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from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

NCLB: problems, not solutions 

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the reauthorization of the the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is wreaking havoc on our nation’s schools. Regardless of the good intentions of some (George Miller and Ted Kennedy come to mind) who supported it in the hope that it would provide more funding for public schools, it is instead serving to delegitimize public schools at the same time that it enriches certain corporate interests.

In today’s diary I will address a number of issues. First I will discuss the problem of high qualified teachers, a requirement under the Law. Next I will refer to a somewhat related column about teacher compensation that appeared on the front page of the metro section of the July 26 Washington Post. Finally I will discuss the issue of supplementary services (tutoring), focusing in particular on an article in the July 25 Baltimore Sun. Throughout I will offer my own analysis and commentary.


NCLB requires that in schools receiving Federal funds (which currently is almost all public schools), all teachers hired after 2005-2006 must be highly qualified. States have some flexibility in setting their own standards, and in general it means that teachers must be fully certified, and not teaching using emergency or provisional certification. For some more explanation, one can go [here http://www.ed.gov/nclb/methods/teachers/hqtflexibility.html] where the US Dept. of Education provides some information.

But it is not clear what will happen next school year, because it will be impossible to meet that criteria. I teach in Maryland. This year Maryland is fortunate, in that we only need about 6,000 new teachers statewide. In recent years that figure has tended to run something over 7,000. But meeting even the lower figure is difficult. State approved teacher certification programs in Maryland produce at best 2,500 new teachers per year, not all of whom opt for Maryland public schools, either going to non-public institutions and/or out of state and/or taking positions outside of the classroom.

Several districts in Maryland are particularly hard-hit by this. While some rural districts have trouble attracting teachers, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County (where I teach) - the two heavily African-American school districts which also have the lowest state test scores, both regularly have trouble filling their open slots. A few years ago the then incoming superintendent in Prince George’s, Iris Metts, announced that no more teachers would be hired with provisional certificates, only candidates fully certified. She had to back down. Had she not done so, she would have been forced to open the school year with several hundred classrooms staffed by substitutes. Just so you can understand the difference -- to have a provisional certificate you must at least have a college degree, and you are supposed to be enrolled in coursework moving you towards full certification within 5 years. You are expected to have majored in the content area. A substitute may have a college degree (not required by state law - a GED is the minimum acceptable educational level), but it does not have to have any relevance to the subject in which you are substituting.

If we are going to move towards the goal of having highly qualified teachers in every classroom, and if we are having difficulty filling the openings we do have, perhaps we need to look at why we have so many openings. One reason is that we have trouble retaining teachers, and one basic cause of that problem is financial. Thus Marc Fisher’s column on the Metro section front page of the July 26 Washington Post may be of some relevance. Entitled [Homeland Security Starts in Our Schools http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/25/AR2005072501648.html], begins with his encountering a clearly overeducated clerk behind the counter at a video rental store.
t turned out that the clerk was really a high school English teacher moonlighting for a few extra bucks.

That teacher, Alex Horwitz, has since left the field to try out the movie business, but all too many other teachers are out there this summer -- and on weekends and evenings during the school year -- working second, third and fourth jobs so they can keep teaching your kids.


Fisher writes about Lorelei Emma, who is 28 and a special-ed teacher in Fairfax County. There is a critical shortage of special ed teaches nationally. Emma
teaches summer school in the mornings, tutors, dog-sits, house-sits and drives out to Lexington each weekend to work at her family's flower shop. Even with all that, and with mom's help on her student loan and car payments, Emma lives in a small bedroom with no closet in a Fairlington house she shares with two roommates.

Last week, Emma applied for work at a Whole Foods store -- she and her teacher buddies call it "Whole Paycheck" -- "because maybe I could get a discount on groceries there."

"I love my kids, and I love teaching, but I can't afford it," Emma says. "I can't be a 30-year-old and expect my mom to keep paying for my car." With a master's degree and four years of experience, Emma makes $49,000 in the Fairfax schools. But housing and other costs in this area make seemingly decent salaries feel like poverty wages.


This area is expensive. I know. I bought my house in 1984 for 129,000 while I worked in data processing. I am doing a refi, and the appraisal will come back tomorrow for between 4 and 5 times what I paid for this house a little more than 20 years ago.

Emma works 12-14 hours day during the year on her school work, tutors, and works in a flower shop. Now she is seriously considering doing something else, because she knows she cannot continue to push herself like that.

Fisher talks with the head of the English Department at T C Williams HS in Alexandria (as in “Remember the Titans”). Mary Beth Kochman is a Penn graduate, who remembers being asked back in school
"Why are you here if you're only going to become a teacher?" Only?
. When she attends reunions her classmates, lawyers, business executives, and the like, really don’t notice pain in paying their student loans. By contrast,
Kochman has to find $300 a month to put toward her loans. She's managed to take on extra jobs related to her career -- teacher training, for example -- but after a decade of teaching, she can't buy a house, travel or live a lifestyle that matches her peers'.

"I am constantly thinking about whether or not I can afford to buy a book from Borders, eat out more than a certain number of times per week, or go away for a weekend," she says.


She is realistic enough to know that many of her students, having lived in cars or through revolutions, have had much harder lives. They may have seen more than one death.
And she's quick to add that she loves her work. Still, she and other teachers I spoke to find it hard to reconcile political slogans about the importance of education with the reality of a society in which teachers cannot afford to live where they teach.


Fisher gets to the heart of the matter with his final two paragraphs:
The nation's schools have never adapted to losing their near-monopoly on working women. That history, in which teaching was usually a family's supplemental income, explains why schools are so far behind in paying for top workers.

How to turn it around? Two ways: Wait for things to get so much worse that the nation must launch a Manhattan Project to revive its schools. Or start now by persuading voters that paying for stronger teachers is a great investment -- it's the real homeland security.



I have shown you some of the issues affecting our schooling. We are supposed to be providing every child with a highly qualified teacher. Yet we are not producing enough teachers to fill all the openings we have. And one reason we have so many openings is the financial difficulties faced by many teachers, so that we are often unable to retain those we would like to keep.

As a result, we have some teachers who should not be in classrooms -- but they are certified and they can occupy a space and they meet the federal requirements. Schools could not get rid of them even if they wanted to. And even the good teachers can be overburdened by the number of students and the requirements of curriculum coverage that often do not allow for individual attention for students who don’t “get it” quite as easily. NCLB does not address these issues. Instead it decides to find a way to authorize payment of funds for remediation, for supplemental educational services, usually in the form of tutoring, which is why I offer the final part of this extended entry today.

The article on tutoring in the Baltimore Sun,
[Tutoring becomes a hot commodity http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/education/bal-bz.tutoring24jul24,1,5540988.story?coll=bal-business-headlines&ctrack=1&cset=true], provides a very good overview of some of the issues of supplementary services. This is NOT about pocket change. This is a market viewed as being worth up to $2 billion. Here’s a couple of early paragraphs from the article:
No Child Left Behind, the federal law enacted to improve the quality of public schools, has given private tutoring companies a potentially huge new source of income by requiring some troubled schools to contract with tutors for low-income, low-performing students, using money set aside for poor schools.

Industry revenues from NCLB-mandated services more than doubled this past school year from 2003-2004 and are expected to grow by at least 20 percent this year. At Baltimore-based Educate Inc., one of the largest for-profit tutoring companies, revenue from work with troubled schools jumped 402 percent in 2004 - to $27.6 million from $5.5 million.


So far only about 12% of eligible students have enrolled for the services. Still that means that tutoring is being provided, largely by for-profit organizations, to over 100,000 students. The companies think they are doing good deeds.
Tutoring companies see the NCLB market as a way to give low-income students the advantages they've offered for years to middle-class children needing extra help in school or to students from affluent families trying to boost their test scores to get into top colleges or secondary schools.

And one executive of a tutoring company remarks
"It's wonderful that high- quality tutoring companies have their services available to kids who normally could never afford it. It's great."


But the reality may be something else. Note the following:
But some educators are critical of the program because tutoring providers, unlike schools and teachers, are not accountable under the law for the students being able to pass standardized tests. The providers say they ensure that most students will at least make some improvement - which they maintain is better than nothing.


Let’s explain a bit of how this works. Schools are required to measure all students in grades 3-8 in reading and math every year. By 2014 all students are supposed to be proficient (a sheer impossibility, but we will ignore that for now). In the meantime, schools must be making adequate yearly progress (AYP) towards those goals. To put it in simple terms, if in 2004, 40% of students were proficient, the school must gain an additional 60% over 10 years, or add 6% per year. Thus in 2005 the figure would have to be 46%, and in 2006 52%.

But the school can not offer one total number. Scores must be disaggregated, broken out by subgroups. Thus scores must be reported separately by race, and also with categories for Limited English Proficiency and special education, etc. If any one subgroup in the entire school fails to make AYP for the year, the entire school is considered in need of improvement. Two consecutive years of not making AYP trigger a host of measures, including that of offering tutoring.

Before returning to tutoring specifically, let me note one provision. States can set the minimum number of people for a subgroup before it is counted. Thus if I have only 2 Native Americans, I probably won’t have to run separate statistics on them as a subgroup. For any subgroup, at least 95% of the students must be tested or that group is automatically considered not to have made AYP and the entire school is considered in need of improvement (or in colloquial terms, is considered failing). If I have 11 students in a subgroup in ONE of the grades, and two are out sick on the day of the test, the entire school will be considered in need of improvement, even if every other student in the school passed the test. This might help you see how eventually almost all schools across the country will be considered “failing” under NCLB.

Returning to the article:
Schools that do not meet standards for two years in a row are placed in the "school improvement" category, which means parents can transfer their kids to a better-performing school or schools must offer free tutoring for students.
and today we will focus on the tutoring.

Parents can choose a tutor from a list provided by the states. These lists can include non-profits, for profits, face to face, small group, internet, etc. There are no real standards, it is simply up to the state to certify that a provider is acceptable.
Companies don't receive a set price for the tutoring services; the federal government provides $900 to $2,500 a year per student, depending on the state and school district... Providers then determine the length and frequency of tutoring sessions based on students' needs and the money available. Huntington, which normally charges about $40 an hour for retail tutoring, often receives a similar rate for its NCLB services. . .


Read the foregoing carefully. The Federal government will provide between $900 and $2,500 per student per year. If the average teacher load across the country is about 26 students, and the average teacher salary is around 45,000 (that includes al levels of experience and all geographic areas), then the teacher salary per student per year is about 1730. At Huntington’s stated rate of 40/hour, that is only around 43-44 hours of tutoring for the entire year.

I will judiciously not comment about the idea that the length and frequency of the tutoring session is to a large degree set by the money available -- the rates don’t change, just how much tutoring is given!

Not all students eligible for such services are receiving them.

In some parts of the country, parents don't sign up their children for the tutoring programs because tutors are too far away or because kids have other after-school activities.

Maryland has a different problem: The state has funding for only about 12,000 of the 30,500 students who are eligible for tutoring services - and only 6,000 are using it, said Ann Chafin, chief of program improvement for the Maryland State Department of Education. In Baltimore, where a high number of schools fail to meet the No Child Left Behind standards, some children were denied free tutoring because of high demand and not enough supply.


The article goes on to discuss how schools and tutoring companies can do more outreach to get more eligible students into tutoring programs. It also offers examples of how tutoring helps, such as this 8th grader in Baltimore:
"I felt like I was the only one who didn't know math," said Bria, who will be a fourth-grader next fall. "Every time I would try to sit there and work it out, everybody's hands would fly in the air."

Bria's twice-weekly, 1 1/2 -hour sessions gave her a chance to ask questions and work slowly. She said she started to understand math and her grades got better. "The teachers had the time to help me figure out the math problems," she said.


Note the issue of having time for the student, something not always possible in a class with more than 30 students, and where the pressure is on the teacher to keep moving forward to accomplish “curriculum coverage.”

The schools must, under NCLB, monitor the progress of their students.

But there are few, if any, requirements of what the tutoring firms must produce in terms of student achievement. Most tutoring companies tell parents to expect some form of improvement but won't guarantee that a child will achieve a particular score on a standardized test.


The companies may boast,, as do these two:
Educate, for example, says children can jump one grade level in a particular subject after 36 hours of instruction. Huntington boasts of being able to help a child improve by two grades after 12 weeks or 40 hours of instruction.


But there is no guarantee as to improvement by the child, which, as one company acknowledges, depends to a large degree on what the child already knows upon arrival at tutoring.

That troubles Penelope Earley, professor and director of center for education policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

"There's no accountability other than the marketplace," Earley said. "It is quite ironic and quite paradoxical that the accountability standards that are imposed on teachers, on schools and on districts are not imposed on the tutoring firms in the same manner."


There have been some problems, as the next section, with some ellipses, shows:

Many school districts do not have the resources to properly monitor tutoring services, said Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy, a think tank in Washington.

"With companies seeing all the money they can make, there is a possibility of a great deal of abuse," he said. . . .

Some abuses have occurred in places like Las Vegas, where students were registered for services by more than one provider, but only received services from one, according to a report by the policy center. Another example from the report showed that parents who selected online services were forced to pay for hidden costs such as a computer or Internet access.

While acknowledging some abuses, for-profit providers say they have to keep consumers - in this case school districts, parents and students - happy as any other business must.


But many parents lack the skills and knowledge to assess how effective the tutoring is. My concern is that the companies may offer the rhetorical promises about the good they do, but their bottom line is making a profit.

And here’s the kicker -- the states impose no certification tests for those actually doing the tutoring. In most cases, if the tutors have college degrees (and in many cases less than that), they are acceptable to deliver these supplementary educational services. A music major (I was one, which is why I picked this major) is automatically qualified to teach your child reading, for which you may be paying Huntington 40/hour. That person would not meet the standards for being a highly qualified teacher. A beginning fully certified teacher in some states makes as little at 25,000/year. In the districts around Washington and Baltimore, that starting salary can range from 28,000 up. Let’s assume 30,000. Not counting the time out of school correcting papers, planning, continuing one’s own education, most teachers have a 190 day school year, each day officially about 7 hours. That;s 1330 hours/ I am ignoring paid vacations, but presuming that all pay is for those hours. That would be a rate of 22.56/hour, during which time if we presume the average class has 2 students (probably quite low in some places) , we are paying our teachers less than 1.00/hour per student.

Somehow I think the funds being spent on supplementary educational services would have far greater impact were they applied to lessening class sizes, perhaps hiring teacher’s aides to assist with some individual help, and raising the compensation of teachers in order to retain them.

But since I am a teacher, I am sure the arguments I make will be dismissed. I think a quality education should be a right. I do not believe that imposing a profit motive will necessarily improve education. Given the track record of companies like EAI (aka TesseracT) and Edison in fact the profit motive has been shown NOT to improve education and perhaps even to harm it.

NCLB will not change until the next reauthorization. We can only hope and pray that the damage it does in the mean time is not irreversible.
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