No Child Left Behind and school accountability

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The No Child Left Behind Act has led to a seismic shift in how states and districts approach school accountability. Before passage of the law, most states and districts already had accountability systems based, in part, on standardized test scores. These accountability systems were tied to a variety of rewards and consequences for schools that did or did not meet student proficiency standards. Based on each state's standards, the measures of proficiency varied, as they still do (Steiner, 2005).

The federal No Child Left Behind legislation requires that all schools and students meet state standards of proficiency by 2014 and further requires that all schools make adequate yearly progress toward this goal in the intervening years, not only in the aggregate but for identified sub-populations, such as poor children, racial minorities, students with special needs as well. Under the guidelines established by NCLB, the number of failing schools is set to amplify dramatically (Arsen et al, 2003).

In a variety of ways, states have addressed the task of turning around failing schools. Some have taken over schools or school districts, or assigned control to municipal governments. (Arsen et al, 2003) Some have sent teams of experts into failing schools to provide assistance, or encouraged districts to award control over failing schools to private companies. Normally on an ad hoc basis, some states have tried more than one approach. Much argument is triggered about how to characterize schools where performance constantly falls short of satisfactory standards. These schools are variously recognized as low-performing, underperforming, in need of improvement, and so on.

What needs to be dealt with the NCLB interventions is that they are improbable to succeed in turning around failing schools. Each of the strategies required by NCLB has been put into practice in several states. However, none has worked consistently to advance student achievement. Little reason is seen to hope that these strategies will attain better or more reliable results when they are implemented on short timelines under the threat of federal sanctions in thousands of schools across the country.

Compared to the NCLB policy mandates acknowledge, turning schools around is a more difficult task. Some schools are uncommonly effective in raising the achievement of otherwise underprivileged children. Effective schools have a clearly stated and focused mission, · a safe and orderly climate, high expectations for students, teachers, and administrators, · opportunities to learn and high levels of student time-on-task, instructional leadership by all administrators, frequent monitoring of student progress, and · a positive home or school relationship.

Despite more than a generation of robust findings on the attributes of effective schools, however, the process through which previously ineffective schools become effective remains mysterious. The wide range of attributes that characterize unusually effective schools suggests that turning a failing school into an effective one is a complicated task, under the best of circumstances.

While many schools have actively and skillfully engaged in whole school reform with models such as Accelerated Schools, Comer, and America's Choice, it is unreasonable to believe that most failing schools have the knowledge or capacity to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even when faced with state sanctions. At the same time, the distance between the agencies of state government and individual schools creates serious impediments for direct state intervention. School improvement is a local and idiosyncratic process, requiring the active engagement of local educators if it is to succeed. Standardized strategies must be adapted to the unique circumstances of individual schools. States cannot possibly acquire the context-sensitive information they would need to monitor and support educational change in the dozens and perhaps hundreds of schools that will be designated for intervention under NCLB.

Successful strategies for improving teaching and learning in failing schools, hence, will require the involvement of intermediary institutions. The role of the school district is emphasized in supporting instructional improvement. The district is not the only candidate for this role, however, and under many circumstances it may not be the best candidate. Other possibilities include regional educational service agencies (ESAs), for-profit education management organizations (EMOs), universities, and local governments.

Indeed, the most ambitious federal invasion into primary and secondary education in the history of United States is the No Child Left Behind Act. States are required by the No Child Left Behind Act to make high-stakes testing systems that prompt progressively stronger interventions in schools and districts that chronically low-achieving. Since its introduction, numerous accountability directives were done as a response.

State takeover is one of the three of the strongest interventions advised by the law along with school restructuring and private management. While few schools and districts have yet reached this phase, many are expected soon will. Little competition was seen among providers while no parental choice of schools exists. District involvement continued in the privately managed schools. This case, therefore, must not be viewed as a definitive test of private management under competitive conditions. A research in Philadelphia showed findings with ambiguous larger implications for the most aggressive sanctions of No Child Left Behind are unclear. Following the state takeover of the district, student proficiency boosted in the district. On the other hand, the total increase over four years was not substantially greater than the increase for other low-achieving schools across the state (Gill, 2010).

What remains as an open question is whether private management involving more autonomy for managers, parental choice, and competition for students would produce better results. Through the years, educators, researchers and government all are raising awareness and show growing concern on student performance and achievement. One way of enhancing student learning generally suggested is changing teacher practice.

To improve student achievement, improving reading comprehension instruction is regarded as the first step. The main lever for enhancing classroom practice used is professional development. This is expected to change student comprehension processes, strategies, dispositions, and student achievement. Although intervention's existence and success were put in jeopardy by takeover, the change in control can offer an unforeseen prospect to learn the relationship between voluntary professional development and externally mandated policy tools.

A body of research on engaging, successful professional development, educational policies is growing. This is particularly so with those emerging from scientifically-based reading research. An emphasis is given on standardization and structuring of curriculum to accommodate a perceived lack of educator expertise and limit possible weak instruction (Avila et al, 2011). It is crucial to recognize the unique learning needs and pathways of individual teachers. This is necessary to the efforts to start and maintain long-term teacher change at the classroom level.

Instruction of Reading Comprehension

Instruction of Reading Comprehension (IRC), a research project and intervention, both shaped and was shaped by teachers' responses to the external mandates encountered as a result of the state takeover. IRC points out that the tension between ground-level professional development efforts and the demands of administrative mandates. Such conflict has deep implications for exemplifying the transformative potential of professional development.

Regardless of type of comprehension instruction, interventions have three main functions for the teachers. First, teachers served as an inherent critique of the program. Second, teachers used the interventions to compensate for flaws they saw in the program and to meet and extend its usefulness. Third, the interventions help teachers to achieve motivational goals that they held for their students. However, despite discrete categories, these functions were overlapping and dynamic in nature. A critique of the program could trigger using the interventions for compensation. Consequently, this could lead a teacher to create or stress motivational goals. No patterns occur across teachers according to how many years they had been teaching, the grade level they were teaching, or the exposure to a particular IRC intervention.

Teachers are regarded as professionals and leaders in most successful professional development programs. In fact, a professional has the right, the obligation, to critique current practice on the way to better practice. A takeover climate may not provide an opportunity to do this on a regular basis. However, within the confines of interventions, in describing their experiences with IRC teachers exercised their professional judgment and pointed out what a program was missing by mentioning what IRC contained although teachers were not explicitly critical of the mandated curriculum.

 For students, teachers have affective and behavioral goals from increased motivation to read to an ability to transfer strategies from one context or subject area to another. Informally, achievement of these goals can be measured. This will be based on the perceptions and observations of their students of the teacher.

With implementing the intervention, the only real difficulty is all the pressure to do all the other things that the district requires. In this struggle, therefore, teachers sacrificed valued practices albeit against their better judgment. Upon closer examination of the tensions between the new mandates and intervention, the IRC intervention helped teachers deal with the new mandates in unforeseen ways.

Intervention and New Mandates

While intervention present some support for coping with new mandates, the same mandates make it impossible to advance long-lasting change in teacher practice. Whether caused by state takeover or federal mandates, top-down efforts to change teaching practices may be undermined by mock compliance and resentment. Despite the quality of the mandates, teachers and students lose when professionally trained teachers forfeit proven practices and are unable to achieve curricular depth.

There are several critical issues concerning the state takeover of local school districts. This has something to do with situational factors leading to intervention; the legitimacy of state power; and appropriate beneficial conditions of state takeover. The most frequent reasons for state intervention involve concerns about equity, accountability, and different effectiveness levels of schools with similar resources and populations.

In terms of the issue of state legitimacy, the state has the legitimate power to intervene. However, the extent to which responsibility is part of such power is less clearly defined. State takeovers must provide usable expertise and resources to the local schools involved, utilize multidimensional evaluations of school effectiveness, and clearly define state and local functions. Cooperation is crucial because the primary reason for intervention is the protection of children's rights (Thomas, 1990).

Several states have performed some form of takeover or intervention laws. All of them use a series of phased-in actions, which start by putting districts and buildings on notice if achievement and other indicators are low or if expected growth targets are not met. More often than not, the early warnings bring with them extra resources or help from the state agency. However, they also require the development of improvement plans and the reallocation of resources.

Accountability, Standards and Assessment

Even in the early 1970s, programs were marching under the banner of accountability. There used to be a Cooperative Accountability Project, a multistate effort tracking the then new accountability mandates, identified accountability laws in more than 30 states. Management by Objectives (MBO), learner objectives, and student assessment were all part of the movement popularized by the slogan- more bang for the buck (Pipho, 1997).

However, accountability has become a less priority. It became less important than standards and assessment. In more than 20 states, accountability takes the form of academic bankruptcy provisions, state takeovers of school districts, and state interventions into or reconstitutions of individual schools. Putting the focus on low performance has become the standard criterion.

One possible reason that the first wave of accountability in the 1970s didn't have a lasting impact was the lack of strong standards. Minimum competency testing, a move toward criterion-referenced testing, international test comparisons, the national education goals, and now the creation of strong standards for academic achievement in a majority of states are working in concert to put the foundation under the current accountability movement. The high stakes involved for districts and individual schools are seen as the enforcement arm.

The intervention plans start to happen little by little. For example, in such states as New Jersey, required are the filing of formal charges and the possibility of court challenge before the takeover can be consummated. In Kentucky, when the process has reached its more advanced stages, parents can move their children out of the district, with state dollars following the children. Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco have moved to reconstitute buildings - transferring or releasing all personnel and leaving the parents and students to start over with new leadership and a new staff. But this process is not new and can be traced back at least as far as Superintendent Newman Walker's handling of inner-city schools in Louisville in the early 1970s. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has prepared a "policy brief" on academic bankruptcy that summarizes all state takeover provisions, the emerging themes from the literature, and how the laws operate in Maryland, Ohio, and New Jersey. Starting with the legal citation, the policy brief details the 22 state provisions in eight categories of action and provides elaborate notes on the unique characteristics of each state.

Adequate Yearly Progress

In 2002, Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the passage of the NCLB Act were reauthorized. Consequently, the federal government revised the existing federal accountability framework. This revision relied heavily on existing law, which included less frequent required testing but a less specific definition of adequate yearly progress (AYP), and less prescribed responses by districts and states to low-performing schools. It also introduced new measures designed to make schools more accountable for academic outcomes.

Under NCLB, schools that fail to make AYP will be subject to a series of increasingly intrusive interventions, which culminate with dramatic changes in school governance. The required governance changes may include a takeover by state or municipal officials, the transfer of administrative control to a private-sector education management organization (EMO), or the re-opening of a persistently failing school as a charter school.

Required annual assessment of student learning, a timeline specifying consequences for schools not meeting state-determined proficiency targets, consideration of significantly more dramatic school restructuring options, and a much stronger impetus for improvement from the federal rather than state level are critical aspects of the revised law.

A number of years after the passage of NCLB, there are persistently low-performing schools in every state that face progressively strong outcomes for failing to improve student achievement sufficiently. Particularly, schools that fail to make AYP for five consecutive years must engage in restructuring to improve student learning. Districts have several options for restructuring these schools.

Takeover in Different States

In various ways, takeovers may take place. Some states allow an individual school to be taken over while others let whole districts to be taken over. Institute on Education Law and Policy reveals that presently, 24 states have enacted policies that allow them to take over a school district due to academic problems within the school district. Some states have taken a market approach to takeovers. In 2004, South Carolina hired a for-profit company to try to help improve student achievement.

Many state policies offer a succession of sanctions for academic problems within a school district, with takeovers as the eventual sanction. Other state policies target a single troubled school district for an urgent state takeover.

Aside from academic problems within a school district, states also take over school districts due to fiscal mismanagement, incompetent administration, corrupt governance and crumbling infrastructure within the school district. In a state takeover of a school district, either the state board of education or a federal court charges the state department of education or another designated entity with managing a school district, usually for a certain amount of time, such as five years. Most state takeovers do not happen without the state department of education thoroughly documenting a school district's problems.

The level of state control and local influence in takeovers varies from state to state. In some cases, such as New Jersey, state officials relieve school board members and high-level administrators of their duties and appoint others to manage the school district I their place. In other cases, such as West Virginia, school board members and high-administrators remain in place as an advisory group. School districts officials advise state-appointed decision-makers on fiscal and budgetary matters, but still make curricular and instructional decisions. In other instances, such as Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, the state places governance authority over the school district in the hands of a city's mayor.

Some states have broadened the takeover notion to allow state takeovers of school base on academic problems within a school. In total, 15 states have enacted policies that allow them to take over a school due to academic problems with a school. There are many benefits of state takeovers. It is proven that state takeovers are a necessary extension of a state's constitutional responsibilities. A good opportunity is provided for state and local decision-makers to combine resources and knowledge to improve children's learning. State takeovers are a catalyst for creating the right environment for the community to address a school district's problems.

In addition, state takeovers allow for more radical, and necessary, changes in low-performing school districts. They place school boards on notice that personal agendas, nepotism and public bickering have severe consequences and use achievement data collected from school districts and schools to bolster accountability efforts. They also allow a competent executive staff to guide an uninterrupted and effective implementation of school improvement efforts.

On the negative side, state takeovers represent a thinly veiled attempt to reduce local control over schools and increase state authority over school districts. As implied, the community has the problems and the state has the answers, and thus falsely assumes that states have the ability to effectively run school districts. State takeovers place poorly prepared state-selected officials in charge, with little possibility of any meaningful change occurring in the classroom.

Also in the negative side, state takeovers use narrow learning measures, which is standardized test scores, as the primary criterion for takeover decisions. They usually focus on cleaning up petty corruption and incompetent administration and do not go to the root of the social problems facing disadvantaged students in urban school districts. Negative connotations and impressions are fostered. Because of this, self-esteem of school board members, administrators, teachers, students and parents is hindered. Lastly, state takeovers produce showdowns between state and local officials that slow the overhaul of management practices, drain resources from educational reforms and reinforce community resentments.

There is very little research on the effects of state takeovers. For the most part, they seem to be yielding more gains in central office activities than in classroom instructional practices. As evidence, state takeovers are credited with eliminating nepotism within a school decision-making process, improving a school district's administrative and financial management practices, removing the threat of teachers' strikes with a school district, upgrading the physical condition of schools within a school district, and implementing innovative programs within a school district, such as small schools programs and cooperative arrangements between schools and social service agencies. However, student achievement oftentimes falls short of expectations after a state takeover.

While constrained to choose an option that is consistent with existing state law, districts can reopen the school as a public charter school. They replace all or most of the school staff, which may include the principal who are relevant to the failure to make adequate yearly progress. An outside entity, such as a private management company, with a demonstrated record of effectiveness, to operate the school, can be contacted. If permitted under State law and agreed to by the State, the operation of the school is turned over to the state educational agency.

In addition, districts can engage in another form of major restructuring that makes fundamental reforms, such as major changes in the school's staffing and governance, to improve student academic achievement in the school and that has considerable promise of enabling the school to make sufficient yearly progress.

It is not explicitly addressed by the law what the state should do after state officials have taken over a school; it merely suggests that under some circumstances the district might choose to turn the school over to the state. State officials most likely would then select one of the other restructuring options and manage the ensuing process. It is possible for the state, for example, to decide to reopen the school as a charter school. Also, it might decide to contract with an outside management organization to run the school. This is because these options are addressed in other papers in this series.

The known takeovers are primarily state takeovers of districts rather than individual schools. In the few documented instances when states took over individual schools, the takeovers were antagonistic in that they were unintentional on the part of the district. For instance, Maryland created an accountability system that included state reconstitution as an option for persistently low-performing schools previous to the passage of the NCLB Act. The legislation did not identify a timetable for state reconstitution. Every year, the state department reviewed school report cards and then consulted with the state superintendent about which schools to reconstitute.

The pressure that most districts can be under to marshal limited resources toward improving educational outcomes for thousands of students in a relatively short amount of time. If this is so, it is not irrational to presume that some districts might choose out of handling the most difficult schools, even if that meant losing some of their revenue and authority.

There is a need to explain why a state would be willing to take over an individual school. Several researches on state interventions have suggested that states often lack the capacity needed to intervene successfully in low-performing schools. It needs to be explained, too, under what circumstances the state would have the will, the resources, and the knowledge to effectively take over and develop performance in a chronically low-performing school.

It is not an easy task to find examples of voluntary individual school takeovers as described in NCLB legislation and few examples of any kind of individual school takeovers. This is why there is a need to look at research and anecdotal evidence gathered from similar situations. In relation to this, three particular areas are worth exploring: mayoral and state takeovers; state capacity and the effectiveness of new accountability measures; and charter-school authorizing.

According to advocates of educational accountability policies, the policies are projected to use the authority of the state to ensure equal educational opportunity. On the other hand, the opponents make basically the opposite claim. They claim that expanded state power is intended to annul the power of local communities and to single them out for blame, in response to larger political and economic imperatives (McDermott, 2007).

An analysis is needed for the enactment of educational accountability policies in four U.S. states, drawing upon legislative documents, hearing and debate transcripts where available, and press coverage. The analysis concludes that policy makers did intend to make the public education system more equitable. The results of the policies as implemented, on the other hand, show a significant gap between aspirations and results. This gap boosts the credibility of accountability-policy critics.

State government possesses the resources and authority to directly shape urban education policy but regime theorists understate the roles governors, state legislatures, and other state actors play as members of urban education regimes. This article examines the state takeover of schools in Newark, New Jersey to demonstrate why and how a state government leads an urban education regime. The Newark case illustrates how politics and structural conditions motivated state government to change the nature of the education regime and directly shape education policy at the local level. It highlights the role state government played in reshaping an educator-centered coalition that operated a poorly performing school district. Despite the existence of a new regime, Newark students' achievement scores have not significantly improved, and in some instances they have declined under the state-led regime. This article encourages scholars of city politics to continue to investigate state government's role in urban governing coalitions because state political players maintain the capacity and motivation to join urban regimes (Burns, 2003).

This is also commonly known as administrative privatization. Many of the most widely publicized school takeovers occur by mayoral control. It is hard to classify mayoral controlled cities because they are so diverse. There are no established patterns of form, function or operation in a mayoral controlled city.

These differences largely reflect local political cultures, interest group structures, historical school governance structures, and other city-specific characteristics. Takeovers also occur for different reasons. The most widely cited reasons are financial distress and low academic achievement. Other states cite corruption and political favors as reasons to takeover districts.

According to the National Association of the State Boards of Education (NASBE), a rising trend of school district takeovers is occurring around the nation. By 2004, twenty-nine states had enacted laws permitting state takeovers of local school districts and fifty-four districts had been taken over.

Another limiting factor of these studies is that it is hard, if not impossible, to compare them to one another because states use different tests and measurements to determine academic performance. Comparing one state's achievement measures to another state can be like comparing apples to oranges. With that being said, general takeaways can be had from the various studies considered in this report. The outcomes of these takeovers are rather mixed. A 2002 NASBE report stated that state takeovers result in academic improvement but they tend to remain below average.

This report also stated that corruption and mismanagement of districts seem to be more easily cured with a state takeover than issues of academic achievement. The duration of the takeovers is linked to its scope. The takeovers with the shortest duration occur because of financial mismanagement only. The takeovers with the longest duration are comprehensive; they involve financial, managerial, and academic reforms.

In 1989, Jersey City, New Jersey became the first school district in the nation to be taken over by a state. The state removed the local school board, high level administrators and appointed members to oversee the district's activities. The takeover was initiated because the district administrators were charged with patronage in hiring, violation of state contract bidding laws, political interference in schools and general mismanagement which interfered with the students' ability to learn.