Town Square

Please urge Reps to vote NO on the revision to NCLB

Original post made by Concerned PAUSD Parent on Oct 1, 2007

Representative Miller and Pelosi are sponsoring a revision to the No Child Left behind act which would tie our teachers salaries to children's standardized test scores. I don't believe our teachers should bear the brunt of the accountability for a basically broken educational system of pathetic funding and lack of resources for students and teachers, when in fact its our teachers on the front lines doing all they can to serve the needs of all kids, DESPITE the system.

We all know that standardized test scores are inadequate measures of student achivement and teacher performance in many ways. There are many flaws in the testing procedures, such as inclusion of ESL and special needs children whether they can read English or not. And putting MORE and MORE pressure on teachers to 'teach to the test' doesn't do our kids any good as the curriculum and methods of teaching morphs to put out cookie cutter kids that can fill in the right bubbles.

And high scoring districts will soon hit the top and not be able to improve, but that is not taken into account in the bill.

This bill would supercede teachers compensation contracts with districts, would remove teachers collective bargaining power.

And in my opinion, most often its mainly our teachers who are working to improve our system and serve our kids. Not to mention, a high performing school district's (like Palo Alto's) main strength is our ability to attract and retain high quality teachers. I don't think we should have the federal government stepping in between PAUSD and our teachers agreements.

If anyone's compensation should be tied to district performance, it should be the Superintendents. Perhaps this would ensure that they were driving the districts in ways that REALLY helped close the achievement gap, instead of catering to more and more refined versions of deep pocket special interest groups. This would also ensure that Superintendents were paying attention to measuring, attracting and retaining high performing teachers in ways that were appropriate for that district.

Miller's office is telling callers that the teachers and their union don't understand the wording of the bill, but the teachers have excellent legislative analysts, and the California Teachers Association is against this bill.

The legislature will take up this "proposal" to amend the law in these next week or so, if you are against this, please contact our legislators and let them know ASAP:

Anna Eschoo
698 Emerson Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: (650) 323-2984
Fax: (650) 323-3498
email via webform found at website: Web Link

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House
450 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 556-4862
Fax: (415) 861-1670

Rep. George Miller, Chairman, House Education and Labor Committee
1333 Willow Pass Road, Suite 203
Concord, CA 94520
Phone: (925) 602-1880
Fax: (925) 674-0983

More info and shortcuts for writing or calling the legistators can be found at the California Teachers Association:


Posted by testhater, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:03 pm

Those tests dominate enough of the class time and have definitely carved a huge chunk of the actual creative learning out of the Palo Alto classroom environment.The basic curriculum is tedious enough. To have the poor teachers ball and chained by standardized testing even more is so wrong.

Posted by Is this correct?, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Concerned PAUSD Parent,

Are you sure your facts are right? Can you give us a link to this legislation or an analysis that clearly sets out what you wrote above? My understanding is that the proposed legislation does NOT supercede collective bargaining rights, but I only saw that on a progressive website so I don't know that it's trustable.

Here's what I read about NCLB II: Web Link

I'm not saying you're wrong and this is correct, as this site obviously has a bias. I am asking where you got your information? Can you cite it? Thanks!

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:19 pm

This just doesn't sound like Miller or Pelosi, both of whom are considered liberal Democrats. I can't see them doing anything that would weaken a powerful union's position, frankly.

Posted by FYI, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:35 pm

It's nice to spell a person's name correctly when asking her for a favor. Anna's last name is spelled ESHOO.

Posted by Concerned, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Web Link

Sorry for the misspelling.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:43 pm

Very hard to penetrate the spin in the commentary and legalese in the actual bill. But off-hand it sounds like the unions fighting for their members (and not necessarily for our interests). No problem here - that's their job - but the CTA's spin on it (repeated by Parent in the original post) needs to be taken with a few grains of salt.

Personally I think NCLB is a great boon to the nation, though I was originally a skeptic. What gets measured, gets managed - and now that there is uniform, (mostly) transparent metrics on how our kids perform, there is more done to bring up those who formerly could be ignored. Close the achievement gap, anyone?

For some families, that may mean more time spent on test performance than they would generally. That is, I guess, the price we pay for making sure other kids are not left behind. Perhaps the response should be more tiering of classes, enrichment classes, or something else. But the focus on measurable results is a long-term boon to our society.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:45 pm

I don't know. The California Teachers Association ( seems like it would have some pretty astute legislative analysis. If they're saying this is bad for California teachers, I believe them. What's bad for California teachers, is bad for our schools as far as I'm concerned.

It would be interesting to hear our own PAUSD teacher(s) position on this - does this effect them, or not?

I don't know about the sources that wrote the other weblink, or what interests they represent.

But I trust my teachers.

Posted by a manager, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Perhaps legislators and district management pay should be docked for failing to address the achievment gap with proper funding and programs.

In most other large organizations the pay for results incentives (upside and downside) generally go to the highest levels of management. The employees on the line generally get upside bonuses when things go better than expected but I've never heard of the line employees getting downside pay risk - unless its to get laid off all together.

Now, no doubt there's a problem with our education system and we're not closing the achievment gap - but is it a teachers problem? Or a management problem?

Posted by Just Me, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 7:19 pm

The NCLBII link provided above from Is This Correct seems to say that the program is linked to federal grant money - thereby 'voluntary'. Is that voluntary like class size reduction? (To the extent of putting portables all over your district, or opening an expensive 13th elementary, rather than (gasp) increase class size by 1 or 2?

Or voluntary like the FLAP program -where Feds say if you do what we want that you otherwise would not have been doing (like teach Mandarin), we'll give you some $? Don't think for a minute that PAUSD is immune to salivating over money if only they do things they wouldn't have otherwise done. (like teach Mandarin). In fact the board just got through declining the MI program based on how it FITS PAUSD policy and priorities - But just months later, is poised to accept a yummy FLAP grant for a program they originally rejected. They like money. They'll do what they gotta do for money.

What's positioned as a so called voluntary program quickly morphs into 'if we don't do it this way, we lose out on a lot of money' (and how DARE the community or the teachers not get this!)

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2007 at 7:53 pm

Terry -

I agree that what's measured is managed, and I have dedicated much of my time and energy to achievement gap issues. To the extent NCLB makes us pay more attention, that's a good thing.

In some affluent and successful schools and districts, you are correct that NCLB has forced educators to meet the needs of all sub-groups in a school, whereas before they might have been able to sit comfortably on status-quo approaches due to high overall averages.

However, I read quite a bit on this subject, I work with teachers from around the bay area, and correspond with teachers around the country. I have to tell you that what gets measured and managed also gets elevated status beyond any educational logic or reason. The intense pressure to raise test scores at an unreasonable and unsustainable rate hits lower performing schools particularly hard. Some take the approach of sacrificing everything that won't lead to immediate higher test scores, and as a consequence schools turn into test centers. These students might be able to test a little better year by year, but they're missing out on every kind of non-reading non-math curriculum you can imagine. They're being thoroughly left behind in terms of creativity and stimulation. Teachers who manage an art or science lesson in some of these schools feel subversive, and they count the days until testing ends so that they can try to cram in something more interesting before June.

NCLB defenders say that students can't achieve in science, history, art, etc., if they can't read or do math. In fact, most educational research suggests that in the long run students would have greater success in reading and math if they had stimulating, engaging, motivational curriculum that provided authentic purposes for reading and mathematics. But under the threat of having a school dissolved, most schools will knuckle under and cram for the tests. They don't receive the necessary funding to make real curricular innovations that require materials and planning to lead to success. These schools usually have the highest turnover and the least experienced teachers as well.

With time, NCLB will do greater damage, as more and more schools fail to achieve the statistical impossibilities that the law mandates.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:13 pm

Thanks David for your thoughtful comments. My focus was of course on PAUSD, which falls mostly in the first group of schools you describe.

In the second group (and perhaps the first as well), it seems like the answer is not to throw out measurements, but to measure the right thing, and set the right timetable for achieving it. I'm not sure what it is - do you have a suggestion?

But it would be a step backward, in my opinion, to lose the culture of transparent, standardized metrics that NCLB has built. If every school, teacher, and district just does their own thing, then we have no way of telling if they are really doing what we, as voters, taxpayers, and parents, really want them to do.

Posted by Arama Nash, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:13 pm

"What's measured is managed" is another one of those nonsensical idiomatic statements that appear to make sense on the surface, until one digs a little deeper.

How much is measured?

How much is managed?

Who decides what gets measured and managed?

Again, we see non-teaching interests meddling in the classroom for political advantage, in a way that creates inflexible programs and fear. Talk about retro.

Yes, there are deprived and challenged districts that need a "back to basics" approach in the extreme. Why not use programs like NCLB to help those districts?

Better yet, why not do something to eradicate the poverty that leads to unemployment, crime, teenage pregnancies, and poor performance in poverty-stricken America.

How about Head Start, a program proven to have real developmental and educational results. Why was that program curtailed?

The short-sightedness and ignorance about what it takes to create intelligent, adaptive, thinking citizens in this country - at even at times, in this district - is nothing short of stunning. This is what happens when you let certain know-nothing politicians, and well-meaning citizens who have an "opinion" about what should be done in the classroom, get their heavy-handed mitts on public educational policy.

Funny thing: Euroope and Asia don't permit this kind of constant poilitcal meddling in thier K-12 classrooms, and guess what? they have results to show for it.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:23 pm

"What's bad for California teachers, is bad for our schools as far as I'm concerned."

I can't tell if that is spin or just naive. Teachers definitely have something to tell us about education; but they have their own interests as well, on issues like job security, seniority, pay, pensions, vacation time, hours, autonomy (read: "work rules"), etc., just like any other working person, esp. in a unionized environment.

It may be that incentive comp for teachers is both bad for education and bad for teachers; but it if were good for education and bad for teachers, I would expect the union to argue against it.

If leading Democrats, usually aligned with unions, are fighting with them on this, that makes it more likely, in my view, that the unions are simply trying to protect the perceived interests of their members.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:38 pm

That's quite a scree, Arama. But "what gets measured gets managed" is just a fact of life. You are quite right, as David pointed out too, that if you measure the wrong thing, then you are managing the wrong thing, and probably get the wrong result. That isn't a condemnation of metrics - it's a call to action to get the right ones.

Since education has been perceived to be in decline in the US, with a number of particularly urban districts apparently out of control and unable to perform, it seems appropriate to give people a yardstick with which to measure. Perhaps the other countries you mention don't have this problem; but we do.

The worst accusation I've seen of the NCLB metrics is the one David makes - it makes schools "teach to the test," which can be both boring and less productive than more creative approaches. A problem - sure. An improvement over the problems we have - probably. A good start - definitely.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Terry -

I appreciate your follow up. Yes, there's value in standards and transparency. Wish I had the time to go into more depth, but in a nutshell, I'd say that Arama is on the right track (even while critiquing our use of "nonsensical idiomatic statements"!). Less politics, please. There's also a lot of talk right now about multiple measures of achievement. There actually are standardized tests in science, for example, where students are given a set of conditions and questions and then challenged to design and defend an experiment that would provide useful results. Of course, such tests cost more, but combined with some more standard multiple choice tests of content knowledge, I think they'd give a clearer picture of actual student achievement in science. English classes in PAUSD use a standardized writing assessment in the fall, in addition to STAR tests in the spring. The results don't figure into API or AYP as far as I know, but they do provide a standardized measure of writing skill that the STAR tests can't, with each test scored on each of six aspects of writing, by two readers. I do think we'd be better off looking for standards and assessment tools from our professional associations, national bodies of experts in curriculum and instruction, instead of test publishing companies. I'm sure the publishers have their experts, but they also have their profits in mind. You worried that without standards "we have no way of telling if they are really doing what we, as voters, taxpayers, and parents, really want them to do." I take your point, but I think the trend was moving in the direction you'd like prior to NCLB, and set the stage for it. I'd argue that NCLB has had a lot of unintended consequences, so now, in many schools in the country, we know quite well that in many cases "they" (schools/districts) are *not* doing what "we" (parents, teachers, and hopefully most voters) *really* want. But they're stuck doing what Congress and Bush want them to do. We're fortunate that we've been relatively unscathed in PAUSD, at least in my experience.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 2, 2007 at 12:11 am

Regarding unions and performance pay, here's an excerpt of a letter I wrote recently...

It should be noted that the unions and many teachers are not against performance pay as a concept, but rather, promote the idea that performance pay systems should be negotiated within the profession, between teachers and their employers.

Performance pay has been promoted by the Teacher Leaders Network (of which I am a member), and has been successfully implemented in Denver, Minnesota, and elsewhere, with union support. However, teachers and unions will rightfully resist performance pay systems that are legislated rather than negotiated.

... Teachers do need and value legislative support, but the last thing we need is for legislators to bypass negotiations and hand down a pay system that might replicate NCLB's nearly empty promises and myopic emphasis on narrow and flawed test results.

--- Terry, there are many, many legitimate educational reasons teachers resist having pay linked to test scores - too many to list. If you want to look into it, see how Florida tried that and failed. In the places where incentive pay or performance pay seem to be taking hold, you'll find that teachers (and by extension, their local/state unions) are willing to include test scores among many possible measures of effectiveness, but rare is the teacher who would let it all ride on the test scores, and in those cases, I would wonder what kind of trade offs went into the teaching. If you're going to pin a pay check to the two-hour performance of a group of fourteen-year olds, you'll see all sorts of unintended consequences and compromises. Instead, attach incentives to teacher training, ongoing professional development, implementation of effective curriculum and instructional methods, leadership and school reform efforts, and measure the results as many ways as possible.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 12:12 am

Thank you David for elaborating. But if I am correct, I believe NCLB does not specify how states must test, or even what the standards they must use, other than "proficiency at grade level" in reading and math. It is up to the states to decide what proficiency is and how to measure it. So if more complex tests measure better what we want, we can make that choice - not at the district level, but at the state level.

I'm not sure where the best tests will come from, but again, NCLB pretty much just says "ye shall test for reading and math and publish the results in a standardized way" - which I still find hard to argue with.

What would you say the unintended consequences of NCLB have been? If we are unscathed, who has been burnt?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 12:25 am

Thanks David for the comments on incentive comp. I don't have a real strong view on this - my main point was not to rely on the union for impartial analysis. And your points seem valid to me.

Why do you think Miller and Pelosi are pushing the issue?

Posted by agree w/it, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 7:45 am

I believe they are pushing this issue because they are trying to strengthen the Democrats' very weak image as it concerns its ability to set in place measurable metrics for progress in any area.

I believe they are doing this because they know that of all of Western world, our education system consistently comes in last in math and science, and they know that we still have a completely unacceptable number of kids "graduating" from high school with worthless diplomas, and are trying to address it. Measurements give the district the "tool" it needs to push parents into supporting their kids more.

I believe any union will fight anything which takes away its own power, regardless on whether or not it is "good" for the serviced group. Don't get me started on that. Pretty much, my clue is that if a Union is against it, it must be good for the the served.

Now, if we can just stop rewarding having children we can't care for, we will make the single biggest step forward into decreasing poverty and improving education. Teachers can NOT do it alone, not district can..if the family is absent or failing, the student has very little chance of success.

Posted by AB, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 2, 2007 at 8:01 am


"What would you say the unintended consequences of NCLB have been? If we are unscathed, who has been burnt?"

Take a poor, heavily Mexican (or a poor, inner-city heavily minority) district with a failing school.

1. The prescription for improving such a school is usually "back to basics"--that is strip content out of reading and do phonics, drill and kill. It's no surprise to teachers when the kids' reading abilities don't climb because improving reading skills depends on reading books full of contents.

2. Another "fix" is to force teachers to teach according to a script. Yes, a script. Their minutes in the classroom are scripted. They must, for instance, read from a reader to the whole class in a prescribed way for a prescribed period at a prescribed time. Of course, teachers don't like this. As a parent, ask yourself a gut-level question: how much learning could take place in such an environment? You might as well park the kids in front of a TV.

Testing and publishing the tests is a way to stigmatize bad schools, sure. But it won't improve them.

Posted by cd, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 8:46 am

Unpleasant as it may seem, it is consistently seen that the approach of teaching by a script can work if the script is good.

It can and does work for under-prepared children and for gifted and well prepared children.

(There is no way a teachers' union would allow consideration of this approach. In fact, they will and do exert all of their considerable political might to ensure this approach is discredited.

But private schools, and certain magnet or choice schools make it work.)

NCLB may be a very bad thing, as teaching (or paying) to the test may be, but this objection to NCLB does not withstand scrutiny.

Posted by AB, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 2, 2007 at 9:43 am

"[Scripted teaching] can and does work for under-prepared children and for gifted and well prepared children."

There is no evidence for that. It is a claim pushed by right-wing think tanks divorced from the classroom. Do you really want your kid taught by a TV? And gifted kids? That is the last thing in the world they need.

If it sounds loony, ....

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2007 at 10:24 am

What gets measured, gets managed? Uhm No. Not in the case where your measurement is test scores, and you hold the wrong parties accountable for those results. You get teachers awfully motivated to make sure kids pass tests, but that's not where the accountability properly resides to make district level progress on closing the achievement gap.

Measuring the wrong parties allows a district to fail to make progress on its goals toward closing their achievment gap at the same time the district management continues blithefully foward accepting huge funds and diverts staff time and scarce capcity, to luxury programs for well funded special interest groups.

I'm not a teacher, never have been, but I've been an intense board and superintendent/staff observer (and a parent)for some time now. And I can tell you that the boards and superintendent are NOT making decisions that are in the best interest of the kids in the achievment gap. The board and Superintendents are making decision driven by special interest money. If you've got money, you get district resources, you get board attention, including senior staff time, which is TAKEN AWAY from time they should be spending on solving that achievement gap priority or ~whatever~ the district determined strategic goals are - in favor of flopping around in the winds of whatever private donors and big grant dollars blow in to town.

If the metric is test scores - the SUPERINTENDENT and his SENIOR STAFF and BOE are the ones who should be held accountable for that metric. They hold the decisions of the district in their hands, they should be holding the buck for the results and accountabiliy.

It is fully within the power of the superintendent and Board to manage that accountability down through their organziations in way that help them achieve those goals. By hiring and managing high quality teachers, and passing down appropriate metrics for their performance. They can also achieve the right goals by putting resources on the RIGHT programs, they can do that by exerting their influence with the board, the community, the local politicians to make sure closing the achievment gap and fairness in testing procdures, etc. is a top priority and the right kind of attention.

In fact putting hte accountability in the RIGHT PLACE would force the district management to improve their decision making and attention to priorities.

These guys are very highly paid managers. They deserve to be held accountable. They and the boards (not the Feds) should be determining good teachers from bad and managing performance with incentive pay when applicable.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 12:51 pm

Parent - umm, yes ;-) Let's not fight gravity here. Part of the meaning of "what gets measured gets managed" is that if you measure the wrong thing, you manage the wrong thing, and may get the wrong result. It is simply descriptive about human nature.

I tend to agree with you, that holding senior management accountable for results (and providing performance incentives) may make more sense to putting it on front-line teachers. Of course, when the Super gets a big bonus, the unions might not be so happy. But that is generally the way it works in the private sector.

My big point about NCLB is that without metrics, we can't really tell what's going on (esp over time, across places), and it is very easy to get confused. NCLB forced those standard, transparent yardsticks on the schools. Good start.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 1:01 pm

AB, thanks for your (hypothetical) example of unintended consequences of NCLB.

The "back to basics" prescription you describe doesn't come from NCLB, it comes from the district itself, no? NCLB just requires the school to measure proficiency in reading and math, by grade, according to state determined standards, and publicly report it. It doesn't tell the state, or the school, how to teach. If the district has a better way of achieving proficiency, they can and should pursue it. It does focus them on reading and math - but I think that's appropriate.

And the unintended consequence you describe - a poor performing school becomes boring. Perhaps it was more fun before, but unfortunately, the kids weren't achieving proficiency. Maybe it is ok to try something different.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2007 at 2:04 pm

Terry, the only thing I can concede here is that what gets measured get measured - and if action is taken to publish the results, what gets measured gets visible. It doesn't get MANAGED until you give the right metrics to people in a position to make the decisions.

By placing the metrics on teachers, instead of district decision makers you are not improving the decision making process.

yes, I agree that the visibility provided by seeing standardized test results is a valuable tool. But a tool is only as good as who's hands you put it in, and what they use it for.

Nothing can be more demoralizing to an organization than holding the wrong people accoutable for management's bad decisions.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 2, 2007 at 2:36 pm

"Now, no doubt there's a problem with our education system and we're not closing the achievment gap - but is it a teachers problem? Or a management problem?"
It's a management problem! I'm still appalled that Escondido is forced to juggle the teachers' assigned grades 5 DAYS before school starts, with mixed-grade classes added ad hoc. How can a teacher perfect his/her teaching methods if they get jerked around like this at the last minute? A lot of advanced planning goes into successful teaching. Yet no one attempts to see if there's a correlation between this less-than-ideal teaching environment that appears to be unique to Escondido and Escondido's test scores relative to the rest of the district. (Hint, it's not near the top.) If they're so serious about the achievement gap, they ought to look into this. If, that is, they have any time left over between creating & expanding immersion programs, since the same personnel are responsible for closing the achievement gap and managing those programs. Seems to me there's a conflict of responsibilities going on.

Penalizing teachers for things that are beyond their control is plain wrong. Teachers arguably have less control over their end 'product' than other professions. If they're docked for poor results, they may start taking things into their own hands which they SHOULDN'T have control over. For example, teachers who are familiar with their prospective students might start snatching up the 'better performing' students, or the ones with a more involved, supportive family. Creating competition among teachers is detrimental to the profession: teaching has always worked best within a cooperative environment.

If you want to increase teacher quality, reconsider their tenure eligibility rules. If performance accountability is what you're after, penalize the administrators who make poor decisions.

Posted by check out the scores, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Talk, talk, talk.

Has anyone noticed that average test scores are rising across the nation since NCLB?

Incentives, incentives, incentives...

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 4:12 pm

Parent, right now teachers are not measured by their students' test results under NCLB or elsewhere, so far as I know. NCLB mandates reporting at the school and district level, not by classroom. Districts may be using classroom-level results internally, but it is not per NCLB.

It may be that Pelosi et al are suggesting teacher measurement, I'm not sure. As I said earlier, I tend to agree it probably make more sense to hold management accountable for the result than the front-line workers. As YAP pointed out, there are lots of things not under the teacher's control.

Posted by Is this correct?, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2007 at 5:36 pm

NCLB has as its underpinnings the states' own definitions of what makes a proficient student. Check out this New York Times article on the variation among states: Web Link

More food for thought on NCLB.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 2, 2007 at 5:51 pm

Check out,

I've heard test scores are rising, but is that really a sign of better teacher or teachers learning how to teach the test (and schools make sure kids who would lower scores don't take the tests)?

Posted by Parent of 4, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2007 at 6:03 pm

Good point OP

On a similar vein, I have noticed that what is supposed to be grade level math is changing and wonder if this is for similar reasons.

When my eldest child was in 6th grade, mean mode and medium were taught. For my next two, they learnt the same thingin 5th grade. Now my youngest is learning this in 4th grade, early in 4th grade. Are we really teaching them grade level concepts which they can fully understand at their grade level or are we teaching ahead of ourselves. This is something that is really beginning to bug me.

Posted by Joanie, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 2, 2007 at 6:18 pm

I happened to be with a Junior in HS in a nearby city, a couple of days ago. He was helping me with some audio-visual-computer details at a local event. We started to talk to each other. Curent movies. His favorite music, etc. I asked him if he was watching "The War" by Ken Burns. "Nope." He asked, "What war?". I said, "WWII". He said, "Oh, OK, when was that?" I said, "When do you think? Was it before or after WWI or the Civil War?" He said, " I think WWI was before the Civil War, and WWII was after the Civil War." I said, "OK, you are partly right. What century was WWII in?" He said, "I know, I just studied all that, I think it was when Roosevelt was president." I said, "OK, pretty good, but which Roosevelt?" He said, "Was there more than one?" I said, "Yes."

This a completely true story.

Without standardized, high stakes tests for graduation, we will get very little worth having.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 7:28 pm

P of 4 - that's an interesting twist - I've been much more upset about how slowly material is introduced, compared to schools back east, than how quickly. Worth noting though that the state, not NCLB, sets the standards for what "grade level proficiency" is.

What gets measured gets managed - so since we are watching test scores, then they will get "taught to." On the other hand, the material is also more likely to get learned. In the absence of evidence that pupils are NOT learning the material, it seems reasonable to take rising scores as evidence for learning.

Note, as before, that NCLB specifies neither the curricular standards nor the tests to be used. It merely says that there will be metrics against a state-set standard in reading and math. If we think there is a better way to measure, or a more appropriate standard, we can set it as a state. But the concept of measuring educational results, over time and across schools, as an average and especially for at-risk groups, seems like a powerful tool for anyone interested in education.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Terry, you said you didn't read the topic of this post - its not an argument with standardized test scores. Its an argument against the new proposed revisions to NCLB that are currently being brought forth by Pelosi/Miller which will create a tie in between teacher pay and test scores. Are you seriously arguing in favor of this? Will you at least read the link so you can understand what you are defending?

And you keep saying what gets measured gets managed. What gets measured gets attention, but that has NOTHING to do with management. If you support holding teacher pay at ransome for test scores, then you expect teachers to "manage" the district? Again, you need to give accountability for the metrics to the management, not the teachers.

The initial post provided a link or you can go to if you care to understand the actual issue we are talking about.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 8:54 pm

Parent, I did read the original post and the link and did some additional research as well. If you like, you can read my earlier posts to see my comments ;-) I said I'm not sure what Pelosi & Co. are supporting since, reading the bill itself (which I did) it was very hard to discern. As I mentioned above, I do not feel comfortable relying on the CTA's analysis/spin as to what the bill's intent or substance is, since the teachers union obviously (and appropriately) has its own axe to grind on the issue.

My more recent posts have been in reaction to some posters (testhater, David Cohen) who took issue with NCLB and its focus on measurement. As I said a couple times earlier, I think the metrics are very important; the incentive comp for teachers I have no strong view of, but generally agree with others (including yourself I believe) who have pointed out that incentive comp for management may be more appropriate. But I don't understand Pelosi/Miller's proposal well enough to either defend or oppose. Do you have additional info to share on it?

What gets measured gets managed - sorry, it is still true, I guess you just don't like the phrase. "Teaching to the test" is a teacher "managing" against the metric. Principals trying to exclude low-performing students is an administrator "managing" against the metric. State officials setting the proficiency bar is a bureaucrat "managing" against the metric. A district focusing on closing the achievement gap is an organization "managing" against the metric. It simply means that if a system is scrutinized on a certain metric, the people in the system will gear their behavior to impacting the metric. What gets measured gets managed. We just need to try to measure the thing we want people to achieve.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 2, 2007 at 9:22 pm

Hi Terry -

Please don't label or oversimplify my position. I am not a "test hater." I think I went into some detail describing how some tests are better than others. I do worry about how tests are interpreted and often overvalued. And I do have a problem with some of the effects NCLB is having on students in schools that are labeled as failing.

Someone pointed out that the scores are rising, as if that were evidence of improved education. It's not necessarily proof of that - it's only proof of improved test performance. To claim more than that you'd have to do more research on the reliability and validity of the tests (highly debatable for some tests). And then, the real test of quality education is (or should be) whether or not students can apply skills independently, and transfer their tested knowledge to authentic purposes in a variety of forms and contexts. There's no point in repeating yet again how "program improvement" - in many cases, not all - only improves test scores, while degrading other educational outcomes that we would all agree have value in life but no value in NCLB. Perhaps if NCLB were fully funded, more schools would be better able to address test score deficiencies through means other than scripted lessons and elimination of social studies, science, and art.

And yes, Terry, NCLB does leave it up to states to set standards and choose tests. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify - the federal mandate that I was saying sets the bar impossibly high is the idea of having to stay very close to a straight line graph of annual growth, culminating at 100% proficiency within 7 years. There's nothing realistic, or even statistically possible, in that model - unless maybe proficiency is defined as something only slightly harder than breathing.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 9:31 pm

Sorry David, I did not mean to insult your thoughtful comments. I think you may have missed the reference - the first commenter on this thread used the handle 'testhater'. It was a list, not a modifier of your name ;-)

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 2, 2007 at 9:46 pm

Thanks for clarifying, Terry. Sorry I misunderstood. I should have read more carefully - it did seem a bit unlike you, based on your previous posts.

For everyone else, here's an interesting report on merit pay - an audio report, "Newsweek on Air." The story is called "Merit Pay: An Apple for Teachers."

Web Link

Listeners should note that the teachers who like merit pay in Denver are making important changes and improvements in their teaching without relying on annual test scores, and without shying away from them. Denver has committed to the extra money for this program and has gotten out in front of the fed. govt. on the issue. It's a pretty good report on the subject.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 9:49 pm

David, I'm not sure I agree with your dim view of the NCLB AYP (annual yearly progress) targets. The targets are aggressive and arbitrary - totally agree. One thing that has struck me as I have gone through life (that I absolutely didn't believe when I was younger) is the power of arbitrary goals in driving surprising performance. I would rather we set the bar high and fall a little short than set it lower and, well, fall a little short. And if we hit it - wow, that would be awesome. Frankly, I am not sure how better to set goals for progress on proficiency - do you have a proposal?

If people are interested, here is a very clearly written page from the North Carolina State Board of Ed web site describing how NCLB and AYP are applied there. Web Link

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 2, 2007 at 11:45 pm

Terry, your views make sense - they just don't match what's actually happening, as I see it. NCLB sets impossible goals, and contains harsh consequences for failing to meet them. The law seems incompatible with the more relaxed attitude implied in "I would rather we set the bar high and fall a little short than set it lower and, well, fall a little short. And if we hit it - wow, that would be awesome."

I'm not questioning what you've observed in life, or I agree that what you say could work in some cases in some settings. But my information about schools in or near "program improvement" stages is coming from reading about what's *actually* happening more often than not, and from talking to teachers around the bay area and around the country. The problem is that in program improvement schools, there are too few opportunities for teachers to get creative or to receive training and support that isn't focused entirely on raising those test scores. Even if there is measureable improvement in test performance, many of us don't see that as improvement in education.

It seems hard for many people to understand how a good test score could be anything other than a sign of good education. Well, what if I decided that my high school basketball team had to improve its offense in order to win more games? So, shooting drills, layup drills, free throws, run the offense, run the offense, run the offense... Then, measure my results. My team is scoring more points per game. Are they a better team now? Can't tell, right? Okay, I'll be fair... what if I said we scored more points this year than last year, *and* we won more games this year? Are we a better team? Did the scoring increase cause the wins? Those who don't understand basketball will impulsively say yes: more points --> more wins --> better team. Those who do understand the game will say, not so fast. Any significant changes in the roster? Is the team playing better defense? Are they winning close games? Have any rules changed that affect scoring in general? Has the level of competition changed? And then, are the players able to self-correct when things go wrong? Can they advance in the playoffs? Do they have enough all-around skill and understanding of the game to play at the next level? Have they acquired any skills that will help them in another sport, or help them in life? Too complicated to measure quality so narrowly, isn't it? So are schools overall less complex than basketball?

By the way, that's why all this intensive effort in reading skills is not producing lasting results. Reading test scores are up for younger kids whose standards are lower level, but they're not sustaining the progress on tests when they're older because the *test-focused* reading strategies aren't actually making them *better* readers, just better at testing. As reading tasks get more complicated, many students aren't prepared for the shift and aren't interested in reading. And the most obvious thing in reading research is that nothing improves reading like reading, so generating interest is vital to sustained growth.

You ask how I would propose measuring - I won't get too technical here, but the guiding principles should be what's known in eduspeak as "growth models" (compare the same kids year to year, not this year's third grade compared to last year's), "multiple measures," (not all your eggs in one testing basket), and more frequent, classroom-based authentic assessments that matter more and have greater buy-in from all stakeholders.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 2, 2007 at 11:54 pm

OhlonePar asks, "I've heard test scores are rising, but is that really a sign of better teacher or teachers learning how to teach the test (and schools make sure kids who would lower scores don't take the tests)?"
The real question to ask may be even more skeptical: Are rising test scores a sign of lowered standards?
Here's an article by the NSBA (National School Boards Association) Web Link . The title says it all: "Study concludes high-performing states use less stringent standards than lower-performing". A few quotable bits:
"According to the study, the enormous variations among states in the percentage of students reaching proficiency "can be largely attributed to differences in the stringency of [state] standards" in setting achievement levels."
"many states have taken the safe route by keeping standards low. Critics contend states are more worried about creating the appearance of academic progress than in raising standards. "Ironically, No Child reforms may have the exact opposite effect they were intended to have," says Bruce Fuller, an education and public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley."
"States use a number of "cheap tricks" to create the illusion that students are doing better than they really are, said Dan Koretz, a Harvard University testing expert. Those include designing tests easy enough for almost all students to pass or lowering passing scores to make sure most students make the grade."

Getting back to the main point of this topic -- should teachers be held accountable for their students' progress -- consider this: If states jigger the tests to make themselves look good, what do you suppose the teachers unions will do to protect their members if this NCLB revision passes?

BTW, your parenthesized comment isn't an issue – they've designed the API score around this loophole. Schools get marked down if they don't test nearly all their students. I don't remember the exact percentage required to be tested, but it's a very high number that some schools struggle to meet.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 12:30 am

One more point about NCLB that's critical. The original bill passed with a promise of federal funding that hasn't materialized. States are required by law to conduct these tests and pay the consequences for not showing sufficient student progress, yet the federal government's shortfall in promised funding exceeds $56 billion. I urge Pelosi and Miller to hold out for the federal bucks before they subject school districts to more unfunded 'teaching to the test' nonsense.
Someone asked earlier why the CA Teachers Association is against this bill, or rather why Pelosi would author a bill that undermines the teachers' unions. For a biased view of the reauthorization proposal, check the CTA's official position at Web Link .

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 1:07 am

David, thanks for your thoughtful response on metrics. But I guess my response is that just because education is hard to measure doesn't mean we should not try. To use your basketball example, if we the team loses too many games too long, there may be lots of reasons - but we need to try something new. There are probably lots of reasons the for the bad result - injuries, payroll, draft choices, rule changes, all the things you listed. But, hey Coach, the score is the score and we have to face that. If Johnny can't pass the test, maybe he is indeed learning valuable skills for that will kick in later in life - but I really really would like him to be able to pass the test and take my chances on how things go later.

We are where we are because so many people had become so dissatisfied with primarily our urban education systems for so long, as well as the achievement gap with special groups (minorities, ELLs, special ed, economically disadvantaged). In your basketball analogy, we had a cellar-dweller team that wasn't improving, despite lots of different things that were tried. So NCLB is not perfect - but yes, if we run suicides, do drills, basic defense, etc.(ever see the movie "Coach Carter"?), it does seem reasonable we'll get better. No guarantee, but it makes sense.

The issue I see with growth measures is that it measures improvement, but not whether a target is hit. Johnny may be reading better than last year, but if he is 3 years behind in 10th grade, we haven't done well enough. We might want growth measures for other purposes (teacher evaluation, understanding Johnny), but it doesn't seem like an adequate measure of school performance. Multiple measures of proficiency seems perfectly sensible, since no measurement instrument is perfect for the skills we are teaching - and, as far as I know, under NCLB states can use multiple measures if they choose to, as long as they add up to a measure of overall proficiency.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 1:17 am

And on the issue of "is education really improving or not" - it took us many decades to get where we are. NCLB was passed in 2001. There will be plenty of loopholes to close, data to gather, tactics to evaluate, etc. For instance, if in fact we are hitting early grade targets by using tactics that don't improve results in later grades - well, that short-sighted strategy will fail and districts will figure it out and have to change. If the measures are imperfect or the standards too low, we'll need to work on that too. But the principle of transparency and standard metrics seems necessary to understand what we are getting.

Posted by prove it, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 11:27 am

YAP: No, states aren't required to "pay the consequences" of failure, they simply don't get rewarded for the success they don't show. As far as the funding, in fact NCLB is fully funded. If you claim it isn't, please prove it.

Terry: I recommend Coach Carter to everyone I know also. It is an incredible look into how so much of educational failure is a result of cultural collapse.

I like the rest of what you say also

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 12:20 pm

"As far as the funding, in fact NCLB is fully funded. If you claim it isn't, please prove it."
Fair enough. These are my sources: American Federation of Teachers claims that NCLB is shortchanged by $70.9 billion Web Link . LA Assoc. of Educators claims the amount is $23.8 billion Web Link . Sen. Chris Dodd claims it's a $12 billion shortfall Web Link . U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa said it's a cumulative $39 billion. That was back in 2005 Web Link .
There's more...

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 12:22 pm

...Sorry, I had to break this into 2 posts because I had too many URLs in my comment.

The National Association of Teachers suggests the cumulative 4-year gap in funding is $33.21 billion Web Link . And then there's the CA Teachers Association's figure which I referenced earlier at $56 billion Web Link .

Some of the discrepancies are due to dated figures or cumulative vs. annual shortfall, but any way you measure it NCLB is not "fully" funded.

What are your sources for claiming that it is fully funded?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 4:04 pm

YAP, any sources that aren't politicians or teachers unions would be useful; hard to always take those sources on their word. News orgs, academics, non-partisan think tanks? I'll look too.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 4:15 pm

Okay - I'll look for them just as soon as "prove it" comes up with evidence that NCLB *is* fully funded. Is that fair? In the meantime, thanks for your offer to look.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Gee thanks YAP, that's sporting of you.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Terry, you've appealed to my sense of good sportsmanship. I'll play another round.

This one is from Stanford University's School of Education Web Link .

From the Hoover Institution Web Link .

And from Columbia University Web Link.

I'd do more except there's a limit to the number of weblinks allowed per post. They're all very informative articles. For anyone who's interested, try searching for "NCLB funding short university". Here's one last one, along with a summary quote that describes the types of opposing organizations and their gripes. It's from the Michigan Education Report Web Link.

"In October [2005], a national coalition of more than 20 organizations dealing with education, civil rights, children, disabilities and citizens' concerns called for major changes to NCLB. The coalition's requested reforms included changes in the act's progress measurements, sanctions and funding. Among other specific changes, the coalition is collectively requesting a raise in authorized levels of federal NCLB money to cover a substantial percentage of the costs that states and districts will incur in carrying out the remedies required under the NCLB in cases where students repeatedly demonstrate weak academic performance. The coalition also argues that the federal government has failed to "fully fund Title I" federal monies for disadvantaged children."

Okay, Prove It, now I'm really calling your bluff. What do you have to show? (Tip: Don't bother searching for "NCLB fully funded" because that just leads to law suit complaint links.)

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 10:36 pm

Hi again Terry, and everyone else -

Regarding my idea of reasonable principles for measuring success, yes, you need to take them together. Your issue regarding growth models is right on, but conversely, you can't take an absolute standard in isolation either. If a child is way behind and makes more than a year's progress in a year's time, it seems misleading to lable that growth as failure. If a student measures "ahead of grade level" and then dips to "grade level," wouldn't you also like that information? Not to jump to conclusions, but as one of several snapshots.

Regarding the basketball analogy: you chose to counter an argument I didn't make. You wrote, "But I guess my response is that just because education is hard to measure doesn't mean we should not try." I never said otherwise. In fact, I'm saying we should do much more assessment than NCLB has led to, and do it more intelligently - see my posts above on that point.

You also wrote, "But, hey Coach, the score is the score and we have to face that." This doesn't sit well with me. Well, yes, the score is the score, but its meaning is more complex than that. You seem to acknowledge that, but then fall back into the simplistic view. We do have to face the score, but we don't have to treat the evidence of a shortcoming as if it *is* the shortcoming. A good team can play a good game and lose. A bad team can play a bad game and win. Yes, yes, yes, we should try to win, we should pay attention to scores and records. But if you concede the complexity, why fall back into the oversimplification? We can do better than that.

You wrote, "If Johnny can't pass the test, maybe he is indeed learning valuable skills for that will kick in later in life - but I really really would like him to be able to pass the test and take my chances on how things go later." That seems to me like we're throwing up our hands and saying, "oh well, we can't gather all the data we need to see what's really happening and what might work, so I'll trust in the test (why? because it seems objective? like the final score?) and hope for the best later." I think we deserve better.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Yet Another Parent - I think we can declare a winner! Nice work!

The link from Stanford University School of Education that you provided above is fabulous, particularly since it doesn't just critisize what's wrong with the current NCLB, but it describes exactly what SHOULD be done in order to bring competitiveness and equity back in to the system. Nowhere does it say teachers should be left holding the bag. In fact it says:

"How to (Really) Leave No Child Behind
There are hundreds of proposals for tweaking NCLB, but a substantial paradigm shift is required if our education system is to support powerful learning for all students. The Forum on Educational Accountability, a group of more than 100 education and civil rights organizations--including the National Urban League, the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, as well as the associations representing teachers, administrators and school boards--has argued that "the law's emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement."

I think Pelosi and Miller need to read this link! I hope they will!

Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 4, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Joanie, Im not much for one-off stories like that- your AV helper may be a D student for all we know. If anything, though, its worth noting that that kids education is brought to you by NCLB and mindless 'teach the test' requirements!

Posted by From the Hoover link, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 4:32 pm

From the Hoover link above ( the only "disinterested" link above)

"In short, the Department of Education's current level of appropriation for state assessments—$391 million—appears to be enough to cover the full marginal cost of federally mandated tests that states actually administered. This level of funding may not be sufficient going forward, however, as more states roll out the full complement of required tests and enrich the tests with more open-response questions."

The critical pieces to any discussion about "unfunded mandates" in NCSL is to remember ;

1) it is fully funded now ( as I stated),
2) no State, or even District, is required to participate, ( which means it isn't a mandate) and there is no punishment for non-participation, and
3) there MAY be insufficent funding in the future, as States increase compliance, but that the ONLY solution isn't increase funding.. it may mean shifting from one piece of the pie to another.

What my point earlier was that some of us, many of us, are getting very tired of the constant and unending demand for "more", with never a look at possibly spending more wisely. This automatic "more more more" attitude turns a lot of us completely off, and does more harm than good to the cause of education. We have put "more, more, more" into education in the last 40 years, and only gotten worse and worse and worse. Clearly money is not the be-all that we have been led to believe.

Posted by to Eric, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 4:34 pm

back when we "taught to the tests" we were the number one State in a nation that was the first to put someone on the moon, and created a generation of inventors unprecedented in our history.


Posted by non native, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2007 at 5:06 pm

I was taught to the test as were many non-natives of the US who are now working very successfully and leading the world in innovative technology in Silicon Valley. In fact, look at any top line company here in the Valley and compare how many US educated v foreign educated staff are in their key positions and ask yourself why?

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 4, 2007 at 6:20 pm

'prove it' AKA 'From the Hoover link',
Calling the Hoover Institution article "disinterested" is a stretch. Check the authors' bios -- one is named as a defendant in the Massachusetts school finance case, and both testified for the defense. Hardly "disinterested", and certainly not unbiased. I'm glad to see that you actually followed the link, though, and I hope you thought it was sporting of me to offer it in plain view.

What's interesting to note is that even these highly biased authors suggest that, in their words, "Federal support of school evaluation and technical assistance, required under NCLB, is underfunded. This gap is likely to grow significantly as more schools are found to be "in need of improvement.""
The case (literally) they're attempting to make is that the shortfall isn't as great as their opponents suggest – if they could just shift the money around a bit. I'd like to see how these authors would defend NCLB's impact on California. Statewide, our school performance is significantly lower than Massachusetts'. How would they shift our pie?

So now I might ask you, do you have any disinterested sources which prove that NCLB is fully funded? But frankly, I believe this diverts attention from the main goal: to ask our representatives to vote against the NCLB reauthorization bill and seek more effective ways to improve our country's education system.

The people against NCLB aren't arguing for more, more, more. They want less, less, less – NCLB. Did you read the Stanford link? Web Link The answer isn't more funding of a poorly designed federal law.

Posted by any "member" name you wish, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 4, 2007 at 9:44 pm

Money won't solve every problem. But what if the problem is inadequate funding?

"California ranks 34th in the nation in spending on schools
(as measured on a per pupil spending basis). This compares
unfavorably with our status in the mid–1960's when we
were ranked 5th in the nation and had an education system
we were proud of. We now spend $8,237 per student, $970
less than the U. S. average and $5,503 less than New Jersey
(ranked number 1) spends. California schools have more
students per teacher than all but two other states in the nation
and fewer computers in its schools than every other state."
Web Link.

I'm not saying that those figures explain everything. I see them as symptoms of a larger problem, an indication that our voters/taxpayers/politicians undervalue education. The sad part of it is that the payoffs should be well-understood by now. Investment in education leads to increased productivity for the economy. But we can't talk about tax increases where it would make most sense because of big businesses (publicly held)that are driven by quarterlies instead of long-term interests, and the politicians who love them. So shortsighted...

Another interesting tidbit from a dissinterested party - the Economic Policy Institute:
'Proficiency for All' — An Oxymoron
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that all students be proficient by 2014. But some policy makers think that this goal can be achievable if only schools had more time to improve. This new paper by Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen and Tamara Wilder concludes that there is no date by which all (or even nearly all) students in any subgroup can achieve the NCLB requirement of proficiency on "challenging" standards, because no goal can simultaneously be challenging to and achievable by all students across the entire achievement distribution. The authors show that even the highest scoring countries in the world cannot meet this standard, nor could they meet a standard that required only basic skills of all students. The paper concludes by showing how policy makers could formulate expectations of realistic improvement across the entire distribution of student ability.
Web Link

Posted by gimlet eye, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2007 at 7:36 am

We, frankly, in California also have some of the biggest elephants in the room...illegal immigrants and unwed mothers/percent of children being raised on the dole with all the social implications that brings.

It is much more than money.

And, this "35th" spending per student is a manipulated "statistic".

Reality- We now spend over $11,000/student throughout California, when all spending is taken into account. People who have an interest in playing with the numbers don't like to include much of the spending we do. In 202-2003 we ranked above 24 States in per pupil spending. It is higher now, since we now spend more. (Web Link go to page 112. This is a factually based open access research institute, Pacific Research Institute, with an open bias toward free-market and comprehensive research.)

Reality- per pupil spending has virtually no impact on student outcomes. The extreme example is Washington DC which spends the most per student, and is 51st in outcome. There are districts in California which outspend us, but which do "worse" ( really, not as well) in outcome.

It is not a unidimensional argument. It is a multi-faceted SOCIAL issue.

Posted by Far Away, a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2007 at 6:12 pm

The discussion started with the "accusation" that Miller and Pelosi suggest to "tie our teachers salaries to children's standardized test scores." This is correct, in the sense that Miller's draft suggest to use student achievement as ONE of the components that should go into teacher evaluation. ONE of the components. Not the SOLE one; not the MOST IMPORTANT one; just ONE OF. Imagine the gall to demand that student achievement will have at least some effect on teacher bonuses. Tomorrow someone may demand to pay the engineer for productivity, or the lawyer for success! Heaven forbid! And nobody even suggests penalizing teachers -- just not giving them extra bonuses.

Funding/not funding NCLB. We should distinguish between the actual direct costs of NCLB, and the financial promises made to the states and teacher unions to make them accept NCLB. The direct NCLB costs are associated with development and maintenance of tests and the overall accountability system, which are mandated from DC. Those costs are relatively small and covered. Then there are the financial promises made to make NCLB more politically viable. Those are less or more funded, depending how one chooses to count. But we should not forget that the responsibility to educate, and the lion share of funding, are still the responsibility of the state government. States use the excuse NCLB not being fully funded when they try to evade responsibility. Federal funds cover about 10-12% of education costs, and are mostly directed toward disadvantaged students. In truth these costs are the state responsibility too, but for variety of reasons feds have been increasingly funding them over the years. We are talking here at best about another couple of percent to the overall school education budget, a change typically much smaller than the annual budget change from the state.

Bottom line -- NCLB attempts mostly to measure the performance and introduce some measure of accountability into education. Most of the squeaking is really due to someone's incompetence being exposed (at school, district, union, or state level) and their attempts to point finger at Washington to divert attention from themselves. Is NCLB perfect? Certainly not. Are some schools or district reacting in a foolish and sometimes damaging ways to accountability? Sure. But is this the reason to lose the transparency that finally came to our education system? You must be kidding!

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Well said.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 5, 2007 at 10:26 pm

Jumping back in...

Far Away presents a false choice. To criticize the flaws in NCLB is not equivalent to wanting to lose the transparency that finally came to our education system." So, when you conclude with "You must be kidding!" I wonder if you're the one kidding - you're shooting down an argument no one has made.

Then there's the sarcasm: "Tomorrow someone may demand to pay the engineer for productivity, or the lawyer for success! Heaven forbid! " I happen to be in favor of some kind of merit/performance pay system - but not to be imposed, and not the kind you'd get with this line of thinking. The engineer and the lawyer have obvious flexibility and choices that don't exist for schools and teachers. And will the engineer have to work with substandard technology, and have no input about what projects to tackle? Let's try this with hospitals and their staff, and base bonuses on patient outcomes. Do you think patients would benefit equally from that system? What ward would you want to work in then? What if the incentive system dealt only with in-patient care? Would out-patient doctors see a flaw in a system that only measures some patient outcomes and only rewards some physicians in the hospital? What if doctors were the only ones receiving the bonuses, while nurses do most of the work? See, it's just not that simple - if you can't see or describe any of the complexity, it's hard to have a substantial discussion.

Then the broad characterization... "Most of the squeaking is really due to someone's incompetence being exposed (at school, district, union, or state level) and their attempts to point finger at Washington to divert attention from themselves." That statement is flatly contradicted by the broad array of NCLB critics who are not at risk of being exposed. I have to disagree with Terry... not only is this one not "well said," it's not well-reasoned or well-grounded.

If you have a moment, here's an important report about something missing from most discussions. While we're all gung ho about standards for teaching and learning, we lack standards for schools. In the details of this particular report, you can see how many children are left behind before they ever get to school. To expect the same results from all schools without providing for the needs of all schools should be a rather obvious wrong to fix.

Web Link.

Posted by Benjamin, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 5, 2007 at 11:12 pm

NCLB is a cover for putting a sufficient number of public schools in trouble, with the end result that they have to be taken over by privately run teaching companies.

NCLB is, essentially, a subterfuge for the Bush-inspired, neocon genesis of the gutting of public education.

NCLB was presented, as are so many politically motivated educational programs, as a balm for our kids - the worst kind of manipulation, from probably one of the most dangerously manipulative American Presidential administrations in our nation's history.

Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Oct 5, 2007 at 11:27 pm

I'm not one for conspiracy theories but Benjamin isn't the first to suggest this. Even if it wasn't the plan, there are people who pretty openly hope it happens that way, and the law is written in a way that would make it possible. I don't think it would actually happen though.

Posted by Far Away, a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2007 at 11:29 pm

Anyone who really believes that doctors are paid by seniority only and not by their performance must have just immigrated from Cuba. Independent of that, let me repeat that education is the responsibility of the state. Washington already diverts most of its money to disadvantaged students and schools, and this money has about doubled since NCLB. Unfortunately it is not only about money, but also about how one spends (or wastes) it. I think someone already mentioned DC, with its huge per-student spending and its last-in-the-nation achievement.

As to Benjamin's belief that NCLB is a neocon conspiracy, those neocons must be awfully smart to get Miller and Pelosi carry water for them. Conversely, Miller and Pelosi (and Kennedy) must be so dumb!

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2007 at 5:19 pm

Just when I thought this thread was dying, some new action ;-)

David, I'm not sure what your "false choice" statement meant - so are you saying NCLB is a good step, but let's improve the measures? I'm all for it; heck, the state of California could do its own measure, overlaid on NCLB - they dole out tons more money to California schools. So we don't have to wait for the feds, we can just go to Sacramento. I actually think that is consistent with Far Away's thinking too. Do we all agree??

FWIW, I do agree, as Far Away said, that at least some of the opposition to NCLB comes from challenging of vested interests; would you agree?

I'm a big "one step at a time" guy - take a big step in the right direction, then make adjustments. But take the step, and if it is a big problem, lets take a big step. I view NCLB in this light. We have had decades of perceived (and real?) decline in (particularly urban) public eduction and growing frustration with what appears to be an impenetrable and intractable problem. NCLB provides some transparency and some accountability; in that way, it helps with the crucial job of rebuilding public trust. It needs improvement, just as David suggests, and certainly is not a silver bullet solution. But I would say we are better of with it than without it.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 6, 2007 at 5:27 pm

I didn't say doctors were paid by seniority. I also said that I do favor some form of incentive/performance pay for teachers. I was using a hypothetical situation to suggest that the situation is more complex than was suggested, and used the complexities of a hospital to make the point, since the simplistic suggestion offered suggests a lack of familiarity with how schools and learning really work. Anyone who wants to rebut my position by distorting it and struggles with analogies must have just... sorry, it's rude to insult people.

Your point about wasteful spending deserves some consideration. I'd love to see the waste cut, but I'd love to hear where you see the waste. I'm sure it's there in the upper administration and state expenditures, especially the ones that go into managing standards and assessment. I'm not against what they do, but I'll bet they're treated better in the workplace. Teachers who have to spend out of pocket for basic supplies and have to walk from one building to another to an overworked, dilipidated printer to pick up what they printed from their outdated computers have trouble saying schools are overfunded. Around half of our state's science teachers lack the supplies to conduct lab science in lab science classes. Most schools in the state make do with too few and aging text books, and we scrounge up second hand furniture from garage sales and business hand-me-downs.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 6, 2007 at 5:56 pm

Terry wrote: "David, I'm not sure what your "false choice" statement meant "

Far Away tried the same things Margaret Spellings does. They suggest that if you criticize NCLB you are against standards and assessment, against transparency, against educating all students. Both of Bush's picks for Sec. of Ed. have been quite condescending towards teachers and anyone who disagrees with Bush/NCLB.

Terry: "so are you saying NCLB is a good step, but let's improve the measures?" I'm saying NCLB had some worthy principles, but unrealistic targets and poorly design in many aspects.

Terry: "at least some of the opposition to NCLB comes from challenging of vested interests; would you agree?" Qualified agreement - I agree about where it's coming from, but not necessarily why. I'm one of those vested interests, and my opposition comes from having a better understanding of education than the politicians who tell us what to do to implement their flawed program.

Terry: " But I would say we are better of with it than without it." I appreciate your acknowledgment that it needs fixing, but I wouldn't go so far as to say one way or another that we're better off with/without it. Depends on the school/district/state, and what measure you choose. Test scores are up, but standards have been lowered to make the scores go up. We're paying attention to more struggling students, but dumbing down and narrowing their curriculum to for the sake of test scores. The one unambiguous benefit I see is the great increase in dialogue about education within national policy discussion and debate.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Thanks David. I don't think there is much in life that couldn't be improved, so I wouldn't so much say NCLB needs "fixing" (implying it is "broken" and maybe should be thrown out) as it needs improvement. But I think it is a big step in the right direction.

Your status as an insider may hinder your understanding of us outsiders - we just can't tell how much the vested interests are contributing to the problems by protecting their interests. That's the "trust" issue with educators (and why, at the start of this thread, I didn't want to rely on the CTA for legislative analysis). There is a balancing act - we need simple enough measures that we as citizens can readily grasp them, but subtle enough that they measure something meaningful. And uniformity of measures at the state level seem very useful indeed, so we can compare results over place and time.

The issues you raise - what should proficiency be, what are the best ways to measure, how quickly should we get there - are good issues that can and should be adjusted based on experience. Totally agree. But we need to preserve the framework of having standardized and transparent goals and metrics. That to me is what NCLB delivers. It's been in place, from a standing start, since 2001 - six years is not a long time in the context of the US education system. I would like to improve the system, not toss it out or start again from scratch.

Posted by Far Away, a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2007 at 9:52 am

Today's front page Washington Post starts with (needs registration): Web Link

Danielle Chappell had no reason to doubt she was a solid student. She earned decent grades, even scoring some A's in English and math, while balancing schoolwork with basketball, track and a spot on the dance team. Hear her story.
Then she graduated from Cardozo High School and arrived at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where she bombed the placement tests so badly that she had to take remedial English and math. She failed the makeup math course twice before passing it. Low grades overall put her on academic probation. Finally, mid-sophomore year, she was forced to withdraw.
In the 1950s, Cardozo's new location was a beacon of black academic hopes. Several decades later, when the Class of 2005 arrived, the building had deteriorated so much that students said it distracted from their academic education.
Chappell sometimes thinks back to the Cardozo math teacher who, instead of assigning algebra homework, would have students clip photos of motorcycles from magazines and do other projects unrelated to math. "I thought it was strange and weird," Chappell said, but she did not complain because the class was "an easy A."

This is exactly what NCLB tries to address. California State also has no choice but put half of its students into remediation in their first year, and many fail. Not all of the country is Palo Alto, and even Palo Alto has its own problems with 10-15% of students which it fails. If teachers and administrators want to be treated like professionals, they should behave like ones and be responsible for their own failures.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 7, 2007 at 11:42 am

Far Away,
While I heartily agree with you about teachers being responsible for their own failures, it's important that they not be held responsible for that which is beyond their control.

I sit on a county level education board (not to be confused with a BOE). Last month as we were going around the room giving our updates, one woman elatedly announced, "We have textbooks!" They'd been teaching without textbooks. Can you imagine?

Her jurisdiction is made up of some of the most failing students in the county. I'm sorry to say it in such un-PC terms, but these students would make any teacher look inept. Failing to provide teachers with textbooks and then proposing to attach their salary to their students' performance is --- I struggle to find the right word.

David Cohen's Web Link addresses this issue of creating equal Opportunity To Learn standards. Great link, David, thanks.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 7, 2007 at 8:47 pm

Far Away -

Thanks for the link to the Wash.Post story. I totally agree that there's a huge problem illustrated there. We can totally agree on the problem, agree on the intent of NCLB, but disagree on the structure of and effectiveness of NCLB.

I seem to recall that you brought up how much D.C. schools spend, and I agree with you that money should be spent wisely. Whatever the cause within the system, this school certainly seemed strapped for cash on the instructional level. I chose a few additional quotes which illustrate to me why NCLB is not the answer for this school, and why, as a teacher, I would take issue with the suggestion that the problem lies with with me if the school can't keep pace with unrealistic NCLB requirements.

"Other students said they suffered from the failures of a city public school system that could not keep records straight, classrooms orderly or hallways safe."

"The school has just two copy machines, one of which is broken, [a teacher] said.
'That printer doesn't work,' he said, pointing to an aging, bulky machine in his classroom. It has been out of commission for five weeks, he said, and 'I don't know when it's going to be fixed.'"

"[The principal] said he had to cope with gangs -- particularly African American girl gangs and Hispanic boy gangs -- which he tried to manage with police officers and security guards and with regular sessions between students and counselors."

The only hope for a school like this is to get everyone on board - staff, students, community - and strive for a cultural change that will be gradual and difficult. That kind of change requires great buy-in from everyone, and intense, meaningful engagement of a variety that NCLB is too rigid to support.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 9:04 pm

I'm not sure how NCLB prevents the DC district and the school in question from doing what you suggest, David. I agree those are important things to try to do, but they obviously have not been successful at doing them, possibly from lack of incentive. Perhaps the visibility of their failures via NCLB will put a spotlight on the issues and encourage the local players to take action - it seems clear that the mere fact that everyone inside the system was aware of the failures did not move them to action. Are you suggesting we need additional federal programs to address those issues? Does NCLB prevent them from addressing those problems?

Also, isn't part of the program with NCLB that if schools are identified as needing improvement that the parents get the right to transfer their children to other schools? Were I a parent of a child at the school in the article, I doubt I would want to wait around for the "gradual and difficult" process of improvement you describe - my kids can't wait for that. Those who wish to can stay and work to create change; those who do not wish to wait can try elsewhere. That seems a very important aspect of NCLB to me.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 7, 2007 at 10:03 pm

Hello Terry -

I admit I haven't worked in a school having anything like the problems described in this article, but sheesh! - how much more incentive do you think they needed? In fact, it's not incentive... NCLB isn't the carrot - it's the stick! I challenge your assumption that those who knew the problems were not moved to action; if they did act, they didn't succeed, and there may be numerous reasons for that. I'm also not letting everyone off the hook. Some examples in the article suggest poor teaching practice, regardless of conditions. As I've said before, I do agree with you that NCLB has had one clear benefit - bringing these issues to the fore, even if the picture NCLB presents can be misleading.

And I'm not saying that NCLB absolutely couldn't apply a good kind of pressure for change. Now, I'm not going to claim that I know everything here - but as I've said before, I communicate regularly with teachers around the bay area and around the nation through a couple of leadership opportunities. These are some of the teachers most knowledgeable about education and most committed to students and schools, and I can think of only one teacher among them who *might* have good things to say about the *overall* effects of NCLB - though many of us might have good things to say about the development of good standards, improved assessment, and transparent reporting. In this one case, it took a monumental effort and great flexibility to turn her school around (she was actually hired to lead that process). However, the vast majority of schools (according to multiple studies) respond to NCLB sanctions by compromising on curriculum and instruction in ways that are fundamentally at odds with what we know about LEARNING, as opposed to testing.

Regarding the transfer issue in NCLB, I agree I'd be looking for other options for my children. Depending on the school system, however, that might have the effect of harming other schools. Would you want your children's school enrollment to swell in detrimental ways just because of the perception (possibly flawed) that one school is better than another? It's a complicated issue - no easy answers. But I will tell you this, with no qualification or hesitation: if I were examining the quality of my children's school and the appropriateness of moving them elsewhere, standardized test scores would be last on my list of considerations - still on the list, but last. Not saying everyone should think as I do, of course, but there are much more important things to know about how well a school is serving your child - academically, socially, and developmentally.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 10:38 pm

David - really, standardized test scores would be last thing you look at? That surprises me. I guess I would agree if we are talking about minor differences (I actively dislike the "my school came in first" game that gets played in elite towns with regard to statewide testing). But what if I showed you a school with, say, 80% of the kids below proficiency in reading and math, and another with 20% below proficiency (in the same state, so proficiency is the same); that wouldn't tell you a lot about the school you wanted to know? (I'm assuming having your children learn the material is a very important goal for you of course.) I think that's the kind of choice parents at these failing schools are looking at. What are the other items that would be readily available to a parent that you would focus on in your choice?

And yes, I'd rather overcrowd the good schools (and bring down their performance somewhat) than keep kids locked into bad schools. If we can't offer a better school experience to those actually willing to make the effort to go get it, then we have truly failed those people.

On the DC school - maybe I am missing your point. You ask how much more incentive do they need - well, clearly more than they have, since the problem isn't being addressed and there were teachers described as just passing the kids along and giving busy work, which I imagine could not be done for long without department heads, principals, and district C&I staff being aware of it. When I said an incentive, I did mean a "stick" in fact (a negative incentive) - sounds like a stick is needed, don't you think? Do we need to bribe them to do better than that?

How do you think NCLB causes "compromis[e] on curriculum and instruction in ways that are fundamentally at odds with what we know about LEARNING, as opposed to testing." What is the learning approach that is forgone - does it not show up in testing? If so, I guess I challenge it - unless your quarrel is with the standard (lower proficiency) or the testing instrument (wrong measure), both of which are chosen by the state, of course, not NCLB. Perhaps the core of the objection is "teaching to the test" - but if we can't at least get good performance on the test, how do we know the learning is happening? And if the test is bad, why have the states chosen such bad tests?

BTW, I'm curious as to your view of "high-stakes" exit exams - good idea?

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2007 at 9:30 am

Terry you said: "there were teachers described as just passing the kids along and giving busy work,which I imagine could not be done for long without department heads, principals, and district C&I staff being aware of it. When I said an incentive, I did mean a "stick" in fact (a negative incentive)."

So Terry, we have a fundamental disagreement here. I believe the 'stick' belongs with the administrators and district staff - which is where the responsibility for managing quality teachers resides (hiring, compensating, retaining, disciplining). Why do you keep insisting that its the Federal Government's job to mandate that its a 'teacher' problem? And bludgeon the teachers to death for the shortcomings of the system. Hold accountable the ones that have the power to make changes in that district (with funding, with program choices, with hiring, managing, training teachers, etc) If teachers are grossly underperforming, that should be determined by their managers (not by the federal government, and not by YOU reading a few lines in an article - which in fact I think is REALLY presumpuous of you to assume you feel its right to discipline these teachers when if fact you have NO CLUE about what those teachers were facing). We know Terry likes the idea of testing for accountability purposes, but not sure why Terry continues to like the idea that the test results belong on the backs of teachers. I wonder if Terry is perhaps an administrator who doesn't like the idea of accountability where it BELONGS? Or doesn't like idea of the Federal Government getting between the district and his(or her)multi hundred thousand dollar a year paycheck (but sure lets throw some sticks and stones at the teachers...)

Terry, where's the "stick" for boards and administrators, principals, superintendents, etc., who spend years on speciality programs that serve 20 kids per year, while they make zero progress on their achievement gap goals? Who continue to spend money and time on non-priority items, but who fail to spend ~any~ time or money on closing their achivement gap?

Posted by Another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2007 at 9:52 am


You said it. NCLB comes down on teachers, and the principals and other admin take no heat. Yeah, where is the stick for them?

Look at failing schools and you'll find failing administrators.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2007 at 11:02 am

I'm sorry. I just absolutely disagree that the Federal Government belongs in our local school district's beezwax. Isn't this the ENTIRE idea behind charter schools - to allow local control of schools that are NOT mandated with government controls, but are left to be creative and less encumbered by restrictive and often nonsensical controls?

Then, at the same time, you want to go and slap MORE controls and mandates on public schools.

So lets make every effort possible to make sure we lose all possibility of keeping our public school system in tact. Lets drive out any possibility of having QUALITY teachers attracted to the profession (because they are professionals and can expect to be treated like such), but instead we have bureaucrats controlling the public school system, and beating our teachers with "sticks".

Here's an idea - if the federal Government (ie; Bush Administration and Congress) want to fix the achivement gap problem, how about they start providing funding for the achievment gap problem, intead of billions of dollars of funding to teach Mandarin? Is it any wonder we see Mandarin language academies springing up all over the country? Because the FED GOVERNMENT is INCENTIVIZING them with FEDERAL GRANT FUNDS. And they are encouraging the Chinese government to come on down and join in the fun.

So, how about if the Federal Government starts incentivizing the right things? Instead of dis-incentivizing teachers from teaching? Would that just make too much sense?

Terry - its not "what gets measured gets managed". Its "what gets funded grows". And if you're funding weeds, you're garden WILL BE full of weeds.

Posted by kindness through coldness, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2007 at 1:27 pm

The Feds are funding education in Mandarin, Arabic and Russian for obvious future isn't for the fun of it. What languages do we most need now and in the future in Defense?

As for funding to fix educational problems caused by social disasters...there is no way to fix a kid who comes from a home where there is only a mom who dropped out of high school and doesn't work. The only way to fix that "problem" is to stop "incentivizing" that behavior. Stop paying girls to have babies, and they will stop thinking this is a way to "earn a living'.

Sound cruel? Crueler is to keep being co-dependant, helping to create yet another and larger generation of poor and badly educated kids with no hopes for the future.

Take babies from moms who can't care for them, and adopt them out.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 8, 2007 at 10:58 pm


I truly appreciate the tenor and depth of our exchange here, but I'm losing the energy to go beyond this final post. Yes, I really meant test scores would be last on my list. Maybe I should clarify - I might notice the test scores right away and be concerned, but before reaching conclusions, I would look at many other issues and qualities of a school that matter to me more than test scores. I'd look at the actual curriculum, teaching methods, my child's actual work, other opportunities for learning that were not being assessed by testing, innovative programs and services (if any), and many other things. Ask some teachers you know and see what they say. You won't get a monolithic response, but you'll find I'm not so unique.

Regarding the D.C. school, it still seems to me that you suggest that just because something hasn't been fixed, no one has tried to fix it. Instead of handing down a solution from the outside, I'd remove every obstacle I could to increase the likelihood of fixing it from the inside, directed by the people who probably know the situation best. It might be that they need some outside help, but it should be the help that they request, not the help that politicians think will work. That's precisely the problem beneath NCLB. Years and years of neglect while educators and experts in the field complained about the crime being done to our educational system, then when we hit crisis point, the govt. imposed the solutions from outside, with unrealistic goals (refer back to the economists take on 100% proficiency!) and harsh repercussions.

Regarding the detrimental effects NCLB has had on curriculum and instruction, I feel like I've said that numerous times, and you can search for it elsewhere online if you don't like my answers. Why do you insist on questioning me over and over again about something I've spent my adult life studying and striving to perfect? Why is it so hard to believe??? You go back to the value of test scores in understanding what's going on - I go back to the basketball team. You can't look at a the score and understand the game. You can't coach the team effectively by only attending to one facet of the game.

What I think of high stakes tests... like asking what I think of testing in general, basically. Some tests are better than others, and I don't think any one test that we currently use should have too much power. The idea of an exit exam that most students pass in tenth grade seems wasteful to me, added on top of other similar tests we give, and simliar tests given by the College Board. I might get behind a well-designed and well-implemented truly high-stakes test given at the end of high school, with many, many qualifications and caveats about how it would be done and what the consequences would be. High stakes are okay, but all-or-nothing consequences would bother me, as would a lack of alternative assessment provisions.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 1:28 am

Thanks David, I've enjoyed our exchange and agree it's time to put time elsewhere. I appreciate your perspective and insight.

Parent, I think the NCLB/"Fed" gets involved where the school has failed to meet important standards. The idea is that the school has consistently failed the parents/students, and that the system isn't fixing itself - it needs an outside push to get things going. If the district doesn't want want Fed money of course, I don't believe they are obligated to follow the program; parents might not like that though.

I agree, btw, that administrators (who hire and manage the teachers) should be a big focus of change and should get the stick as much or more than anybody. I think the quote you clipped pointed that out - if there are teachers just passing out busy work (as described by the article), the principals, department heads, and district staff must know and should be doing something about it - and ultimately, the buck stops with the Superintendent. NCLB of course focuses on school performance overall, not individual teachers.

It is interesting that we don't hear much about incentive comp (or getting fired) for administrators etc. In the private sector, of course it is the managers who get the risk/reward payoffs, and the more senior, the more risk/reward. Should Mr. Skelly have a performance clause in his contract? Does he??

Posted by Far Away, a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2007 at 9:15 am

I believe Mr. Skelly does have a performance clause in his contract. His predecessors did.

Now, I do understand that David and Terry are a bit tired of education (thanks for your time anyway!) but I thought that an example of a positive school change is also important. Here it is: Web Link

"At Mastery, same students transformed

A year of change at the former Shoemaker Middle School has brought dramatic test improvements and the near-elimination of violence."

So it can be done. Yes, administration is important. So are the teachers. Extra money to cover drastic change helps too, but note that 400K for extra administrators comes to $2000/student, much less than the $4,500 per-student differential between DC and Philly (Web Link). What really matters is accountability, competence, and no excuses.

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 9, 2007 at 10:40 am

The charter school may be a step toward private schools, but the obvious solution to getting better education is to get rid of government schools entirely.

Posted by sigh, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 11:00 am

"then when we hit crisis point, the govt. imposed the solutions from outside, with unrealistic goals"

again, the "govt" is not imposingn solutions or punishing..the govt is offering "extra" money for improvement. Nobody HAS to do anything.

Keep it straight.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 9, 2007 at 11:55 am

Sigh, you are technically correct on both points.

1. Government is not imposing solutions.
"In order to receive federal financial assistance, schools and local districts agree to play by certain rules. Otherwise, they can decide to opt out of taking federal funds." – Kimberly Wells. In other words, the government is telling states that if you want our money, play by our rules. But technically, states don't have to play at all.

2. Government is not punishing – Nobody HAS to do anything.
It's true that technically NCLB is not a federal mandate. However, there IS a consequence for non-participation.

"A state that chooses to opt out of NCLB requirements will also forgo a significant portion of some of the federal title monies associated with the act. These federal dollars have become a significant part of states' education budgets, the critics claim, and states cannot reasonably be asked to do without this money."

If states cannot reasonably get by without the money, withdrawing it for non-participation is a form of punishment.

These NCLB facts have more depth than a directive to 'keep it straight'.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2007 at 12:00 pm

Right - just like the government is offering money for Mandarin, and no body HAS to take it. But lo and behold our own board and superintendent are rewarded for taking money. Even when the program is a NO based on merit. They voted against MI as a priority and fit for PAUSD about 4 months ago, but are chomping at the bit and ready to accept BIG money to grow MI BIG BIG BIG right now, even before they conduct a pilot. Because its MONEY.

So you are naive (or intentionally misleading the public) if you say 'no one has to take it' as a way to imply that OUR teachers are safe (ie: PAUSD would be immune to the lure of the money that the feds are waiving in front of them if only they will... beat their teachers with test scores?) We certainly are not immune.

Its a bad idea to waive money in front of BOE's and Superintendents unless you fully expect them to grab grab grab for it.

Skelly may very well have performance based incentive clauses - are they mandated by the Federal Government? Tied to test scores? Closing the achievement gap? why not? What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Until the accountability is sitting in the right place first, I don't support putting our teachers on the block like this.

Besides, who's job is it to manage teacher performance anyway? Why do the Feds think its their job to step in, walk right past the principals office, and the Superintendents office, and doc teachers pay for poor test scores? Even in failing districts that would be likely to need this money - why aren't the administrators being held accountable for teacher performance first?

And here's one I never understood. I'm not a teacher, but I'm a parent. And I've been a student. If I am not performing in say 4th grade - is that my 4th grade teacher's fault? Or is it my 3rd grade teachers fault? Or would that be my second grade teachers fault for not preparing me for 3rd grade? Or is it my parents fault? Or society's fault for not giving me appropriate access to preschool, or young fives? or proper access to nutrition, hot lunches, or health care if I'm hungry, sick or low income? How is it that you've determined that low test scores are the teachers fault? Or are teachers just our convenient scape goats?

Posted by Far Away, a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2007 at 8:07 pm


It would help if you were to read the draft re-authorization before expressing strong opinions on it.

First, it is not "the Feds" at this point, but rather George Miller, the chair of the House Education Committee. Happens to be a Democrat from California, in case you didn't know.

Second, the suggestion is not about the Feds docking teacher pay for bad test scores (if and when the draft actually passes), but rather that student achievement will be ONE component (of potentially many other) to set the additional bonus (not penalty) such teacher may receive.

Third, the actual use of student scores will be up to the state law and local BOE determination. The only reason this even appears in the proposed legislation is that most current collective bargaining agreements and some state laws (incl. California) FORBID the local BOE student achievement to have ANY EFFECT on teacher salary -- not even to give the teacher a bonus. If the new law is authorized it will override the state law and hence allow -- but not mandate! -- the use student achievement as one of the components that determine teacher bonuses. In a sense, paying extra for extra performance. What a shameful concept! No wonder that CTA (Calif. teacher union) is up in arms!

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 8:12 pm

Far Away, thanks for that illuminating (and droll) explanation of how the world of politics and labor unions works. What a racket.