Sunday, February 12, 2012

The state's proposed NCLB waiver responds to none of our concerns

A summary of the public comment and the response by NYSED for the state's NCLB waiver application is now posted online; presumably the application will be voted on by the Regents Monday or Tuesday.
NYSED says it received “over 50 submissions from “persons associated with Class Size Matters” and over twenty submissions from individuals associated with the principals’ letter.  The letter, signed by over one third of New York’s principals, objects to the new teacher evaluation being developed by the state.  Yet the NYSED summary responded substantively to none of our concerns, as expressed in our earlier comments.
1.  We (and many others) objected to the proposal of mandating new tests being mandated in 9th and 10th grades.  In response, the NYSED document first says (on p. 13): 
“The Department does not intend to impose new tests as a result of the waiver but will use the existing state assessment program.” 
But then on p. 19 it says “New assessments in ELA in grades 9 and 10 and new middle level assessments in science & social studies (subj. to fund availability.)”  Who knows what the reality is? These are contradictory statements. 
2-      2. We objected strenuously to rating teacher education programs by means of student test scores (meaning the students of the graduates of these programs) – but this document doesn’t appear to mention either our objections or this proposal anywhere.  Since the actual waiver application  isn’t included, it is hard to tell.
3.   We (and many others) objected to student test scores being used to evaluate teachers.  A good explanation of why is the oped by Long Island principal Carol Burris’ oped, one of the co-authors of the principals letter, called “Forging ahead with a nutty teacher evaluation plan.”
The response of NYSED to these vehement objections is that (p. 12) “The waiver request does not establish any new policy or requirements in terms of teacher & principal evaluation.   The waiver simply documents that actions that have been taken by the Gov. & state legislature in enacting NY’s new teacher and principal evaluation system, the Board of Regents in adopting conforming regulations, and the Dept. in implementing the provisions of regulations.” 
But the law and regulations could be reversed at any time, and really should be.  The ESEA waiver locks the state into this course, without the possibility of reversal or amendment.  Moreover, it  ignores the fact that NYSUT is in court, appealing the new state regs as violating the agreement and state law, and has won their case, at least at the first level.  It’s also interesting that as revealed in the SED summary, the School Administrators Association cites the lawsuit and asks for a delay in implementing the new evaluation system, as Delaware has apparently gotten permission for from the feds.  At the very least, the new system should piloted first and independently evaluated, before being mandated statewide.
4-We, like the principals,  objected to the cost of all these new tests and evaluations, and asked for the state to provide an estimate, like California’s estimate of  at least two billion dollars.  The state does not mention this objection; nor does it provide a cost estimate.
5. NYSED proposes raising the proficiency level for the Regents diploma to 75 in ELA and 80 in math. Of course the Regents are too easy but this should be addressed by increasing its rigor and reliability, not raising cut scores arbitrarily. And having the same standards for all students makes no sense.  On p. 20 the summary says “the Department is working w/ USDE to determine if “partial” credit can be awarded for students who score between 55 and 64….SED may seek to amend its application to incorporate this provision” but they should be asked to do this now.  Altogether the application leaves far too much up in the air and up to the Commissioner’s discretion.
6. We objected strenuously to the notion of providing cash rewards to districts that perform well according to some arbitrary formula; the NYSED summary doesn’t mention our objections to this at all.  Why is this so wrong?  First because it is a waste of money, especially when budgets are so tight, and secondly it’s not clear that the rewards won’t go to selective schools that either openly screen students before admission, or quietly by pushing them out when they are not making the grade.
The proposed criteria for such schools (listed on p. 25) would seem to make the most selective schools in the city eligible for these cash rewards, and to punish schools with significant numbers of ELL students and students with disabilities, as it says that the school will have to have made AYP w/ all subgroups.  Highly selective schools like Bard or Stuy that have practically no ELL or sped kids thus might be eligible for these  rewards.
In any case, the research overwhelmingly shows that incentive pay doesn’t work and is a waste of money.   On p. 27, the doc says that the $100,000 that each school could receive would be  “currently funded through RTTT” but what about when the Race to the Top funds run out?  Who is going to be stuck with the bill for this wasteful program then? WHY do we continue to throw money away on failed and often damaging reforms?
7.  NYSED also does not mention nor does it respond to our  most important objection: the requirement that at least 5 percent of schools be identified as “priority” schools and forced to adopt one of the four SIG intervention models – NONE of which have been proven through research and ALL of which are proving damaging to kids and communities in NYC and throughout the nation. 
None of the four models allow for class size reduction, and many of the struggling schools now slated for closure continue to have huge class sizes -- far larger than the state average and in many cases even larger than the citywide average.  This is absolutely the first step that should be taken if the SED or the DOE are serious about improving student outcomes.  Instead the SIG models mandate payments to external management companies, like the wasteful payment to New Visions, that got the contract to improve AutomotiveHS, or these schools' conversion to charter schools, or to being closed or having half their staff fired. 
How can anyone say they believe in teacher quality and then mandate that 50 percent of the teaching staff at any school be fired? 
7. It’s not clear to me from the document what graduation rates are being used for accountability purposes.  It is generally accepted that  schools with lots of high needs students should be recognized for their five & even six year grad rates– or else schools will simply push out students before their fourth year to improve their grad rates or implement substandard credit recovery programs. 
8. There are other points that I am not expert enough to opine on – like those made by the  NYS Association for Bilingual Education, recommending that the test scores of English Language Learners not be counted until they have been in this country for at least a year – and that their results be compared with other schools with large numbers of ELL students.  All this sounds very reasonable to me, lest schools with large numbers of newcomers be unfairly punished.  The response of SED to these suggestions?  
It is unlikely that USDE would accept use of a peer school methodology that incorporates demographic controls in the identification of priority or focus schools” and that “the USDE has indicated changes to those policies [for newly arrived ELLs]  will not be considered under the ESEA flexibility initiative.” 
Well, too bad then!  Either make the demand or withdraw the application!  Of course none of this would matter if the response to being identified as a focus or priority school was positive rather than punitive, in which case the ELL advocates would probably welcome this identification for the extra help it would give the schools with large numbers of newcomers. The fact that they want an escape valve reveals how negative and punitive the supposed “solutions” are recognized to be.
9.  Yet another objection goes to the heart of the accountability system:  “growth” percentiles are unreliable at best and do NOT accurately adjust to the need background of students, meaning schools and their most “at-risk” students will be punished as a result.  See this critique of growth models by  Bruce Baker of Rutgers. And the students at the identified schools, if they are face with closure or firing of half of the staff will likely NEVER be provided with an opportunity to graduate with a quality diploma–see the situation of the situation of Jamaica High School for more evidence.
Is this really what we want to do, to punish our students – particularly our highest need kids? 
All these concerns reinforce my conviction that the state's proposed waiver from NCLB is even worse than NCLB itself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And this is why education should NEVER be put into the paws of the politicians!