Category Archives: ESEA

English School Reform Plan Looks a Lot Like Charter School Expansion

A recent article in The Economist pointed to education system reforms in England which look a lot like charter school expansion and the establishment of charter management organizations (CMO). The plan being outlined is for all of the system’s schools to become academies. English academies bear striking resemblance to American charter schools. In sum, these are autonomous, state-funded schools that have relative freedom from government interference, may select their own curricula (may or may not use the national curriculum), decide the length of the school day, and may establish policies pertaining to teacher pay independently. They receive funding directly from the central government, without having funds flow through a local authority;

In addition to converting all current English schools to academies, academies would join multi-academy trusts, defined as charitable bodies which run chains of schools. These trusts bear striking resemblance to non-profit CMOs in the U.S. And similar to the bipartisan intent of the Charter Schools Program of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the U.S., English officials want to see academy administrators who have proven their effectiveness, have the opportunity to manage additional schools.

English academies are not a new concept. Currently, English academies make up nearly 60% of secondary schools and just under 20% of primary schools. The rationale for the plan is the same as the rationale for education reforms internationally that seek to increase schools’ flexibility and autonomy: (a) increased autonomy allows schools the flexibility needed to innovate, and (b) increased competition results in schools improving and being more attune to the needs and desires of students and parents. The plan to expand academies in England, however, is not without objections from some. Opposition to English academies is similar to opposition for charter schools in the U.S. In England, teachers unions and the Labour Party have been vocal critics of academies and the new plan to expand them.

Even with the aforementioned opposition from some groups, English policy makers and education leaders have decided that all schools in England would benefit form the flexibility that current academies have experienced. In England and in the U.S., policy makers and education leaders have come to realize that raising that educational achievement of students who have traditionally been under-served by public schools, requires granting schools much greater flexibility in the areas of budgeting, personnel, curriculum, and instruction. And in exchange for that increased flexibility, schools can and should be held accountable for higher standards of performance.

Teachers unions and their advocates will continue to fight such reforms. There is no way around their opposition. Granting personnel autonomy to school leaders means removing some of the employment protections teachers in the public sector have enjoyed for generations. But increased autonomy in personnel matters is essential to increasing schools’ flexibility; and granting schools additional flexibility to innovate is in the best interest of children.

Kentucky and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

Kentucky’s state commissioner of education Terry Holiday announced
recently that he plans to request a waiver from the US Department of
Education that would allow Kentucky to drop the adequate yearly progress
(AYP) requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind
law- NCLB. Under NCLB schools must meet yearly goals for the percentage of
students that score at the proficient level on state standardized
examinations. For schools to “make AYP” they must meet these proficiency
targets for the entire school population as well as for subgroups of
students including African Americans, whites, Hispanics, ESL, special
education, free/reduced lunch, etc. These targets get markedly higher
from year to year as we approach the 2014 NCLB goal of having every
student at the proficient-level in reading/language arts and
mathematics.

Because these targets get higher and higher every year, schools find it
harder and harder to reach them, resulting in increased numbers of
schools every year that do not “make AYP” and are labeled as “failing
schools.” I am sure that Kentucky will not be alone in requesting an
exemption from the AYP requirement, and my guess is that US Department
of Education will grant states some type of waiver from the requirement.
AYP will have to be revamped entirely if not totally abandoned with the
coming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
(ESEA). There is little disagreement that the current system is a flawed
one. The goal of having every student proficient in reading/language
arts and mathematics is a laudable but lofty one, and the wisdom
labeling a school as a failing one because every student has not met the
proficiency standard is debatable.

With that said, I believe NCLB through AYP has made a positive
contribution to how we conceptualize school accountability. No more are
the days that a school which does not tend to the learning needs of all
of its students can be considered a good one. I believe we owe much of
that change in our collective consciousness to NCLB and AYP. My hope is
that we will be able to salvage this and other positive contributions
that NCLB has made to our thinking about accountability and move ahead
with new, innovative models of accountability. States like Kentucky are
preparing to push the envelope on school accountability, and I expect
that the innovative efforts of our states will lead the nation into a
new paradigm of school accountability.

School Power Devolution and ESEA Reauthorization

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am anxiously awaiting the details of the Obama administration’s proposed reauthorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Hopefully, I’m not jumping to conclusions, but recent comments by Sec. Duncan concerning the reauthorization give a school power devolution proponent like myself hope for the future of education reform. In a September 24th speech titled “Reauthorization of ESEA: Why We Can’t Wait,” US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the statement:


“In my view, we should be tight on the goals—with clear standards set by states that truly prepare young people for college and careers—but we should be loose on the means for meeting those goals.”

My interpretation of his comment, which admittedly could  be incorrect, is that we will see in the administration’s proposal an insistence that states adopt high education standards, something that they were not required to do under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But also, it sounds like the proposal could include provisions that support the devolution of authority to the district and school-building levels; holding schools to high standards, but giving leaders at the school and district levels the flexibility to figure out how best to reach those standards for the unique populations that they serve. This move would not be surprising given the administration’s support of the charter school concept which in most places does just that.

I’m only speculating, but we shouldn’t have to wait long to see the details. Duncan has said that serious consideration of ESEAs reauthorization should begin in January 2010.