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My Position on the Senate ESEA Reauthorization Draft

May 3, 2015

I have read (and reread certain sections of) the entire 601-page Senate reauthorization draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), written by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and named the Every Child Achieves  Act of 2015.

I have also read the 29 amendments that were added to the Act as it gained approval from the Senate Ed Committee on April 16, 2015.

In an effort to offer my readers a digest of the massive Senate ESEA draft, I wrote a series of six posts that can be accessed here. I also did the same for the 29 amendments, which resulted in a series of three posts that can be accessed here.

During this massive undertaking, I have had individuals asking about my position on the Senate ESEA draft. Even though some of my posts include glimpses into my thoughts about the Alexander-Murray draft (and now, its included 29 amendments), I have not yet offered a summative word regarding my opinion of this proposed ESEA reauthorization.

I will do so now.

Until something happens, whether that “something” is a new version of ESEA or killing ESEA, school districts across America are stuck with George W. Bush’s infamously ridiculous and punitive version of ESEA known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In short, NCLB told America that there would be “100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014” or else teachers, administrators, schools, school districts, and states would pay. The premise of NCLB is that teachers and administrators could be scared into producing a never-before-known (in any country) level of test-centered “proficiency.” And states were set up to “prove” they were on the road to this perfection by setting up their own “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward this perfect goal, which was perched precariously on the test scores of at least 95 percent of a state’s students. Not achieving AYP could result in dire consequences, including the firing teachers and administration as part of school “restructuring.” (For an excellent summary of NCLB consequences, see Diane Ravitch’s Death and Life of the Great American School System, pgs. 97-98.)

As one might expect in such a ridiculous high-stakes situation, in an effort to avoid NCLB consequences, states gamed the system to create AYP goals that they could achieve.

An entire nation of school districts boasting “100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014” was not to be, and any individual with a sliver of common sense knew it.

So, 2014 has come and gone, and states remain under NCLB until ESEA is either completely done away with or redrafted and reauthorized. And by “under NCLB,” that means states are subject to the likes of US Secretary Arne Duncan’s NCLB “waivers,” in which he has decided to leverage control over both state standards and teacher evaluation. Otherwise, without one of his “on my terms” NCLB waivers, Duncan can declare any state as having failed to meet that unrealistic NCLB goal of “100 percent proficiency in reading and math.”

Stupid, I know. But that is where we are (and where we remain) until something happens to dismiss or replace the ESEA version known as NCLB.

Now, I mentioned that one option is to completely do away with ESEA. That is my preferred position, one that I wrote about on February 1, 2015. That post included an email I wrote to Alexander in which I suggested that ESEA be sunsetted in favor of separate block grants.

The reality is that ESEA will not be laid to rest. It will continue, and either Congress will fail in its efforts to reauthorize it and default for another seven years to NCLB (which means NCLB “waivers”)–or– Congress will reauthorize a new version of ESEA.

There are two versions currently in the running, one originating in the House (Kline’s HR 5, the Student Success Act) and the Senate (Alexander and Murray’s Every Child Achieves Act of 2015). Both bills propose to retain the mandatory annual state testing in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school in both English language arts (ELA) and math. Both bills encourage charter school growth and expansion. Both include language forbidding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as a federal mandate. HR 5 includes language to make Title I money “follow the student,” which would be an accounting and budgeting nightmare.

I think the Senate draft is the better of the two bills. It appears to be a true, Republican-Democratic negotiation that could garner the votes needed to rid America of NCLB (and Duncan’s waivers), and it does not include portability of Title I funding.

As for the charter love in the Senate ESEA draft, I do not support the encouragement of dual or competing schools or school systems (i.e., traditional public schools placed in the position to compete for funding and students). The draft does not tell states that they must allow charter schools. However, the presence of the Title V grant (for charters) is meant to entice states to consider allowing charters if they haven’t already and expanding the number of charters if they do.

The Senate ESEA draft language for Title V also has a couple of two-edged swords. First, like the draft in general, Title V attempts to remove the stigma of too much federal oversight by relying on the states to monitor their own “highly autonomous” charters. Also, Title V expects that charters will “leverage the maximum amount of private-sector financing capital” (Senate ESEA draft, pg.401). So, how well those “autonomous” charters are regulated (a contradiction on the surface) is left up to the state, for better or worse. Too, the public-private-funding hybridization makes charters that much more difficult to audit, for they can hide behind their “private entity” status if the state pushes for an accounting of public money.

I have no use for Title V, but like the annual testing, federal love for charters will not be going anywhere anytime soon– not so long as charter backers have the hefty cash to buy lobbyists.

And now, as to the testing:

I do not like the annual testing in either ESEA proposed reauthorization bill. America is over-tested, and all we have to show for it are thriving testing companies and education entities’ learning to either game the testing system or risk losing funding (or even going under altogether).

The manufactured panic that America must score well on standardized tests is ludicrous in the face of our continued presence as a thriving world power.

The idea that standardized testing is a necessary condition for equality in the classroom, that “kids who aren’t tested are kids who don’t count,” can only live if testing lives. If annual testing dies, then sorting students into “tested” and “untested” categories also dies.

My preference for the death of mandated testing noted, I realize that Congress wants the annual tests. I think a principal influence for retaining annual testing (and for not reducing the testing to randomly selected students even) is the influence of Kati Haycock and her Education Trust, which, along with others, including civil rights groups, petitioned Congress to keep the tests. (See here, as well.)

Throughout the Senate ESEA draft, the language clearly indicates Alexander’s and Murray’s intention to leave the details regarding the mandated tests up to the states. The language is also clear that there is no mandate for consortium-developed tests.

States might have to still give annual tests; however, in the Senate ESEA draft, these tests have no mandated length, and there is no requirement to tie test results to teacher evaluations. States can choose to evaluate teachers using student test scores, but the federal government wants to stay out of it. (See page 59 of the Senate ESEA draft.)

And the draft is clear that states do not need to submit their standards to the secretary “for review or approval” (Senate ESEA draft, pg. 33).

One of the ESEA amendments also addresses opting out of testing. (See Isakson’s amendment in this post.) In short, the federal government does not want for any state to say that its opt-out laws are the result of ESEA testing mandates. This means that a state must still plan to test 95 percent of its students; however, a state can also support parental opting out because the state is offering the testing opportunity in which the parent chooses to have the child participate or not participate.

What I appreciate most about the Senate ESEA draft is the clearly- and repeatedly-stated prohibitions on the US Secretary, including prohibitions on state test selection.

The clear, repeated, detailed, and undeniable limits on the authority of US secretary of education and the absence of any discussion of Title I funding portability are my chief reasons for supporting the Senate ESEA draft. And I think this bill could realistically garner enough votes in Congress to rid us once and for all of NCLB.

(I realize that some of my readers might want to have detailed exchanges with me in comments regarding what I have written. However, I need to manage my exhaustion in order to finish a school year. So, do feel free to comment, but I ask for your understanding if you do not hear from me. Thank you.)

classroom

______________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.

CC book cover

 

31 Comments
  1. Hannah permalink

    (standing ovation) – Well done! May you get some much deserved rest.

  2. dolphin permalink

    Reblogged this on Dolphin.

  3. Well done! Many thanks! Have a great end of the year!

  4. Thank you for explaining this. After you get a bit of sleep, could you comment on “highly qualified” and if that concept is still alive and well?

    • Hi, Deb. The term “highly qualified” occurs twice in 601 pages (on pages 426-427) and only to state that the term is to be removed. On 426, it is replaced with the term “effective.”

  5. Mercedes,
    Thank you for doing this enormous amount of reading, to see exactly what is in the bills and the amendments. There are very few of us with the determination and staying power to do so.

    This is the first time anywhere that I have found a detailed description of what is in the bills. This is information that I need to move forward – very helpful. Nicely done, with both the information on the content of the bills, and a level-headed evaluation of it. You have done a genuine service for all of us who wish to see our public schools thrive!

  6. Your exhaustive analysis and insight is tremendous! Thank you for all your efforts…truly impressive!

  7. Kathleen dickman permalink

    I refuse common & support state rights for education . Local control is the most important & fundamental part of education .

    • Kent Harris permalink

      How many million kids in states like Missippi suffer because ‘state’ standards have been dumbed down to keep education costs down for disadvantaged kids who start school behind their peers and never catch up?

  8. Laura chapman permalink

    Agree with all of the above. Need your insights, so take time for rest and relaxation at the end of the school year and thanks for the forthcoming book on the Common Core.

  9. raynichols permalink

    I’m standing with Hannah and all!

    Hannah,

    “(standing ovation) – Well done! May you get some much deserved rest.”

  10. Excellent work, very well said and VERY WELL researched. Thank you, again, for all you do!!!!

  11. Kathleen Iselin permalink

    There is some possibility, that the language in the senate bill, is written in such a way, that because of how the bill itself defines particular words, there may be skillfully hidden tactics, that actually would give the federal government all of the control that it maintains, in the bill, that it is giving to the states. The word in particular, that I am referring to, is the word “innovative”…..Do check out how that word is defined, in the bill. More on this, as I find out more.

    • The best tactic is not hidden at all: let NCLB continue, and via waivers, the federal government can put in any demands it pleases.

  12. Mary Porter permalink

    The rationale for Mercedes’ capitulation is presented in these unexamined assertions:

    “The reality is that ESEA will not be laid to rest. ”

    “I have no use for Title V, but like the annual testing, federal love for charters will not be going anywhere anytime soon– not so long as charter backers have the hefty cash to buy lobbyists.”

    No, their power isn’t unshakable unless we enshrine it with statements like those. Backers of privatization will always have the cash to buy lobbyists, and if we won’t raise the peoples’ voices against this hated law, we’ve surrendered our democracy itself. We CAN bring it down.

    The people can kill NCLB, but it is now the supposed defenders of public education who are propping it up. Maybe some hope for a trip to DC with Hillary. Others have built up their legislative connections and influence under this corrupt system, and want to preserve their insider skill-set of knowing where we dare not trespass the will of the oligarchy.

    My goal is to kill this law. No, I’m not being divisive. How dare anybody demand my unity behind preemptive surrender.

  13. Debra Buggs permalink

    Thank you for commiting time and energy in your thorough and exhaustive analysis of the Senate Bill to Reauthorize ESEA/NCLB. I appreciate how you broke down the various aspects and will share with colleagues. Take time for you and your family as you prepare to finish the year strong!

  14. m4potw permalink

    Dearest Dr. Schneider:

    American Public Education and students in the 21st century must be thankful to have your absolute dedication, knowledge, and care for their well-beings.

    Being as conscientious citizen in Canada, I profoundly admire you and your conscience because you have set an extraordinary example to be a very noble teacher in a very noble teaching profession.

    Please take your good rest and stand up to unite all other teachers who strongly believe in LOCAL CONTROL before States and Federal interference. Community, parents, principal, teachers and students know their best because of their own responsibility for dignity, welfare, and survival from their own taxes. Parents and especially educators, we are our own bosses in preserving our freedom and democracy after we fulfill our working requirement and paying tax dues. We are capitalist with HUMAN CONSCIENCE. We respect for our own humanity. We do not fall for communism nor fascism because those ideologies are inhuman.

    Whenever we keep being submissive due to our silence and fear, we accept to surrender our freedom and democracy to the bully, weak, moron with money inheritance from accumulation of robbery / bribery corporate generations. Back2basic

  15. MonicaNY permalink

    First of all, thank you for the time and effort you took to explain the bill in such detail. I tried to read and decipher it for myself and could make very little sense of it. I agree that the abolition of the Dept. of Education is a pipe dream. I am, however, completely against the 1% rule with regards to students with disabilities. I completely reject the notion that certain disability and civil rights groups represent my child. I feel that a student should be evaluated for the progress made, not an arbitrary standard. I also think that no matter what standards are used, accommodations and alternate evaluations should be at the discretion of those who know the student-namely the teachers and parents.

    But you definitely deserve to take a break after this!

  16. Kent Harris permalink

    NCLB was a brave new bi-partisan initiative brilliantly farsighted in concept and woefully incompetent in implementation! If our society does reallocate resources to prevent kids from graduating from HS without ‘mastering’ reading, writing and math at 12th grade level, taxpayers will continue bear the tragic cost of supporting them on welfare or in our prisons.

    • Kent, the idea that reading, writing and math are the only focus is one of the fundamental flaws of NCLB. Another flaw is the belief that testing tied to consequences is a path to improved teaching and learning. “Mastering” is the wrong goal. Educating creative life long learners with a need to know is a better goal. Authoritarian top down rule of education practices with laws like ESEA guarantees the kind of terrible education that undermines this goal. NCLB was far from brilliant or farsighted. It was recycled behaviorism.

    • Ken Watanabe permalink

      NCLB is far cry from far-sighted educational legislative. It is farce, and a total failure. There’s no substance whatsoever in the language of ‘mastering’ inscribed in state standardized tests. Big white corporate elephants and political machines are the ones ruling education system and taking public good as collateral damage for their grand-scheme that will ever doom to fail.

      • Kent Harris permalink

        Don’t state approved curricula specifically deal with what skills a 4th grader must ‘master’ in order to begin 5th grade without a handicap in the subject? What do you mean there’s “no substance in the language of mastery” as it applies to state testing?

      • Ken Watanabe permalink

        Kent, state standardized test is created by test-makers who have little or no experience in pedagogy or education. They are the ones who make a definition of mastering skills–not teachers and educators. How could it be convincing to say state standardized test accurately evaluates mastery of essential skill for students? Even higher level for actual student grade?

        Granted their privilege, it’s so easy for test-makers to make whatever term or label without expertise or appropriate credentials in curriculum/instruction.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider Gives Her Judgment on the Senate Bill to Reauthorize ESEA/NCLB | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Ed News, Tuesday, May 5, 2015 Edition | tigersteach
  3. It’s Not Nothing: Why I Support the ‘Every Child Achieves Act’ | gadflyonthewallblog
  4. The Common Core Weekend Reads – Mother’s Day Edition | Lady Liberty 1885
  5. Every Child Achieves Act

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