My Letter to Senator Al Franken about the Every Child Achieves Act

I sent the letter below to Senator AL Franken today . . .

Dear Senator Franken,

I am writing to you today to express my thanks for your leadership and support in developing the new Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. I am particularly encouraged by the removal of federal authority regarding the uses of test scores in evaluation of teachers and the limitations placed on the Department of Education in pushing the Common Core and other such initiatives. I also appreciate your focus on STEM issues, Native American languages, and the need for counselors in schools.

In general, I believe the current senate bill is a huge improvement over No Child Left Behind. However, the current bill does contain several initiatives that I believe need further scrutiny and amendment. Specifically, I am extremely concerned about the support for charter schools and the continuation of mandatory testing in grades 3-8.

Although there has been a lot of press coverage of charter schools the available data on them suggest that they are no better, and often much worse than public schools in the same neighborhoods. Certainly promoting “high quality” schools, financial oversight and transparency would help, but that wouldn’t solve the problem. There are a significant number of cases where charter schools have “shaped” their student bodies to raise their test scores as well as many cases where the financial dealings of the schools and their for-profit manager/owners have been suspect. In some cases charter schools have even served to make local schools less diverse.

If we truly wanted educational innovation in charter schools I would suggest the following:

  • Charter schools receiving federal funding would have to enroll the same percentages of special needs, minority and ELL children as the schools in their neighborhoods
  • Charter schools receiving federal funding could not receive funds in excess of the amount spent per pupil (including administrative costs etc.) in local schools. This would prevent federal tax dollars from becoming “the profits” pocketed by charter school operators.
  • Charter schools receiving federal funding would be required to use teachers certified by their states.
  • Charter schools receiving federal funding would have to meet the same accountability standards as public schools within their states.

Beyond the concern with charter schools I believe the continuation of the requirement for annual testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school is also extremely problematic. I am certainly aware that a number of civil rights groups believe the annual tests are necessary to insure we continue to focus on the achievement of minority children. I too believe that focus is important. However, testing once or twice in elementary school and once in junior high would still provide educators with those same data. Individual school districts and/or states could then decide how they would respond to the data or if they needed to look at specific grade levels for more information.

A reduction in the focus on testing could also save a great deal of money and instructional time that could then be put to other purposes. Perhaps of greatest importance a reduction in testing itself and the focus on test scores could make way for a stronger curriculum. Many of the schools I visit as an education professional have narrowed their focus to reading, math and test preparation. Art, music social studies and PE (and even recess!) are often sacrificed as more and more time is devoted to raising test scores. Unfortunately, this trend is most obvious in schools serving diverse student populations.

This intense focus on test scores doesn’t support the rights of diverse children. Rather, it constrains their rights by denying them the kind of rich school experience we hope all of our children would receive. It seems to me that we ought to more concerned about students’ rights to a rich, developmentally appropriate education than we are about making sure they take a test that doesn’t measure and constrains that education every year. As such I urge you to support the “Tester Amendment” to this bill when it comes to the floor. This change would reduce the focus on testing, allow for the continued assessment of the achievement of diverse population groups, and again make room in schools for a focus beyond reading, math and testing.

Once again, thank you for your thoughtful leadership and support on this issue. I do have research data I can share on all of these issues if that would be of help to you and your staff. Finally, I still retain a copy of Why Not Me? on my desk at work and retain high hopes for your ascendance in 2024 at the conclusion of the next democratic presidency.

Sincerely,

Stephen E. Hornstein, PhD                                                                                                                                                               Cold Spring, Minnesota

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2 Responses to “My Letter to Senator Al Franken about the Every Child Achieves Act”

  1. momshieb Says:

    Reblogged this on Thoughtful teaching and commented:
    Very thoughtful and very insightful letter here. Please read!

    Like

  2. Visit the Web Says:

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you ought
    to write more on this topic, it may not be a taboo matter but usually people
    do not discuss these issues. To the next! All the best!!

    Like

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