Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Who Calls the Shots?

Who Calls the Shots?

There is a new law in town.   It is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and it replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Some things are totally gone; others are still in place but changed to protect the innocent.  Who’s in charge depends a lot on the particular state and how involved in education politicians want to be.
ESSA requires that the state department of education consults with legislators before sending the state plan onto the federal Education Department.  If the plan requires additional funding, the legislature would need to be involved since it holds the purse strings.   In recent years, many state legislatures have reduced the independence of state boards of education.  It is also legislators who feel the sting at the ballot box for increased taxes or too much testing going on in public schools.
Once approved by the state board of education, governors have 30 days to review the plan before sending it on to the legislature.  It is doubtful that this review will be the first time the governor has seen or provided input to the plan.  Governors in many states appoint the state board of education.  In some states, they also appoint the secretary of education and/or the state superintendent of education.  Maryland does not have a secretary of education.  This means that the State Superintendent of Schools attends cabinet meetings only at the largess of the Governor.   In Maryland, the State Board of Education negotiates the contract with the candidate for State Superintendent and that individual reports to the State Board of Education.   However, the Governor of Maryland presently has appointed the majority of the members of the State Board.
The State Board of Education in Maryland is a fully appointed Board, unlike many states where the State Board is elected.  The Board is the final sign-off before the plan is sent to the Governor.   It is also the responsibility of the Board to set education policy for the state.  Many of the key areas of flexibility that exist in ESSA (that were delineated in NCLB) will need to be specified in the state plan.  Boards will need to determine how the state will set learning standards and accountability systems.  Teacher evaluation systems will need to be revamped and that will involve individual school districts negotiating with teachers' unions under the framework laid out by the State Board.
The genesis of the plans is with the state schools' chief and his/her staff.   Whatever begins at the staff level and comes out at the legislature level and then is approved by the U.S. Office of Education must be implemented by the state schools’ chief and the staff as the plan comes full circle. 

There are so many cooks in this pot that it will be very difficult to fix blame if it all goes downhill.   Politicians and bureaucrats love that.  On the other hand, there will be plenty of folk taking credit if things go well.  You can’t get much better than that.  The shots are being called by everyone and no one.  Who doesn’t like that?   Maybe the new Secretary of Education on the federal level?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Who approves the schools that approve the teachers?

Who Approves the Schools that Approve the Teachers?

Here is how the system works.   Teachers are certified and colleges and universities are accredited.   Teachers are certified by the requisite State Department of Education. Students graduating from an NCATE or TEAC approved program are certified upon graduation and the passage of an achievement and skills test.    Institutions of higher education (IHE'S) are accredited by one of two professional organizations.   At least they used to be.  As with Common Core, the effort to create a common curriculum for school children, CAEP (Council for Accreditation of Teacher Preparation) is an effort to combine the work of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC).  With the new standards, colleges of teacher education are submitting themselves for review.   So far 21 schools have requested review and 17 have received approval.

As with all new approval processes there is much to criticize especially by the schools that did not make the cut.  The new standards are notable for their strong emphasis on outcome data, including the academic achievement of the students in the program.  There are two challenges to this standard.  First of all, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has made some schools reluctant to release student grades to the evaluators.  After all, once a student is over 18, even parents who might be paying the tuition can’t get access to grades without the permission of their offspring.  Secondly, there are really no data at all that link good college grades to great or even good teaching ability.

The programs are judged on five standards.  Each standard has multiple benchmarks.  Although the CAEP website states that schools will have until 2018 to be in full compliance, the college reviewers are using them now.  There is one other kink in the system.   Many states, including Maryland, require the teacher education accreditation programs to be federally approved.  The CAEP program is not.  Unless the language of the state law is changed, schools accredited by CAEP in those states still won’t be able to certify teachers.


Oh, and there is one more little wrinkle in the prune.  The incoming Secretary of Education for the US Department of Education is strongly in favor of charter schools and doing away with the Department she will head.  Interesting times ahead.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Everything Old is New Again

Everything Old is New Again

There is an amazing research study that is going on at a Baltimore County high school.  The school has introduced an HVAC training program for kids that don’t want the full vocational school and want a career that does not necessarily include college.   I cannot imagine how they thought that up.  Someone must have been reading old Baltimore County yearbooks.  Fifty years ago, all Baltimore County high schools had a vocational component that was separate from the County vocational schools.  Of course, in those days there were also three separate high school diplomas.  People weren’t burdened by the egalitarian notion that all students are created equally. 
Of course, they are not.  The PARCC tests are supposed to measure a student’s readiness for college and careers.  But the only careers that today’s educators seem to care about are those that require a college education.  Many students do not have the academic acumen to do college level work.  We address that issue by burdening students and colleges with zero credit remedial courses for which students pay college tuition but do not receive college credits.   Many other students are just not interested in a math or language based career.   Too bad about that; the wise elders (and politicos) have determined that college is good for everyone whether you want it or not.  
The article about this great experiment references a girl who was thinking of dropping out of high school because she just didn’t see the relevancy of the program to her life.  Then she started the HVAC training program.  She loves it and is learning the skills to go to work in the HVAC industry with starting salries in the 60-70K range, about what a starting lawyer makes if he/she can find a job in law, and more than a starting teacher.   Oh, and she won’t be burdened by college debt. 

Our democracy would not be threatened if we allowed for human difference.  Democracy should make everyone equal in the eyes of the law.  It cannot make everyone equal in skill and talent.  We cannot do that by decree either.   Everyone can’t learn the same things and everyone does not even want to learn the same things.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we went back to the good old days where we recognized and accepted that as part of human difference?   Ok, not everything in the past was cool.  I won’t mop my floor wearing heels, make-up and a nice dress.  Smart people hold onto the best of the past while embracing the good of the future.  Differentiated diplomas and curricula were great ideas that were.   Too bad they went.