Education Week - October 31, 2012 - (Page 18)

18 EDUCATION WEEK n OCTOBER 31, 2012 n GOVERNMENT & POLITICS Graduation Rates Latest Waiver Flash Point Some say flexibility on NCLB could dilute accountability By Michele McNeil A growing chorus of education policy advocates is urging the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen graduation-rate accountability in states that have earned waivers under the No Child Left Behind Act. In separate letters last month to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a group of 36 civil rights, business, and education policy groups, along with U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., say they are concerned that many states’ approved flexibility plans violate the spirit—if not the letter—of 2008 regulations that require all states to calculate the graduation rate in the same way and make those rates an important factor in high school accountability. What’s more, those groups and Rep. Miller warn that in many states, graduation rates— especially for groups of at-risk students—are such a minor part of the new accountability systems that getting students to successfully finish high school may take a back seat to other factors, such as performance on tests. An Education Week review of the 35 approved waiver applications shows approaches to graduation-rate accountability vary significantly. • Two states use the number of students that earn General Educational Development certificates, or geds, as part of their accountability system. In South Dakota, 12.5 percent of a school’s grade is based on high school completion, which includes those earning a ged diploma. Louisiana awards a small number of points to schools for the ged certificates their students earn. • Several states allow schools to take credit in their grading systems for students who take longer than four or five years to graduate. Colorado, for example, allows for a sevenyear graduation rate. • The weight that states afford to graduation rates in their accountability systems varies greatly. In Michigan’s system, graduation rates are worth just 10 percent of a school’s grade; in Kentucky, 20 percent; and Nevada, 30 percent. “An erosion of the bipartisan progress made in the area of high school graduation-rate accountability is an unacceptable byproduct of this [waiver] policy,” states the Sept. 21 letter from the business, civil rights, and education groups, which include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Council of La Raza, and the National School Boards Association. In his letter from the same day to Secretary Duncan, Mr. Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, wrote: “Of most immediate concern are those new state accountability systems approved by [the Education Department] that I believe undermine the role of graduation rates in determining school performance, are not supported by research or best practice, and erode the recent progress states have made on improving graduation rates.” Education Department officials had no additional comment on the graduation-rate issue and pointed to a spokesman’s statement from last month in response to Mr. Miller’s letter. “We will vigilantly monitor states to make sure their kids are getting over the bar and graduating them,” said department press secretary Justin Hamilton at that time. The waivers under the nclb law allow states the freedom to design their own differentiated accountability systems that do not revolve around the original goal of 100 percent proficiency for all students in math and reading by the end of the 2013-14 school year. In exchange for having significant parts of the original law waived, states have to commit to intervening in the 15 percent of the lowest-performing schools, focus on closing achievement gaps, and implement teacher- and principal-evaluation systems that are based in part on student performance. The flexibility offered to states, which comes as Congress remains overdue in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the nclb law is the current version, did not waive the 2008 graduation-rate regulations. According to the regulations put in place by then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who served in the George W. Bush administration, the graduation rate is defined as the number of students who finish high school with a regular diploma within four years. The regulations allow for the addition of an extended-year graduation rate so schools could receive credit for getting students over the finish line in more than four years. But generally, the department also required states to set more ambitious goals for those extended-year rates. And most states didn’t exceed a five-year rate anyway, policy advocates say. In addition, the regulations made graduation rates a crucial factor in accountability. Schools had to meet their state’s graduation goal for all students and subgroups of at-risk students, or make improvement, in order to make adequate yearly progress under the nclb law. “What’s most concerning is the number of states and the variety of ways in which graduation-rate accountability is being implemented that is different from graduation-rate accountability as envisioned under the 2008 regulations,” said Phillip Lovell, the vice president of federal advocacy for the Washington-based Alliance for Excellent Education, which works CALCULATING COMPLETION A number of states that have received waivers from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act are using graduation rates in different ways as part of their accountability systems. A sampling: Four Years and Beyond The concern over graduation rates is the latest in a series of sharp critiques by advocacy groups raising alarms about the waivers. Already, several states are defending their new accountability systems because, as the federal rules permit, they are setting different school performance benchmarks by race and ethnicity. An erosion of the bipartisan progress made in the area of high school graduation-rate accountability is an unacceptable byproduct of this policy.” BUSINESS, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND EDUCATION GROUPS Letter to U.S. Department of Education “ Practical Hurdles at Play in Pennsylvania Charter-Law Revamp By Andrew Ujifusa A recent effort by Pennsylvania officials to re-examine the state’s charter school laws highlights the challenges states may face as they try to change the policy and political environment for charters. In mid-October, lawmakers failed in their regular legislative session to agree on a bill that would have, among other provisions, established a statewide commission to look at charter school finance. Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, expressed his desire to sign such a measure and previously had said charter reform was a priority this fall. Ultimately, a gop partisan advantage in the state government did not help charter advocates, who are clamoring for an overhaul of Pennsylvania’s charter law, which was passed in 1997. “There’s been some legislative progress around the country. But it’s not been easy. It’s incremental. It’s all trench warfare,” said Matthew Ladner, a senior policy adviser at the pro-charter Foundation for Excellence in Education, based in Tallahassee, Fla. He said states should be relatively permissive about who can start charters, but “ruthless” when assessing results and deciding which of those largely independent public schools should be closed. Indiana is one such state. In 2011, it expanded charter school options by creating a statewide charter sponsor, while bolstering academic accountability by increasing the state school board’s authority to close charters and establishing new accountability criteria for charters. Eight cyber charters have applied to open in the state for the 2013-14 school year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week. In addition to creating a state panel on charter school funding, Senate Bill 1115, which also erator was charged in an alleged $6 million fraud scheme after an fbi investigation.) One Republican who did not support the Senate bill that Gov. Corbett was awaiting was Rep. Mike Fleck, who represents a rural district and sits on the House education committee. He said he does not fundamentally oppose charters. There’s been some legislative He introduced legislation over the summer that would prevent progress around the country. school districts from what he called overpaying charters by ensuring, But it’s not been easy. ... It’s all for example, that brick-and-mortar trench warfare.” and cyber charter schools without the same costs as traditional pubMATTHEW LADNER lic schools don’t get the same payments. (Rep. James Roebuck, the Foundation for Excellence in Education top Democrat on the House education committee, introduced a similar dealt with special education law House of Representatives could bill in October.) “You [created] two tiers of public in Pennsylvania, would have ex- not agree on the bill, which did not tended the length of charters for get a vote. Some gop members said education. ... And you didn’t hold both new and existing schools. accountability provisions were not them to the same level of accountAs a compromise, plans to estab- strong enough. ability,” said Mr. Fleck of the charlish a statewide authorizer for char(Accountability has been a ter environment in the state. ters and a version of a “parent trig- headline issue in the state: In Part of the argument is whether ger” law for charter conversions were July, a Philadelphia charter op- charters, particularly brick-andstripped out of previous versions of the bill, in an attempt to enact the first major changes to the law since it was passed, said Bob Fayfich, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. But Republicans in the state “ Foes in Both Parties Pennsylvania has 157 brickand-mortar charter schools and 16 cyber charters. About 105,000 students are enrolled in charters, including about 32,000 in cyber charters—one of the largest cyberenrollments of any state, according to the Washington-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 31, 2012

Education Week - October 31, 2012
‘i3’ Grantees Face Hurdles on Aid Match
Teacher-Leader Degree Designed as a Vehicle For Career Fulfillment
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Caution Urged on ‘Value Added’ Reviews
College Board Head to Make Underserved a Priority
Miami-Dade Wins $550,00 Broad Prize For Urban Education
E-School Conference Highlights Blended Ed.
Pa. Moves to Ease Penalties for Minors Who Engage in ‘Sexting’
Education Issues Suffuse Ballots
New Orleans Board Race a Magnet For Outsiders’ Cash
Blogs of the Week
Graduation Rates Latest Waiver Flash Point
Practical Hurdles at Play in Pennsylvania Charter-Law Revamp
Policy Brief
Rethinking Principal Evaluation
Teacher Observation: Tech or No Tech?
About the Necktie
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Redefining the Federal Role In Education: Advice for the Winner of Next Week’s Election

Education Week - October 31, 2012