Thursday, December 25, 2014

How to Reform No Child Left Behind

Lawmakers already are talking about reauthorizing No Child Left Behind — the George W. Bush-era education initiative. “I’d like to have the president’s signature on it before summer,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who will assume chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee when Congress convenes in January.

But lawmakers should be pursuing bold education reforms, not searching out weak legislative compromises that fail to limit federal overreach. Congressional conservatives should take this opportunity to rewrite No Child Left Behind in a way that empowers state and local educators, not Washington bureaucrats.

Previous proposals introduced by Alexander and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., would have streamlined No Child Left Behind and created some nominal flexibility for states and school districts. But more substantive reforms are in order. The following four policy goals should accompany any reauthorization of NCLB:

First, policymakers should enable states to completely opt out of the programs that fall under No Child Left Behind. One such proposal is the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act . Including the A-PLUS approach in a prospective reauthorization of No Child Left Behind would let states consolidate their federal education funds and use them for any lawful education purpose they deem beneficial. This would allow states to escape NCLB’s prescriptive and programmatic requirements and use funds in ways that would better meet their students’ needs.

Next, policymakers should work to reduce the number of programs that fall under No Child Left Behind. The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act — the precursor to NCLB — included five titles, 32 pages and roughly $1 billion in federal funding. By the time ESEA was reauthorized for the seventh time in 2001 as No Child Left Behind, new mandates had been imposed on states and local school districts, and the law authorized dozens upon dozens of federal education programs, a reflection of national policymakers’ tendency to create a “program for every problem.”

To pay for the dozens of competitive and formula grant programs funded under NCLB, the annual cost of the federal initiative now exceeds $25 billion. The growth in program count and spending over the decades has failed to improve educational outcomes for students and, as such, should be curtailed.

Policymakers also should eliminate burdensome federal mandates. Accountability and transparency “should be vehicles to reinvigorate the relationship of the American people with their schools rather than merely mechanisms employed by government officials to oversee and hold government schools accountable,” wrote former Deputy Education Secretary Eugene Hickok and education researcher Matthew Ladner in a 2007 analysis of NCLB.

To achieve that goal, Congress should eliminate the many federal mandates within NCLB masquerading as accountability, including Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, Highly Qualified Teacher mandates and costly “maintenance of effort” rules, which require states to keep spending high in order to receive federal funding.

Finally, and at a minimum, policymakers should include a state option for Title I funding portability. The $14.5 billion Title I program accounts for the bulk of No Child Left Behind spending. It serves one of the 1965 ESEA’s original and primary purposes by channeling additional federal funding to low-income school districts.

However, Title I funds are distributed through a convoluted funding formula which, as researcher Susan Aud has noted, includes “provisions that render the final results substantially incongruent with the original legislative intention.”

To make Title I work for the disadvantaged children it was intended to help, the program’s funding formula should be simplified, and Congress should let states make the funding “portable,” allowing it to follow a child to the school of his parents’ choice — public, private, charter or virtual.

During any prospective ESEA reauthorization, Congress should reduce program count (and associated spending), eliminate federal mandates on states and local school districts and create portability of Title I funding. Such an approach represents a first small step toward reform. Bold reforms are needed, including the opportunity for states to completely exit the 600-page regulatory behemoth that is No Child Left Behind.


Harvard students in the forefront of the cold war on Israel

Where there is no aggression, the Left invent “microaggression”

Harvard’s dining hall pulled SodaStream machines after members of the college’s Palestine Solidarity Committee and other activists deemed the product a “microaggression.”

Water dispensers purchased by a firm owned by Israeli-based SodaStream were removed by the Harvard Undergraduate Dining Services (HUDS) at the behest of its students.

“These machines can be seen as a microaggression to Palestinian students and their families and like the University doesn’t care about Palestinian human rights,” sophomore Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash, a member of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, told the Harvard Crimson on Wednesday.

The campaign to remove the product started last fall when students emailed House masters to arrange a meeting with Harvard officials, the Crimson said.

Harvard University leadership has now launched an investigation into the dining hall’s decision.

“Harvard University’s procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals’ views of highly contested matters of political controversy,” said Harvard provost Alan Garber in a statement, The Daily Caller reported Thursday. “If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now.”


Jeb Bush’s Common Core Problem

Jeb Bush has long advocated for all 50 states to adopt Common Core national standards.

Now that the former Florida governor has all but confirmed his plans to run for president in 2016, the issue threatens to overshadow his likely campaign.

Bush’s name, matched with consistently high polling numbers among potential 2016 Republican candidates, makes landing a seat in the Oval Office feasible. But in order to reach the general election—to perhaps take on Hillary Clinton—Bush must first overcome concerns about Common Core with conservative primary voters.

Bush’s longstanding support for Common Core is no secret: Over a year ago, Frederick M. Hess, an education expert at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted that if he decided to run for president, “Common Core could be his Romneycare.”

What is Common Core?

Common Core standards were created by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal, supported by the Obama administration, was to increase education standards in America.

Among conservatives, however, the issue one of the most controversial. Several politicians have flip-flopped on the issue, pulling their support or even abandoning the standards in their states.

The Heritage Foundation is among the organizations that have rallied against Common Core.  The crux of the argument, as laid out by Heritage’s Lindsey M. Burke and Jennifer A. Marshall, is this:

National standards are unlikely to make public schools accountable to families; rather, they are more likely to make schools responsive to Washington, D.C. Furthermore, a national accountability system would be a one-size-fits-all approach that tends toward mediocrity and standardization, undercutting the pockets of excellence that currently exists.

Many of Bush’s deep-pocketed GOP allies—so-called “establishment” Republicans like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—don’t see eye-to-eye with conservatives on the issue.

Federal incentives like Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind waivers for states that adopted Common Core topped off what critics call “a national takeover of education policy.”

A reform-minded governor

Bush’s backstory with Common Core standards is two-fold.

During his eight-year tenure as the Sunshine State’s governor, he led one of the most successful education reforms in the country. In fact, his efforts were so effective, education experts are still trying to analyze them to this day.

Schools and districts in Florida are now graded on a straightforward A-to-F scale where parents easily understand that it’s better to have a child in an A-rated school than one that received an F.

Parents also have access to education tax credits, private school choice for special-needs students, virtual education, charter schools and public school choice.

In addition, transparency about school performance enables parents to be well informed, holding schools accountable to parents.

Education experts often argue that no one has a greater, more genuine interest in a student’s education than their parents.

But as Burke, Heritage’s leading expert on education policy pointed out, what worked in Florida might not work on a national scale. She said:

Gov. Bush was a leader on education reform in Florida during his tenure. Florida, in fact, has stood as a model for other states. The challenge for national policymakers is to recognize that what worked well in one state might not work as well in another, and that states need flexibility to find out what works best for the unique students who reside there.

Promoting Common Core

The challenge for national policymakers is to recognize that what worked well in one state might not work as well in another. @lindseymburke

In a 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, Bush praised the standards, stating:

The Common Core State Standards define what students need to know; they do not define how teachers should teach, or how students should learn. That is up to each state. And they are built on what we have learned from high-performing international competitors as well as the best practices in leading states.

Over the course of the next three years, Bush, with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an education policy think tank that Bush founded and chairs, encouraged state legislators to adopt the standards.

For example, in early 2013, Bush and his foundation set out to remind Oklahoma state legislators of the “myths” surrounding Common Core.

He sent them an in-depth email, which can be viewed in its entirety here. In it, they wrote:

There is a lot of misinformation flying around about Common Core State Standards. Below is a roundup of recent articles, opinion pieces and posts by policy advisors, debunking Common Core myths and highlighting voices in the transition to these new standards. You’ll also find quotes from teachers weighing in on Common Core and see how state and business leaders are supporting the higher standards.

Bush’s new tone

More recently, Bush has toned down his support.  In a speech last month at the 2014 National Summit on Education Reform—just one week before Thanksgiving when he pondered a presidential run with his family—Bush argued, “The rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in the classrooms.”

But in the same speech, he also made it a point to acknowledge the disagreement on the issue—something he has been criticized in the past for ignoring.

Even if we don’t all agree on Common Core, there are more important principles for us to agree on. We need to pull together whenever we can. It starts with a basic question: If we were designing our school system from scratch, what would it look like?

I know one thing: We wouldn’t start with more than 13,000 government-run, unionized and politicized monopolies who trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system nobody can escape.

We would be insane if we recreated what we have today.  So let’s think and act like we are starting from scratch.

Whether his 2016 campaign will try to downplay his support for Common Core or remain true to his position is not yet clear, but one thing is for certain: A Bush on the 2016 presidential ticket will once again bring education to the forefront of the national debate.


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