Tag Archives: Every Student Succeeds Act

The Failed Logic in Removing Student Growth and Achievement from Teacher Evaluation Systems

During the 2016 legislative session, several states’ bills attacked the use of student growth as part of teachers’ evaluations. While many of those bills failed to make it over the finish line, a few became law. In particular, bills in Oklahoma and Hawaii officially remove student growth requirements.

Photo Credit: EngageNY

Photo Credit: EngageNY

The reason each of these states dropped requirements is different, but the justifications echo rhetoric from education leaders across the nation who have flip-flopped on including student growth in teachers’ evaluation. According to Oklahoma bill sponsors, now that student growth and achievement is optional, more emphasis can be placed on teacher professional development. And in Hawaii, bill supporters are hopeful that the change in the teacher evaluation system will help address the state’s teacher shortage.

Bill sponsors and supporters in Oklahoma and Hawaii have a point. There is no doubt that emphasis on improving teacher professional development is direly needed in many states and districts. And areas affected by teacher shortages (note: this is not a national issue, but rather a targeted one) need policy changes to address the shortages. However, there is no evidence that removing student growth and achievement from teacher evaluation systems is the solution to these problems. Continue reading

Teachers Union Leaders Support Equity (in Theory) Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things In Education

How should public policies address inequities across schools and districts? American Federation of Teacher President Randi Weingarten says we hold schools accountable for how much money they have and the types of programs they build with that money. Testifying before the Senate in February, she articulated her vision for accountability systems:

Accountability systems should measure and reflect this broader vision of learning by using a framework of indicators for school success centered on academic outcomes, opportunity to learn, and engagement and support. For example, the AFT recommends academic outcomes measured by assessments, progress toward graduation, and career and college readiness. Opportunity-to-learn indicators should include curriculum access and participation, sufficient resources, and measures of school climate.

Yesterday Weingarten testified again in front of the Senate, this time against a proposed rule that would address funding disparities within districts. The proposed rule, called “supplement not supplant,” would require districts to spend at least as much money on poor students as they do on non-poor students. (For more on the proposed rule and the politics behind it, read this Kevin Carey primer.) Weingarten spoke out against the rule in a piece last month, writing:

ESSA specifically outlines the difference in spending between schools that receive federal Title I funds — schools with high concentrations of students in poverty — and those that don’t. But when it comes to equitable spending, you don’t want to insist on a dollar-for-dollar comparison.

Taken together, Weingarten is arguing we should hold schools accountable for resource equity, but not actually take any steps to alleviate funding inequities within a district.

Weingarten is not alone in this position. Here’s National Education Association President Lily Eskelson Garcia speaking to NPR about her vision for accountability:

But we also pushed on. … You left out of this thing called accountability that the politicians should be held accountable for actually giving an educator what he or she needs to do his or her job.

That was what 1965 and [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act] was all about. It was an acknowledgement that states weren’t doing a very good job on equal opportunity. The extra resources have been left out of the whole accountability debate….

On this dashboard, we want you to have to measure service and supports.

Who has access to that AP class and who doesn’t even have access to recess?

Who’s got a school nurse? Where are the services and the broad range of programs that a child should have, like the arts, like foreign languages?

How would a school purchase all these services, supports, AP programs, nurses, etc.? Goods and services costs money, but, like Weingarten, Garcia doesn’t want to address within-district disparities either. Education Week live-tweeted Garcia’s testimony at the same Senate hearing yesterday:


The distinction that Weingarten and Garcia are making, but that they’re unable to say publicly, is that they support equitable funding across districts but not within them. These are separate issues, but they both contribute to school funding disparities.

As progressives, it makes sense that union leaders would support equity in general, but there’s no good reason for why that moral impulse should stop at school district borders. Instead, this seeming contradiction can be explained by the fact that fixing within-district disparities would inevitably touch on issues of teacher compensation and teacher placement that are under the purview of locally negotiated teacher labor contracts. Districts could address within-district inequities in lots of ways — they could offer higher salaries to teachers in poorer schools, they could have lower class sizes in poorer schools, or they could expand other services within poorer schools — but local teachers’ union contracts often prohibit all of these policy options.

Contrary to what Weingarten and Garcia prefer, equity is a better fit for funding conversations than it is in the accountability space. Equity is fundamentally about fairness and resources, and it should be a funding decision, not something we hold individual schools accountable for. Providing additional resources to lower-income schools would help compensate for their greater disadvantages, and we should allow local communities to decide how best to allocate those resources while holding them accountable for their results. In contrast, placing equity into the accountability context would put state policymakers in the role of telling districts or schools how to spend their money, forcing all schools to spend the same amount of money on the same things.

Moreover, a school  would be the wrong entity to hold accountable for resources. A school’s resources — everything from teacher salaries to curriculum to non-academic support programs — affect the quality of education it’s able to deliver, but schools have no power to tax residents, and things like teacher salaries and teacher placement policies are determined at the district level. It might be important to consider how well a given school is performing with its level of resources, but it wouldn’t make sense, for example, to hold a school principal accountable for something he or she can’t control. States and districts are responsible for funding and resources, so those are the places we should be looking to address inequity.

NCLB *Required* States to Look Beyond Reading and Math Proficiency. They Just Did It Poorly.

Yesterday I wryly noted that it’s weird to hear people say the new Every Student Succeeds Act gives states an “opportunity” to incorporate non-academic indicators in their accountability systems. In fact, ESSA requires it!

This isn’t even a new requirement. Although NCLB is lampooned for its focus on reading and math achievement, it also required states to hold schools accountable for “at least one other academic indicator, as determined by the State.” The law gave states wide discretion in picking additional indicators, and suggested a long list of possible options such as, “achievement on additional State or locally administered assessments, decreases in grade-to-grade retention rates, attendance rates, and changes in the percentages of students completing gifted and talented, advanced placement, and college preparatory courses.”

ESSA dropped the word “academic” and includes broader language requiring states to pick at least “one indicator of school quality or student success.” But given the wide latitude NCLB gave states and the long list of suggested ideas it offered, in practice there’s little difference between what was required under NCLB versus ESSA.

NCLB is history now, but it offers an important lesson going forward. Namely, states weren’t exactly innovative in deciding how to implement this requirement to create balanced accountability systems. 36 states and DC simply picked attendance rates (which had their own flaws), 6 states sliced their same reading and math achievement tests in different ways, 3 states let school districts choose their own measures, 1 state looked at school retention rates, and 4 states looked at test scores in other subjects (writing and science). If states were truly concerned about curriculum narrowing or over-testing or school environment issues, this was their opportunity to do something about it. And yet, they mostly chose not to.

We could see more of the same going forward. For all the talk about states developing new measures of “soft skills” because of ESSA, there’s nothing in the law that would force states to re-think their decisions on how to incorporate other indicators. I hope states take ESSA as an opportunity to upgrade their accountability systems, but history suggests many won’t.

How Should States Design School Rating Systems? A Conversation with an Expert

Under the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act, all states will be responsible for designing their own statewide accountability systems. Although there are some federal parameters on what and how measures must be included in those systems, states have considerable latitude in how they go about creating accountability systems that work for them.

In order to learn more about what states should think about in this process, I reached out to Christy Hovanetz, a Senior Policy Fellow for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Dr. Hovanetz served as the Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education and Assistant Deputy Commissioner at the Florida Department of Education. Since leaving public service, Dr. Hovanetz has worked with a number of states on their accountability systems, and has established herself as one of the nation’s leading experts on school rating systems. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.  Continue reading

A “Dashboard” Accountability System Isn’t Good Enough

In response to the Department of Education’s invitation for advice and recommendations on implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I submitted the comment below. I chose to focus my comment on the need for states to make information meaningful to parents through some form of summative rating system:   Continue reading