Since the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, tens of thousands of students across the country have opted out of federally mandated assessments. The opt-out movement has become a way for parents and students to protest the implementation of the Common Core State Standards as well as the overabundance of testing in schools.
One of the key provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requires school districts to maintain a 95 percent assessment participation rate. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently told states they risk losing federal funds if they fall below 95 percent compliance. This could have major implications for low-income and rural school districts that rely heavily on federal funding to hire staff, upgrade schools, and incorporate new programs.
On May 15, 2015, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Tom Reed (R-NY) announced the introduction of The Enable More Parents to Opt-Out Without Endangering Resources Act (H.R. 2382), which would guarantee parents the right to opt out of assessments. The EMPOWER Act would prevent the federal government from punishing states that fall below the 95 percent compliance rate and would allow parents to opt their child out of an assessment for any reason. The National Education Association (NEA) has already endorsed the EMPOWER Act and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) signed on as an original co-sponsor. As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization process moves forward, debates over opting out, as well as the proper role of assessments, are expected to continue and could potentially derail the entire process.
The high-stakes testing culture originated from the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provision of NCLB that placed heavy emphasis on testing and labeled schools based on assessment performance. Each label was accompanied with a list of consequences that provided states with recommendations for improving the schools that failed to meet AYP. In many cases, these labels led to the firing of teachers and school administrators, school closings, or turnaround efforts led by charter school networks. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education started granting states NCLB flexibility waivers in exchange for increased standards, improved accountability, and teacher improvement efforts. While many of the states that received waivers were no longer required to meet AYP requirements, testing in schools continued to increase as accountability and teacher evaluation initiatives progressed.
This April, JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) wrote a letter to parents in response to the opt-out movement. In this letter, Executive Director Bartoletti acknowledges NCLB has created a culture of over testing and sympathizes with parents who have children taking monthly standardized tests. At the same time, she discusses the major implications reduced federal funding could have on state education budgets and tells parents opting out could ultimately reduce educational opportunities for their children.
In addition to advocating for reducing the reliance on assessments, NASSP will continue to support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards as well as next generation assessments that measure what students actually need to be college and career ready.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee kicked off its most recent attempt to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by holding a hearing in February to examine the state flexibility waivers that are available under the current iteration of the law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Calling the ESEA waivers “Plan B,” US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained that the administration put forward a blueprint for ESEA reform in 2010 and only moved forward with the waivers after Congress was unable to reauthorize the law. He said that the guiding principle of ESEA flexibility is that it must first benefit students, and states must demonstrate a commitment and capacity to improve educational outcomes. Duncan also noted that the federal government does not serve as a national school board, but it does have a responsibility to set a high bar, especially for at-risk students. Duncan concluded by expressing a desire to partner with Congress to fix NCLB, which he called “fundamentally broken.”
The committee also heard from two chief state school officers whose states have received flexibility waivers: Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday and New York Commissioner of Education John King. They discussed how the waivers have allowed them to enhance reforms already underway in their states, including a focus on student proficiency and achievement gaps, strengthening the accountability system, and improving teacher and principal evaluation. Nonetheless, both chiefs expressed their desire that state reforms developed under the waivers inform ESEA reauthorization and urged Congress to move forward. “Only reauthorization gives us long-term expectations for accountability and long-term capacity for implementation,” said Holliday.
Kati Haycock, President of The Education Trust, discussed the report her organization released the same day as the hearing, A Step Forward or a Step Back? State Accountability in the Waiver Era. She outlined four areas of concern in the waivers: 1) Although states were required to set ambitious goals for raising student performance and closing achievement gaps, these goals were not included in the school rating systems developed by many states; 2) Super subgroups that combine small subgroups of student populations are problematic in many states because they mask the true performance of some disadvantaged students; 3) Many states did not include multiple measures of student performance in their accountability systems, but instead chose to continue using only state assessments in math and English language arts; 4) Many states did not specify what districts need to do to turn around the lowest-performing schools.
Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) closed the hearing with a reminder that the “federal role is to ensure that our nation’s most vulnerable children are not forgotten.” He also reaffirmed his commitment to work towards a comprehensive, bipartisan ESEA reauthorization in the next year.
Although both the Senate and House education committees passed bills within the past year to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), none of those bills were considered in their respective chambers. Instead, the US Department of Education (ED) has used the waiver process to bypass Congress and “fix” the problems in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current iteration of the law.
On July 19, ED approved waiver applications for 6 additional states and the District of Columbia, bringing the grand total to 32. The latest states to receive waivers are Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon and South Carolina. Five additional states (California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, and Nevada) are currently under review, and the deadline for the next round of waivers is September 6.
The approved states may waive several specific provisions of NCLB, including the 2014 deadline for 100% student proficiency, in exchange for adopting college and career-ready standards, implementing new accountability and support systems for schools, and developing new evaluation systems for teachers and principals.
“More and more states can’t wait any longer for education reform,” said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as these states have demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to act.”
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and his staff said for months that the two bills passed by the committee in February 2012 would be considered on the House floor before the August recess, but a legislative agenda released by Speaker of the House John Boehner in the spring included no education legislation. On the Senate side, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) had previously announced that the Senate would not bring his bill to the floor until the House passed a “bipartisan” bill.
With few legislative days remaining before the looming November elections and a number of appropriations bills still to pass before the fiscal year ends on September 30, there’s slim-to-no-chance ESEA will be completed this year. And while waivers and Race to the Top seem like the law of the land for principals and assistant principals in some states now, the presidential and congressional elections will have a huge impact on whether they remain in place beyond 2014.
NASSP will continue to push for a comprehensive ESEA reauthorization in the next Congress that includes a focus on our key issue areas: school leadership, literacy, middle level and high schools, and education technology. We felt that the Senate committee bill was a step in the right direction toward improving current law and hope that Congress will use that draft as a starting-off point for negotiations in January.
ESEA: House Flexibility Bill Approved
Yesterday the House Education and Workforce Committee approved the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which would allow states and districts maximum flexibility in their use of federal funds. The overall vote and the votes on all amendments offered followed party lines, reflecting extreme partisanship on this issue. Ranking Member Rep. Miller (D-CA) interpreted this partisanship as an omen that future ESEA negotiations will not be bipartisan and will be contentious. U.S. Secretary of Education also expressed concern for the way the bill could unintentionally shift money away from low-income and minority students and English-language learners. In a written statement Duncan says, “I’m disappointed that the House legislation passed today doesn’t fix the real problems with NCLB, could shortchange the neediest students, and doesn’t give states the kind of flexibility and reform they’re asking for.”
NASSP is opposed to this bill due to some key concerns. To read NASSP’s take on the bill go here: www.principalspolicyblog.org.
Go here to read a full report of what occurred in yesterday’s markup: blogs.edweek.org.
The House will likely try to vote on this bill before the August recess.
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and ten bipartisan cosponsors introduced today the All Children are Equal (ACE) Act, which “would gradually phase out the current number weighting system used to calculate Title I amounts, to assure that school districts are treated based upon their percentages of poverty, rather than population”. To read more about the bill go here: thompson.house.gov. NASSP will likely support this bill.
We have gotten word that the House vote on the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment (HJ Res 1) will occur on July 20. NASSP is strongly opposed to this amendment for the severe funding cuts it would impose on education and other domestic discretionary programs. NASSP urges you to call your Representative(s) and request that they vote NO on this amendment, explaining how already-crunched state and local education budgets would suffer more from this amendment. Go here to see the Committee for Education Funding’s opposition letter cef.org [pdf] and here for another coalition letter we signed onto: www.cbpp.org. For our part, we are making dozens of calls between now and July 20 to key offices to urge opposition of this bill.
Debt Ceiling/Deficit Reduction:
The negotiations remain uncertain, with Republicans insisting they will not support any revenue increases and the President and the Democrats saying they will not support a plan without revenues. Obama also said he wouldn’t sign a short-term increase in the debt ceiling no matter how temporary.
However, Sen. McConnell this week proposed a debt ceiling fallback plan. The Senator proposed legislation that authorizes the President to request an increase in the debt ceiling which would take effect unless a two-thirds majority of either house rejects it. The president would have to request a debt ceiling increase of $700-900 billion, which would require three separate requests and votes before the election. It would not require any spending cuts. (According to Joel Packer’s analysis of the Committee for Education Funding): “The advantage for Republicans politically is that any negative reaction to increasing the debt ceiling would fall solely on Obama and Democrats since every Republican could vote against raising the debt ceiling, without having to deal with an actual default.” Sen. Reid said he would consider this plan.
President Obama said this week that if the debt ceiling isn’t raised Social Security checks might not go out as scheduled on August 3.
NASSP, NAESP to Join on Principal Evaluation
From the NASSP press release: “NASSP has joined with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) to establish a set of national guidelines for effective principal evaluation. NAESP and NASSP will each appoint individuals from their respective governance zones or regions to serve as members of a jointly sponsored Principal Evaluation Committee. The committee will work over the next six to eight months to review leading research reports, examine exemplary practices, and interface with other stakeholders interested in the profession. The committee will identify gaps in the research and highlight what is, and is not, working with principal evaluation systems.” Read the rest of the press release here: www.nassp.org. And read Education Week’s article on it here: www.edweek.org.
Some States Prepare to Implement Their Own Accountability Systems in the Fall
A number of state education chiefs have said that if Congress does not reauthorize ESEA by the fall, they will seek to take advantage of Secretary Duncan’s proposed “Plan B” to grant waivers-in exchange for reform-so they can implement their own accountability systems. Under these waivers states would be released from having to meet 100% proficiency of all students by 2014 in English and Math, and the sanctions that currently occur when schools do not meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) would also be waived, all in exchange for comprehensive accountability systems of their own that include intervention plans for underperforming schools. To read more, go here: www.nytimes.com.
Cuts in State School Funding around the Nation
July 11, 2011- There is still a clear divide between Republican leaders and Democrats with regard to balancing budgets. Democrats continue to push for increased taxes (generating revenues) and Republicans focus on deep cuts- and education funding is at the top of the list for budget cuts in most states. States such as Texas, Wisconsin, and Ohio approved plans that would bring large cuts to education funding; whereas California and Iowa are looking to protect K-12 education from budget decreases. Read more here: www.edweek.org
Race to the Top Winners Slow Down and Amend Plans
All Race to the Top winning states except Georgia have amended their plans in some way, either by extending their timeline of implementation or scaling back an initiative, indicating that several states’ plans may have been too ambitious in their timelines given the scope of what they seek to do. Though states could theoretically push back their stated desired outcomes until the last minute to buy themselves more time, they-and the U.S. Department of Education-will still be under pressure to show that these Race to the Top grants do in fact accomplish the comprehensive reforms promised in states’ plans. To read more go here: blogs.edweek.org.
President Obama Hosts First Town Hall Twitter Meeting July 6, 2011
There are approximately 2.25 million @whitehouse twitter account followers, with over 1 million who joined the Town Hall Twitter discussion. There were 22 administration topics discussed; 10% were about education. Obama tweeted live asking for public feedback with regard to reducing the federal deficit. At the weekly CEF meeting on Friday July 8, Joel Packer, CEF Executive Director, said the public can still voice their opinion about the deficit and education/school funding via twitter at the Twitter Whitehouse account. Go to http://twitter.com/#!/whitehouse to post your comments/viewpoints in support of education/school funding and AGAINST CUTS in education. Let your voice be heard!
July 2011 Employment Rate
July 8, 2011- In an Economic News release by the Bureau of Economic Statistics, the national unemployment rate is up to 9.2%, although this change is reported to be minimal. “Since March, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 545,000, and the unemployment rate has risen by 0.4 percentage point. The labor force, at 153.4 million, changed little over the month.” The most significant decline in employment was in federal, state, and local government employment. For more about our nation’s unemployment statistics, go to www.bls.gov
NASSP Government Relations Staff is on Twitter! Amanda Karhuse and Mary Kingston have moved into the 21st century and have joined Twitter! Follow us on here for the latest daily federal education policy updates. Follow Amanda: @akarhuse and Mary: @kingston_m.
America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2011 is an interagency report from the Federal Forum on Child and Family with very useful statistics. To view the full report, go here: childstats.gov. One daunting statistic – There has been “a rise in the proportion of children from birth to 17 years of age living in poverty, from 19 percent (2008) to 21 percent (2009)”.
Standing united behind the U.S. Department of Education’s blueprint to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced a bill earlier this month to target federal assistance and interventions to the nation’s persistently low-performing schools.
“There are students across the country who are currently finishing out the academic year at schools that persistently fail to provide a quality education,” said Sen. Hagan in May at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress. “We cannot allow our children to go back to these schools in the fall without taking bold and aggressive action to change the odds for our students.”
The School Turnaround and Rewards or “STAR” Act (S. 959) would require states to identify Persistently Low-Performing Schools based on the percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level on state assessments and whether or not those schools are making progress. High schools with graduation rates below 60% could also be considered Persistently Low-Performing Schools. Each district serving one of these schools would be required to implement one of four school intervention models:
Transformation Model, which requires the district to: 1.) replace the principal if he or she has led the school for two or more years with a new principal who has demonstrated effectiveness in turning around a low-performing school; 2.) use evaluation systems to reward school leaders, teachers, and other staff who have increased student achievement or graduation rates and remove those individuals who have not; 3.) provide staff with ongoing, high-quality, job-embedded professional development; 4.) implement strategies to recruit and retain staff with the skills necessary to meet the needs of the school’s students; 5.) use data to identify and implement a research-based instructional program that has been proven to raise student achievement by no less than 10% in one year; 6.) establish schedules and strategies that provide increased learning time; 7.) promote the continuous use of student data to meet the academic needs of individual students; and 8.) provide appropriate social-emotional and community-oriented support services.
Restart Model, which requires the district to convert a school or close and reopen a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization.
School Closure, which requires the district to close a school and enroll the students in other public schools served by the district that are higher performing, provided the other schools are within reasonable proximity to the closed school.
Turnaround Model, which requires the district to: 1) replace the principal; 2) give the new principal sufficient operational flexibility (including over staffing, the school day and school calendar, and budgeting) to fully implement a comprehensive approach to improving student outcomes; 3) use comprehensive evaluations to measure the effectiveness of staff who can work within the turnaround environment and retain no more than 50% of the staff; and 4) implement other activities required under the Transformation Model.
Also mirroring the administration’s ESEA blueprint, the STAR Act would require states to identify Reward Schools that are making significant progress in closing the achievement gap and increasing student academic achievement. Districts serving those schools could then use funding to provide financial awards for principals, teachers, and other staff; improve or enrich the schools’ programs; and provide increased flexibility in making budgeting and staffing decisions. States would also be encouraged to create communities of practice among Reward Schools and support mentoring partnerships between Reward Schools and other schools.
NASSP remains opposed to the four misguided school turnaround models that all require the principal’s replacement as a condition for receiving funds under the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. We are very concerned that the STAR Act would actually remove a principal who has led the school for only two years when the SIG program was revised to ensure that a principal could remain at the school for at least three years.
NASSP has a long history of implementing reform efforts with a high degree of fidelity utilizing the Breaking Ranks Framework and expertise of the NASSP staff and consultants. Schools should be able to use their federal funding to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and implement a school improvement plan that truly meets the need of their students, and we will continue to advocate in support of such a proposal on Capitol Hill as ESEA reauthorization moves forward.
A packed crowd of over 100 attendees listened to how two principals turned around their low-performing schools to make dramatic gains in student achievement. The forum, co-hosted by NASSP and the Alliance for Excellent Education featured two of the 2010 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough Schools Principals.
NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi opened the forum by noting that both principals implemented certain strategies identified as effective in the NASSP Breaking Ranks framework for school improvement, including strong leadership, a rigorous curriculum, and strong collaboration among all staff.
Lavonne Smiley is principal of Tefft Middle School in Streamwood, IL, and oversees roughly 800 7th and 8th grade students, 47% of whom are Latino and 59% of whom are low-income. After specific encounters with angry or frustrated parents, teachers, and students, Smiley knew she needed to turn things around. Adopting the strategies outlined by Richard DuFour in On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities, she brought a greater focus to curriculum, assessment, and interventions for struggling students. As a result, the number of students meeting and/or exceeding state test scores at Tefft jumped from 56% in 2002 to 91% in 2010. Smiley advised other educators to implement school reform with fidelity, continuously self-evaluate, and celebrate successes.
Tom O’Brien was principal of Brentwood High School in Brentwood, NY, for 15 years before his recent retirement. The high school serves a staggering 3,500 students in grades 10-12, 68% of whom are Hispanic and 62% of whom are low-income. Forty-one percent of the student population is also transient, posing a unique challenge. One irony that Mr. O’Brien pointed out was that as his school fell deeper into NCLB sanctions from 2002-2006 for not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP), Brentwood’s test scores were improving steadily for most student subgroups. To turn things around, O’Brien created a collaborative School Improvement Team and staffed teacher coaches and more bilingual teachers to raise student achievement.
As a result, special education students’ test scores rose 52 percentage points in math from 2004 to 2008, while limited English proficient students’ test scores rose 89 percentage points in the same time period. Citing lessons learned, O’Brien emphasized focused leadership, data analysis, a strong improvement team, celebrating successes, and time as critical components to effectively turn around a school.
To discuss policy implications for school turnaround, senior staff from the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also addressed the audience. Both commented specifically on the four turnaround models for school improvement, which all require replacing the principal as the first step for reform. They shared some details about their bosses’ proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including surprising news that the House bill will not contain the four models, but will instead require a school instructional plan without prescribing one. They also want to identify ways to show improvement beyond AYP indicators, and these strategies will require intensive reliance on data. The Senate has not outright rejected the four school improvement models, but they are seeking the appropriate accountability to place on turnaround schools, and similarly will call on schools to present significant data to show improvement.
NASSP continues to oppose the four school turnaround models and believes that the success stories of these principals invalidate the requirement that the principal be replaced as the first step to school improvement. In contrast, capable, dedicated principals like Smiley and O’Brien prove they are a critical component to successful school turnarounds.
Common academic standards in K – 12 education continues to be the topic du jour in federal education policy circles. Adding the perspective of students of color to the discussion, the Campaign for High School Equity (CHSE) held a forum on this issue on July 24.
CHSE is a coalition of leading civil rights organizations representing communities of color that is focused on high school reform, and they offered advice and several recommendations for the federal government, governors, and state educators to consider in developing, adopting, and implementing common standards, including:
- Standards that do not account for the sovereignty of Native American tribal communities will face strong opposition;
- English language learners may need customized standards, both for learning English and for learning with their peers in other subjects;
- If standards are not accompanied by strong incentives for states and districts to align their curricula and assessments, students in low-performing schools, districts, and states will be at more of a disadvantage with high standards;
- The adoption of common standards must include a plan to hold states accountable for meeting the unique needs of students of color; and
- States must be held accountable for making sure that a set of common standards is the starting point and not the “end” for effective education for students. Students of color can benefit from rigorous, clear standards that include effective teachers, access to high-quality supports, and accountability for improved academic achievement and graduation rates for all students.
“We have to be sure to include minority voices in the development of these [common] standards,” said Brent A. Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “With the adoption of common standards, there needs to be a plan for holding schools accountable for poor and minority communities,” and states should be held accountable for ensuring the common standards are not the end, but the beginning of efforts to improve college and career readiness for all students.
Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the leading organizations behind the common standards initiative, agreed with Wilkes, adding “As we’re talking about common standards, let’s not forget, these are just one step in the journey towards that educational ideal [of having all students college and career ready].”
Addressing the importance of school leadership in the common standards movement, Michael Wotorson, executive director of CHSE said, “As we develop common standards with the intent of better serving students, we have to continue to ensure we provide our school and district leaders with the capacity and the support necessary to implement these standards for the maximum benefit of all students.”
Representing the House Education and Labor Committee, Denise Forte said that common standards can help bring on the alignment of Pre-K – 12 standards, curriculum, and assessments, which in turn can help close the achievement gap and prepare students for success after high school. She also emphasized the need for additional research on what it takes to educate students of color – especially English language learners – to proficiency, and that this may be an area the federal government can assist in.
Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who has been one of the lead supporters of the common standards movement in the Senate, also indicated that while the federal government would likely have a role in the movement towards common standards, it would likely consist mostly of financial and political support. “It’s important that we have high standards; it’s also important that the federal government not dictate what they are. Congress needs to support this effort; not lead it.”
NASSP’s Board of Directors adopted an official position statement on National Academic Standards in K-12 Education in 2008, which called on Congress to appoint an independent, diverse group of practitioners, researchers, advocates, and experts to develop a common set of academic standards and authentic, reliable assessments in Language Arts and mathematics in grades K-12. The statement also called on Congress to provide funding for the development and administration of national assessments in Language Arts and mathematics in grades K-12, with the intent of replacing current state assessments.
The full statement can be found here.
Should schools abandon traditional grade levels in favor of proficiency-based advancement?
Total Votes: 319
The Denver Post reports that Adams 50 School District in Colorado has dropped the traditional K–12 grade levels in favor of a system that lets students move through 10 levels as they achieve proficiency. While currently being carried out in a few small Alaska districts, such a standards-based model has never been tested on a district as large as Adams 50. As part of the new system, Adams 50 students will not be graded on an A–F scale, but will instead earn scores of 1–4, allowing them to maintain a GPA that colleges can recognize.
Principals, is this the next logical step in a standards-based movement–and is it the right step to take. Let us know your opinion by taking this week’s Principal’s Poll at www.nassp.org and leave your comments below.
The number of Title I schools in the restructuring phase of school improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has increased by 56% since the 2006-07 school year, according to a new study by the Center on Education Policy (CEP). In addition, once schools have entered this phase, many struggle to leave it, even after taking all actions required by federal law.
A Call to Restructure Restructuring: Lessons from the No Child Left Behind Act in Five States reveals that despite the alarming increase in the number of schools in restructuring, this number is likely to increase further in the years to come.
Jack Jennings, president and CEO of CEP, explained that when NCLB was first enacted, several states back-loaded their plans to meet the 2014 deadline for getting all students to proficiency in reading and math. This meant that while schools would be allowed to make smaller gains in student proficiency in the early years, significantly larger gains would have to be made in the years just before 2014. Consequently, as the 2014 deadline approaches, a growing number of schools are missing their adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets and falling into restructuring status.
After missing AYP for five or more consecutive years, schools enter restructuring and are presented with a list of five options to turn around student performance, including:
- Replacing all or most of the school staff who are relevant to the school missing AYP
- Entering into a contract with an outside organization with a record of success and effectiveness to run the school
- Reopening the school as a charter school
- Turning over the school to the state, if the state agrees
- Undertaking any other major restructuring of the school’s governance that produces fundamental reform.
While over 90% of schools in the five states examined utilized the “any other major restructuring” option (only about 3% chose to replace the school principal), the study found that none of the five restructuring options “were associated with a greater likelihood of a school making AYP overall or in reading or math alone.” As a result of this finding, CEP advises federal policymakers to broaden, not narrow the options available for restructuring schools and consider using strategies that specifically use data to identify areas in which students are struggling, providing tutoring as needed.
On the issue of funding, CEP found that while the federal government mandates that additional monies be provided for schools in restructuring, some of this additional funding is often taken away when schools see improvements in student achievement and exit this phase.
Jennings noted that the withdrawal of these additional funds has made principals and teachers fearful that their schools may quickly slip and miss their AYP targets. This is for the simple reason that schools in restructuring used these additional resources to provide professional development for principals and teachers and targeted assistance to struggling students. Then at the very moment that these schools improve student achievement, “these funds are withdrawn and shifted to other schools that aren’t doing as well,” Jennings said.
“Schools in the restructuring phase under NCLB need the most help, but the current funding system that essentially punishes schools for improving student achievement by taking away resources is wrongheaded and completely counterproductive,” said NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi. “Instead, federal policy should live up to its goal of getting all students to proficiency by providing increased funding and technical assistance to struggling schools. The federal government should also work with states and districts to help schools create a culture of continuous learning and excellence that encourages students to take charge of their own education. It is only by changing pervasive beliefs and expectations that meaningful school reform can truly be accomplished,” Tirozzi continued.
To guard against creating a revolving door of school failure and success, CEP calls on states and districts to “help schools adequately plan to replace these funds and services and…continue to funnel funds and services to these schools until they are able to maintain achievement.”
As the instructional leaders of schools, principals play a central role in school improvement efforts. When asked what he thinks is the most useful role for principals in schools in restructuring, Jennings responded that it is “probably to work with the current staff to know that a serious effort has to be made to change the school. What we’ve [CEP] found to be most effective is to use data to change instruction and identify students who need tutoring, and provide that tutoring either during or after school, and bring in outside experts to improve teaching.”
Jennings also noted that replacing school staff as a strategy for improving student achievement should be avoided, and only considered as an option when three very specific conditions are in place: 1) districts have the capacity to help the school advertise and interview for open staff positions; 2) the region around the school has enough qualified candidates who might apply for open positions; 3) the district, perhaps with state assistance, can negotiate with the teachers’ union to remove potential obstacles to restaffing. Notably, Jennings explained that many of the schools studied for CEP’s report did not have these conditions in place.
NASSP believes that increasing student achievement requires a schoolwide, comprehensive approach, and rather than merely replacing school staff, schools should focus on the strategies detailed in NASSP’s Breaking Ranks series, including: the creation of professional learning communities; personalization of the school environment; empowering students to take control of their own continuous learning and development; and connecting high expectations with rigorous curriculum, instruction, and assessments.