July 10, 2015 11:21 pm

NPE Statement on the Every Child Achieves Act

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There is much we applaud in the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). Although the bill is far from perfect, it is better than the status quo.  ECAA represents a critical step forward, placing an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in how states evaluate schools and teachers. It bars the US Department of Education from either requiring or incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as Arne Duncan did through Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers.

The Every Child Achieves Act would prohibit the federal government from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores and would prevent the federal government from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, which Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.

And it would take the federal “high-stakes” from annual testing—the consequences of which have a disparate negative impact on students of color and those of highest need.

ECAA does not “lock in” the Common Core, but rather allows the states to set their own standards without having to meet a litmus test set by the federal government.  States could thoughtfully design and revise standards and their teacher evaluation systems with stakeholders, without fear of losing a waiver that protects their schools from being labeled as failing.

Below is the relevant language that expressly prohibits the federal government from exerting influence on standards, curriculum and teacher evaluation, followed by the language that prohibits the federal government from interfering in parental decisions to opt out of state tests:

“(a) Prohibition Against Federal Mandates, Direction, Or Control.—Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any other officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s—

“(1) instructional content or materials, curriculum, program of instruction, academic standards, or academic assessments;

“(2) teacher, principal, or other school leader evaluation system;

“(3) specific definition of teacher, principal, or other school leader effectiveness; or

“(4) teacher, principal, or other school leader professional standards, certification, or licensing

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

Even as we support the above, we disapprove that the bill does not go far enough to meet the justified concerns of those who support our public schools. The federal government should cease providing financial support for privately managed charter schools that drain much needed resources from the public schools that enroll the vast majority of our students–caring for all and turning none away.

We are also dismayed that the bill maintains an annual testing mandate–which enriches testing companies while distracting us from the needed work to be done to improve our public schools.

We will continue to fight to restore ESEA to its original purpose of providing equity for the most disadvantaged children. We support the concerns raised by the coalition of Civil Rights groups who do not see testing as the answer to improving our schools. We will also continue to fight for charter school accountability and the elimination of annual tests. And we will carefully watch the bill as it progresses through Congress.

With all of its limitations, however, the end of NCLB, NCLB waivers and Race to the Top is a cause worth supporting. Therefore, NPE gives its qualified endorsement to ECAA.