TIME Education

What the New Senate Education Chair Thinks About No Child Left Behind

Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray
Susan Walsh—AP Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., right, and the committee's ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, for the committee's hearing looking at ways to fix the No Child Left Behind law.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the new chairman of the Senate committee on education, walked into Congress this month with guns a-blazin’.

Twelve years after the passage of George W. Bush’s signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, and eight years after that troubled law was supposed to be revised and updated, the Tennessee Republican says now is the time for its long-neglected makeover.

He plans to take a revised version of the law to the Senate floor by the end of February, with hopes of pushing it through Congress “in the first half of this year.”

What exactly that makeover will look like is now the subject of hot debate on Capitol Hill.

The primary issue at stake is testing. Under No Child Left Behind, students are required to take a raft of standardized exams, each of which are used to assess whether schools are succeeding or failing, and, increasingly, to hold individual teachers accountable for their performance in the classroom.

Critics of No Child Left Behind—and there are lots and lots of them—generally hate the testing mandate. Conservatives and Tea Party activists decry it as “government overreach,” while liberals, local teachers unions and parents lament the reliance on “high-stakes testing.” Even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that too much testing can “rob school buildings of joy.”

So far, Alexander says that while he sees the benefits of aggregating and breaking down federal testing results, “the jury is still out” on whether an updated No Child Left Behind should require federal standardized tests at all, and if they do, whether the government should be barred from imposing consequences on schools with bad test scores.

How Alexander and the Senate education committee ultimately come down on this issue could fundamentally alter the way that public education works in this country.

In a conversation with TIME last week, Alexander offered a peek into what he thinks might come next.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve said you’re not sure how you stand on the testing issue, but what is your thinking at the moment?

The thing that worked with No Child Left Behind is to take tests results, break them down and aggregate them so that we know that children really aren’t being left behind—so you can’t have an overall average for a school that’s pretty good, but still leave all the Latino kids in a ditch somewhere. But what’s increasingly obvious to me is that the biggest failure of No Child Left Behind has been the federal accountability system—the effort to decide in Washington whether schools or teachers are succeeding or failing. That just doesn’t work. But I think the jury’s still out on the tests.

How so?

What I didn’t realize when we started was the large number of tests that are required by state and local governments. [Former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush’s Foundation of Excellence in Education in Florida found that there are between eight and 200 additional tests required by state and local government in Florida. That is a lot more than the 17 tests that No Child Left Behind requires.

So you’re not necessarily opposed to keeping those 17 federally mandated tests?

Dr. [Martin] West at Harvard [who testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee last week] suggested keeping the [17] tests but making the decision about success, failure and accountability part of a state’s system. … Dr. West argues that that’s the real culprit—trying to [design accountability systems] from Washington—and I think that’s a pretty persuasive argument. I mean, it may not be the federal tests so much as letting someone at such great a distance assign so much weight to a single test and such arbitrary consequences to it.

So there may still be a federal testing mandate in a revised No Child Left Behind?

Most of the controversy that exists today is the result of Washington getting involved [in state education policy] over the last six or seven years. People don’t like that. Teachers and their unions do not like being evaluated from Washington, and communities do not like being told what their academic standards are, i.e. Common Core, from Washington. They might adopt it for themselves, but they’re not going to be told what to do. … [Washington’s involvement] actually creates a backlash, making higher standards more difficult to hold onto and teacher evaluation systems more difficult to create because of all the anger. … It’s just not the way you make permanent improvements in 100,000 public schools. The community has to own the change. The teachers in the school have to own the evaluation system and believe it’s fair or it’ll never work.

So keep the federally mandated tests, but leave the consequences portion to the states.

That’s right. That’s what Dr. West argues: you have to have the annual test. You have to disaggregate it. You have to report it, so we know how schools and children and school districts are doing. But after that, it’s up to the states, who spend the money and have the children and take care of them and it’s their responsibility to devise what’s success, what’s failure and [what the] consequences [should be].

You’re saying that Dr. West’s position, but it sounds like you’re pretty sympathetic to it.

The jury’s still out for me. What I know is the biggest failure of No Child Left Behind is the idea that Washington should tell 100,000 public schools and their teachers whether they’re succeeding, whether they’re failing and what the consequences of that should be. That hasn’t worked.

TIME Military

The U.S. Needs a New Yardstick for a New Kind of War

IRAQ-CONFLICT
YOUNIS AL-BAYATI / AFP / Getty Images Buildings burn Saturday during a military operation launched by the Iraqi army to retake positions held by Islamic State outside the village Sharween, north of Baghdad.

America keeps measuring progress on a battlefield that no longer exists

Body counts are never a good a yardstick for measuring progress in a war of ideas. That’s why the Pentagon freaked out Thursday when Stuart Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Al Arabiya News Channel that America and its allies “have now killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq.”

The first counter-fire came, within hours, from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “I was in a war where there was a lot of body counts every day,” the outgoing defense chief, who served as an Army sergeant in the Vietnam War, said in one of his most pungent observations in his two years on the job. “And we lost that war.”

Hagel’s spokesman piled on Friday. “It’s not a metric that we’re going to hang our hat on when it comes to talking to the success of this strategy,” Rear Admiral John Kirby said of the Pentagon’s internal body-count estimate. “This is not a uniformed army with identification cards and recruiting posters.”

While Ambassador Jones added that the 6,000 number was “not so important” in the overall scheme of things, the catnip was out of the bag. That’s because Americans, impatient over wars that drag on (like Hagel’s Vietnam and George W. Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq), crave measurements that suggest progress.

Unfortunately, that metric mindset has little utility in wars against ideology. “I don’t know whether 6,000 [ISIS] people have been killed or not,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “But that is not going to do it.”

That’s because conflicts like the one now underway against the Islamist fundamentalism represented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are not constrained by national boundaries, or the national pressure points that have traditionally been the trigger of wars (and the foundation of ending them) among states.

Without the trappings of formal government—a capital, commerce, standing armies—non-state actors like ISIS or al-Qaeda deny military powers like the U.S. the kinds of targets they prefer. Their allegiance to ideology—be it theology or something else—takes away the fulcrum that victors used to leverage to bring wars to an end.

Industrial powers created industrial militaries, where rear-echelon bean-counters could tote up tanks, ball-bearing factories and troops destroyed—and thereby chart progress, or the lack thereof. But ideological war isn’t industrial in scope. Instead, it’s more like information warfare, where ideas, shared online, create alliances that ripple across borders and oceans.

It took a Detroit to build an industrial arsenal of democracy, with each weapon requiring dollars and sweat to assemble. Today, it merely takes a keyboard to build an ideological alliance, each member a low-cost addition requiring little more than fervor and an Internet connection.

The Administration of George W. Bush concluded the way to prevail after the 9/11 attacks was to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq. Following wars that eventually will cost $3 trillion or more, and at least 6,845 American lives, his successor has decided not to tag along. Instead, President Barack Obama has told the nations involved—those with the most at risk—to step up to the plate to do the fighting, with the U.S. filling the role of best supporting actor.

Some see such a policy as too timid. “The U.S. efforts have always been halfhearted, half-resourced and focused on exit strategies rather than on success,” says David Sedney, who ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia from 2009 to 2013. “We always want to have an exit, and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.” He argues that the U.S. needs to launch nation-building strategies in failed states that currently serve as incubators for ISIS and other groups.

Politicians aren’t calling for such radical action. But some believe the U.S. needs to step up the fight. “We need more boots on the ground,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told CBS on Sunday. “I know that is a tough thing to say and a tough thing for Americans to swallow, but it doesn’t mean the 82nd Airborne. It means forward air controllers. It means special forces. It means intelligence and it means other capabilities.”

The U.S., McCain said, can’t simply direct wars against ISIS and similar foes from relative safety behind the front lines. “For [the Administration] to say, ‘we expect [Iraq and Yemen] to do it on their own,’ they’re not doing it on their own,” he said. “And they are losing.”

The last clear victory scored by the U.S. military was against Iraq in 1991, led by President George H.W. Bush, a Cold War commander-in-chief. It was a bespoke war tailor-made for the Pentagon: Iraq’s massive army stormed into Kuwait, occupied it, and waited for the U.S. and its allies to drive it out.

The world watched that conflict and decided, given Washington’s overwhelming advantages in that kind of war, not to fight it again. Unfortunately, too many Americans seem unaware that the rules have changed. So they continue to want to measure progress in today’s conflicts with yesterday’s yardsticks.

But such yearnings are doomed. Persistence and will, not body bags, are the keys to winning these kinds of wars.

TIME Crime

Elderly Georgia Couple Missing After Trip to Buy Craigslist Car

Bud and June Runion

The couple planned to drive the nearly 300 miles to McRae to buy a 1966 Mustang

Georgia police were searching for a man Sunday who they believe is involved in the disappearance of a couple in their 60s who hadn’t been heard from since before going on a day-trip to buy a car they had found on Craigslist.

Ronnie “Jay” Towns, 28, was wanted for making false statements to investigators and criminal intent to commit theft by deception after Elrey “Bud” Runion, 69, and his wife June Runion, 66 vanished Thursday, Telfair County Sheriff Chris Steverson told NBC News…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME White House

Obama Moves to Protect 12 Million Acres of Alaskan Wildlife

183745239
Getty Images Polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

It would be the largest such designation in more than 50 years

The Obama Administration will ask Congress to protect millions of acres of land in Alaska from a range of human activity including drilling and road construction, officials said Sunday.

If approved by Congress, the move would designate more than 12 million acres as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection, and protect native wildlife including caribou, polar bears and wolves. It would be the largest such designation in more than 50 years.

“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”

The proposal will undoubtedly meet opposition in Congress. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski condemned the move immediately as an act of federal overreach.

“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” she said in a statement. “The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them.”

TIME White House

White House Chief of Staff Reaffirms ‘Deep and Abiding’ U.S.-Israel Ties

Meet the Press - Season 68
William B. Plowman—NBC/Getty Images Denis McDonough White House Chief of Staff appears on "Meet the Press" in Washington D.C. on Jan. 25, 2015.

Amid reports of a rift with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough repudiated reports of a widening rift between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday’s morning talk shows.

An unnamed administration official was quoted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying Netanyahu “spat in our face publicly” when he agreed to accept an invitation to speak to the United States Congress in March without President Obama having been consulted first.

But McDonough said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel remained strong. “Our relationship with Israel is many-faceted, deep and abiding,” he said. “It’s focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular instance is not going to inform overwhelmingly.”

The White House Chief of Staff said he could not “guarantee” that an administration official hadn’t made the remarks about Netanyahu, but said he had no idea who might have said them. “It’s not me. It’s not the President,” McDonough told interviewer Chuck Todd.

House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress when he visits the U.S. in March, without informing the White House first. The trip coincides with negotiations between the U.S. and others with Iran on their nuclear capabilities, which are strongly opposed by Israel and by some in Congress.

The White House said President Obama would not be meeting with Netanyahu during his visit, out of concerns that it might influence the Israeli elections due to take place two weeks after his trip.

The decision has been portrayed as a snub by the Israeli media, though McDonough said on Meet the Press that the principle would be the same for any other ally. “We think as a general matter we in the U.S. stay out of internal politics of our closest allies,” he said.

In a separate interview on ABC’s This Week Sunday, McDonough urged Congress not to pass new sanctions on Iran while the nuclear negotiations are ongoing.

“We’ve asked Congress for forbearance, for some time to allow us to run these negotiations so that it is we who are, united with our allies, maintaining Iran isolated, rather than going with some kind of premature action up there on the Hill that would risk really splintering the international community, making it we, not the Iranians, who are isolated,” he said.

TIME weather

‘Paralyzing’ Blizzard to Bury Northeast in Snow

Nor'easter Storm Brings Light Snow To New York
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A woman walks dogs in Brooklyn's Prospect Park following an evening storm on Jan. 24, 2015 in New York City.

Up to 2 feet of snow forecast for early next week

New England is braced for “paralyzing, crippling blizzard-like conditions” as the second East Coast winter storm in as many days threatens to dump up to two feet of snow in some areas, forecasters said.

Boston and New York City will see high winds and possibly “significant” snow accumulations as an Alberta clipper moves through the Ohio Valley Sunday and off the Mid-Atlantic coast Monday before intensifying over Long Island and New England through Wednesday.

“This is going to be a big one, historic,” Weather Channel coordinating meteorologist Tom Moore said. “There could be paralyzing, crippling blizzard conditions. They’re going to …

Read more from our partners at NBCNews.com

 

TIME weather

Northeast Storm Strengthens After Dumping Snow on Millions

Nor'easter Storm Brings Light Snow To New York
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A man takes a picture of ducks and geese at a lake in Brooklyn's Prospect Park following an evening storm on Jan. 24, 2015 in New York City.

Millions across the Northeast woke up to a blanket of white Saturday morning after an overnight storm, which was expected to last through the day, dropped several inches of snow in some parts. By Saturday afternoon, New England was experiencing the brunt of the storm, with the largest accumulation falling in Hartford County, Connecticut, which had 8 inches by 1 p.m. Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts could also expect 6 to 10 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Those areas can also expect to be hit with gusty winds.

The “front-end” of the storm delivered up to 9 inches of powder in areas of Connecticut and New Jersey…

Read the rest of the story from our partner NBCNews.com

TIME weather

Winter Storm Is Turning the Northeast Into a Wonderland

It's cold and getting colder

A winter snow storm that blanketed the northeastern United States early Saturday morning shows no signs of letting up. The storm delivered some nine inches of snow in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, while New York City got five inches according to Weather.com. More northern parts of the state got as much as 9 inches. In the afternoon, rain turned to snow creating slushy conditions. Another cold front is expected in the region on Monday.

TIME Crime

Rapper Faces Life Sentence Over Album That ‘Promoted’ Gang Violence

Gett Money Gang

Prosecutors do not accuse him of participating directly in any gang violence

A rapper facing life behind bars for the content of a recent album went on CNN Thursday to deny all charges against him, saying he feels law enforcement is, “trying to eradicate black men.”

The San Diego-based rapper is facing indictment not for violent behavior, but because of a rap album he recorded which features violent imagery and graphic language.

Brandon Duncan, known by the stage name Tiny Doo, was arrested eight months ago for conspiring to benefit from gang activity, CNN reports. Unable to afford $500,000 bail, he has remained in prison for most of that time.

Duncan was charged in connection with a series of 2013 shooting incidents perpetrated by a notorious California gang, the Lincoln Park Bloods. Though prosecutors claim he is associated with the gang, they have not accused Duncan of participating, nor do they claim he had any direct knowledge of the attacks. Rather, he faces indictment under a 2000 California law because he allegedly benefited financially from the gang’s activity through sales of his album, No Safety.

Prosecutors say his album cover—which features a loaded revolver—and some of his lyrics have “direct correlation to what the gang has been doing.” They also say social media messages posted to Duncan’s account prove he’s a gang member.

Duncan denied the claims in the CNN interview. “I go to work every day,” the rapper, who was working in construction at the time of his arrest, said. “How am I benefiting from what someone else is doing? I haven’t sold a million records or anything.”

The rapper has called his music purely artistic fiction. “I said I had a million dollars on a couple of raps, too. Obviously I don’t have that, because I’d be home already,” he told Vice.com in an interview from jail in December. “It’s entertainment. It’s not real.”

Duncan faces nine counts of criminal street gang conspiracy, and will stand trial with 14 other men who prosecutors say increased their stature and respect because of the incidents. The rapper’s lawyer told CNN none of the men are being charged with actually participating.

“They’re going after the person who says the word ‘gun,’ rather than the person who actually used the gun,” the attorney, Brian Watkins, said.

In a statement, the San Diego District Attorney’s office maintained that there is sufficient evidence supporting the defendants’ alleged gang involvement. If the men are found to be active members of the Bloods, they can be held responsible for the actions of other gang members according to California law.

“The focus is holding violent individuals accountable for crimes that terrorized a neighborhood,” spokesman Steve Walker said. “Criminal charges against these defendants were filed appropriately under this specific law, which was put in place by voters to stop deadly gang violence and hold active gang members accountable.”

Duncan’s trial date has been set for Apr. 20.

[CNN]

TIME measles

Anti-Vaxxers Fingered in Disney Measles Outbreak

Doctors group urges measles shots as Disneyland outbreak spreads

A spokesman for the California state health department has told Reuters that he believes “unvaccinated individuals have been the principal factor” in a mid-December measles outbreak at Disneyland that has infected more than 70 people in six western states and Mexico, including five Disney employees.

The outbreak of the respiratory disease, which is caused by a highly communicable virus, has increased the focus on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Measles was thought to have been eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning the disease is not native to the U.S. (Nonetheless, 644 measles cases were reported in America in 2014.) But it is not uncommon in the rest of the world, and healthcare officials presume an infected foreigner brought the virus to Disneyland or the accompanying Disneyland Adventure Theme Park in Anaheim, Calif., between Dec. 15 and 20.

Of the 34 California measles victims whose vaccination history could be ascertained, 28 had not received the measles shot. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that children first receive the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine at the age of 12-15 months and then again between their fourth and sixth birthdays.

[Reuters]

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