"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, March 27, 2008

GAO Study Shows ED Lax in Monitoring and Assisting School Improvement

Today's Baltimore Sun carries a story on ED's Raymond Simon's visit to take questions from concerned school administrators, who see their schools, teachers, and students being run into the ground by NCLB. Pretending that he will have his job more than a few more months, and that the Administration's school privatization testing policy will continue unabated, he had this:
Anne Arundel's Superintendent Dr. Kevin Maxwell asked if there would be any flexibility in requiring all students to reach the target goals of No Child Left Behind in 2014.

Simon stressed that there was no flexibility on this issue.

"The 2014 is nonnegotiable to us," Simon said.
However you read this stubborn departure from reality and this pretense that the public does not recognize NCLB as the bare-knuckled failure expansion plan that it is, the dogged monitoring and draconian testing by all children, regardless of whether or not they can read the test, will remain the memorable aspect of this utterly calamitous and immoral education policy. Not so memorable will be ED's strategy to improve those thousands of schools that end up on the failed AYP lists. That is because there is none to speak of.

A new GAO study shows, in fact, ED asleep at the wheel once more when it comes to monitoring the school improvement funding to schools not making AYP or in providing guidance or other assistance to schools. For instance, the What Works Clearinghouse that ED set up as a shell for federal assistance to failing schools is regarded by 19 states as "moderately to very helpful," while 22 states find it "some to no help."

Here is a summary of the GAO finding from Senator Harkin's office:
The report, titled “Education Actions Could Improve the Targeting of School Improvement Funds to Schools Most in Need of Assistance,” is available at this link or at http://www.gao.gov . . .

Among other things, the GAO made the following findings:

• Some states have not allocated or tracked their school improvement funds as required by the NCLBA, and the Department of Education has failed to monitor the lapses. For example, all states are required to keep a complete list of the schools that receive improvement funds; three states (Arkansas, Florida and North Carolina) could not provide any school-level data to the GAO, and California could provide only a partial list. The GAO also found that in a few cases, “non-Title I schools had inappropriately received Title I school improvement funds.” Though the Education Department is responsible for monitoring the allocation of improvement funds, it did not uncover those issues.

• All states are also required to take certain factors into account when allocating school improvement funds, such as focusing on the lowest-achieving schools. However, three states (Delaware, New Hampshire and Virginia) and the District of Columbia reported that they required districts to provide each school an equal amount of funding, and thus, the GAO states, may not have prioritized the allocation of funds as required under NCLBA. Again, the Education Department failed to identify those issues during its State monitoring efforts.

• The GAO also found that many states have not been able to set aside the full 4 percent of Title I funds for school improvement, as intended under NCLBA. Twenty-two states were unable to set aside the full 4 percent for at least one year, and six of these – Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan – were unable to do so for three or more years. These states were limited by a hold-harmless provision that prevents a state from reducing the Title I funding for any school district from the previous year.
And here are some quotes from the GAO Report, itself, that show in spades the lax attitudes by ED toward improvement, as opposed to their rigid and hyper-vigilant oversight of testing requirements and failure production. While states are required to set aside 4 percent of Title I money for school improvement, the growing list of failing schools makes this impossible if other Title I schools that are not failing are to to continue to receive their funds that are guaranteed by a "hold-harmless" provision (to make sure these funds aren't siphoned off for other purposes).
Sometimes, after taking into consideration the hold-harmless provision, there are not enough funds available from those districts with increasing Title I allocations to cover the full 4 percent set-aside. Specifically, 22 states have been unable to set aside the full portion of Title I funds for school improvement for 1 or more years since NCLBA was enacted because they did not have enough left over after satisfying the hold-harmless provision.

While most states monitor funds, 4 states were unable to make publicly available the complete list of schools receiving improvement funds, as required under NCLBA, because these states do not collect information on each school receiving improvement funds, and Education has not provided guidance on this requirement.30 Almost all states were able to provide a list of schools receiving funds to us, but 3 states—Arkansas, Florida, and North Carolina—provided information on districts that received funds, but could not provide information on which schools received funds, and California provided a partial list of schools that received funds. In a few cases, we found that non-Title I schools had inappropriately received Title I school improvement funds. State officials said that they would take steps to address this issue, and we referred this matter to Education, which is following up on it. Though Education monitors the allocation of school improvement funds through its 3-year Title I monitoring cycle, Education officials told us they had not uncovered these issues. In addition, Education does not regularly check when and whether states have made the lists of schools receiving improvement funds publicly available, as required, and has not provided guidance on how states make lists of schools receiving improvement funds publicly available.
So far ED's solution to this 4 percent funding problem is to do away with the "hold-harmless" provision, which would, in effect, allow states to take money from Title I schools that have miraculously managed to make AYP to pay the 4 percent to those that have not made AYP. It's the classic rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul solution.

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