vote efforts, and other standard campaign priorities. But the union wants to do more than support the candidates it favors. It's hoping to influence the future of NCLB. In researching this story on teachers' unions' campaign efforts, I found that the NEA's affiliates in Iowa and Nevada urged their members to propose resolutions on NCLB during their local caucuses. You can see the materials here and here. The resolutions are identical and raise all of the issues that ...


Last week, Alexander Russo took me to task for my blog item about a piece of performance art built around NCLB. It's something he wrote about last year, he noted. But I thought it was news (and I still do) that the show has moved from New York to Washington—a town where a substantial number of my readers live. Now, Russo gives me the chance to raise questions about one of his posts. He asks whether he has the exclusive news that the leaders of Senate education committee have circulated draft NCLB language. Well, it's not an exclusive. And ...


President Bush used his State of the Union address to once again call on Congress to reauthorize NCLB. But the one concrete idea he proposed in the speech—$300 million school choice program open to private schools—won't generate much enthusiasm from Democratic leaders in Congress. Democratic leaders plan to move forward on their own terms. Still, they hope to work with the president. "I hope this is a turn [of events] that he will be a positive force," Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told me last night. "But the track record...


A coalition of civil rights groups is working to upgrade the importance of graduation rates under NCLB. The groups want it to be a mandatory part of the accountability decisions (states now have the option of using it). They want states to use a standard way to calculate the rates (states now can set their own methods, with U.S. Department of Education's approval). And they want graduation rates to be disaggregated by various subgroups of students. (Read all about it in the Campaign for High School Equity's report outlining its priorities and its press release describing its event on ...


NewTalk, an online discussion tool, has a discussion on education that has quickly evolved into a conversation about the issues that are at the heart of NCLB: testing and accountability. Some of the participants have their own outlets where they regularly air their opinions. It's no surprise that Checker Finn believes in national standards. He writes about that regularly in the Education Gadfly. Diane Ravitch wants to scale back the federal role to standard setting and data collection. She espoused the same idea in The New York Times and her Bridging Differences blog. The fresh voices in the NewTalk conversation ...


In most conversations about the future of NCLB, policy wonks and politicians point to growth models as the fix for what ails the law's accountability system. But researcher Helen F. Ladd suggests that growth models probably aren't enough. In a commentary in the current issue of Education Week, Ladd writes: "Test-based accountability has not generated the significant gains in student achievement that proponents—however they perceived the problem to be solved—intended." Instead, she proposes that accountability systems should assess students in core subjects—not just reading and mathematics, as NCLB does. Schools would be judged against "realistically...


After two prime-time references to NCLB in December, I haven't seen another TV reference to the law. But on a stage in Washington this week, an actress will portray life in a New York City high school during the NCLB era. The one-woman show—called "No Child ... "—is a fictionalized story of the performer's experience working in a Bronx high school. The 70-minute show centers around a teacher trying to direct a play. But it raises questions about who should be held accountable for students' learning. You can watch an excerpt below. Buy your tickets here. Meanwhile, education wonks are...


Even though a federal appeals court believes NCLB is an unfunded mandate, state and local officials should spend their money to comply with the law, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says. In a letter sent to state education chiefs today, Spellings writes that last week's 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit doesn't settle the thorny question of whether states and districts must spend their own money on NCLB requirements. Spellings is "exploring all legal remedies to overturn the decision," she writes. Meanwhile, school officials should plan on meeting all of ...


It's easy to collect anecdotes of teachers and parents saying instruction has been dumbed down since NCLB became law in 2002. But now one professor is saying she has the research to prove those stories reflect what's actually happening in schools. In a Q&A published by the University of Maryland, Associate Professor Linda Valli said that test-prep pressures have significantly changed teachers' instruction. They aren't spending as much time on higher-order thinking skills or assigning as many projects that require critical thinking, said Valli, who started tracking classroom instruction in 2000. "Because of NCLB," Vallli says, "teachers are now ...


As I pointed out earlier this week, the National Education Association is using a tactic from the Republican playbook in its legal fight against NCLB. Some of its key allies aren't playing along. The American Federation of Teachers decided to stay on the sidelines when the NEA filed its lawsuit claiming that NCLB is an unfunded mandate. "We took a different tack," Ed McElroy, the AFT's president, told me this week. "We said: 'Let's try to fix it at the congressional level' because we felt we had a decent shot at doing that." McElroy said he remains confident that he ...


While Title I and other NCLB programs did well under the fiscal 2008 budget, Reading First took a gigantic cut. The budget bill, which President Bush signed Dec. 26, reduced funding for the program from nearly $1 billion to $393 million. The Education Gadfly called the cut "the Christmas massacre." State officials clearly are unhappy about the cut, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo reports in this story in the current issue of Education Week. But they're optimistic that the program's practices will stay in place, even if the money dries up in some schools. The Department of Education is promising to help ...


In this comment on a previous post, a mom says that the goal of 100 percent proficiency is possible. Using the real-life example of her dyslexic son, she says that students can make dramatic progress. But can they all reach proficiency? That question would be a lot easier to answer if everyone knew what proficiency means. As I reported last year, nobody can agree on the definition. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says that it means students achieving at grade level, as she repeated again at the National Press Club last week. But does everybody believe that? In its statement ...


I've written before (here, here, and here) about the unique political alliances the NCLB creates and contradictory stances the actors in the game sometimes take. Last week's circuit court ruling reminded me of another. In the case, the National Education Association is claiming that the U.S. Department of Education is violating NCLB's unfunded mandate clause, which says districts shouldn't be forced to spend their own money to comply with the law's rules. Although the case isn't over, NEA's top lawyer says last week's decision is a major victory. “Hundreds of school districts and all of the states now know ...


Richard Simmons has upgraded his outreach in his campaign to incorporate physical education into NCLB. He's graduated from obscure blogs for policy wonks (here and here) to cable news talk shows. Simmons also has shifted tactics. In an interview this week with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business, he says he's "heard a rumor" Congress won't act on NCLB this year. So he's pressuring the presidential candidates to take up his cause. In the interview, he says that under NCLB, "our children have become a test score." Sounds as if he's been talking to the National Education Association. (He also says ...


I'm a little late to blog about Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' agenda-setting speech yesterday. (I was too busy writing a story about it and the rest of the events marking NCLB's 6th anniversary.) Eduwonkette says Spellings' idea of 100 percent proficiency is a fantasy. (A belated welcome to edweek.org, Ms. Wonkette, whoever you are. People are talking about you.) Kevin Carey is impressed by the secretary's forceful defense of and knowledge of NCLB, but questions her legal authority to change it. Andy Rotherham sees an "outside chance" of NCLB being reauthorized this year, but warns it might not ...


With New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on the verge of dropping out, the Democratic presidential field is about to lose its all-out NCLB critic. Over at the Campaign K-12 blog, Michele McNeil summarizes the nuanced stands that the leading Democratic candidates have taken on NCLB....


Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings traveled to Florida yesterday to celebrate NCLB's 6th anniversary. While there, she promised to be on the road shilling for the law throughout 2008. "In the upcoming months, I'll be visiting as many states as I can to discuss how we can continue to work together and move ahead with what is, in my opinion, our nation's most important business—ensuring that every student receives a quality education," she said in written testimony prepared for a committee hearing in the state capitol. In her three years as secretary, Spellings has become the chief spokeswoman for ...


On the 6th anniversary of NCLB's enactment, here are six questions to consider over the next year. Will the Senate unify around an NCLB bill? The House took small steps toward reauthorizing NCLB in 2007. It became evident quickly that the early drafts create intraparty splits among Republicans and Democrats, raising questions about whether that chamber could create a bill that would garner a consensus. Yesterday, two key players in the Senate sent important signals on NCLB. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., argued that the law has many flaws; one of them is ...


President Bush stopped in at a Chicago Elementary school to tout the success of NCLB on the day before its 6th anniversary. Usually that would be the biggest education story of the day. Not today. While Bush was flying to Chicago, three judges on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals outdid him. In a decision that could dramatically shift the NCLB landscape, the judges ruled, 2-1, saying the lawsuit shouldn't have been dismissed and suggesting they may rule in the plaintiffs' favor if the case comes back to them. For the short term, the suit is in the hands of ...


One year ago, as Washington was gearing up to reauthorize NCLB, I talked about the law's prospects with a former Senate aide. People on the local level need guidance on how to address some of the law's complicated rules, said Ellen Guiney, who is now the executive director of the Boston Plan for Excellence in the Public Schools. Without it, questions will be settled in court—something no one wants. (See Bush to Start NCLB Push in Congress.) One year later, not much has changed. Neither the House nor the Senate has moved NCLB bills. And local officials are still...


As 2008 begins, the press and the political world are focused on presidential politics. As Sam Dillon of The New York Times reported before Christmas, NCLB has been a punching bag for Democrats on the campaign trail. If you read to the end, though, you'll see that the leading candidates support the law's goals and use of accountability. But state-level politicians want to beat up on NCLB, too. In Minnesota, Republicans plan to introduce a bill this legislative session that would require the state to pull out of NCLB, according to the Star Tribune. They failed to win passage of ...


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