Wednesday, December 2, 2015

From Utah:The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA or No Child Left Behind Reauthorization)

by Christel Lane Swasey

Hold Congress accountable.  Call and tweet.  Call 202-224-3121 to tell Congress: vote no.    We, the people, are watching this vote.
Now, to business of this bill.
I’ll post the page number or section, the direct quote from the bill, and why it’s a concern. (There is no way this will be thoroughly done in so little time.  Not a chance. But it will give you the gist of the bill.  And you will understand why pushers have gotten into the habit of putting out lying talking points –“reduce the federal footprint”; “restore power to states”– to get the darn bills passed.)

“EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT OF 2015”  aka ESEA  link here)

If you read the title and the table of contents, you will see the micromanagement right away.  But let’s start with section 1003.  It deals with money and how states will be micromanaged if they want to see any of it.  The bill calls it “School Improvement.”  I’ve renamed it “How States Can Beg for A Piece of Their Own Tax Dollars Back“.
Here, the feds dictate (page 24) what percentage of funds the state will use and for what purpose.  (7 percent for this, not less than 95 percent for that, 3 percent for this… on and on through page 32).
The feds dictate that the states then must turn around and inflict fed-like micromanagement on localities; they must be “monitoring and evaluating the use of funds by local education agencies” (page 26) and must give out monies to localities only if they “demonstrate the strongest commitment to using funds…[as feds see fit] and states must “align other Federal, State and local resources“.
(There’s that word “align” that we have read ten billion times in the past four years as we read official documents implementing Common Core and Common Data Standards.  The word pops up again on page 33:  “coursework that is aligned with the challenging State academic standards“.  They’ve now dropped  references to Common Core State Standards as well as any reference to College and Career Ready Standards.  But the word “aligned” they have not dropped.  It’s in the document 72 times, and,  notably, the word “standards” is in the document 269 times and “challenging state academic standards” is repeated 24 times; just not “Common Core” labeled anymore.  To me, “align” in ed reform now means to superglue to a global sameness; it means forget about scholastic creativity or imagination; it means forget about originality or home-grown ideas and powers.  It means that you are not represented; you are assimilated.   But I am off on a tangent.)
Pages 34 and 35 repeat the mantra that funds must be prioritized to low-achievers.  (First of all, how dare you tell a state how to prioritize its funds?  Secondly, how are the feds so sure that mid and high achievers won’t mind losing funding for their misdeed of having achieved?  Are mid or high achievers’ needs not all that important, anyway?)  Harrison Bergeron comes to mind; this is the Handicapper General at work.
Page 36 promises “a sufficient number of options to provide a meaningful choice for parents” which is a lie, of course; think about it.  Federal laws and conditional monies mean using federally approved standards and tests and CURRICULUM in every school receiving federal funds.  This is far from meaningful and it represents an extremely narrowed and controlled set of choices.  Meaningful does not happen in an atmosphere of standardized everything, just as wonderous meals do not bloom in the kitchens of McDonald’s.
Page 37 dictates that American tax dollars may only “provide instruction and content that is secular“.  This is old news.  But it is not old news that federal funds are increasingly being offered to private schools.  Does this mean that the feds are softening and will share taxpayers’ dollars with those who choose to attend private religious schools?  No.  It means that private schools are being coerced to secularize their core curricula and services so that they may receive federal money.
Page 38 is Section 1111:  STATE PLANS.
We’ll rename this one “Mother May I?”  (Thanks, Wendy Hart.)
States say:  “Mother, May I adopt these standards?”  Secretary of Education or his appointees say “no”.  Rinse and repeat until states eventually ask to adopt what the Secretary has already settled upon.  Here’s how it works:
Page 38:  “…State educational agency shall file will the Secretary a plan” which must meet, among other things, “Secretarial Approval” (page 39 line 23) and must be approved by a review team appointed by the federal Secretary of Education. (page 39-40)  That team (page 42) will have the authority to disapprove a state plan.  The state may revise its plan, appeal for a hearing (page 43) but ultimately, the process will “promote effective implementation of the challenging State academic standards [aka Common Core]” (page 43).
If ANYONE tries to tell you that this bill gives power to the States, point to these pages.  With such huge veto-wielding power, and review team appointing power, the Secretary becomes king over anything any state wants to do.  This is not good.  You can stop here.  That’s enough ammo.  VOTE NO.
I have to point out some sickening hypocrisy on page 44.  The review team must provide “objective feedback to the States” with “respect for State and local judgments with the goal of supporting State and local-led innovation“.  If your goal is to support State innovation, why not return to the Constitution which gives exactly ZERO authority to the feds in anything relating to education, tests, standards, or teachers!?
More hypocrisy on the same page: “Neither the Secretary nor the political appointees of the Department may attempt to participate in or influence the peer review process”.
On page 45:  “If a state makes significant changes to its plan at any time, such as the adoption of new challenging State academic standards or new academic assessments or changes to its accountability system… such information shall be submitted to the Secretary…”
Same page:  “If a State fails to meet any of the requirements of this section, the Secretary may withhold funds…” MICROMANAGEMENT HEAVEN.

A bit of a toothless joke on page 47:  “The State, in the plan it files… shall provide an assurance that public comments were taken into account”.
Page 47 also gives us this sobering mouthful:  “Each state, in the plan it files… shall provide an assurance that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards (referred to in this Act as ‘challenging State academic standards’), which achievement standards shall include not  less than 3 levels of achievement…”  If you have studied how children are assessed, tracked and predestined to relegated top, middle, or bottom schools and careers in nations shackled by communism and socialism, this will make you very unhappy.
Page 48 says the state MUST align its standards to colleges and to tech-ed schools.
Page 49 says that only a small percentage of special education students– those with “the most significant cognitive disabilities” may be excused, and may use alternate standards, and only then if those alternate standards are “aligned with the challenging State academic content standards”.  On page 50 it adds that that severely disabled person must be “on track to pursue postsecondary education or employment” whether they want to or not.  The feds are not kind to special education students.  And they won’t let states determine these matters anymore.  Sadly, we already knew all of this was coming.
Page 51 offers us another blistering contradiction:  “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…”  Tell me how that works with page 45.   He can withhold funds and disapprove plans if the state files a plan that he doesn’t like for a slew of reasons that could include using curriculum, tests or standards that aren’t aligned to his vision of fed ed and he can mandate that the state has to use the exact same standards in every one of its schools (page 52 line 21) — but he in no way supervises the State’s standards?
Page 52 deals with “Academic Assessments”.  Feds dictate to states that the tests shall be the same in every school in the state (line 23) and that they will be “administered to all public elementary and secondary school students in the State” (page 53).  Does this end –or aim to end– the parental right to opt out of testing?  (See page 76 below)
Page  53 is an admission.  The bill says that the tests may not be used to “publically disclose personally identifiable information”.   They can’t disclose it publicly, but they can sure store it indefinitely.
Subtly, page 53 forces Common Educational Data Standards because the feds dictate that state tests must be:  “consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical testing standards”.
Next, the dictators tell states when and how much to test children:
page 54:  in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (every year) for math and language arts
in grades 9, 10, 11, 12 (at least once)
in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 for science (at least three times in those years)
On page 55, the dictators bring down the hammer:  “the participation in such assessments of all students”.  ALL.
On page 58 we see the racism and other -isms of the Department of Education: States are told that they must disaggregate test data by ethnicity, race, economics, disability, English proficiency, gender, and migrant status. 
On page 59 we see the toxic term “universal design for learning“.  Tests are to be developed using IMS Global education standards.  This means not just state or national, but global sameness and tracking.  Is that a good idea or a bad one?  Is that something that we ought to have Congress think about for more than one day prior to a vote?
On page 61 the feds are dictating to states that no more than one percent of students may be considered so disabled that they may take alternate-standards-based tests.  “The total number of students assessed… using alternate assessments does  not exceed 1 percent of the total number of all students in the State”.  Later, on page 65, the bill says that there is no cap; but that schools must submit information “justifying the need to exceed such a cap”.  It also notes that the State shall provide “oversight” of any school required to submit justifying information.  In other words, States must show that they are monitoring schools’ decision making.
How would the federal government ever know whether a state happened to have fewer, or a greater number of students who needed and deserved something other than what the highest achieving students can and should do?  On what basis does it dictate one percent?  What if my child is severely disabled and is forced to take the common tests and to be taught to common standards inappropriate for him or her, because of the high number of students with disabilties?  How does that bless my child?
On page 62 they’re dictating “universal design for learning” again; this time, for severely disabled special education testing.
Page 66 is literally jaw-dropping to me.  It says that if the state “provides evidence which is satisfactory to the Secretary that neither the State Educational Agency nor any other State government official… has sufficient authority under State law to adopt challenging State academic standards and academic assessments aligned with such standards [aka Common Core standards and tests] which will be applicable to all students enrolled in the State’s public elementary schools and secondary schools, then the State educational agency may meet the requirements…”  by aligning unofficially anyway, by meeting “all of the criteria…and any regulations… that the Secretary may publish”.  (page 67)   If your state law doesn’t allow for one size fits all, then adopt and implement policies that ensure that you are aligned anyway, or lose funding.  Talk about kicking Constitutional rights in the teeth.  This is dictatorship.
On page 69, states are told to dictate to schools again.  They must filter tests through the filter of “already been approved” (line 18) or they must “conduct a review of the assessment to determine if such assessment meets or exceeds the technical criteria” that has to be “established” (line 9) by the state.  This sounds to me like more herding of everybody into IMS Global’s universal design for learning.
On page 73, it almost sounds good until you finish the sentence.  It begins, “a State retains the right to develop and administer computer adaptive assessments, provided that….” and then we lose all the rights again, because they have to be aligned, aligned, aligned.
On page 76, it says that States can still decide whether or not to allow parents to opt out of testing but limits that concept to one paragraph:  “nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting State” law.  So, in the rest of the over-1000-page bill, something might.  This is not making me feel better.
How many dictatorial mandates, contradictions, hypocrises, manipulations and usurpations of local control have I related in this first tiny section of this bill?
Now, it is 1:30 a.m.   I have to go to sleep.
There are 985 pages that I (and probably my congressional reps) are leaving unread.  
–In a few short hours, Congress votes anyway.  Watch it here.

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