Congress Fails – Again – This time on the re-write of National Education Policy

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The George W. Bush/Barack Obama legacy of destroying public education in the United States will continue thanks to the “bi-partisan” re-write of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Republican and Democratic leaders, along with the Corporate Education Reform Industry and the leadership of the teachers’ unions are heralding the new system which continues the effort to privatize public education, turn schools into little more than testing factories and undermine teachers and the teaching profession.

The most substantive difference is that rather than the federal government “mandating” these dangerous and damaging policies, the federal government will “mandate” that the states do the dirty work in their own name.

Both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate will be voting on the Every Student Succeeds Act in the coming days.  The President will certainly sign the legislation since it ensure the education reform industry continues to drain off billions of dollars in scarce public funds.

The following are links to some of the latest articles on the bill;

Warning! ESSA Threatens Special Education  (From Diane Ravitch)

How schools would be judged under ‘Every Student Succeeds,’ the new No Child Left Behind (From Washington Post)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): More Observations (From Mercedes Schneider)

ESEA Reauthorization – Ramming Through a Bad Deal for America’s Children (From Truth in American Education)

BATs Respond to Every Student Succeeds Act (Report from the BATs organization)

Numerous questions about the impact of the new law remain but on the opt-out issue it appears that Congress will require states to notify parents about the Common Core Testing scheme but will continue to require that states mandate that 95% of students participate in the destructive tests — “or else.”

The “or else” may be left to the states, but as we know from the experience in Connecticut, pro-education reform governors like Dannel Malloy have no problem lying and misleading parents into believing that they lack the fundamental right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests.

Look Out — Congress is about to replace the No Child Left Behind Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act (NCLB will now be ESEA)

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Who could possibly be against a law that mandates “Every Student Succeeds!”

The United States Congress is in the process of re-writing the historic (and destructive) No Child Left Behind Act.

The public relations geniuses have even renamed the law, to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The United States House of Representatives may vote as early as tomorrow.

Of course, using standard operating procedure, a “final” draft of the bill was only issued yesterday which means few legislators will even know what they are voting on in the 1,000 page bill.

Fellow education blogger, Mercedes Schneider is not only one of the nation’s most important voices for public education, but she has probably been following the development of this new law closely.

Schneider, the author of “Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.” And “Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?” has posted numerous articles about the legislation which can be found on her blog – https://deutsch29.wordpress.com.

In her post yesterday Schneider writes,

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization that has flown through conference committee and continues on its speedy trek to the House for an expected vote on December 02, 2015.

The document is 1,061 pages long. The public was able to see it for the first time on November 30, 2015.

Zoom, zoom.

I read much of it and skimmed the rest for particular issues of interest. This post includes my notes on my rapid reading of the ESSA document. (Rapid in this case is several hours, but it was a quick read given the document length.)

Here we go.

Pages 7 and 8 declare Duncan’s NCLB waivers “null and void and to have no legal effect on or after August 1, 2016.”

Page 47 notes that for states to be eligible for Title I funds, they must have “challenging academic content standards” that have corresponding, “aligned academic achievement standards” that have at least three levels of achievement. Also, states must demonstrate that their standards are “aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State and relevant State career and technical education standards.”

ESSA states that nothing in the Act is to be taken as meaning that institutes of higher education are to determine a state’s standards.

States can develop a set of alternative academic content standards for students with the most severe disabilities (page 49).

The US Secretary may not control the state-level standards setting process (page 51):

PROHIBITIONS.—
(i) STANDARDS REVIEW OR APPROVAL.—A State shall not be required to submit any standards developed under this subsection to the Secretary for review or approval.
(ii) FEDERAL CONTROL.—The Secretary shall not have the authority to mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision over any of the challenging State academic standards adopted or implemented by a State.

On page 130, the Secretary is not allowed to promote the Common Core:

VOLUNTARY PARTNERSHIPS.—A State retains the right to enter into a voluntary partnership with another State to develop and implement the challenging State academic standards and assessments required under
this section, except that the Secretary shall not attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce State—
(1) adoption of the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative or any other academic standards common to a significant number of States, or assessments tied to such standards; or
(2) participation in such partnerships.

And now, for assessments (page 52):

The state is to administer math, reading/ELA and science assessments to all students in the state, and these assessments are to be the same assessments for all students except for those with the most severe cognitive disabilities (these students are limited to one percent of all students in the state, but the limit can be waived if necessary– see pages 61 and 65).

It’s the same grade 3 thru 8 admin for ELA and math and once in grades 9 thru 12 (page 54).

Assessments “may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks” (page 54).

The assessments are to “be used for purposes for which such assessments are valid and reliable” (page 52)– which logically would rule out measuring teachers using student test scores. I have yet to see a testing company offer empirical research or any other guarantee backing the use of student achievement tests for measuring teacher effectiveness.

The tests are to “be tests that do not evaluate or assess personal or family beliefs and attitudes, or publicly disclose personally identifiable information” (page 52).

The tests are supposed to be accompanied by reports that allow parents, teachers, principals, and other school leaders to understand and address the specific academic needs of students and that are provided to parents, teachers, and school leaders, as soon as is practicable after the assessment is given, in an understandable and uniform format, and to the extent practicable, in a language that parents can understand” (page 57).

Results are to be reported by group (e.g., racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, disability, ELL) (page 58).

Regarding the rights of parents, ESSA includes a “rule of construction,” or a statement about how the ESSA assessment requirement is to be taken, or “construed” (page 76):

(K) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS.—Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.

Then, there is this “testing transparency” requirement connected to Title I on page 144-145:

(2) TESTING TRANSPARENCY.—
(A) IN GENERAL.—At the beginning of each school year, a local educational agency that receives funds under this part shall notify the parents of each student attending any school receiving funds under this part that the
parents may request, and the local educational agency will provide the parents on request (and in a timely manner), information regarding any State or local educational agency policy regarding student participation in any assessments mandated by section 1111(b)(2) and by the State or local educational agency, which shall
include a policy, procedure, or parental right to opt the child out of such assessment, where applicable.

The “rule of construction” and testing transparency” sections are sections that I see as leading to future lawsuits. Some will take the rule of construction statement as the federal government saying, “Don’t blame us” for a state or local laws regarding opting out. In order to meet federal requirements for Title I money, some states and localities can logically be expected to not formally provide for parental rights to opt out for fear of losing federal funds. However, the big question is whether the federal government would win in court if community groups challenged the federal government’s attempting to bypass the reality of its influence over state and local opt out laws via this rule of construction disclaimer. Of course the question remains regarding what the federal government would actually do in the face of state and local opt out laws. Will it refuse Title I funding to such states? Will it penalize states for sending Title I funds to districts with parental opt out procedures in place?

If states and localities pass parental opt out provisions and the federal government threatens Title I funding, the states or localities have leverage to sue the federal government by virtue of the fact that ESSA includes the rule of construction. In other words, by including the rule of construction, the federal government is acknowledging the leverage it holds over state and local opt out policy by virtue of the fact that it holds the Title I purse strings.

The requirement that a state “annually measure the achievement of not less than 95 percent of all students… who are enrolled in public schools” (page 88) on the annual assessments is still in place. The federal government is trying to force the testing without taking responsibility for forcing the testing. Now, there is the creative option for parents (or districts) to un-enroll their children during testing and re-enroll once testing is over.

With the continued testing mandate in this ESSA, the federal government should anticipate an opt-out showdown.

Page 80 begins a section on “statewide accountability systems.” There is no direct mention of grading teachers using student test scores, nor is there any direct mention of using letter grades to label schools. The annual tests must be used in state accountability; four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates are to be used, and extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rates may also be used. Improvement for subgroups of students who are behind must also be incorporated (hence, the ersatz gap-closing).

Page 87 refers to states using their accountability systems to identify 1) at least the lowest five percent of all Title I schools and 2) all public high schools with graduation rates below 33 percent, for “comprehensive support and improvement” beginning in 2017-18 and at least once every three school years thereafter.”  The comprehensive support is not automatically as punitive as under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), though a state could make it just like NCLB (firing staff; closing schools; replacing with charter schools). This ESSA “comprehensive support” will never end given that some schools must always be in the lowest five percent on the statewide assessments.

I performed a keyword search for “opt out” and read on page 847 that parents have the right to opt out of having student information provided to military and higher ed recruiters.

Regarding Title II and teacher prep (starting on page 298), there are grants available for alternative certification that read friendly to Teach for America (i.e., alternative certification for high-achieving college grads in other fields). Nonprofits are listed among the organizations that might train teachers. Too, there is encouragement to develop teacher evaluation systems that include student achievement, which means tying teacher effectiveness to student test scores.  There are also hints of merit pay for teachers and principals in high-need areas (page 320) and in general (page 348-350, 358).

Regarding student mental health services under Title IV (21st century Schools) (page 447), no mental health services will be delivered without “prior written, informed consent from the parent of each child who is under 18 years of age.” There are some exceptions, such as situations of immediate emergency and those in which the parent does not respond to written notice (see page 448).

As to ESSA’s promoting charter schools (page 518): Nothing new here. The federal government wants to expand charters and continue to assure them a “high degree of autonomy” (page 539). There is no evidence that the federal government acknowledges the proliferation of charter school scandal and mismanagement. Peppering this section with the word “quality” appears to be the best assurance of quality that the feds are willing to offer.

In closing, it seems that the incredibly fast creation and movement of ESSA bespeaks the numerous behind-the-scenes political arrangements that likely already guarantee ESSA passage. The document continues the trend of NCLB test-heaviness. ESSA is not as punitive as NCLB, but its worn-out test-centrism will accomplish little as it prompts states to seek creative ways to retain Title I money in the face of an increasing public resistance to the very testing on which corporate reform depends.

A lot more information will be coming out about the legislation in the days ahead.

Blumenthal and Murphy vote NO on parents’ right to opt out of Common Core testing

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In an astonishing display of utter disregard for Connecticut’s public students and parents, Connecticut’s two United States Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, voted against an amendment that would have recognized a parents’ right to protect their child from the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scam.

Although a day doesn’t go by that Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy don’t hold a press conference, issue a press release, send out an email or Tweet some statement about how they are fighting for Connecticut’s citizens, when they had the opportunity to stand with Connecticut’s parents and public school advocates they voted NO!

Blumenthal and Murphy VOTED NO to an amendment that would have required school districts to notify parents about federally mandated assessments (the massive common core testing program) and would have made it clear that parents may opt their children out of the test.

Refusing to recognize a parents inalienable right to protect their children from a testing scheme designed to fail the vast majority of Connecticut’s public school children, Blumenthal and Murphy both voted NO on Senate Amendment 2162 to Senate Amendment 2089 to S. 1177 (Every Child Achieves Act of 2015).

In addition to requiring that parents be notified about the testing, the language of the amendment stated;

“[U]pon the request of the parent of a child made…for any reason or no reason at all stated by the parent, a State shall allow the child to opt out of the assessments described in this paragraph. Such an opt-out, or any action related to that opt-out, may not be used by the Secretary, the State, any State or local agency, or any school leader or employee as the basis for any corrective action, penalty, or other consequence against the parent, the child, any school leader or employee, or the school.”

According to the Washington Post story entitled, Senate rejects plan to allow parents to opt out of standardized tests

“Current law requires school districts to ensure that 95 percent of children take the exams, a provision meant to ensure that administrators don’t encourage low performers to stay home on exam day. The Senate bill mandates 95 percent participation of students who are required to be tested, but allows states to decide whether children who opt out are among those who are required to be tested.

But under the House bill, parents who opt their children out of tests would not be counted in the participation rate of any state, effectively removing them from the accountability system altogether. Democrats and civil rights groups opposed that provision, saying it opened a loophole to hide achievement gaps.”

With different versions in the House and Senate, a Conference Committee will be needed to negotiate a final master bill.  That piece of legislation will then come up for a final vote before going to President Obama for his signature or veto.

It is beyond disturbing that self-described “champions of the people” would vote against such an important and fair amendment.

Race to the Bottom: A story about the strings attached to federal funding;

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On any given day, Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and other “education reformers” including superintendents in Bridgeport, Hartford and elsewhere are racing around – often in circles – in pursuit of some of the money that is being handed out by the United States Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program.

Applications and waivers are the terms of the day as more and more states and cities promise to implement reforms in return for more federal funding.

In the rush, some elected and appointed officials forget that while the preamble of a bill or program may sound great, you’d better read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.

That message came through loud and clear earlier this month when the Malloy Administration quietly submitted Senate Resolution No. 14.  With no press release or even an explanation, the language of the bill reads;

January Session, 2013 of the Connecticut General Assembly

Senate Resolution No.14

RESOLUTION APPROVING THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND THE CONNECTICUT STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.

Resolved by the Senate:

That the provisions of the settlement agreement dated January 30, 2013, between the United States of America, acting through the United States Department of Justice and on behalf of the United States Department of Education, and the State of Connecticut, acting through the office of the Attorney General and on behalf of the Connecticut State Department of Education, requiring an expenditure from the General Fund budget in excess of two million five hundred thousand dollars and submitted by the Attorney General to this Assembly for approval in accordance with section 3-125a of the general statutes, are approved

Not the easiest piece of legislation to decipher, but in essence is says that on January 30, 2013, an agreement was signed between the federal government and the state of Connecticut dealing with some problem between the United States Department of Education and the Connecticut State Department of Education, and to resolve that problem, Connecticut will be issuing a check to the federal government for an amount in excess of $2.5 million.

So what is the story?

It turns out that in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Connecticut State Department of Education applied for and was granted funds from the United States Department of Education’s National Initiative to Ensure Child Eligibility for Title I, Part C, Migrant Education Program.

The state spent those funds on various education programs that it believed met the rules and regulations of the program.

However, the federal government charged that the Connecticut State Department of Education “submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for payment or approval by misrepresenting the number of children in Connecticut who qualified for federal MEP funding.”

It is not that the federal government was saying the Connecticut’s State Department of Education stole the funds or spent them on non-education expenses; the problem appears to be the programs being funded may have helped children other than just the children of migrant workers.

In any case, after nearly a decade of investigations and negotiations, costing untold amounts of money, the federal government and the State of Connecticut recently signed an agreement that the State of Connecticut will pay back a portion of the funds….about $4.5 million.

However, as the agreement makes clear, “This Agreement is neither an admission of liability by the State, nor a concession by the United States that its claims are not well-founded.”

Bottom line – Connecticut agrees to pay back the funds but everyone agrees that the agreement does not imply that we were guilty of anything.

So in the coming years, Connecticut taxpayers will pay the United States government the sum of $4,500,000 with  non-Federal funds .  It actually starts with an initial payment of $1,500.000 within forty-five calendar days after the approval of the agreement by the Connecticut General Assembly, with annual payments due until the full amount has been paid).

In addition, the state will pay interest on the unpaid portion of the stipulated amount.

And, if for some reason the General Assembly rejects the agreement, bad things will happen that will undoubtedly cost the state even more.

So all in favor, say yes…

Case closed.

Connecticut asked for the money, it spent the money, it probably even thought it was spending the money in the right way, but the federal government said Connecticut failed to spend the money correctly and we now have to pay it back, with interest.

Of course, this migrant education program was minor compared to the amount of funds and the level of federal rules and restrictions associated with the federal government’s massive No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funding.

And yet just the other day, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education were talking about changes and flexibility associated with Connecticut’s absurd teacher evaluation system, but there was virtually no mention that the federal waiver Malloy, Pryor and the state requested and received puts severe limitations on just how much “flexibility” Connecticut has in some of these areas.

We took the money but the rules we have to spend it under will actually do severe harm to many of our public schools.

Remember, when the “education reformers” tell us not to worry about the restrictive rules concerning No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the federal government will let us do whatever we want as long as we adopt some education reforms, remind them about this new Senate Resolution 14 that will cost us $4.5 million, plus interest.

It is a question every legislator should be asked.

And while you’re doing that, ask them why the Malloy administration is providing so little information about this settlement.