Seventeen months ago, and eight months after I became the secretary of education in Puerto Rico, the worst hurricane in over a century decimated much of the island, dislocating thousands of families and bringing daily life here to a halt. Our school buildings were no exception; those that weren’t destroyed suffered damage ranging from power outages to missing roofs. We continue to wait for approval from FEMA to address most of our physical infrastructure needs and are hopeful that the federal government will honor its promise to ensure all students have access to a safe, healthy, and engaging learning environment.
The storm created an opportunity for the world to see the challenges confronting Puerto Rico’s schools. Hurricane Maria and its economic repercussions exposed the negative impacts of poor decision-making and the politicization of the public education system. The operation of the public schools was largely ineffective and inefficient and characterized by a mass exodus of students and teachers. Over the years, the system neglected to prioritize the provision of basic resources, such as books and technology, or allow for the development of innovative and more effective instructional practices.
Since then, Puerto Rico has made dramatic improvements in the quality of its public education system. Dedicated families, communities, teachers, and students have made it possible for great things to take place since the hurricane left our shores.
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If the Every Student Succeeds Act were a schoolchild, it would be a preschooler—not much more than 3 years old, making steady progress, but still stumbling a bit along the way.
The first major rewrite of the nation’s main K-12 law in more than a decade, ESSA was signed into law at the end of 2015, replacing and updating the groundbreaking—but problematic—No Child Left Behind Act.
In theory, the last couple of school years should have been enough time for states and districts to begin making good on ESSA’s promises. Chief among them: a loosening of the federal reins in favor of greater local and state leeway over setting K-12 policy and satisfying the law’s demands for strict accountability, school improvement, and public transparency.
In reality, it’s not so simple. The practical and political challenges of ESSA’s shifts are playing out in stages as the law is phased in and as local and state education leaders start to face tough choices about federal compliance, poorly performing schools, vulnerable students, and more.
This latest Education Week special report recaps what’s been achieved by states and districts…
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By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
Have you ever felt frustrated and ill-equipped to meet the needs of the students in your classroom as well as the dictates of those who have never been teachers in a classroom?
Sometimes, we teachers feel like there is too much to do and not enough time or resources to do what needs to be done well. Standardized testing frenzy, No Child Left Behind, Common Core Curriculum, STEM curriculum, professional development relegated to one day make-‘n’-take or lecture sessions, and demands from school boards, legislators, and the business community all may contribute to teacher frustration, burn-out, and being ROJ (retired on the job).
Well, how can we feel more professional and less like factory workers producing widgets? First, we must clarify our mission. Students are not widgets. There can be no reject bins for human beings with different needs and varied learning intelligence!
Secondly, we must reach our students before we can teach them. By reach I mean to be willing to acknowledge cultural and personal idiosyncrasies and to be friendly, fair, and flexible. Not everyone learns—or teaches—the same way. Being friendly involves knowing our students’ names and greeting them as they enter our classrooms.
It also involves dressing professionally as a means of demonstrating personal and student respect. There are three B’s no student should ever see on a teacher: no bosoms, no belly buttons, and no backsides. Students need a professional appearance. They form their own perceptions the first time they meet us, and we do not get a second chance to make a good first impression.
The culture of our classroom community must be one of acceptance, rigor, and high standards, for our students will either stretch or stagnate according to our expectations of them. Teachers must not only have a lesson plan A and a back-up plan B but also a back-up for the back-up in order to take advantage of any teachable moment.
If we do not have a plan for our students, they will most certainly have plans for us! I assure you, their plans will make our lives miserable and learning and teaching almost impossible.
Fairness involves demanding standards for which everyone is held accountable. Certain rules must be observed. For instance, no one can be allowed to ridicule, to bully, or to be disrespectful or disparaging of anyone’s personal appearance, answers, questions, or opinions. We, as teachers, must take control of our classrooms from the first day until the last.
When we wish not to be perceived as factory workers producing widgets, we must acknowledge that our calling is a combination of science, art, and craft. TEACHING IS PLAIN HARD WORK!
Our diverse students are real human beings with real needs and varied skills and talents. We must take the challenge of our profession and equip ourselves with the content knowledge and the pedagogy skills in order to deliver what our students must have. As we teach, we must also remember that these same students may have to serve us or to teach our children or grandchildren at some point after they leave us.
As teachers serving humans, we cannot allow them or ourselves to be treated any way except as we would want our own children and family members to be treated. We must be actively vocal as we present ourselves as advocates for the teaching and learning process.
Raise your hand if you weresick and tired but now resolveto be well and full of energy as you go forward.
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
When cultures clash in the classroom, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large all suffer. Education, or lack, thereof, can have a ripple effect on every facet of society. Not only are communities of color affected but also areas not considered “minority.” PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is an equal possibility.
Children whose culture and realities are devalued are often, as Gloria Ladson Billings so aptly expressed, “considered as deficient white children.” (1999) The children she described may become drop-outs, push-outs, or disaffected trouble makers. These disaffected students often feel disrespected, misunderstood, and devoid of hope. Some of them are test-weary and content lacking.
When they are continually designated at “below basic” on standardized tests and their culture not understood by teachers and test makers, their behaviors are almost self-fulfilling prophesies. Often these students suffer from PTSD as painful and as debilitating as any combat soldier.
They encounter the vagaries of the results of having little affluence and no influence, of physical and/or emotional abuse, and poor educational opportunities offered by a revolving door of new, career-change, or culturally unaware teachers getting their OJT (on the job training), student loans abated, masters degrees, and housing allowances before moving on to the suburbs or to becoming the next national “expert” authors and speakers on educating the urban, rural, or culturally different child.
These are the children whose apparent apathy and less than “perfect” behaviors encourage a revolving door of teachers who have the inability to relate to students of different socio-economic or racial differences. In these cases, no one is the winner, even though neophyte teachers may gain some financial benefits, for these teachers, too suffer the PTSD resulting from not knowing how to teach diverse students and the daily chaos of classroom disorder, disrespect, and disaffectedness.
Lowered expectations may cause challenges for administrators also, for they face scrutiny about how their schools function on many levels, from standardized test results to efficient use of budget to how many expulsions and suspensions their students receive.
They must also contend with trying to find substitutes or replacements for teachers who are absent for whatever reason. Their teachers often are faced with coverage, which saps the enthusiasm and energy of those forced to babysit some other teacher’s class. In addition, many states are trying to meet the dictates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Common Core Curriculum standards with inadequate funding and training for teachers and administrators in how to implement these mandated legislative programs. In the last few years, there has also been an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools.
Parents suffer when their children are disaffected and under-educated. Their children who are suspended or expelled are left to get into difficulties with the law and court systems. Further, drop-outs and push-outs often cannot get jobs and become economic drains on not only their families but also on the community at large.
So, in answer to the question when cultures clash in the classroom, who suffers, we all do! Poorly educated students make for a society that alienates its young, one that is unable to retain skilled and experienced teachers, and a country frustrated with unemployment, under-employment, and an ever-growing culture of violence, fear, and intolerance. Court systems and privatized prisons, along with mortuaries, result when the classrooms act as prep schools for these expensive alternatives.
By Dr. Elizabeth V. Primas, Program Manager, NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
In 1951, Langston Hughes laid bare the anxious aspirations of millions of Black people in America with his poem, “A Dream Deferred.” In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded America of the promissory note written to its citizens guaranteeing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson attempted to make good on that promise by signing the Civil Rights Act into law. And in 1965, President Johnson sought to ensure equitable access to these unalienable rights by signing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law.
As a part of Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” ESEA was supposed to assist students of color in receiving a quality education, thereby helping lift them from poverty.
To date, ESEA remains one of the most impactful education laws ever ratified. ESEA established education funding formulas, guided academic standards, and outlined state accountability.
Since Johnson, presidents have re-authorized and/or launched new initiatives safeguarding the intentions of ESEA. Some of the most notable re-authorizations have been “No Child Left Behind” (2001, George W. Bush) and “Race to the Top” (2009, Barack Obama). The most recent re-authorization, the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama in 2015.
In previous re-authorizations of ESEA, emphasis was placed on students’ ability to pass rigorous standards in order to proceed from one grade to the next. However, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that a measurable achievement gap has persisted.
As education leaders review the individual state plans that have been developed and approved in keeping with the Every Student Succeeds Act, it is obvious that many states are making an attempt prioritize equity over performance. Some states have set timelines for their accountability measures, signifying the urgency of the problem, while other states continue to miss the mark by setting goals that are too distant, including the proposal of a twenty-year timetable to close the achievement gap.
I am concerned about ESSA State plans such as these, that pass the buck to future generations of educators and set the bar too low for vulnerable student populations.
In several states, schools that perform in the bottom 5% will receive funding to assist in closing the achievement gap. But, again, I wonder if we are setting the bar too low. I am not convinced that assisting schools in the bottom underperforming 5% will make a significant impact on closing the achievement gap in any city.
Still, I find hope in the new reporting guidelines outlined in ESSA. ESSA requires State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to develop school report cards so parents can compare which school is the best fit for their children.
District report cards must include the professional qualifications of educators, including the number and percentage of novice personnel, teachers with emergency credentials, and teachers teaching outside their area of expertise.
States must also report per-pupil spending for school districts and individual schools. Expenditures must be reported by funding source and must include actual personnel salaries, not district or state averages.
Parents must get engaged to hold legislators and educators accountable for their ESSA State Plans. Parents must also hold themselves accountable in prioritizing the education of our children. Research shows that just one year with a bad teacher can put a child three years behind. Now, think about what happens after years of neglect and lack of advocacy.
So, what happens to a dream deferred?
Parents hold tight to your dreams for your children’s futures. Be present in the school, be the squeaky wheel and don’t be afraid to demand the best for your children. Don’t stop at the classroom or schoolhouse door if you aren’t satisfied with the education your children are receiving. The race for educational advocacy is a run for your child’s quality of life.
Be the Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA) president. Be the neighborhood advisory commissioner. Be the next school board member. Be the next mayor of your city. Be on the City Council. Run for Congress. Be all that you want your children to be. Be the example.
Elizabeth Primas is an educator who spent more than 40 years working to improve education for children. She is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethprimas.
For decades, standardized tests have played a key role in the U.S. education system. With the implementation of No Child Left Behind, a George W. Bush-era bill that penalized schools for not meeting certain testing standards, the importance of such tests only increased. While the bill has since been replaced, standardized tests still play a critical role in determining school success. Advocates say it is an invaluable way to judge school effectiveness. Opponents say the tests are biased and harmful to critical thinking. What do you think?
Proponents of standardized tests like Dr. Gail Gross, a Huffington Post contributor, argue standardized tests provide the most straightforward and comprehensive measure of whether students in any particular school are learning.
We must not fear that which can offer us the best possible opportunity to transfer information in the most effective way. One important measure for that transfer is the standardized test. Such testing gives the teacher important diagnostic information about what each child is learning in relation to what he has been taught. Only in this way can the teacher know if the student needs intervention and remediation; if the curriculum matches the course requirements; or if the teaching methods needed are in some way lacking and require adjustment.
Furthermore, the standardized test gives valuable insight into broader issues, such as the standard curriculum important to grade level requirements, and an education reference point for fair and equitable education for all children in all schools — district by district and state by state. This can also lead to better teaching skills, as teachers will be held accountable to help their students meet these standards.
Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at a nonprofit education research and consulting firm, not only agrees that tests are the best way to determine student success, but that testing is needed every year to provide an adequate portrait of students’ learning.
[A]nnual testing has tremendous value. It lets schools follow students’ progress closely, and it allows for measurement of how much students learn and grow over time, not just where they are in a single moment.
It also allows for a much more nuanced look at student performance. For example, rather than simply looking at average overall school performance, where high performers frequently mask what’s happening to low achievers, No Child Left Behind focuses attention on the progress that groups of students are making within schools — a level of analysis that is possible only with annual data. To be confident that the test results aren’t pulled up or down by a few students and to minimize year-to-year variability, states usually consider only groups of at least 30 or 40 students. States are also able to average results over multiple years or across grades.
By Lynette Monroe (Program Assistant, NNPA ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)
Jarren Small, a 28 year-old, Missouri City native and community activist, stopped asking, “Why not?” and became the answer that he was looking for when he launched the non-profit organization LegendsDoLive.
In 2014, without any major partners, Small founded LegendsDoLive, an organization committed to funding and coordinating community-based programs for disadvantaged youth.
As a charismatic adolescent, Small was active in various extracurricular activities. He attended Hightower High School, played basketball and earned awards through the Media and Broadcasting Academy. In 2008, Jarren became an Eagle Scout. He credits his accomplishments to the positive impact of his parents’ consistent engagement and strategic exposure to diverse environments.
Shrugging his shoulders, Small downplayed his impressive list of academic and extracurricular accolades.
“Yeah, I guess I was kind of a cool kid in certain aspects,” Small said.
Ironically, Small’s many accomplishments were nearly overshadowed by his difficulty with standardized testing.
“Everyone thought I had it all together, but I failed to pass the math portion of the state standardized test,” called the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), Small said. “I passed the Math TAKS by one point—my fourth time. I felt like [God] was giving me one final chance to get it together.”
After high school, Small attended Prairie View A & M University in Prairie View, Texas, an hour’s drive to northwest of Missouri City.
“I did very well at [Prairie View A & M University],” Small said. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”
And once again, Small was quite the standout student. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a minor in marketing. As an undergraduate, he led a movement to bring the first panther statue to campus in reverence of the university’s founding fathers. Small served as the student government association president from 2011 to 2012.
Small’s collegiate career was a stark contrast to the challenges he had faced just a few years earlier as a graduating senior.
When asked if his difficulty with testing was a defining moment, Small responded: “I feel like my entire life has led to this point, like everything I’ve been through and all the experiences I’ve had have been preparation for what I am doing right now.”
Fortunately, for other future leaders like Jarren Small, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), national education law signed by President Barack Obama, seeks to alleviate the burden of ineffective testing. ESSA gives states more flexibility to decide what type of assessments they issue. ESSA also allows states to develop “innovative” assessments or to use other nationally recognized tests like the SAT or ACT.
Small said that children are the nucleus of communities and that the success of our schools is the key to community sustainability.
Smiling, Small explained that, “Kids are not the future; they are the right now.”
The development of positive resources to support children offers a tangible solution to many concerns facing inner-city communities, Small said.
Small emphasized that his methods and approach to education are resources that all students can benefit from.
Likewise, ESSA requires states to prioritize stakeholder engagement in an attempt to better meet the educational needs of local populations in lieu of the national one-size-fits all academic standards promoted by its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush.
Currently, LegendsDoLive works primarily with high school students. This year, their widely anticipated annual “Senior Fest” included an all-star basketball game between Hightower High School and Ridge Point High School, followed by an empowerment forum and concert.
“This concert is happening during school. Something like this has never been done before,” Small explained, as he expounded on the innovation required to engage today’s youth.”
More than 600 students participated in the event. Small said getting students to participate in positive, educational events is not as difficult, as some people might think.
“It’s easy,” Small explained. “You just have to listen to them and then give them what they ask for.”
Small said that he’s applying this same attitude to his newest education focus: literacy. In May, LegendsDoLive launched a hip-hop curriculum called “Reading With a Rapper” to promote reading and writing proficiency. This program is a response to Small’s educational approach of listening to children first and then responding to their needs.
Let’s hope that Small’s enthusiasm about innovative approaches to education radiates throughout the nation as it has in the Houston-metropolitan area.
For more information about the Every Student Succeeds Act, visit nnpa.org/essa.
Lynette Monroe is the program assistant for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign and a master’s student at Howard University. Her research areas are public policy and national development. Follow Lynette on Twitter @_monroedoctrine.
The question: This one comes from a school-based leader who preferred to remain anonymous. This leader wants to know “What are the federal guidelines for ‘testing transparency?’ Schools are mandated to get 95 percent participation, but how is that possible is we tell parents of their opt out rights?”
The answer: ESSA is actually really confusing when it comes to test participation. The law says that states and schools must test all of their students, just like under No Child Left Behind, the law ESSA replaced. Under NCLB, though, schools that didn’t meet the 95 percent participation requirement—both for the student population as a whole and subgroups of students, such as English-language learners—were considered automatic failures.
Now, under ESSA, states must figure low testing participation into school ratings, but just how to do that is totally up to them. And states can continue to have laws affirming parents’ right to opt their students out of tests (as Oregon does). ESSA also requires states to mark non-test-takers as not proficient.
State plans—44 of which have been approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team—are all over the map when it comes to dealing with this requirement…
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In a Mobile, Ala., elementary school, students regularly don hard hats, goggles, and lab coats to conduct science experiments. They design ramps for toy cars, observe the process of chicks hatching in an incubator, and build beaver dams by using materials from nature and design.
“I don’t want them to pretend to be scientists,” said Julie Neidhardt, the instructor and founder of the Nurturing Engineering, Science, and Technology (N.E.S.T) lab at Hutchens Elementary School, which serves grades pre-K-2. “I talk to them like they are scientists.”
That sort of inquiry-based, hands-on instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is rare in elementary grades, experts say—despite the fact that young children can be sponges for the kind of information taught in those subjects.
STEM Education: Opening Gateways to Learning & Careers
“Young kids are, all on their own, completely committed to being excited and interested in STEM topics,” said David Evans, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “The sad thing is, if there isn’t good support in schools, they lose that by the time they get to middle school.”
The U.S. Department of Education has started informing a small group of states that they will have to make changes to the way they test students with severe cognitive disabilities, because of accountability changes brought about by the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Federal law permits students with the most severe cognitive disabilities to take an alternate assessment aligned to alternate achievement standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the predecessor to the Every Student Succeeds Act, that assessment could be in the form of a portfolio, or collection of student work. But ESSA states that student assessments for accountability can only “be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks,” meaning that states relying solely on portfolios have to make a change.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Education said that only a few state education agencies are expected to be affected by the requirement, and that so far, Georgia and Puerto Rico have been notified that they will have to change their testing procedures.
Allison Timberlake, Georgia’s deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability, said the state is reviewing the law and regulations but doesn’t anticipate a problem. The state is developing a new alternate assessment that will require students to perform standardized tasks, rather than relying solely on teachers collecting evidence of student performance.
“As we develop the new alternate assessment, we will review it to ensure it meets all federal requirements,” Timberlake said…
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