Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Friday, September 30, 2011

Let's Let Jay-Z Help "Remix" Education!

Educator José Vilson says teachers can learn a great deal from hip-hop artist Jay-Z when it comes to both engaging students and managing their careers. I think he's on to something here....

How Jay-Z Can Help Us Remix Education

Recently, I bought "Watch The Throne," Jay-Z and Kanye West's collaborative album. Since Jay-Z's debut album "Reasonable Doubt," he's undergone a metamorphosis: from a young spitfire to a mature statesman, reigning over the hip-hop community lyrically and industrially. Meanwhile, all 15 of his albums to date have gone platinum. His keen business sense, quiet charisma, and almost imperturbable demeanor have kept his solo career afloat for more than fifteen years.
Jay-Z "broke out" at 25, at about the same age many lifetime educators start our careers. Most of us will never accumulate a net worth of $450 million, but we can meet ambitious goals as teachers. And I think we can learn a great deal from this hip-hop figure:

Keep the Language Simple—and the Context Deep

Jay-Z's debut album was lauded by fans for its texture and complexity. The album analyzed urban life in the 1980s and 90s and incorporated deft and engaging storytelling. It also kept him from reaching a broader base of listeners. So Jay-Z shifted things for his next album—he simplified the language but kept the context deep.
What's the take-away for us as educators? We want all students to fulfill high academic expectations, but we must balance this with the need to meet our students at their level. I often hear educators refer to this as an "either/or" situation—but we can provide the "and." We can speak in language our students will understand without sacrificing the meaning, context, and depth of what we teach.
It's worth noting that Jay-Z was accused of 'selling out' when he simplified the language in which he articulated his experiences. However, ultimately, he reached many more listeners, and his real fans respected his growth. As teachers, we may experience some pushback from peers who are unwilling to meet their students halfway, but if we engage students in meaningful learning, helping them to master critical concepts, we will have done our jobs well.

Consistently Good Performance Is a Sustainable Goal.

As in any other subculture, rap aficionados argue about which rapper has produced the most impressive output. Jay-Z has cited Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., and 2Pac as "greats"—and his career is often compared with theirs. The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac met untimely deaths in 1997, so comparisons are limited. But Nas' "Illmatic" is considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Few hip-hop fans believe any of Jay-Z's albums are of the same caliber, yet Jay-Z has released a consistent stream of critically acclaimed albums—while Nas' career hasn't flourished.
As teachers, we cannot expect to perform perfectly for every period of every day of the school year: Such unrealistic hopes can lead only to utter disappointment and early burnout. Unfortunately, perfectionistic tendencies can often be intensified by the pressures of high-stakes accountability systems. That's why we must gird ourselves for the long haul, developing mindsets, skills, and innovations that will enable us to sustain our careers.
Jay-Z has made plenty of mistakes. When he challenged the most prominent MCs in Queens (Nas and Mobb Deep) with his song "Takeover," he fed fans who were hungry for feuds—and initiated an ugly back-and-forth with Nas. In other instances, Jay-Z tried too hard to land in the pop category ("Sunshine"), let others outshine him on his own songs (Eminem in "Renegade"), and responded to haters who only sought to boost their own album sales (Jim Jones). These missteps didn’t end Jay-Z’s career—he learned from them.
All teachers make mistakes. At the end of the day, we have regrets. We didn't listen to a student when we should have. We didn't take advantage of a professional development opportunity. We could have better planned a lesson. None of these mistakes will break us—unless we fail to learn from them and they become patterns in our careers.
First-year teachers, take heed: A terrible day doesn't signal a personal Armageddon. Instead, it's a great opportunity to be thoughtful about regenerating the confidence students have in you. As long as we're willing to get back into the game, the game can become ours.

Collaborate With Diverse Partners

Jay-Z understands that his professional place in the hip-hop universe is strengthened by diverse, visible collaborations—often with unlikely partners. He's made an album with rock band Linkin Park ("Collision Course") and has lent his voice to the albums of a wide range of artists, from Juvenile and Drake to Lenny Kravitz and Coldplay. He even invited Gwyneth Paltrow to sing the hook to "Song Cry" at a recent London show.
Just as Jay-Z enriches his solo work by collaborating with others, we can enliven our teaching by drawing on the expertise of our peers. Unexpected combinations can be especially productive, encouraging students to see a concept from an alternative perspective. Math teachers can draw upon social studies texts as we teach students to graph on a coordinate plane. Science and language arts teachers can co-create lessons that help students identify and use literary techniques as they read and respond to science texts. But however collaboration looks, its goal should always be to improve students' experiences in our classrooms.

Escape Silos and Spread Our Expertise

Jay-Z finds ways to use his talents beyond the recording studio. He collaborated with author Dream Hampton to write Decoded. He is an entrepreneur, co-owning the 40/40 Club (an upscale sports bar and lounge with locations in five major cities) and the New Jersey (soon-to-be Brooklyn) Nets. He worked with President Barack Obama on his election efforts and pledged money and time to United Nations' efforts in the continent of Africa. And—even as these efforts move forward—he keeps pushing out rap albums.
Obviously, Jay-Z doesn't worry much about silos. Yes, he's wealthy and has a certain amount of power that may ease the way. But he can still serve as a source of inspiration for teachers who want to push past the silos of our classrooms.
Right now, teachers across the nation are going above and beyond our responsibilities to benefit our students: developing online professional learning communities, fine-tuning our schools' curricula, and connecting students' families to community resources.
What if accomplished educators' jobs could be restructured, enabling us to use and spread our expertise in innovative ways while also keeping one foot in the classroom? To draw on the Jay-Z comparison, what if we could make a greater impact on our world—while continuing to record rap albums?
In Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools … Now and in the Future, I collaborated with 11 classroom teachers and Barnett Berry, founder and president of the Center for Teaching Quality, to outline a hopeful vision for the future of education. We wrote about teacherpreneur roles that enable teachers to spend half of their time working with students and the other half solving our schools' most pressing problems. It's not surprising the teacherpreneur idea is gaining traction, thanks to the work of teacher leaders like Vicki Davis (who first coined the term) along with Ariel Sacks and Dave Orphal (who have imagined what teacherpreneurs could accomplish).
But we cannot wait for systemic changes—we must make them happen, cultivating our own policy voices and helping develop blueprints for improving our schools. School structures and policies have inhibited creativity for decades, with no real results for our students. It's time for autonomy and artistry to "trend" in education, much as Jay-Z does on our favorite social networks.
Sometimes we can find the best models in the unlikeliest of places.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

No more "us vs. them" mentality!

Teachers vs. Principals Hurts Students

The practice of law in the U.S. is an adversarial system that is widely accepted as being the most effective way of ensuring that justice is done. This is the antithesis of the way educating the young is supposed to be conducted in this country. Nevertheless, the system too often still pits teachers against principals, to the detriment of students.
A case in point was an article in The New York Times on Sept. 16 ("Bronx Science Sees Exodus of Social Studies Teachers"). Eight of the school's 20 social studies teachers chose not to return this year. To put this into context, 26 teachers of about 140 - about 19 percent - did not return. Despite its reputation as one of three elite public high schools in New York City (Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant are the other two), teachers were willing to run the risk of finding positions elsewhere in this uncertain economy. They blamed the administration and, in particular, the principal Valerie Reidy.
The departing teachers pointed to administrators who berated teachers in front of their colleagues, nit-picked their instructional styles, and poorly treated three younger social studies teachers - none of whom were given tenure. Reidy minimized the charges, maintaining that "turnover happens and our job is to make sure that when turnover happens, it's a positive thing for students."
I've written several times before about how abusive principals have the power to poison the atmosphere at the most prestigious schools to the point that even teachers with stellar records request transfers. Specifically, I explained how Lee McCaskill did so at Brooklyn Tech. What I still don't understand, however, is where the teachers union was when these abuses took place. It is precisely these incidents that warranted intervention by the union.
On the same day that The New York Times published the story, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed with the apt headline "Moving beyond 'blame the teacher.' " The takeaway was that the system of management bears the overwhelming blame for the failures of schools. Teachers and principals are supposed to be partners - not adversaries - in educating students. "In reality, schools are collaborative, not individual, enterprises, so teaching quality and school performance depend above all on whether the institutional systems support teachers' efforts."
What transpired in Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science is clear evidence that we have a long way to go to achieve that goal. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all if further examples surface this year because teachers unions have been weakened at the same time that principals have been given greater power to run "their" schools as they see fit. It's a prescription that will harm students.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Looking for Tomorrow's Walt Disney.....

Who Will Be Our Next Walt Disney?

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While we are all forced to wait for Superman, we need Walt Disney.
Walt Disney imagined things that most people did not think were possible. Walt Disney was the Goliath of his generation. Disney was both reflective and creative. He had a sense of the past and could look into the future. His ability to dream was only matched by his ability to articulate his vision to people around him who could help make his dreams come true. Walt Disney's dreams became our reality.
There are millions of people who make the trek to Disney World and Disneyland every year. Children go to experience a place where their imaginations can run wild. Adults go there to experience a second childhood and remember a time that was much simpler and fun. We need not go anywhere else to find the Fountain of Youth because it exists anywhere that Walt Disney touched.
Disney encompassed good leadership by igniting the imagination of all who worked for him. His engineers were called Imagineers, and their job, one might call it a mission, was to create a place where all kids and adults were welcome. They created a place where everyone went back in time, but they were also given a glimpse into the future. Everyone who entered the gates lost the stress of their lives for the hours they spent in the park.
In a world that seems so violent and stressed, Disney's programs focused on family and adventure. Children who were drawn into the plots were sure to go out and play the characters outside or in the woods with their friends. Many tree cabins were built during the time of Disney by parents and children who wanted to escape reality.
Will We See This Creativity Again?
Will we ever have another Walt Disney? Many say he was one of a kind but I wonder if there are others out there. Are there children sitting within our classrooms who could imagine and create as big and as wonderful as Walt Disney did?
It has been said by many that today's generation of children lack imagination because everything is done for them. They have handheld games that are created by technicians with great imaginations, creativity and marketing genius. They have televisions in their rooms, DVD players in their cars, and play organized games where they have to follow directions and rules. Every part of their lives is controlled.
Unlike the games of today that seem to stifle imagination, Disney's inventions inspired imagination. Walt Disney created games and shows that centered on family fun and innocence. Since the mid-1980's with the elimination of many Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations that held television shows, games and activities to different standards, this present generation is given insight into a much more adult world. They are surrounded by images and marketing schemes that our parents never had to contend with when we were younger. Even the Disney Channel itself has changed to a much more young adult network.
Most schools have always strongly believed in philosophies that have a focus on imagination. Gardner's Multiple Intelligences has played an important part in schools that want to focus on the whole child. Most school climates foster the use of the imagination. Whether its differentiation or hands-on center based learning, teachers, both classroom and special area, try to expose students to experiences where they can use their imagination. Project-based learning (PBL) is one such instructional tool that we can use to get students to focus on something they can use in the real world. It requires inquiry-based learning and imagination.
Will STEM Schools Provide the Answer
Unfortunately, there are schools that do not focus on the imagination because they are too busy or concerned with providing test prep and "drill and kill" methods of teaching. There are schools where students do not have recess during the day, and do not promote the use of nature in their curriculum. Those schools are potentially ruining the real education that students need to be exposed to.
At home, there are parents that do not allow their children to play outside. Much of the entertainment that these students are exposed to focuses on company-created materials and the kids are lacking exposure to the outside world. Many children who live in poorer cities do not live in safe neighborhoods and recess may be the only time they get an opportunity to go outside and play freely with their peers. What if a child with the potential to be the next Walt Disney lives in these neighborhoods or attend these schools?
STEM schools are cropping up across the country (Robelen). STEM schools offer a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Will these schools offer the kind of imagination and ingenuity we need in this country? Will the next Walt Disney enter their doors and receive the type of education needed to bring the kind of creativity Walt Disney did? They certainly offer a missing niche that the public school cannot always offer. However, if the public school system received some mandate relief, perhaps they too could offer more STEM curriculum.
Magnet schools and charter schools offer a focus beyond the curriculum public schools provide to students. However, some of those schools do not offer more than a test prep philosophy. With all of the school choice that is being offered to a small population of students who are fortunate enough to win the school lottery, it seems as though some of the escapes from bad schools that are being offered, are more of a case of the lesser of two evils.
What can students who do not live near a STEM or magnet school do to find creativity? Many of us spent our seasons playing outside in the woods or on child-made baseball fields where we played baseball for five or six hours. Our winters were spent sledding down big hills and making snowmen in freezing temperatures and we lived to talk about it as older adults. Sometimes disconnecting from the internet allows us to reconnect with our larger world. It is possible to find creativity within our own thoughts without the distraction of the internet and television.
During these times of financial stress, children need their imaginations more than ever. They need time to imagine a better world where there isn't as much stress. If they find that in a STEM, charter, magnet or public school system, then we will be the better for it. We just need to maintain a balance and realize that one size fits all programs will not educate everyone equally, which is why the public school system is so concerned with high stakes testing and NCLB.
Students need to learn that they have the power to create better experiences for themselves and for others. As much as school systems are at the hands of state and federal mandates, there must be time built in where children can wonder. While we are all forced to wait for Superman, we need Walt Disney.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How can we avoid last-minute teacher hiring....

Late hiring of teachers is still a perennial headache for some school systems, even in tight budget times.

Published Online: September 19, 2011
Published in Print: September 21, 2011, as Late Teacher Hiring Can Be a Boon and a Bane for Districts

Some Districts Rethink Last-Minute Teacher Hiring

Studies find downsides to hiring teachers after the school year starts

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg district recently found itself in a situation other districts might envy in a time of tight fiscal constraints.
The 133,600-student district in North Carolina faced budget cuts this year, but, thanks to some last-minute changes, less money was taken away from the school system than originally anticipated. That welcome news sent the district into a hiring frenzy before the Aug. 25 start of classes. About 300 teachers signed on two weeks before school began. By Sept. 12, the district still had about 80 vacancies, for which principals were actively recruiting but had not yet identified a candidate.
Despite reports of teacher layoffs around the country, districts in some places are still hiring, and, in some cases, that hiring has continued into the start of the school year. Hiring may even pick up later in the year if federal lawmakers approve President Barack Obama’s jobs bill with its promise to restore education jobs. ("Potential Impact of Obama Jobs Proposal Under Scrutiny," September 21, 2011.)

Greater Turnover

But late hiring, though a sign of relative financial health for a school district, is also a perennial headache: Studies show it can have a detrimental effect both on teacher retention and student performance.
To some degree, late hiring is an inevitability for schools. Administrators sometimes don’t know for sure how many students they have to serve until the school year starts, and volatile budget negotiations inject added uncertainty into the process.
The potential downside of late hiring was illuminated in a recent study of Michigan teachers that showed that educators who were hired after the beginning of the school year were twice as likely to leave the school and the teaching profession within one year.
And the turnover comes with a cost: The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a research advocacy group based in Washington, has estimated that losing a teacher can cost a district from $5,000 to $18,000, depending on the district’s size. ("Study Finds Higher Turnover Among Teachers Hired Late," March 16, 2011.)
The Clark County district in Nevada has found itself in a situation in which financial uncertainty is forcing the district to rely on long-term substitute teachers in some hard-to-fill positions.
Once the fastest-growing school district in the country, the district has brought in more than 3,000 new teachers in some years, said William E. Garis, the deputy human resources officer. This year, about 500 teachers have been hired. But the district is waiting on the results of arbitration with its teachers’ union before filling some vacancies. The district is seeking about $37 million in union concessions.
“We just don’t have the luxury that some districts have to hire earlier,” Mr. Garis said. “Some districts are just more predictable in what their enrollment and funding are going to be.”
Some systems, worried about disruptive effects of last-minute hiring, are taking steps to make teacher-hiring processes more efficient.
Last year, Delaware created a task force to address the issue of late teacher hiring. According to research conducted by Jeffrey A. Raffel, a professor of public administration at the University of Delaware, in Newark, 60 percent of the state’s teacher hires for the 2009-10 school year started in August or later. School districts in Delaware generally start classes the last week of August.

Improving Practices

Based on the recommendations of the Delaware Teacher Hiring Task ForceRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, state lawmakers adopted a policy that would shift student counts for teacher funding to the spring of each year, instead of basing funding decisions for districts on a head count taken at the end of September. The task force pointed to funding uncertainty as one reason teachers in the state were being hired so late.
Harvard University’s Center for Educational Policy Research, in a 2010 studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader of teacher-hiring practices in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, showed that teachers hired after the start of the school year performed less well on average than those hired before school began. Researchers based teacher-performance evaluations on value-added analyses of student scores on state mathematics tests.
Andrew Vaughan, the director of the certification, leadership, and preparation division for the Louisiana Department of Education, said that districts sometimes get stuck in a hiring routine that makes bringing on good teachers more difficult. For example, some districts in Louisiana hire in June and July for classes that start around the second week of August.
“It was generally last-minute across the board,” Mr. Vaughan said. “People didn’t see the importance of those early-hiring deadlines.”
With a $500,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and assistance from the New York City-based New Teacher Project, an advocacy organization that works with school districts to improve hiring practices, Louisiana selected four districts to receive help in improving their hiring procedures in time for the 2011-12 school year. (The Gates Foundation also provides grant support to Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit publisher of Education Week.)

Principals as Screeners

As a part of the Louisiana Statewide Staffing InitiativeRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, DeSoto Parish, a 4,900-student district in northwestern Louisiana, created a streamlined, online application process. About 1,500 applications were screened for 40 positions this school year.
In the 9,500-student Monroe City district in the northeastern part of the state, part of the team’s work was persuading the school board to lift a hiring freeze that had been put in place until the budget could become final. The staffing initiative’s project members explained to the board the critical need for taking time to hire the highest-quality teachers.
The Louisiana Statewide Staffing Initiative also worked to train principals in how to sell their schools to prospective hires, and how to better screen teacher-candidates through effective interviewing techniques.
Daniel Habrat, the chief human-resources officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, said the district changed its hiring procedures to help bring new teachers into schools faster. Instead of relying on a “heavy prescreening” procedure of new teacher-candidates at the central office, the district shifted some of those responsibilities to principals.
“We had heard concerns that there was a bit of a bottleneck at the front end,” Mr. Habrat said.
“It’s a good thing for principals to be involved in that process,” said Tyler Ream, a zone superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. “It lets them know exactly who they’re hiring.”
The principal-led hiring procedures worked well for Bethany Guthard, a 5th grade teacher at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary School in Charlotte. After working six years in Florida’s Broward County schools, she is among the hundreds of teachers new to Charlotte-Mecklenburg hired this year. Ms. Guthard drove around to different schools in June and dropped off her résumé. By July, she got a call of interest.
“I was worried about finding a job at first,” Ms. Guthard said. “But I went and put myself out there.”

Deep Talent Pool

The principal of Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, Carolyn Rodd, said she started the school year with three substitutes but was able to replace them with full-time teachers within a week of the start of class. She said one side effect of the teacher layoffs going on in other parts of the country is that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system has a large pool to draw from, including teachers who can bring growth data from the classes they taught in their previous jobs.
“We definitely want our most effective teachers with our highest-need students,” Ms. Rodd said. Huntingtowne Farms is a Title I school, and receives federal funds to help students in poverty who are not achieving at grade level.
Gwinnett County, Ga., is another district that hired a noteworthy number of teachers this year—about 660, said Frances Davis, the chief human-resources officer for the 161,000-student system.
That’s a far cry from earlier years, when more than 3,000 teachers would be hired each year, but the streamlined hiring procedures the district followed during those boom times are still in place. For example, budget estimates allow the district to start hiring in January, well before the start of classes in early August.
The screening is also done primarily at the principal level, with the central office conducting credential checks and criminal-background investigations.
And, like other districts that are hiring, Gwinnett County has found its teacher-candidate pool deepened by a number of experienced teachers seeking work.
“You have a highly qualified workforce out there,” Ms. Davis said.
Vol. 31, Issue 04, Page 6

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cool new technology resource to check out!

Cool resource!

iLearn Technology

Link to iLearn Technology

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 03:39 PM PDT
What it is:    Writing Prompts  is a Tumblr blog I learned about from @johntspencer on Twitter this morning.  It is a fabulous blog packed FULL of writing prompts to use in the classroom.  There are currently 247 prompts on the site but new prompts are added regularly (so subscribe to this one!).  The prompts are pictures coupled with a text prompt and are sure to get the creative writing juices of your students flowing.
How to integrate Writing Prompts into the classroom:  These Writing Prompts are a fantastic way to get your students thinking outside of the box and interested in writing.   Display prompts on an interactive whiteboard, projector connected computer, or at a writing center on classroom computers.  Students can spend 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted time just writing their thoughts.  Keep these in a journal so that they can go back through their writing and choose a 15 minute piece they would like to expand on.
A blog is the ideal platform for writing of this kind because students can re-blog the prompt along with their written piece.  Students can get feedback from teachers and peers in the form of comments on the blog.
The Writing Prompt Tumblr blog is the perfect addition to a classroom or student RSS reader.  New posts will be delivered as they are posted so your students will always have a fresh supply of writing inspiration.  I use Google Reader when I am at a computer, Reeder or Flipboard on the iPad.
Tips:  These prompts are best for secondary elementary, middle and high school students.  If you teach younger students, consider creating a writing prompt Tumblr of your own.  They are easy to get started with!
Please leave a comment and share how you are using Writing Prompts in  your classroom!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Obama Reveals Plan for NCLB Waivers

An Education Week blog entry about the MOST important news article on education in The Washington Post this week!

Obama Administration Sets Rules for NCLB Waivers

The Obama administration on Thursday afternoon said it will waive the cornerstone requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, including the 2014 deadline that all students be proficient in math and language arts, and will give states the freedom to set their own student-achievement goals, and design their own interventions for failing schools.
In exchange for this flexibility, the administration will require states to adopt college- and career-ready standards, focus on 15 percent of their most-troubled schools, and create guidelines for teacher evaluations based in part on student performance.
"The purpose is not to give a ... reprieve from accountability. But rather to unleash innovation," a senior administration official said in a media briefing on the long-awaited NCLB waiver guidelines. "We remain absolutely committed to accountability. We're not interested in giving flexibility for business as usual."
States that are most ready to apply for the waivers can file by mid-November, with the first round of waivers to be issued early next year. A second round of waiver requests will be accepted in January. That means states could, also for 2011-12, reset the bar for what is considered acceptable growth on test scores. Schools and districts may not feel the effects of the regulatory relief, however, until the 2012-13 school year, when such provisions of the law as the need to set aside funds for free tutoring and school choice will be waived.
The waiver package will—just as in the administration's blueprint for renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—require states to implement aggressive interventions in the lowest 5 percent of schools. This won't be a big change for states because they're already operating under the School Improvement Grant program, in which the U.S. Department of Education has prescribed four models for intervention.
States will also be required to identify another 10 percent of schools that struggle with particularly low graduation rates, low performance for specific subgroups of students (such as those with disabilities), or high achievement gaps.
But under the waiver plan, a sizable portion of schools that may not be performing well—but are not bad enough to fit in that bottom 15 percent—could be left to flounder, some fear.
"It is a reasonable federal framework focused on the right thing. That said, it gives the states a lot of running room that they've been clamoring for. The ball's in their court," Amy Wilkins, the vice president for government affairs and communications of the Education Trust, a Washington organization that advocates on behalf of at-risk students. "Will the states step up and come up with thoughtful supports and interventions for schools are not at the very bottom?"
Currently, as schools fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, the key yardstick under the law, they face an escalating set of sanctions, which ranges from requiring schools to provide tutoring and school choice to restructuring a school. The waiver package would free up about $1 billion in Title I money that schools have been required to hold back to provide tutoring and choice.
In some ways, the waiver plan is less prescriptive than the administration's ESEA blueprint, or its Race to the Top education improvement initiative, Race to the Top, in particular, encouraged states to expand charter schools, adopt common tests, and link student data to teacher evaluations, including decisions on pay and tenure.
The language in the waiver plan on educator effectiveness appears essentially the same as the blueprint. States would have to come up with at least three different categories in their evaluation systems. Student growth would have to be a significant factor in judging teacher effectiveness. Districts would have to ensure those evaluations provide "clear feedback" to teachers and inform personnel decisions,
It's unclear what those personnel decisions would entail, or how forceful those guidelines would be, although a senior administration official said that for a district to participate in the NCLB waivers, officials would have to "do their part" to live up to the state's guidelines.
The waiver plan also appears to back off on a specific deadline for bringing all students to proficiency, a key facet of the current law. The blueprint would also have called for states to set a goal of having all students be proficient on state tests by 2020, as opposed to the 2013-14 school year in current law. But the waiver plan doesn't set a particular end date. Instead, states would still disaggregate data and set performance targets for every school and every student subgroup, and then set "ambitious but achieveable goals". They could set goals, for instance, to cut the achievement gap in half in six years.
The waiver plan also offers no incentive for states to stick with the department's $360 million effort to support common tests. But, being a member of one of two consortia of states working on common tests will certainly make the waiver process easier. States will generally have to adopt a next generation of tests that meet certain criteria to qualify for the waiver.
Reaction from Capitol Hill was divided along partisan lines:
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.—who had called Secretary Duncan President Obama's best cabinet pick—gave a speech on the Senate floor Thursday urging the department not to grant conditional waivers, but to instead allow states to submit their best plans. The department would then decide if those plans move the needle on student achievement.
Alexander said the department "has states over a barrel" and should refrain from acting "like a national school board. ... We shouldn't create a situation where every governor has to come to Washington to get a waiver from standards that don't work anymore. That's [Congress'] job."
Alexander has introduced legislation that would clarify the secretary's waiver authority to reflect that the secretary does not have the right to put forth conditional waivers.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has also called into question the secretary's authority to issue waivers. He called the plan "a political move that could have a damaging impact on congressional efforts" to renew the law.
"While I appreciate some of the policies outlined in the secretary's waivers plan, I simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers," Rep. Kline said. "This sets a dangerous precedent, and every single American should be extremely wary."
But Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that while he would have preferred a comprehensive ESEA reauthorization to waivers, he supports the administration's decision to go ahead with the plan.
The NCLB law has become outdated, he said.
"It's become clear that many states and districts are heading off in different directions," Mr. Miller said. "They are essentially outrunning the ability of NCLB to provide them a path forward. ... Waivers [are a way] to make sure that we continue the tenets of NCLB to provide high standards, provide accountability, make sure we meet the civil rights demands of the law."
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said he is continuing to work with the committee's top Republican, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, on a bipartisan reauthorization bill. He'd much prefer a full-fledged renewal of the law to waivers, he said.
But he added, "Legislating is very difficult in this Congress, as we've seen time and time again, and local schools are crying out for relief from the most onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind. I certainly understand President Obama's decision to proceed with a waiver package to provide some interim relief while Congress finishes its work, and am pleased that he is requiring states to show real commitment to reform in order to receive a waiver.