Category Archives: nclb

Education Tweak #8

Click on image for pdf.

Click on image for pdf.

All the Education Tweaks can be found here.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, Gimme Some Truth, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind

Quote of the Day — Stunning Illogic and False Hope from the New York Times

Click the image for more NCLB cartoons.

Click the image for more NCLB cartoons.

The Bush administration allowed states to phony-up statistics on everything from graduation rates to student achievement to teacher training and state education standards. As a result, the country has yet to reach not only the goals that were clearly laid out in the law but also farsighted education reforms dating to the mid-1990s. (emphasis added)

New York Times, “A New Day for School Reform,” editorial, February 21, 2009.

There may be some truth to the cause and effect on teacher training, but the implied idea that the failures of No Child Left Behind are due to  setting standards (curricular and Adequate Yearly Progress) too low is illogical and reinforces multiple flaws in the NCLB.

Some asides at this point.  I want to be clear that communicating high expectations to students in all contexts while giving them the support they need to meet those expectations is good policy.  Changing state standards and cut scores at best comprises a very, very small part of this concept and at worst leads to shaming and other counterproductive punishments.  Better — not necessarily higher — curricular standards do have a place in reform.

First, standards in practice mean standardized tests and standardized tests are very limited as assessments and even more limited as a means of improving education.  To be fair, there is some language in the stimulus package (the subject of the quoted editorial) that may induce a move away from standardized tests (see below).

Second, and most importantly, the whole notion that lax standards are the biggest problem in education defies logic and the historical record.

In terms of logic, just ask yourself if the way to improve archery scores is to use smaller targets.  If they can’t hit the larger target, how will they hit a smaller target?

As to the history, here is the data for Wisconsin under the current system:

Year # Schools Failed AYP # Districts Failed AYP
2007-8 153 4
2006-7 92 2
2005-6 87 1
2004-5 49 1

This graphic tells us about the history and projected future (more here).

From “The Impact of the Adequate Yearly Progress Requirement of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act on the Great Lakes Region,” a study released by the Great Lakes Center for Educational Research and the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

The current standards have resulted in clear trend of increasing failure to meet those standards, a trend that is projected to increase with current standards.

Some quotes from “How Feasible is Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)? Simulations of School AYP “Uniform Averaging” and “Safe Harbor” under the No Child Left Behind Act” by Jaekyung Lee may help clarify.

It does not appear to be feasible for many schools across the nation to meet the current AYP target within its given 12-year timeline. It is not realistic to expect schools to make unreasonably large achievement gains compared with what they did in the past. Many schools are doomed to fail unless drastic actions are taken to modify the course of the NCLB AYP policy or slow its pace. (emphasis added)

When a majority of schools fail, there will not be enough model sites for benchmarking nor enough resources for capacity building and interventions. This situation can raise a challenging question to the policymakers: is it school or policy that is really failing? There is a potential threat to the validity of the NCLB school accountability policy ultimately if such prevailing school failure occurs as an artifact of policy mandates with unrealistically high expectations that were not based on scientific research and empirical evidence. (emphasis added)

An identified problem with NCLB is that standards are unrealistically high, the New York Times’ solution, raise the standards.  Stunning illogic.

This is the kind of “harder is better” mentality reflected in the Pangloss Index and expected from people like the Walton and Bradley Foundation funded  Thomas B. Fordham Institute, not “the paper of record.”

Later in the editorial, the assessment reform potential of the stimulus bill is touted:

States will also be required to improve academic standards as well as the notoriously weak tests now used to measure achievement — replacing, for instance, the pervasive fill-in-the-bubble tests with advanced assessments that better measure writing and thinking.

This seems to be a gross overstatement.  Here are the relevant parts of the stimulus bill:

(A) will enhance the quality of the academic assessments
it administers pursuant to section 1111(b)(3) of the
ESEA (20 U.S.C. 6311(b)(3)) through activities such as
those described in section 6112(a) of such Act (20 U.S.C.
(B) will comply with the requirements of paragraphs
(3)(C)(ix) and (6) of section 1111(b) of the ESEA (20 U.S.C.
6311(b)) and section 612(a)(16) of the IDEA (20 U.S.C.
1412(a)(16)) related to the inclusion of children with disabilities
and limited English proficient students in State
assessments, the development of valid and reliable assessments
for those students, and the provision of accommodations
that enable their participation in State assessments;
(C) will take steps to improve State academic content
standards and student academic achievement standards
consistent with section 6401(e)(1)(9)(A)(ii) of the America

A and C  send us to the two prior acts, with vague “such as” language in A.  Here is the section cited in A:

(1) To enable States (or consortia of States) to collaborate with institutions of higher education, other research institutions, or other organizations to improve the quality, validity, and reliability of State academic assessments beyond the requirements for such assessments described in section 1111(b)(3).

(2) To measure student academic achievement using multiple measures of student academic achievement from multiple sources.

(3) To chart student progress over time.

(4) To evaluate student academic achievement through the development of comprehensive academic assessment instruments, such as performance and technology-based academic assessments.

and the section cited in C:

(ii) identifying and making changes that need to
be made to a State’s secondary school graduation
requirements, academic content standards, academic
achievement standards, and assessments preceding
graduation from secondary school in order to align
the requirements, standards, and assessments with
the knowledge and skills necessary for success in academic
credit-bearing coursework in postsecondary education,
in the 21st century workforce, and in the Armed
Forces without the need for remediation;

I certainly don’t see a requirement to end “fill-in-the-bubble tests” here.  I see some good but weak language opening the door to multiple assessments, some possibility of better assessments in general and buzz words about the “21st century workforce.”  I also have not seen anything in Wisconsin’s plans for the stimulus money that indicates that the WKCE will be gone anytime soon (since the contract requires two-year notice be given, I don’t see that long awaited day being pushed up).

This editorial is unfortunately typical of the confusion on education policy in our media and consequently in our society.  Education policy can be confusing.  This makes the role of the press even more critical and the failures of logic and accuracy like those in the Times editorial more damaging.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, education, Gimme Some Truth, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, Quote of the Day, Uncategorized

The Man With a “Plan”


After greeting the School Finance Network (SFN) plan with little better than contempt and offering a budget proposal that at best slows the bleeding in school finance (after 15 years of steady blood loss), Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle has previewed his own “plan” for fixing school funding.  It may be a good starting point for talking (not as good a starting point as SFN’s work), but I don’t think contains the answers to the financial and other struggles of our schools and I don’t like the way it only provides the  resources needed to “improve student performance” (which unfortunately will likely be defined by the flawed and limited WKCE) to those districts that meet criteria that have nothing to do with education.

Like many policy proposals these days, it uses rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks.  The reward is an opportunity to escape from the revenue caps, to no longer have to cut 1%-2% of educational programing annually.  The punishment is to continue under the system that has eaten away at our schools, limited our students’ opportunities and put our state’s future in danger for the past 15 years.

The rewards are tied to the following ill-defined (at this point) policies:

• Join together for the purposes of negotiating union contracts

• Make employees use the state health plan unless the school district already has a plan that is cheaper

• Require schools to agree to a list of practices that would improve student performance

• Provide compensation for teachers that better reflects the needs of individual schools such as those in rural districts that struggle to attract teachers for some subjects

I’m going to leave the contracts, compensation and health insurance aside for now in order to say a few words about #3, the “best practices.”

Doyle cited the work of Alan Odden as the basis for the kind of practices he has in mind.  The Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative Final Report for 2007 has some good ideas about “best practices” based on research  and good estimates of the costs of these practices, also based on research.   Some of the things in the Odden report are stronger than others and some would be difficult for many districts, but small classes, formative assessments used wisely, teacher coaches, staff development are all good ideas.

What Odden and SFN both propose is funding these practices for all schools.  Doyle seems think that access to best practices should be a reward available only to those who get all their ducks in order. I guess the New “New Wisconsin Promise” will be “A Quality Education for Every Child Who Lives in District that Joined with Other Districts to Negotiate Contracts and Limit Health Care Costs.”

I want to make it clear that neither Odden nor SFN wants to simply give the schools more money to do whatever they want (although both do show proper respect for the  professional knowledge of our state’s educators).  Both include means of targeting money to research based programs and both also propose “accountability” evaluations.

There are ways to target money toward best practices but still make the resources available to all schools  (the Student Achievement Gaurentee in Education — SAGE — program is a partial example).  You can do categorical aids which can only be spent in certain ways,  you can do grants, you can do reimbursements.  Instead, Doyle ties the resources for best educational practices to his ideas of the best financial and policy (and probably political) practices.  As education policy, this makes no sense.

We’ve had 15 years in Wisconsin under a system of school finance that is based on the politics of tax policies, not education.  As a nation, with No Child Left Behind we’ve been punishing schools instead of helping them.

If Doyle’s plan moves forward, I sincerely hope that education is put first and that the stick punishment is put away;  that the very good ideas about funding promising educational practices are enacted in a manner that will reach all districts, all schools, and all students in Wisconsin.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, Contracts, education, finance, Local News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, School Finance

Vote Today! – Today’s School Votes

Today’s election is very important.  Wisconsin will decide which two candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction will be on the April ballot; districts around the state have significant referendum questions and there are a couple of local Aldermanic races in Madison where there are candidates who I think deserve support (there are also some other primaries for judges and Board of Education and other Aldermanic races around the state).  The projected turnout is only 6%-10%, so your vote may make the difference.

First and foremost, Todd Price is the clear choice for State Superintendent.   Price has a thorough understanding of the difference quality public education can make in the lives of individuals, the health of our communities and the future of our state.  He also has correctly diagnosed and offered solutions to the problems of our state school finance system, our testing regimen, NCLB and more.  Most importantly, Todd Price has brought an urgency to this race that others lack.   We don’t need another state superintendent who accepts the continued erosion of our schools under a broken state finance system, underfunded programs for our highest need students and the misplaced priorities of NCLB and WKCE.  We need a State Superintendent who will challenge our governor, our legislators and our local school officials to do better.  Todd Price will be that State Superintendent.  Vote for Todd Price.

There are nine referenda in six districts on the ballot today.  The districts are Appleton, Clinton,  Highland,  Salem, Siren and Waupun.  I don’t have time this morning to fully explore these measures (if possible, I will add some links later), but essential things like preserving smaller class size (Appleton and Siren), investing in sustainable energy (Clinton), keeping neighborhood schools open (Waupun), paying for books, technology and other learning materials and avoiding further programing cuts will be decided.  I hope they all pass.

I am going to offer some quotes from a Todd Price press release and interview on these measures and the system that has led 151 referenda votes since January 1, 2008, most simply to preserve  or limit cuts to current programs, maintain or upgrade facilities, or build needed schools.

Price characterizes the need for these votes as “a regrettable symptom of a school finance system that has been harming our students, our communities, and our state for far too long.”…

“Referenda are band aids, temporary fixes. Our districts keep asking for more band aids just to stop the bleeding. It is time to address the real problem; it is time to fix Wisconsin’s broken school finance system.”…

“These campaigns to provide an adequate education for all children divide communities and distract from the essential task of working together for the education of all children,” Price explains. “One neighborhood is pitted against another, people on fixed incomes who can’t afford tax increases but know education is important are frustrated, educators and boards of education spend too much time trying to pass referenda instead of working to improve education; parents and concerned community members end up volunteering on campaigns instead of in the classrooms.”…

Racine Unified is a good example. The district struggles on an annual basis to balance its budget without making significant cuts to programs or going to referendum for extra money. It’s led to a contentious relationship between the district and the public, left schools in disrepair and resulted in relatively poor student performance.

Last, voters in Madison District 2 need to keep one of our city’s most Progressive and hardest working Alders in office — vote for Brenda Konkel.  In District 8, newcomer Katrina Flores is the best choice and as a grad student in the School of Education a sure friend to the schools.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, education, Elections, finance, Local News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

Wisconsin State Superintendent Forum Video

Here is a video from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction forum hosted on February 12 by the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools.

There hasn’t been much media coverage on this important race and most of the candidates cannot afford extensive campaigns.  Please take this opportunity to see and hear Todd Price, Rose Fernandez, Lowell Holtz, Tony Evers and Van Mobley.

I think that once you learn about the candidates, you will join me in supporting Todd Price.

Vote February 17th!


I just found these links: The League of Women Voters guide and Q&As from the Appleton Post Crescent.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, education, Elections, Equity, finance, Local News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, School Finance, Take Action

Todd Price for State Superintendent


I hope to find the time to do a fuller analysis and endorsement, but meanwhile here is my letter to the editor version.

As State Superintendent of Public Instruction Todd Price will be the uncompromising advocate for our students and our schools that Wisconsin needs.

Each day that we continue to accept reasons to resist change is a day that Wisconsin’s commitment to excellence in public education is in jeopardy.  Our way of funding education is broken.  Merrill has laid off 10% of their staff; failed referenda this Spring in Appleton, Salem and elsewhere would bring larger class sizes; Holmen and other districts can no longer afford to participate in the proven but underfunded Student Guaranty in Education (SAGE) class size reduction program; Madison gutted locally funded class size reductions two years ago and there is no official talk of restoring them.  Todd Price is committed to fixing this broken system not finding excuses to preserve the status quo.

On school finance; testing and accountability; green, sustainable schools; proactive school climate and safety, the failures of No Child Left Behind; and other pressing school matters, Todd Price is the only candidate who will work to find and implement solutions immediately.  The future can’t wait.  Vote for Todd Price.

Here is a message from Todd’s campaign telling how you can help:

We’re lucky to have such a viable candidate running for Wisconsin State Superintendent of Schools in the February 17th election. The campaign needs your help to get Todd Price elected! Visit Todd’s website.

Here is what you can do:

***Donate! Because of the wonders of the internet money can be transmitted, and used on web advertisements very quickly. . If we can raise enough in the next week, we qualify for $98,000 of State Election Fund dollars! Every dollar helps.

***Invite your friends to join the Facebook group and post it to your profile by going to the group page and clicking Share+ on the right-hand side and select Post to Profile.

***Write a letter to the editor.

***Part of an organization that will endorse Todd? Let us know at:

***Oh yeah, vote for Todd Price February 17th!

An AP wire story speculated that turnout might “barely break double digits,” so every little bit of help could be the difference in a crowded primary. So please help if you can.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Local News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action

Education Tweaks

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As always, past and future Education Tweaks can be found here.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Best Practices, education, Gimme Some Truth, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind

Quotes of the Day — Accountability


The federal No Child Left Behind Act has succeeded in highlighting the poor math and reading skills of disadvantaged children. But on balance, the law has done more harm than good because it has terribly distorted the school curriculum. Modest modifications cannot correct this distortion. Designing a better accountability policy will take time. We cannot and should not abandon school accountability, but it’s time to go back to the drawing board to get accountability right…

Designing a new accountability system will take time and care, because the problems are daunting. Observations of student behavior are not as reliable as standardized tests of basic skills, so we will have to accept that it is better to imperfectly measure a broad set of outcomes than to perfectly measure a narrow set. We will have to resolve contradictory national convictions that schools should teach citizenship and character, but not inquire about students’ (and parents’) personal opinions. To avoid new distortions, we’ll need to make tough decisions about how to weight the measurement of the many goals of education.

Richard Rothstein, “Getting Accountability Right,” Education Week.

These quotes and the commentary were directed at NCLB reform, but I think they are also applicable to the MMSD Strategic Planning process that begins next week and want to note that Todd Price is the only candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction who is voicing similar ideas about the failings of NCLB and the need for more than adjustments.

Related at eduwonkette (and a hat tip); and from the Annenberg Institute, “Beyond Test Scores: Leading Indicators for Education” (many other great resources at the Annenberg site).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Education Tweak #6

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All the EdTweaks can be found at

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Best Practices, Gimme Some Truth, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind

Education Tweaks, 3, 4, 5

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All the Education Tweaks can now be found at this page.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Filed under Best Practices, education, Gimme Some Truth, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind