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Arne Duncan doubles down on failed policies

From the National Journal, Duncan Doubles Down on Failed Policies

By Monty Neill

There is no doubt that Duncan has had a big impact. Unfortunately, the policies and programs his Department have pushed mainly double down on NCLB’s failures. If he has a second term and continues to push the same agenda, he will leave a legacy of educational damage. Whether Congress can or will halt or change direction is the great unknown. The next President and the composition of the Senate are major factors, but whether Congress responds to growing resistance to high-stakes testing is also significant. If it does, then Duncan will face greater opposition, in addition to antipathy to the proposed major shift of Title I funding to competitive grants and mainly Republican concerns about federal overreach, as with Common Core and the multistate testin...

There is no doubt that Duncan has had a big impact. Unfortunately, the policies and programs his Department have pushed mainly double down on NCLB’s failures. If he has a second term and continues to push the same agenda, he will leave a legacy of educational damage. Whether Congress can or will halt or change direction is the great unknown. The next President and the composition of the Senate are major factors, but whether Congress responds to growing resistance to high-stakes testing is also significant. If it does, then Duncan will face greater opposition, in addition to antipathy to the proposed major shift of Title I funding to competitive grants and mainly Republican concerns about federal overreach, as with Common Core and the multistate testing consortia.

Rates of improvement on NCLB have declined under NCLB in both subjects, all grades, for almost all groups. Causation is hard to establish, but at least this shows that test-centric “reform” is not succeeding, and it strongly suggests that the focus on testing is a major cause of the decline. Research, including that summarized by the National Academy of Sciences Board on Testing and Accountability, points to ongoing damage to curriculum, instruction and school climate. Rather than acknowledge real problems, Duncan’s Department has promoted Race to the Top and waivers, which maintain the harmful consequences of NCLB and compound the problems.

The waivers do not allow states to reduce testing, as Vermont found out. Both multi-state testing consortia plans call for more testing. This will eat up yet more instructional time with no evidence it will improve learning. It’s true: You really can’t fatten the pig by weighing it. Many districts will end up testing even more than required, as they already do in response to NCLB’s onerous requirements. The tests are unlikely to be more than a very modest improvement, once the testing companies crank out tens of thousands of mostly multiple-choice items. The costs will be enormous and largely not covered by Uncle Sam, so essential education programs will be cut to enable computer-based testing. The infrastructure demands are a big part of the costs, and it is not clear that many, or even most, districts will be able to cope.

The waivers and Race to the Top also require using student scores to judge teachers using so-called “value added” or “growth” techniques. These compound the limits of testing with highly erratic statistical procedures. Many competent, even excellent, teachers find themselves rated poorly because they choose to work with low-scoring children. The Chicago teachers strike expanded public awareness of this danger. The strike added to other forms of resistance, such as the 1,400 principals in New York who have signed a letter opposing state plans for ranking and sorting teachers.

Another Duncan legacy seems to be increased school closings. Many civil rights organizations, as well as large numbers of community organizations, parents and teachers have fought the closings. Moreover, while waivers allow for fewer schools to be labeled failing, the Department’s rigid “turnaound” procedures lack evidence they will succeed. Thousands of schools will not get the genuine assistance they need to improve. Duncan could choose a different direction for the federal role in education, such as following the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability (which I chair) as well as other means to overhaul assessment.

Increased testing has fueled the resistance movement, including the 84% of Texas school boards that have signed a state resolution against high-stakes testing. The Florida and Pennsylvania school boards associations endorsed the National Resolution or a close variation, as have many local boards, parent and other organizations. Increasingly, parents are talking about opting their children out of testing.

Perhaps Duncan’s over-reach will produce one positive result: a larger movement by united parents, teachers and community groups insisting on high-quality public schools, not the test-prep centers that could be the major legacy of Duncan’s regime.

http://education.nationaljournal.com/2012/10/what-has-arne-done-for-us.php#2258005

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