Thursday, January 29, 2015

Duncan goes to war with Chicago over PARCC testing delay

Arne Duncan gives his more-testing announcement at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.
Sometimes the news is so bizarre that I can't believe what I'm reading. Case in point -- the latest on Chicago testing madness. First Arne Duncan gives his more-and-earlier testing speech to the nation. The speech is an attempt to pacify the testing industry and its backers and somehow push a new version of No Child Left Behind through a Republican controlled congress.

Then, just as Duncan is trying to work something out with Republican Lamar Alexander, the new head of the Senate Education Committee, Chicago school chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett announces a one-year moratorium on administering the PARCC test because of a "lack of computers" (hold your laughter, please). BBB says the test will only be given this year to about 10% of CPS' 600 schools. The decision to postpone the test is made of course, not by BBB, but by Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked board and comes in the face of growing parent and teacher protest against Common Core over-testing and a burgeoning opt-out movement. It also comes weeks before the mayoral election.

POLITICO's Stephanie Simon sez:
Chicago’s stance could well inspire copycat insurrections in other districts, analysts said — and that could undermine not just the Common Core, but more than a decade of public policy that relies on standardized tests to hold schools and teachers accountable for helping kids learn.
BBB might have pulled it off if she hadn't joined a growing chorus of IL district superintendents openly attacking PARCC testing. She calls the test “unproven” and complains that adding such a long exam to a year already crammed with standardized tests would be overwhelming to students, teachers and principals. The PARCC test takes nine to 11 hours, depending on a student’s grade level.
Here comes the topper. Just as Pres. Obama is recording his endorsement ads supporting Rahm's re-election campaign, Duncan goes off on Rahm/Byrd Bennett and threatens to cut off potentially $1.2 billion in state aid unless CPS backs off and gives the test. The threat comes in a previously unpublicized letter to Illinois Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch from Duncan's deputy, Deborah Delisle.

Meeks freaks
Meeks freaks over possible billion-dollar loss of federal funds.  "We are greatly concerned about it," the Rev. James MeeksGov. Rauner's new chairman of the state school board, tells Greg Hinz at Crain's.

Hinz writes:
Her [BBB's] defiance was striking in a district that has long been viewed as a national leader in test-based accountability. It was also rich in symbolism because Chicago public schools were once run by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a huge cheerleader for both the Common Core and the new exams, developed with $370 million in federal funds.
Politically, the problem is that, given national wrangling over school standards, Duncan cannot be seen as being easy on Chicago, said one source close to the center of the flap. That doesn't mean Illinois would lose all of the money, but a sizable hit is likely.
So, the question is: Is all this just a show? Or is Obama's Dept. of Education really going to war with Rahm Emanuel over testing on the eve of Chicago's mayoral election?


  1. "Or is Obama's Dept. of Education really going to war with Rahm Emanuel over testing on the eve of Chicago's mayoral election?"

    Oh heavens I hope so! I'll order the pizza, you go pop the popcorn.

  2. It's not just Chicago. Duncan's DOE is at war with states and school districts around the country, including here in PA. There's too much invested in Common Core testing to allow districts and states to opt-out. The threats are real.

  3. My money is absolutely on "just for show".

    The letter that Hinz is reporting on was not previously unpublicized and was not a response to CPS' announcement on Jan 16th that they would not administer the PARCC test at all schools.

    Supt. Chris Koch sent it out in his newsletter on January 6th, and Catalyst reported on it then. ( and

    The Chicago Tribune also discussed it on the day of CPS' announcement: (

    This week Winnetka District 36 superintendent put out a letter expressing serious concerns about PARCC and its effects on students which made it to the Washington Post. (

    If the superintendent of one of the wealthiest elementary districts in the state (and with test scores historically reflecting that) is going on record against the PARCC, what are districts without Winnetka's resources facing? When will they begin to jump ship along with CPS?

    Meeks and Chris Koch want to squelch any chance of a brewing rebellion. Hence, Meeks recycling a weeks-old letter to get Hinz to write this column which presents it as a new volley from the feds.

    In addition, the funding threats seem greatly exaggerated. According to people with expertise in this area that I consulted with, the reference to administrative Title I funds being withheld are not cases that resulted in a net loss of funds to a state; instead the administrative funds must be disbursed to LEAs rather than used for administrative purposes by the SEA.

    In addition, although Hinz uses the phrasing: "federal officials threatening to cut off potentially $1.2 billion in state aid unless CPS backs off", the letter from USED does not make that threat. It does list possible consequences saying:

    "On the other hand, if an SEA or LEA refuses to implement an assessment system that meets the statutory and regulatory requirements, ED might seek to withhold programmatic funds from the State and expect the SEA to withhold from the LEA. Clearly, if an SEA or LEA fails to comply with the assessment requirements in either the ESEA or ESEA flexibility, it could place its Title I, Part A funds in jeopardy. An SEA or LEA that fails to comply with assessment requirements could also find itself out of compliance with a wide range of additional Federal programs that rely on Statewide assessment results, putting additional funds at risk."

    Note use of "might" and "could" throughout not "will". And also note that USED does not say that they have ever done this before---i.e. it would be an unprecedented act on their part.

    USED threatened loss of funds to California last year because of ESEA non-compliance, but in the end it was the feds who backed down. (

    Hinz' claim that "a sizable hit is likely" is dubious. A sizable hit is logically possible but actually, I would say, extremely improbable. Are we really to believe someone as calculating as Rahm Emanuel, facing a competitive election and possibly a run-off, would have decided to defy ISBE and USED and risk the loss of millions of dollars in funding without checking in with Barack Obama. The same Barack Obama who is cutting campaign commercials for Rahm?

    This is bluster so that other districts in Illinois don't decide to park the PARCC.

  4. "Barbara Byrd-Bennett announces a one-year moratorium on administering the PARCC test because of a "lack of computers" (hold your laughter, please)." I take it that you're laughing because you assume that all kids have computers at home with internet access and that they use them all the time. I'm assuming you can't conceive of a public school that lacks computer resources. As a CPS high school teacher I can tell you with certainty that most of the students in this school do not have home computers and many don't have cell phones to go online either. There's not a computer lab in our school that has enough working computers for a full class of students, and budgets for school tech support personnel have been slashed so that broken machines stay broken. It's been my experience that it's easier for those who have nothing to do with the school system to believe that the kids are well-fed Disney kids with all the gadgets kids have in commercials than it is to actually walk through an inner-city school and see what resources are actually available. Of course, you should feel free to laugh at this comment too since you seem to be very comfortable that you are fully informed. By all means, deride what the parents, teachers, and school system experience every day.

  5. Anonymous (if that is indeed your real name). I wasn't holding laughter over the lack of computers in under-resourced schools. On that, I am holding back tears. Rather I was holding it back over computers as a reason for not giving the PARCC test. Point is mute, since she caved into to Rauner's baseless threats and gave the test anyway -- computers or no. Hold your laughter again, please.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.