The Controversial History of the “No Child Left Behind Act”: part 2

The Obama Approach…

Since the NCLB reauthorization kept getting bogged down in the House and Senate committees that deal with education, the effects of the law ended up going on relatively unchanged (aside from specific changes made to it over the years).  With the federal education law in desperate need of an overhaul to relieve some of the pressure on the states despite Congress’ inability to act, President Obama began to take things into his own hands as the man in charge of the executive branch (which controls how the Department of Education implements the laws).  One of the ways that President Obama has done this is by having Secretary of Education Arne Duncan grant waivers to states that “relieve them from meeting the lofty and controversial goal of making all students proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014.”  So far, the President has done this for 32 states in addition to the District of Columbia.  Having said that, the waivers that the President has issued regarding NCLB do not allow the states to ignore every provision of the law.  What the waivers do, is allow the states to opt out of certain provisions as long as they  provide “evidence that they would initiate education reform efforts approved by the Obama administration, including linking student test scores to teacher evaluations.”

In addition to mentioning how President Obama is helping many of the states by allowing them to escape from some of NCLB’s most rigid mandates, it is important to point out that the waivers are only a stopgap.  The fact is that unless Congress can manage to get their act together long enough to produce an updated version of the ESEA, then the effects of NCLB on the states will only continue to get worse as the impossible 2014 deadline for 100% student proficiency in math and reading approaches.  With that in mind, the Obama administration did release their own plan to update the ESEA in March of 2010.  The plan addresses many of the problems associated with the current form of the legislation including accountability, early learning, the issues of dealing with rural vs urban schools, school choice, teachers, and turning around failing schools.  Having said that, since the President has not been able to structure a deal with the current members of Congress, the truth is that everyone depending on a new version of the ESEA being passed may be out of luck for the foreseeable future since the 2012 election is looking as polarizing as ever.

-To see part 1 of this blog, click here.

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Monday,  08/20/2012)

The Controversial History of the “No Child Left Behind Act”: part 1

The Bush Years…

Just like almost every other controversial piece of legislation before it, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 developed its roots long before it was ever passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Bush.  The beginnings of this story (NCLB) date all the way back to the “Great Society” of the 1960’s when President Johnson was fighting the “War on Poverty” with a series of landmark pieces of legislation like Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and of course the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  This initial passage of the precursor to NCLB created the most powerful tool that the federal government ever had to fund primary and secondary education in this country.  While doing all of this, it also had a few very important checks built into it to ensure that the federal government would not be able to hijack the states’ role in designing local curriculums by requiring the bill to be reauthorized every five years and introducing a statute that does not allow a national curriculum to be established.

When NCLB was being championed by President Bush during the first year he was in office, the bill was a truly bipartisan piece of legislation that was coauthored by current Speaker of the House Boehner and the late Senator Kennedy.  When the bill made it to the floor of both the House and Senate, it passed with the overwhelming support of both parties (384-45 in the House & 91-8 in the Senate).  Soon after President Bush signed the bill into law however, this overwhelming support from across the aisle began to dissipate after many of the law’s new provisions were implemented.  The reason for this is because in their attempt to help raise student achievement across the board (especially for low income, minority, and special needs students), schools and teachers found themselves trapped in a new system that set unrealistic goals, required expensive yearly testing, and threatened to close schools that did not meet all of the new unrealistic and stringent standards.  In other words, NCLB created a system where “Once-innovative public schools had become increasingly captive to federal testing mandates, [causing them to] jettison education programs not covered by those tests, siphon funds from programs for the talented and gifted, and discourage creativity.”

Critics of the bill have argued that even if you ignore the environment that the new testing system creates, that the results of many of the tests that the law bases almost everything off of are meaningless because the “law calls for every state to set [their own] standards in reading and math.”  This means that each state has a different standard to meet and therefore can not be compared to each other accurately when assessing how schools are performing.  In addition to that problem, the law has also led to a number of large scale cheating scandals in states (like Georgia, Connecticut, and New Jersey) across the country in desperate attempts to avoid the sanctions associated with failing to meet the “adequate yearly progress” requirements of NCLB.

As a result of all of these problems associated with NCLB, support for the law has not only dropped significantly from members of both parties, but has caused new versions of the law to remain stuck inside congressional committees for the last five years instead of being reauthorized in one form or another like it was supposed to…

-To see part 2 of this blog, click here.

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Sunday,  08/19/2012)

The Second Wave of Public School Privatization: Part 2

Part 2 of the blog covering Reuters correspondent Stephanie Simon’s article “Private Firms Eyeing Profits from Public Schools“…

After finishing her discussion on the financial motives that have caused many investors and venture capitalists to enter the education services business, Simon moved on to cover what this new trend’s supporters and critics are saying about what it will mean for students, their teachers, and schools.  She reported that among the supporters of the movement to increase the role of private (for profit) companies in public education, one of the biggest is Larry Shagrin who was the keynote speaker at the investment conference in Manhattan.  According to her article, he talked about how during a time when cost cutting is already the standard in public schools, the need for education reform to catch up to the “healthcare and other sector [industries] that have already utilized outsourcing” to increase their efficiency has become all the more necessary.  She further noted that “education entrepreneur John Katzman” added to this sentiment by “urging investors to look for companies developing software that can replace teachers for segments of the school day” in order to “drive down the labor costs” of paying “highly qualified teachers” by replacing them with technology driven alternatives.

After finishing her coverage of the movement’s supporters, Simon moved on to discuss the comments that  some of it’s critics like New York University professor and education historian Diane Ravitch had to say about the “corporate profiteers invading public schools.”  Simon starts her coverage of Professor Ravitch’s critical analysis by discussing her assertion that the new business of “firing the staff and turning the building over to private management” services have “in effect been set up by the bipartisan education reform movement that has placed an enourmous emphasis on standardized test scores.”  Simon further noted that Professor Ravitch described the situation that was created through legislation like NCLB as “a new frontier” where “the private equity and hedge fund guys are circling public education” with the backward priorities of profit first and quality second.  Ms. Simon then wraps up the dissent with Professor Ravitch’s quote where she talks about how the private (for profit) companies are “taking education which ought to be in a different sphere [from profit goals] where we’re constantly concerned about raising quality” instead of  “applying the business metric: How do we cut costs?”

-To see part 1 of this blog, click here.

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Saturday,  08/18/2012)

The Second Wave of Public School Privatization: Part 1

While the highly emotional and philosophical debate over the place of private schools and charter schools in public education continues to generate incredible amounts of attention, the steadily increasing role of private (for-profit) companies in public K-12 education has gone largely unnoticed.  After researching this relatively unreported trend, Reuters correspondent Stephanie Simon took an in depth look at it in her article Private Firms Eyeing Profits From Public Schools.  Ms. Simon began her article by talking about a recent meeting in Manhattan where about 100 investors and venture capitalists were listening to a presentation about the potential profits to be earned by entering the education services business.  Not surprisingly, the amount of money to be made from the education related areas of our economy is massive since the United States spends “more than $500 billion a year educating kids ages five through 18.”  She then followed this astounding number with the fact that investments in education related businesses by venture capitalists have risen by nearly 3,000% since 2005 to around $389,000,000 per year.  This rapid rise in the number of investments in private education companies is made even more incredible because of the fact that even though the money has always been there, “public education has [historically] been a tough market for private firms to break into — fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy and fragmented into tens of thousands of individual schools and school districts from coast to coast.”  After finishing her outline of the general financial motivations covering why private companies have started to enter the K-12 education business in record numbers, Ms. Simon then began to look at what this trend would mean for the individual students, educators, and schools…

-To see supporter and critic analysis of this new trend, check out part 2 right here.

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Friday,  08/17/2012)

Race to the Top

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion dollar education reform program that is run through the United States Department of Education.  The program was first created under the Obama administration through funds that were provided from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  The idea behind the program is that by forcing the states to compete for funds that can be used to implement education reform in their respective states, then the reform process would be both innovative and transparent.

The way the program works is by having the states that want to receive the funds submit proposals to the Department of Education in a series of three phases.  The Department of Education then takes the time to analyze and evaluate the different proposals on a 500 point scale that includes the use of performance based standards, the promotion of charter schools, increases in teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and improvements in teacher quality among other things.  After the scores are calculated in each phase, the winners are given grants to implement their plans that can range from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars.

After the initial success of the program in 2010, the Obama administration asked for an additional $1.35 billion dollars for the program during the 2011 fiscal year.  In addition to that, his administration also created a number of sister programs that were designed to focus specifically on early learning challenges and classroom level reforms.

Throughout the time that the program has been in existence, RTTT has managed to retain a largely positive view from individuals across the political spectrum because of the innovative and transparent ways that it has promoted education reform.  Having said that, the program is also not without it’s critics.  For example, NYU education professor Diane Ravich has pointed out in an article of hers that some of the  “nation’s leading civil rights organizations [have] insisted that access to federal funding should be based on need and not competition” like it is in Race to the Top.

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Wednesday,  08/15/2012)

Education Policy Positions of the Republican Presidential Ticket

With former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney teaming up with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan on the Republican presidential ticket, figuring out what the Republican education platform will be in reality ends up being nearly impossible to discern.  The reason for this is because not only has Governor Romney had wildly different views on the subject over the years, but also because his running mate holds the very conservative view that the role of the federal government should be as small as possible in education.  For example, in the Congressman’s budget plan that he presented earlier this year, he proposed massive cuts across the education budget including billions of dollars that would supposed to be used in Title I and special education programs.

Having said that, Governor Romney does believe that the Department of Education has a place in the federal government (although in a smaller way).  Like many Republicans, Mr. Romney is also a big believer in the use of charter schools and voucher programs which his campaigns official platform reflects.  In fact, according to the New York Times, a large part of Governor Romney’s education plan “would seek to overhaul the federal government’s largest programs for kindergarten through 12th grade into a voucherlike system [under which] students would be free to use $25 billion in federal money to attend any school they choose — public, charter, online or private.”  The Times goes further to make the point that this “represent a broad overhaul of current policy, that reverses a quarter-century trend under Republican and Democratic presidents, of concentrating responsibility for school quality at the federal level.”

In fact, in addition to his expansive policy on the incorporation of a massive voucher program into public education, Governor Romney has also made it clear that he is now opposed to the required federal mandates that he previously supported under NCLB.  This led Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post to point out that under his new policy “States would again be left alone to run their own systems, a situation that led that famous liberal, George W. Bush, to insist on federal mandates in the first place a decade ago.”

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Monday,  08/13/2012)

Education Policy Positions of the Democratic Presidential Ticket

President Obama’s education policies have largely revolved around fixing the problems with NCLB, promoting innovative reforms through programs like Race to the Top, and improving schools across the county.  One primary example of his policies in action would be his reform efforts aimed at fixing the problems with President Bush’s NCLB.  He has been doing this through a series of waiver programs that have allowed states to be excused from many of the strict and unrealistic mandates that the NCLB requires.  As a part of the deal where states are being excused from the NCLB requirements, the states are then allowed the states to replace them with their own plans and guidelines as long as they are presented in a way that helps reform education in the state for the better.

When dealing with stimulating innovative reforms in K-12 education, President Obama has largely depended on Race to the Top.  In this program, the Department of Education awards grants to states that propose ways to reform education in a variety of ways.  The process works by having multiple “rounds” during which states that are interested in the grants can draw up proposals and submit them for the funding.  After going through all of the applications, the top ideas end up getting rewarded pre determined amounts of money (ranging from a few million to tens of millions) to implement the reforms in their states.

In addition to the major reform plans like RTTT and NCLB reform, the President has also focused on other goals like improving teacher effectiveness, improving student standards, increasing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs, and providing a choice of schools by promoting charters (but not private vouchers).  In fact, one of the grant programs that the President established has been “providing some competitive grants” to states so that they can set up competitive and innovative alternatives to traditional public schools.

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Saturday,  08/11/2012)

K-12 Education Reform Strategies

K-12 Education Reform Strategy Suggestions from the NCEE’s Report

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform

“What would the education policies and practices of the United States be if they were based on the policies and practices of the countries that now lead the world in student performance?”  Seeing as how the United States’ K-12 education system has not been able to call itself one of the top performing for well over a decade now, the importance of this previously unanswered question becomes all too clear.  Fortunately, this question is also exactly what the President and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) set out to answer in the report that he wrote at the request of the OECD (which is the same organization that conducts the try-yearly PISA exam).  The report specifically looks at the top performing nations (TPN) of Canada, China, Singapore, Finland, and Japan for guidance because their education systems are all ranked among the best in the world and share most of the same successful reform strategies.  After analyzing and comparing all of the data from the TPNs, Mr. Tucker’s report was able to identify seven reforms/elements that the United States should try to incorporate into it’s K-12 education system.  These seven reforms include “aggressive international benchmarking, the higher quality of the teaching force, the use of aligned instructional systems and external examinations that measure complex thinking skills, the decision to get all students to those standards, the use of professional systems of work organization instead of blue-collar models, funding systems that put the most funds behind the students who are hardest to educate, and coherence of the design of the overall education system itself, in all of its particulars” (page 35 of the report).  After listing the different reforms in the report, he then went on to explain each of them in greater detail (which I have summarized in the list below).

1) Aggressive international benchmarking: the incorporation of successful reforms and goals of top performing nations in ways that make sense for the United States.

2) The higher quality of the teaching force: average teachers being of higher quality as a result of better pay, stricter standards, better educations, & better training.

3) Aligned curriculum and external exams: expansion nation wide unifying curriculum programs like the CCSSI and the use of less frequent but better timed standardized testing.

4) Decision to get all students to standards: (self explanatory).

5) Changing the type of teachers union used: changing teachers unions from the generalized industrial model to the higher quality/better trained professional model.

6) Funding that targets hardest to educate: shift from local to state centered funding system that can focus on helping the students that are the hardest to educate.

7) Coherently designed education system: syncing all of the education laws, policies, and programs together in a seamless manner (unlike the currently uncoordinated one).

-To look at other posts on a wide variety of topics related to K-12 education click here.

(Originally posted on Thursday,  08/09/2012)

The Basics

Reading: 17th                              Science: 23rd                              Math: 31st

One of the things that we like to do more than anything else in the United States is talk about how we are the leaders of the free world. We talk about how we have the most freedoms, the greatest economy, the strongest military, and the best education system as a result of the democratic system of government that we created after we declared our independence from England in 1776.  However, the unfortunate truth that every student, parent, and educator in this country knows is that our primary education system is failing us and is in desperate need of reform.  This sobering truth was once again shown in the results of the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test where American 15 year olds from across the country were ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math when compared to their peers around the world.

Despite the fact that the problems that our primary and secondary education system suffers from have been known for decades, very little has been done to reverse this trend.  This is not to say that nothing has been done in attempting to fix the problems plaguing our education system, just that for a variety of reasons including political differences, a lack of certainty on how to fix the problems, and the fact that most people do not know enough about how our education system works has led us to a point where our education system no longer seems capable of real reform.

It is with these issues in mind that I have decided to create this blog through which I hope to be able to help address some of these problems.  I intend to do this over the next couple of weeks by trying to explain some of the more complicated laws that dictate education policy in this country, talk about what is currently being done to address the major problems, and discuss some of the methods that are being used to do so.  A few of the many issues that I will be talking about in this blog in the coming weeks will include the No Child Left Behind Act, Race to the Top, some of the reform strategies that have been successful in other countries, and what some of the different policies that the two Presidential candidates hold.  If you are even remotely interested in learning more about the problems in our K-12 education system so that you can do your part to help fix it, or just want to know more about education in our country, then you should visit us on Thursday at to see the next post on some of the reform strategies that have been used successfully in Top Performing Nations across the world.

(Originally posted on Tuesday,  08/07/2012)

The Beginnings of a Blog About Education

Welcome to the basics.  This website is a new blog that will talk about a variety of issues related to K-12 education in the United States.  Over the next few weeks we will be talking about some of the different education policies that are being debated, what some of the current programs are, and what the people in power are doing to address the issues.  If you are like most Americans who know that the education system in this country is in trouble but do not know enough about the complex education policies to do something about it, then you should tune in here at to find out more.