With Friends Like These…
By Ken Derstine
July 20, 2015
(Most recent link update at the bottom of the page is April 30, 2016.)
The U. S. Senate has voted to accept its proposed version of the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) by a bipartisan majority of 81 -17. The bill is a rewrite of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2001. It now goes to Conference Committee which will try and reconcile the differences with the House version. The White House has threatened a veto if the bill becomes the House version. Arne Duncan gave lukewarm support for the Senate version, saying he hopes the conference will restore an amendment which would make the standardized testing penalties even more harsh than No Child Left Behind did. The Senate version keeps annual testing but removes federal sanctions attached to test scores, a favored project of Arne Duncan, leaving rewards and sanctions to each state.
Comments on some of the ECAA debate
New York teacher and Education Professor Deborah Duncan Owens says the ECAA should be rejected for two reasons: standardized tests and charter expansion. She says the language of ECAA does nothing to change the annual high stakes for children in grades three through eight and once in high school whether it is the federal government or the state adopting the testing. She maintains that the tests merely “measure, sort, and label – they don’t educate”. Also, nearly 10% of the bill is devoted to the expansion of charter schools with the ALEC and neoliberal goal of public school privatization. Owens says, of 590 pages of text, “fifty-five of those pages — nearly 10% — outline a plan to expand charter schools.”
An amendment that the White House and neoliberal Democrats lobbied heavily for was the Murphy Amendment. As described by teacher-blogger Mercedes Schneider:
Senator [Elizabeth] Warren’s (D-MA) amendment 2120, “to amend section 1111(d) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 regarding the cross-tabulation of student data,” was withdrawn on July 15, 2015, even as a beefier amendment, Senator [Chris] Murphy’s (D-CT) amendment 2241 (which Warren co-sponsored) went up for a vote and was rejected 43-54. The 12-page text of Murphy’s SA 2241 reads more like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), with its detailed prescription for reporting on student test results, for “meaningfully differentiating among all public schools” (i.e., grading schools), including publicly identifying the lowest five percent, and, among interventions, potentially firing staff and offering students the option to transfer to other schools and using part of the budget to pay for the transportation.
Note that only two Democrats voted against this expansion of classic corporate education reform methods with even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sander [I-VT] supporting a doubling down of the test and punish of NCLB. The unanimous vote of the Republicans against the Murphy amendment, which will be explained later in this post, was the only reason it was defeated.
Heavily lobbying for the Murphy amendment were old guard national civil rights groups such as the Urban League and the NAACP. Their reason was the belief that standardized tests are needed to identify low performing students. This ignores that the fact that test scores are not used for pedagogical reasons but to rate and rank students and schools for closing and/or turnaround to charter companies. In addition, research has consistently shown that academic achievement and family income are the most reliable predictors of students’ academic success. It is not necessary to torture students with standardized tests for test company profits in order to establish the need for funding in low-income community schools.
An additional amendment, crucial for defenders of opting-out was also defeated. Senator Mike Lee’s [R-UT] amendment would have given federal protections for parents nationwide that opt out their children from federally mandated standardized tests without penalizing school districts with federal sanctions.
The Senate voted 64 to 32 against federal protections for opting-out. Once again, the Democrats were unanimous in opposition to protections for parents being able to opt-out of corporate education standardized testing.
Mercedes Schneider hailed it as a victory that both the Senate and House ECAA bill allow for states to allow Opting Out without penalty. In other words, states that allow parents to opt-out their children from standardized tests will not have their federal funding for education penalized as exists under NCLB. However, as was seen in the recent years long battle over marriage equality, having fifty different state standards is inherently inequitable. Won’t this lead to years of lawsuits by parents because they are not given the same rights to opt out as parents in other states? Has any state ever allowed opting out through legislative action? Up until now opting-out has been done by parents as an act if civil disobedience. If federal sanctions are removed without opting-out protections, will legislators be more willing to pass opt-out legislation or will ALEC legislators and neoliberal Democratic legislators in each state double down on standardized testing? At the very least, the Opt-Out movement will be faced with the daunting task of fighting different configurations of standardized tests in each state. Regardless, the momentum for opting-out will increase as Common Core cut scores are ratcheted up to fail ever more students as is happening in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education on July, 9, 2015 raised the bar for student achievement with more rigorous standards retroactive to the already completed 2015 tests. This can only increase parents and educators concerns that test scores are being manipulated by subjectively selecting cut scores to create a “failing schools, teachers, and students” narrative.
Once again old guard civil right groups supported corporate education reform by lobbying against the opting-out amendment. The reasons for this can be seen in their successful lobbying of Democratic Governor Jack Markell of Delaware who vetoed an opt-out bill on July 16th. The one thing these dozen civil rights groups share in common is that they are heavily funded by the Gates Foundation.
At the recent national NAACP convention in Philadelphia, the charter company KIPP was given an honored place in the proceedings. Tracy McDaniel, a KIPP leader, was given the U. S. Department of Education’s Terrel Bell Award in 2012, Members of the NAACP should consider the recent disclosures that the pedagogical methods used at KIPP were developed by Marty Seligman, a psychologist who was involved in advising the CIA in psychological techniques to prepare soldiers for combat and to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and advised the CIA on counterterrorism psychological torture methods.
Defeated in the U.S. Senate were several efforts to establish a federal voucher program to provide vouchers that would have taken money for public schools and given it to private and parochial schools. One voucher bill, for example sponsored by Senator Tim Scott [D-SC] which he called the “Title I Portability Act” would have allowed federal funding to follow students whose parents enroll them in private and parochial schools, a federal route to vouchers. The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association heavily lobbied against this and other attempts at federal school vouchers. The amendment was defeated with 45 yeas and 51 Nays with four not voting. A majority of Republican voted for the Scott amendment and the majority of Democrats against.
This opposition to federal vouchers does not apply to the AFT’s and NEA’s position on vouchers in the states, however. Over the last ten years both organizations have given the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) over $10 million in funds donated by their members for political lobbying (not union dues). Members of the DGA are overwhelmingly in support of corporate education reform including school vouchers. The AFT supported the election of Governor Dannel Molloy of Connecticut in 2011 and New York Governor Andrew Como in 2011despite their anti-public education, pro-voucher policies. Cuomo is an outspoken supporter of Earned Income Tax Credits which allows businesses to divert tax money, which has historically benefitted public schools, and give their taxes to private and parochial for students in the program.
Teacher union leaders and ECAA
The AFT gave muted support to ECAA, when Weingarten said, “America’s students, educators and parents are counting on Congress to use the Senate bill as the basis for a law that President Obama will sign.” This statement reflects AFT President Randi Weingarten’s alignment with the Obama administration. It also reflects the unhappiness of the Obama administration with the bill because it would give more power to the states in education policy.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the NEA said on the NEA website,
“Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by No Child Left Untested,” Eskelsen García says. “This bill reflects a paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, narrow the curriculum and that they fought to change.”
The tepid AFT support was drowned out by the panicked, premature and undemocratic endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President by the AFT that drew massive opposition from the rank and file. (Anyone who as read this reporter’s article “Eli Broad and the Clintons” was not surprised at the endorsement.)
For his part, Bill Clinton spent the week of the ECAA vote making the rounds at the NAACP convention and television talk shows to issue mea culpas for his role in the explosion of the prison population due to his administration’s policies, the massive exodus of jobs to low income countries through such programs his adoption of NAFTA, and his repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which removed banking regulation and unleashed a massive shift of wealth from the 99% to the elite 1%. No mea culpa was issued for his role in promoting corporate education reform that laid the groundwork for the attempted privatization of public education. He made no proposals about what should be done to reverse the disastrous impact of his policies. Many see his apologies as a cynical attempt to get back into the center of power in the White House.
For her part, Randi Weingarten is completely on board with the corporate education reform agenda. For years she has collaborated with the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation to advance their privatization goals. In 2010, in collaboration with the right-wing, anti-union American Enterprise Institute, Weingarten testified three times before Congress in support of the Gates Foundation’s goal to use standardized test scores as a large part of teacher evaluations.
In an appearance at the national conference of the April 2015 Network for Public Education, Weingarten and the NEA’s Lily Eskin Garcia were asked by Diane Ravitch; “The Walton, Gates and Broad Foundations are at the forefront of the privatization movement. Will you commit not to accept funding from them and not to collaborate with them?” Both answered, “Yes”, to a standing ovation.
Just two days after her appearance at NPE, in her usual sleight of hand method, Weingarten gave the opening speech at the Center for American Progress, a “liberal philanthropy that is heavily funded by Wal-Mart” (see previous link), on the topic “How Teachers Are Leading the Way to Successful Common Core Implementation”. Weingarten’s call for a moratorium on standardized tests while they are being “fixed” is an obvious way to undermine the Opt-Out movement.
Garcia’s view on Common Core was given in an interview in Utah’s Desert News published on July 10, 2015, where Garcia says,
I love (emphasis in the original) the Common Core. But the disconnect is when people set out to hook the Common Core to a high-stakes test that may or may not have anything to do with higher level critical thinking skills. Texas is not in the Common Core, and they have the worst testing regime, next Florida. New York is doing it all wrong. California is taking their time, and doing it all right. So it’s not the Common Core.
Mercedes Schneider points out in a May 18th post, NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia Remains Faithful to Gates Funding. Schneider says,
It is no secret that NEA is all in for CCSS. So, the fact that Gates is all in is no problem for Garcia. As of May 2015, the Gates Foundation has paid the NGA Foundation $4.6 million for CCSS implementation. Gates was asked to foot the bill for CCSS before there was a CCSS. Gates agreed. And in the following several years, NEA has raked in upwards $5 million for a CCSS that surely did not originate with NEA. Yet Garcia maintains, “Outside funders don’t drive our mission.We drive funders to our members and their ideas….”
During May, 2015 Garcia posted as a guest blogger on the Ed Week blog Straight Up. The blog host, Rick Hess, is the Director of Education Policy Studies at the right-wing, anti-union American Enterprise Institute. (Advisors listed on its Scholars List include John “Bomb Iran” Bolton, Lynn Cheney, wife of former Vice President Cheney, and Charles Murray, author of the racist “The Bell Curve”). For a number of years Randi Weingarten has been collaborating with them to try and reassure this corporate, anti-union think tank that the AFT poses no threat to their interests. On June 18, 2014 Weingarten was interviewed for an hour before an audience of supporters of AEI. So it is no surprise that Garcia would want to be included in this collaboration. These are her articles in Straight Up:
Is There a Doctor in the Education House? – May 18, 2015
Happiness Is a Post-Standardized-Test World – May 19, 2015
To Opt Out or Not to Opt Out: That's Not the Question – May 20, 201
Finland Schools Are Fine, but Helena Schools Are Heavenly – May 21, 2015
The essence of Garcia’s position, like that of Weingarten’s, is that standardized tests must be “fixed”. Her conclusion to the “To Opt Out or Not to Opt Out” post is:
The testing monster will not be tamed by tinkering with opting out of testing day. The abuse will continue until appropriate assessments are used in appropriate ways. That's a heavy lift. No matter. There's a lot of muscle out there ready to do this right.
At the recent NEA national convention a number of Opt Out proposals were debated. As reported by Ed Week’s Teacher Beat they included:
NBI 5: This item would require the NEA to join in support of a nationwide opt-out movement and repeal any provision of national, state, and local laws that penalize parents, teachers, or students in relation to opt-out decisions. Result: The NBI went down by a standing vote, which seems to underscore the union's somewhat mixed feelings about opt-out.
NBI 50: If passed, this NBI would require the NEA to recognize parents who stand with teachers by opting out their students. Adopted.
NBI 115: Would require the NEA to work within existing structures to support a national opt out/test refusal movement. Adopted.
Given the hidden in plain sight support of the AFT, NEA and old guard civil rights groups for corporate education reform, neoliberal Democrats had no problem with openly supporting measures that would advance the corporate agenda because they felt these leaders support them. If the Republicans had not unanimously voted against the Murphy amendment, this doubling down of NCLB’s test and punish would have passed. This is not because the Republicans have any concern about public education and the education of the 99%. Far from it! Their concern is “states rights” to advance corporate and financial interests without federal interference. The issue of states rights has a dark history in the United States.
Should U.S. education policy be based on states’ rights?
From the beginnings of the American Republic, there has been a conflict between those wanting a strong federal government and those that wanted states rights to be paramount. At the beginning of the republic, the Southern slaveocracy jealously guarded the right to enslave African-Americans promoted by asserting states rights over the federal government. The Constitutional Convention had been called in 1787 to overcome the Articles of Confederation that had a very weak central government and replace it with a federal Constitution. This was achieved by the three-fifths compromise that enshrined slavery in the American South, based on states rights, for the next one hundred years. This allowed the southern slave states to achieve dominance in the U.S. government because slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person (with absolutely no rights, including the right to life, of course) in apportioning Congressional seats based on population. Instead of “We the People”, the Preamble to the Constitution should actually be, “We male property owners of European descent, in order to form a more perfect union…” The ideas of the Enlightenment contained in the Constitution, which made it a document of world historic importance, were the theory, but the practice was very different.
Only the Civil War put an end to this condition. For those who say the South was just fighting for states rights and they are upholding that tradition, look at what this tradition meant in the Confederate States Constitution. States rights in the Confederate Constitution meant the right of Europeans to own Africans as slaves. The former slave owners ended Reconstruction ten years after the Civil War and through pogroms, lynching, and terror maintained a system of racial segregation and serfdom that lasted one hundred years, all under the guise of states rights. In the 1954 case Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ended school segregation by ethnicity with opponents once again asserted states right to keep segregation.
Those who might rejoice at the passage of the Every Child Achieves Act as a curbing of the federal role in education (with the focus at the moment being the power of Arne Duncan sanction states for not following NCLB) should consider this history. States’ rights are also a favorite tactic of the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) that writes legislation to be introduced by member legislators to promote corporate and business interests. All across the country, ALEC legislators are starving public schools to make fully funded charters attractive to parents to advance a privatization agenda.
What has confused many has been that neoliberal Democrats in leadership positions are promoting the corporate education reform agenda that is about the privatization of public schools. It is ironic that Bill Clinton spent the week of the ECAA vote issuing mea culpas for his devastating neoliberal agenda that he advanced through the Democratic Leadership Council during his administration in the ‘90’s. This began the neoliberal turn of the Democratic Party. The core of this organization was the belief that the reform of the capitalist economic system undertaken during the Depression in the 1930’s with the New Deal and the Great Society programs of the 1960’s must be rolled back. The almost unanimous vote of Democratic Senators for the attempted doubling down of NCLB in ECAA with the Murphy Amendment signals the triumph of neoliberalism in the Democratic Party. It can now be seen that the New Deal was a reform of the capitalist system to head off the growth of a political movement by the 99% in the 1930’s that would have changed the political and economic structure of American society in the interests of the 99%.
Some grassroots comment on ECAA
Having no friends in high places, the grassroots movement against corporate education reform has been trying to develop a plan independently to take back our public schools.
After passage of ECAA, the Network for Public Education and Diane Ravitch issued a statement giving “qualified endorsement” to ECAA. While expressing dismay at the continuation of annual standardized testing and federal support for charter schools they held that the end of NCLB and Race to the Top was worth the compromise.
On July 7th, nearly two hundred Civil Rights and Community Groups sent a letter to the Senate demanding fair and equitable reforms in the ESEA reauthorization. In it they demanded an end to high stakes testing, which is being used to close and privatize community schools in low-income communities, and an end to federal support for charter schools. They conclude:
The groups reaffirm four primary ESEA demands established in a letter sent by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS)—a signatory on this week’s letter—to House and Senate leadership in March. Those demands include:
- · $1 billion in funding to increase the number of sustainable community schools, which provide an array of wrap around services and after school programs and engaging, relevant, challenging curriculum while supporting quality teaching and transformative parent & community engagement;
- · $500 million for restorative justice coordinators and training to promote positive approached to discipline;
- · Full resourcing of Title I of the ESEA, including $20 billion in funding this year for schools that serve the most low income students, building to the 40% increase in funding for poor schools originally envisioned in the legislation;
National United Opt Out issued a statement after the Senate adoption of ECAA. They reject ECAA stating:
So long as the POWER structure remains intact, we cannot imagine that any fair, equitable, and truly meaningful state mandated assessment would do anything other than that which it has historically done with NCLB. While ECAA promises to remove the stranglehold of the federal government from state-level decisions and promises to alleviate the “high stakes” attached to teacher and school evaluations, it does not alleviate the corporate ownership over STATE-LEVEL policy makers; nor will it remove or nullify the influence of STATE-LEVEL education leaders equally corrupt as their federal counterparts. Standardized testing of ANY KIND is their primary vehicle to maintain the power structure that currently exists.
Revisions to and the reauthorization of ESEA (currently NCLB) is and will always be unacceptable. If we continue to ASK them for the changes and compromises on what we know is necessary to sustain quality and equity in public education, we are conceding that they still possess legitimate POWER to make poor decisions FOR US. We want MORE. For the administrators of United Opt Out National, only powerful, revolutionary actions to dismantle the corrupt political, economic, and social structures that strangle public education are acceptable while the acquiescence and compromise are not. What is acceptable is shifting the forces of power by claiming our power.
The problem is not the federal role in education, but whose government it is. Right now we have a government of, by and for the 1%. Only when the 99% breaks with the two-party system and develops a grass roots movement that establishes a government of, by, and for the people will we see our way forward to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We can only achieve liberty by reclaiming our public schools as a cornerstone of democracy.
We Shall Overcome…Our Lack of Standardized Tests?
gadflyonthewallblog – July 19, 2015
Rebel flag is more than racism
Substance News - July 20, 2015
We Are All Greeks Now by Chris Hedges
Bill Moyers & Company - July 20, 2015
Education Groups to Leaders in Congress: Get ESEA Rewrite Over Finish Line
Education Week: Politics K-12 - July 22, 2015
AFT and NEA leadership and old guard Civil Rights leaders want to ensure high stakes testing and Common Core are set for years to come.
Open Letter to Senator Sanders
HuffPost Education - July 23, 2015
Rank and file teachers educate Bernie Sanders about high stakes testing and Common Core.
TFA endorses Murphy's Law
Gary Rubinstein's Blog - July 23, 2015
TFA supports a doubling down of NCLB testing in the Murphy amendment.
Down and Out and Lobbying for Public Education
gadflyonthewallblog - July 25, 2015
A revealing look at Congressional attitudes about the ESEA rewrite and support (or lack thereof) for public education.
I'm Not Grateful for Compromise
Peg with Pen - July 27, 2015
National Opt Out's Peggy Robertson is not grateful about being asked to compromise on ESEA rewrite.
BATS Quality of Workplace Team Meets with USDOE - 7/24/15
Baddass Teachers Association - July 27, 2015
Officials of the AFT and BATS met with USDOE officals. Apparently only treatment of teachers was discussed, not opt-out, not corporate education reform.
Accountability Grabs the Spotlight at Senate ESSA Oversight Hearing
Education Week - February 23, 2016
Randi Weingarten does damage control to keep teacher accountability tied to standardized test.
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Chicago's Substance News