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Duncan to Get Advice on ESEA Renewal

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It sounds as if the Department of Education is ready to get rolling on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

On Thursday, Secretary Arne Duncan will do the "inside the Beltway" version of his listening and learning tour. Around 200 education advocates, representing nearly all the major education organizations, will be on hand. The meeting is just the first in a series seeking input from Washington-based advocates, think tanks, and other interested parties.

And, according to an e-mail circulated by the department Wednesday afternoon, the groups have been told to start working on their suggestions for reauthorization:

Two of our assistant secretaries, Carmel Martin of the policy office, and Thelma Melendez of the elementary and secondary office, will give an overview of next steps in the ESEA reauthorization process and outline a series of opportunities this fall at which your organizations will be able to offer input to the department. A transcript and video of Thursday's forum should be on ED.gov early next week. We at the department hope that your organizations and members agree that we cannot wait to take up the essential task of reauthorizing ESEA -- together. We look forward to continued collaboration with you.

Duncan will address many of the oft-repeated concerns about the federal law in its No Child Left Behind incarnation, including its heavy reliance on standardized testing to determine student progress. He notes that the department will provide resources through the Race to the Top program to help states develop better assessments, since the current tests don't always provide the best picture of student achievement.

And, according to his prepared remarks, he'll repeat his assertion that "we should be tight on the goals -- with clear standards set by states that truly prepare young people for college and careers -- but loose on the means for meeting those goals."

Duncan won't give any of his own specific proposals for reauthorization, but he will stress that the new version of the ESEA should treat teachers as the professionals they are, reward excellence, and tie accountability to student growth.

That seems to be the direction in which implementation of NCLB was headed anyway, given the Race to the Top program, the Obama administration's emphasis on merit pay, and even some of the actions of the Bush administration, such as opening the growth-model pilot project to all states.

As a reporter, I have to give the department a tip of the hat for making this meeting public and open to the press. Of course, I have no idea what is going on behind closed doors; this could just be the show-and-tell version. But still, it seems to be a step toward the department's promised transparency.

You can check out Duncan's full prepared remarks here. UPDATE: Read the final, edited version of his prepared remarks here.

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Secretary Duncan overlooks three fatal flaws in NCLB:

** The mandated "Adequate Yearly Progress" is statistically untenable. So-called "value-added" adjustments do not fix the flaw. Neither will "national (sic. voluntary) standards" fix the flaw. The "high and low" Secretary Duncan alludes to relates to the cut scores, rather than to either the standards or the tests.

** The "New Science of Reading" effected by legislative fiat in NCLB is pseudo-science, and the "programs based on scientifically-based research" are fictions.

** The mandated standardized achievement tests are sensitive to ethnic/SES differences but not to instructional differences.

Secretary Duncan credits NCLB "for exposing achievement gaps, and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes, rather than inputs."

Achievement gaps have been recognized since at least the 1960's; the recognition was a prime motivator for the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The el-hi enterprise has been "looking at outcomes" for at least 100 years. What hasn't been seen is the reliable delivery of academic
aspirations.

The "data" indicate that the "standards and accountability by standardized tests" movement that began in the late 1980's has failed at every step. When are the Secretary and the rest of the federal education apparatus going to start "looking at outcomes" and accept responsibility and accountability? Currently, responsibility and accountability start and stop with students, parents, and school site personnel.

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