Citizens for Effective Schools

Citizens for Effective Schools, Inc. (CES) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization of citizens committed to attaining the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) goal of academic proficiency for virtually all public school students, regardless of race, ethnicity or income.  CES supports conditioning provision of federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (currently called "NCLB") on states' and localities': adopting high standards; conducting regular testing; disaggregating results for student subgroups; and publicly reporting results for each school.

But, as shown by twenty years' combined experience under NCLB and the states' "standards, assessment and accountability" laws on which NCLB was modeled, high-stakes testing-based accountability systems do not make the grade.  Notwithstanding these mandates, about:

  • 66% of today’s approximately 50 million public school students are still below “Proficiency” in reading and 62% below it in math, as measured at grades 4 and 8 by the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress.  (That is, more than 30 million of our students lack sufficient knowledge and skills in those subjects to satisfy the national academic goal at their grade levels);
  • Of minority and low-income students, the situation is even worse.  83% of our 7.7 million black students and 79% of our 12.8 million Hispanic students lack “Proficiency” in reading, with 83% of black students and 76% of Hispanic students lacking “Proficiency” in math;
  • 9 million low-income students (35% of 25 million) lack even “Basic” skills at their respective grade levels in reading and 7 million low-income students (29%) lack such skills in math.  (That is, they lack even partial mastery of these critical subjects.)

(For example, fourth graders below "Basic" in math cannot "use basic facts to perform simple computations with whole numbers." Eighth graders below "Proficiency" in reading cannot "give details and examples to support themes that they identify" in eighth grade literature.)

NCLB's accountability scheme consists principally of penalizing, with increasingly severe interventions, schools that fail to sufficiently raise test scores.  This has not resulted in dramatically improving student learning.  Moreover, it has resulted in:

  • narrowing the curriculum to focus on test taking;
  • excluding low-performing students from testing and reporting; and
  • other manipulations by local and state school systems to minimize the number of schools subject to sanctions.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants and waivers do not solve key NCLB failings.  These programs harmfully perpetuate raising state standardized test scores as the overriding federal school reform objective.  Moreover, they punitively pressure states and districts to replace principals and teachers, convert to charters and other private management, and close public schools as purported improvement strategies — all without evidence to support the effectiveness of these policies, and often with evidence to the contrary.

This misconceived, ineffective and harmful test and sanctions-driven approach — not used by any of the leading education nations — must be replaced.  ESEA should no longer focus accountability on sanctioning schools and staffs for failing to raise test scores.  Instead, the ESEA reauthorization should focus on helping schools improve — by enhancing the knowledge and skills of principals and teachers and guiding states and localities to implement the other systemic changes known to work to turn around low-achieving schools.  States and localities should then be held accountable chiefly for implementing those changes.

Shockingly, the ESEA reauthorization is already 8 years overdue! Fortunately, in July 2015, the House and Senate each passed its own version of an ESEA reauthorization bill. The bills are expected to go to conference between the two houses by fall 2015. A path can now be seen for a potential conference committee compromise that could pass the Senate and the House on a bi-partisan basis — though without the most ideological Republicans — and be signed by the President.

Now is the time for citizens to urge their Congressmen and Senators to fundamentally shift ESEA — from NCLB’s failed strategy of tests and sanctions to the successful strategy of helping schools improve by doing what works. Specifically, citizens should urge Congress to support the general approach of the Senate bill, the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” S. 1177. (The Senate bill was passed by a huge bi-partisan majority: 81 to 17, unlike the House bill which passed only 218 to 213, supported solely by Republicans.)

However, in one respect, citizens should press Congress to revise the Senate bill. The conference committee should strengthen S. 1177’s accountability provisions to ensure that States and school districts focus on improving at least a minimum portion of the least effective Title I funded public schools. See related article.

We, the people, must act NOW to get Congress to finally reauthorize ESEA this fall, before millions more children are needlessly left behind by the failed policies of NCLB and the administration.

© 2012 Citizens for Effective Schools