Monday, May 11, 2015

It’s Not Nothing: Why I Support the ‘Every Child Achieves Act’

May 9, 2015

Written by Steven Singer, Member of the BAT Leadership Team

Originally posted on his blog: 


No more federal intervention.

No more reducing schools to a number.

That’s the promise of the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).

Sure, it’s not perfect. But this Senate proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) could do a lot of good – even if it includes some bad.

Imagine it.

States would be in control of their own public schools. The U.S. Department of Education and its appointed Secretary would lose much of their power to impose unfunded federal mandates.

For example, the federal government could no longer force states to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. It could no longer force states to adopt Common Core or Common Core look-a-like standards. It could no longer label high poverty schools “Failing” and then demand they be closed.

That’s not nothing.

But to realize these goals, we may have to compromise.

This federal law (currently known as No Child Left Behind) governs K-12 public schools. It has to be reauthorized.

We tried in 2007, but no one could agree. So the Obama administration took over – offering states a waiver from the worst consequences of the current disastrous law if they just doubled down on those same failing policies.

The result? Seven years of continued educational failure. Policies to privatize, punish the poor and enrich profiteers.

And now we have another chance to reauthorize the law!

We can change course! We can right the ship! We can get our heads out of our collective asses and actually do what’s right for our children!

But this is politics. It’s never that simple.

We have a divided Congress. We have a President who never met a corporate school reform scheme he didn’t like.

But we also have a citizenry who is fed up with all the bullshit. People are demanding change.

We have a real opportunity. If we can seal the deal, a generation of children will be the better for it. If not, the current calamitous law will stay in place for at least 7 more years.

That’s just unacceptable.

The biggest flaw in this proposed act is that it keeps annual testing in place. If approved in its current form, public schools would still have to give standardized tests to children in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

If you’re like me, you just threw up in your mouth a little bit.

However, supporting ECAA doesn’t have to mean supporting testing. There is an amendment proposed by Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) that would replace annual testing with assessments only once at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Yes. It’s not enough. We really should have zero standardized tests in our schools. If we have to accept Grade Span Testing – as Tester’s proposal is called – it should be done by a random sample. Don’t test all kids. Just test some small group and extrapolate their scores to the whole.

But Tester’s amendment is not nothing.

Even if it weren’t approved – even if all schools are mandated to continue annual testing as is – the ECAA requires no minimum length for those tests.

How many questions do we need to have on our exams? How many sections? Right now, most states have three sections in both Reading and Math of around 30-40 questions each.

If I’m reading this correctly, it’s conceivable that states that disagree with standardized testing could give assessments of only one section with only one question.

Talk about opting out!

That’s not nothing.

Moreover, the proposed law does not require states to continue evaluating teachers based on student test scores. States are free to stop using the same junk science evaluations currently championed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or not. It’s totally up to the states.

That’s not nothing.

If the proposed act were passed, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) would lose much of their backing.

We all know the sad story of how these supposedly “state” standards were pushed on states from the federal government. We know how states were bribed with federal money to enact these standards before many of them had even finished being written. We know how the U.S. Department of Education has required states to either adopt CCSS or come up with their own academic standards. Moreover, any state that decides to go its own way and write its own standards must then have these standards approved by the federal government, thereby ensuring that regardless of the name you slap on them, they are usually Common Core lite.

However, the ACAA removes the requirement that state standards need federal approval. 

Therefore, it allows states to actually lead their own quest for real, consequential standards. They no longer have to follow in the footsteps of CCSS. They can set their own agenda.

That’s not nothing.

The proposed act also improves the situation for at risk students. It would establish appropriate class size, specifically in low-income areas. It would give clear/expanded rights to homeless children so they could continue attending their original schools. It would allow English Language Learners to appropriately remain in their classes longer. It would continue Head Start and Early Start programs. It would provide adequate support for gifted and talented students. It would add early intervention services and support early childhood programs.

That’s not nothing.

But the ACAA isn’t the only version of the rewrite being considered. The House has it’s own version called HR 5 or the Student Success Act (SSA).

The biggest difference between the two is Title I Portability – the House version allows it, the Senate one does not.

Currently Title I funds are allocated by the federal government to states each year based on the numbers of children living in poverty in each district. The goal is to provide billions of dollars to poor schools to help them meet students’ needs often left neglected because of lack of local tax revenue.

Title I portability found in the SSA would mandate this money follow the students instead of going to districts. That would be a budgetary and economic nightmare. It would decrease money going to poor schools and increase funds going to rich districts. It would pave the way for nefarious and misnamed “school choice” measures.

That’s why the Senate ECAA is better. It doesn’t allow this wrongheaded scheme.

That’s not nothing.

But – I know – you’re still pinning for that one pristine act that would right all the wrongs of the current law.

Me, too.

In dreams, we can get everything we want.

In waking life, we sometimes have to compromise and accept less.

But at least here you get SOMETHING!

Quite a lot actually.

And as we support the general outline of the ACAA, we can push to make it better by adopting the Tester Amendment and other improvements that may come along the way.
We have to be realistic. A perfect law probably wouldn’t get through Congress. Our lawmakers just wouldn’t vote for it. They couldn’t agree.

We’d be where we were in 2007.

And that would mean more of the status quo.

I can accept the problems with the ACAA, but I cannot accept that.

Please consider joining the Badass Teachers Association in writing your Congresspeople to approve the ACAA with the Tester Amendment.

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