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USDOE Wants “Educator Stability.” It Also Wants Test Scores.

April 16, 2021

On April 09, 2021, the US Department of Education (USDOE) released its COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2.

In perusing its table of contents, I noticed one section in particular: ” Supporting Educator and Staff Stability and Well-being: Stabilizing a Diverse and Qualified Educator Workforce.”

Educator stability now appears to be a focus of USDOE attention.

It took a pandemic.

For the past two decades, USDOE leadership, in concert with the two Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) reauthorizations produced by Congress, have done nothing to “stabilize” the educator workforce. On the contrary, the 2001 ESEA reauthorization, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), introduced the oppressive, test-and-punish course that threatened school stability by its abuse of student test scores being used to grade schools and teachers, all in the name of accountability to the never-realistic goal of 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

In 2007, when NCLB was up for reauthorization and its 100-percent-proficiency farce looming, Congress wouldn’t touch it. However, former US secretary of education Arne Duncan used his NCLB waivers to coerce states into adopting “college and career ready” standards (that would be the controversial Common Core State Standards) and related assessments, as in his federally-funded, consortium assessments. And so the testing oppression continued. No talk of educator stability. No, no. In fact, destabilization was the name of the game. Competition, Race for the (test-idolizing) Top— and a CCSS sales job reinforcing the NCLB-enabled, hand-over-fist revenue for testing companies capable of grabbing the gold.

Meanwhile, USDOE has for years doled out charter school funding without oversight, resulting in fraud and squandering. So, we have the traditional public schools, which were created to serve any student who shows up on the doorstep at any point in the school year, and the charter schools that never have to take any student who shows up at any point (and can resort to some pretty low and self-serving tactics to rid themselves of less-preferred students) and that primarily answer only in self-determined, non-elected fashion for taxpayer funds.

Charter schools drain traditional public schools, which destabilizes traditional public schools– including students, admin, teachers, and staff. This is not a new phenomenon. Traditional public schools have been having to grapple with this so-called competition for years– one in which students can always return to the traditional public school– even if taxpayer funding has all been squandered by some underregulated school in the name of “choice.”

And all of which serves to destabilize traditional public education for all involved, teachers included.

When ESEA was finally reauthorized in 2016 as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Congress remained faithful to its over-testing obsession, continuing with English and math annual testing in grades 3 – 8 and once in high school, though the Obama-Duncan CCSS and testing consortia never became the sensation for racing to some top. In ESSA, the testing stayed, states still cornered in the name of Title I funding return on investment to somehow measure schools and teachers to prove accountability for much of what is out of their control.

Not a recipe for stability. Add to that subsequent years of awful ed secs like CCSS-pusher and community alienator, John King and queen of anti-public-school hostility, Betsy DeVos, whose chief aim is to send all public money to private schools and was the first ed sec to require Secret Service protection.

Now, here we are, in the second calendar year of the COVID pandemic, and the Biden-administration USDOE under the leadership of Miguel Cardona is advising states on how to stabilize the educator workforce.

It includes no advice on dropping the tests, the tests which succubus time, money, and professional joy and are in no way superior to the immediacy of professional judgment based upon teacher-to-student and student-to-student interaction every day throughout the school year.

In 2001, misguided testing was put into place as an end-all, be-all, ever-present threat to neighborhood schools. Those seeking stability for schools quickly learned that the real task was to figure out how play the game.

It is a game, folks. Learning does not occur in sequential, discrete components that are somehow indisputably identified as Solely Due to That Teacher at That School. Nevertheless, federal (and, by coerced extension, state) education law treats testing as exactly that– indisputable– and wrongly laden with high-stakes consequences. Those on the receiving end find themselves year after year placed in this boat without paddles and told to make it move or else

Twenty years of Make It Move Or Else.

So, here we are, in 2021, mid-pandemic, and USDOE has chosen neither to cancel ESSA-mandated testing outright nor to leave it to states to make the decision. Instead, USDOE is deciding state-by-state whether testing waivers will be bestowed from the USDOE On High.

According to USDOE, standardization can go out of the window. Just give us some numbers.

Some states gain waiver permission. Others are denied.

Are the latter being penalized for better-perceived, ed-amidst-pandemic stability? That sure seems to be the case.

If the Biden-Cardona USDOE is really interested in educator stability, it could at least leave 2020-21 testing decisions to individual states. Moreover, ESSA is due for reauthorization (it is funded through fiscal year 2020, which for the federal government is September 30, 2020), which means that the time is right to pressure Congress to ease up on testing (perhaps grade-span testing) and dropping (rightly prohibiting?) the misuse of student tests to grade teachers and schools.

Want educator stability? Stop overtesting students, and stop using test scores to mismeasure teachers and schools.

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One Comment
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    An excellent review of some ugly history.
    I think the Biden-Harris administration will be continuing failed policies from NCLB and ESSA and that these will FAIL.

    In sending money to schools I see little evidence in Biden-Harris plans that funds will be restricted or dedicated to public schools. So far, I have seen nothing that makes a distinction among schools and the charter industry. In addition to charters, private and religious schools scooped up money from the CARES act. Those funds were not available for public schools.

    The appointments at DOE offices, so far, have favored people who have prior work under Obama, Arne Duncan, John King, and in my opinion too many careerists from TFA who claim to have lots of policy expertise, few with with extended classroom experience, or experience in school administration.

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