Maybe We Were Looking at the Wrong Thing When the Senate Passed the Every Child Achieves Act

As I’ve observed folks’ responses to the passage of the Every Child Achieves Act in the senate it occurs to me that our disappointment over the positions some democratic politicians’ took stems from a misunderstanding of what the issues on the table were.

As educators we know that the test and punish regime introduced by NCLB is harmful to children and schools. Time is squandered on testing and test prep, curriculum is constrained as teachers and schools hone curriculum more narrowly to match the tests and prop up test scores, and schools become tense, fearful place for students, teachers and administrators as they continually focus on whether their test scores are good enough. But despite the concerns of educators, the dangers of testing are not the major concerns of congress.

To be sure, the over reach of Education Secretary Duncan in pushing the Common Core and the evaluation of teachers by tests was a lightning rod for many and certainly there is no doubt that many (if not most) of our politicians have swallowed the Kool-Aid that the tests represent something of value. But underneath this I see a much different debate happening. I see some of the aspects of both the house and senate bills as a part of the long term Republican efforts to roll back federal efforts to promote equity in education and provide a high quality education for all. Over the years we have seen school integration efforts rolled back, and although schools are not legally segregated, they are now more segregated than they have been at any time since the 60’s. At this point despite Brown vs. Board of Education we not only have separate schools, we have separate and unequal schools. Or course we seen many attempts at privatization and charter schools as well. We have also seen many attempts to roll back Affirmative Action in education and beyond

The latest bill in the house provided for “portability” of Title One funds (which allowed kids to take Titke One funds with them, even to wealthy schools), which seems to me to be the latest attempt at vouchers and pulling money from poor schools (it was defeated in the senate). The accountability provisions in the senate bill, which were also defeated, were similar to NCLB in disaggregating scores, identifying the lowest performing schools etc. Although these measure would be an anathema to teachers and educators they did stand against the assault on equity in attempting to provide a way to insure that an appropriate education was provided for all children. As educators we know such an approach is wrong headed and counter productive. But our politicians have accepted the narrative about testing and “consequences”  being a positive way to influence schools. As such, some of our more liberal legislators (Senators Warren and Sanders in particular) supported the accountability measure  for the “right” reasons; to insure that schools really do attend to the needs of poor, immigrant, and ELL and minority student. (Vox has a good article on this here).

These circumstances put those of us who want testing eliminated as the bill moves in to conference committee in an odd position. We certainly don’t want the accountability measures for all the reasons noted above, and of course we want mandated testing eliminated as well. But as we stand for these things, we stand in common cause with a (mostly) Republican section of the electorate that wants the protections we have enacted at the federal level to insure equity in education rolled back. The equity issue was what ESEA, and even NCLB were supposed to address. We know NCLB was misguided, and did more harm than good but insuring an equitable education is a goal to which I assume most readers of this blog will support.

I’m not certain how much impact our e-mails and phone calls will have as the bill moves into conference committee. But it does seem to me that in some ways our concerns about eliminating testing in the bill were somewhat tangential to the core issues of the bill, which were the federal over reach, and the equity issues. Our problem is that we don’t as yet have a coalition of progressives and educators that combines work toward the guarantee of an equitable education for all with an understanding that a “test and punish” regime is not a viable way to promote equitable education and that it is poverty, not teachers that is the most important issue to be addressed in improving education and our society. I think building such a coalition is more important that making common cause with those who want to roll back equity gains in education.

Perhaps building this coalition should be our primary goal during this next election cycle.

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4 Responses to “Maybe We Were Looking at the Wrong Thing When the Senate Passed the Every Child Achieves Act”

  1. Jesse Turner Says:

    I always find is strange that our policy makers and elected officials think the only accountability data available to them are test scores. Why can’t we use class size, this data is available in every step.
    Why can’t we use certified specialize staff ratio to students with IEPs, this data is available in every state?
    Why can’t we use sports at high schools, David Rosen Garcia has documented in NYC that White High Schools have over 16 after school sports program to less than 6 for schools of color?
    Why can’t we use hours certified staff teaching music and art and the ratio of staff to students in schools, this data is available?
    Why can’t we use wrap around after school programs as well?
    How about the ratio of Literacy specialists to students in schools?
    An Example is in Connecticut, (state with one of the largest income gaps in the nation) a school in Farmington, (wealthy district) two full time Literacy specialists and two part time support staff, while another Hartford, (poor urban) has one with double the school population, and 6 times as many students needing reading intervention services. The Hartford solution 7th and 8th graders get no services, they only target grade 6.
    My thinking is the testing data always misses the data of inequality that really matters. Thus politicians and policy makers never ask the real questions that might actually lead to real services for poor children. You know the things that actually would make a difference to a child.
    Count me in that coalition,
    Jesse

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