Patty Murray’s ESEA Re-Write Leaves No Assessment Behind



Being somewhat naive, I had hoped No Child Left Behind (NCLB) would die quietly, without notice.

Regrettably, a few somebodies were paying attention. After all, way too much money was on the line to let this colossal failure slip gently into the night. So, like so many bad federal policies backed by powerful lobbyists–NCLB could not die.

Of course, the first hurdle to reauthorization was the name. No Child Left Behind has become so toxic and synonymous with failed education policy, something had to be done.

The difficult route would have been to rewrite the bill and put as many federal dollars as possible directly into the classroom.

Dollars to fund things like: smaller class size, librarians, counselors, nurses, art, music, an aid for every student with an IEP, money to build new schools, an aid for every English Language learner, competitive teacher salaries, money for full school days, paper, pencils, band instruments, full time PE teachers, tutors for struggling students, money to rebuild crumbling schools, full time cafeteria workers, recess monitors, after school enrichment programs, (add your school’s need here).

Patty Murray’s solution: a radical rebranding –which tones down the rhetoric of failure, and adds a just a hint of smaller class size.

Now NCLB has been renamed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. To make it even more confusing, the reauthorization is referred to as the ESEA, going back to the original bill — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

The ESEA is being sold as somehow “fixing” the problems of NCLB.

Sorry, I just don’t see it.

Sure, the idiotic 100% proficiency clause for reading and math is gone — which, after Washington State lost its NCLB waiver, labeled almost every school in our state a failure.

Let’s not forget: this epic fail of federal policy ALSO provided many parents an emperor has no clothes moment regarding high stakes testing AND added fuel to this year’s unprecedented number of statewide opt outs of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Patty Murray’s ESEA still sticks with grants –reinforcing the faulty assumption that public schools should forever be on notice and competing for scarce resources. Not to be forgotten, these grants always come with a number of strings attached, especially for poorer schools.

Here’s a thought: why not cut out all of the non-profits and other education middle men and simply fund schools based on need. Imagine, under this type of allotment system, schools like Dearborn Park could have a counselor AND printer paper.

The supposed big victory, however, is that states will regain local control. Mind you, George W. Bush also sold NCLB as an instrument of local control. Really.

The philosophy behind the law is pretty straightforward: Local schools remain under local control. In exchange for federal dollars, however, we expect results. We’re spending money on schools, and shouldn’t we determine whether or not the money we’re spending is yielding the results society expects?

I actually believe schools should be under local control, but allow me to play the devil’s advocate on the transformative power of the ESEA’s local control.

Arne Duncan has already put in place the common core standards and the associated high stakes assessments. Removing control from the federal level and shifting it to the states does little to change what amounts to a national curriculum tied to the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests. That structure is already in place, thanks to the DOE.

Yes, the ESEA changes “failing” schools to “identified” and specifies intervention at the state, rather than federal level.

Now Randy Dorn –who has no qualms issuing dire warning against opting out, and Washington State’s unelected State Board, will get to call the shots, instead of Duncan. Is this an improvement? I don’t thinks so.

Then there’s the deal breaker: ESEA keeps the grade span standardized tests.


NCLB introduced the idea that standardized testing should be the ultimate measure of school performance. These scores would be used to rank and sort students, teachers, and schools across districts -and now states – thanks to common core. This creates two categories: winners and losers. Of course, winners should be rewarded and losers punished.

I’ll let George W. Bush explain:

Measuring results allows us to focus resources on children who need extra help. And measuring gives parents something to compare other schools with. You oftentimes hear, oh, gosh, I wish parents were more involved. Well, one way to get parental involvement is to post results. Nothing will get a parent’s attention more than if he or she sees that the school her child goes to isn’t performing as well as the school around the corner.

Measurement is essential to success. When schools fall short of standards year after year, something has to happen. In other words, there has to be a consequence in order for there to be effective reforms. And one such thing that can happen is parents can enroll their children in another school. It’s — to me, measurement is the gateway to true reform, and measurement is the best way to ensure parental involvement.

By the way, school choice was only open to rich people up until No Child Left Behind. It’s hard for a lot of parents to be able to afford to go to any other kind of school but their neighborhood school. Now, under this system, if your public school is failing, you’ll have the option of transferring to another public school or charter school. And it’s — I view that as liberation. I view that as empowerment.

High stakes testing is THE tool used to punish and close public schools. Struggling schools need extra resources, not more pressure on students, teachers, and administrators.

High stakes testing also puts the responsibility of accountability on the shoulders of children, who have to take these tests – rather than the politicians and educrats who create disastrous education policies. This is a perversion of the word accountability.

Word has it President Obama threatened to veto the ESEA, if annual testing was removed. From nprEd:

In a speech Monday at an elementary school in Washington, D.C., Education Secretary Arne Duncan laid out the president’s position on the nation’s largest federal education law, even as debate unfolds over the law’s re-authorization.

Duncan called No Child Left Behind “tired” and “prescriptive.” Nevertheless, he declared that the law’s central requirement should stand: annual, mandated statewide assessments from third grade through eighth, plus one test in high school.

Some Republicans in Congress have been discussing the idea of reducing or eliminating those testing requirements.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Patty Murray dusted off her 30 year old PTA and school board credentials in order to sell her NCLB rewrite. Patty Murray in the Washington Post:

“But M. President, that doesn’t mean we should roll back standards or accountability for schools to provide a quality education. We need to make sure we establish expectations for our students that put them on a path to competing in the 21st century global economy.

“And let me be clear on assessments. First, we know that if we don’t have ways to measure students’ progress, and if we don’t hold states accountable, the victims will invariably be the kids from poor neighborhoods, children of color, and students with disabilities. These are the students who, too often, fall through the cracks. And that’s just not fair.

“True accountability makes sure we’re holding our schools up to our nation’s promise of equality and justice. This is a civil rights issue, plain and simple.

“Another reason assessments are important is they help parents monitor their child’s progress. And if a school is consistently failing to provide a quality education year after year, parents deserve to know.

“And third, we shouldn’t forget that this law provides the nation’s largest federal investment in K through 12 education. It would be irresponsible to ask taxpayers to spend billions of dollars on education without knowing if it’s making a difference in students’ lives.

Wow, Patty Murray sure sounds like George W. Bush. The love-fest for high stakes testing really is a bipartisan affair. And then there’s this:

“M. President, we need to make sure that these assessments don’t lead to unintended consequences. But I would be very concerned about any proposal that rolls back this key student and taxpayer protection and accountability tool.

Here’s another interesting part of accountability: it never applies to the corporations, non-profits, and other organizations which create, administer, or collect the data from these standardized assessments.

The cost and quality of these assessments are also outside the realm of acceptable debate. No talk about “taxpayer protection” or any “accountability tools” when it comes to the obscene amounts of money being spent on these assessments or has gone into the testing infrastructure.

Never mind the $330 million used to develop the SBAC and PARCC tests or OSPI’s estimated five year district level cost of $165,500,000 for the implementation of the common core standards in Washington State. We should also ignore the numerous scoring errors and any data breaches as well. Funny how accountability doesn’t go both ways.

Of course, the real crisis in America’s public schools is childhood poverty, the answer to which will never be found on a high stakes standardized test.

One of the cruelest twists of this whole sad affair is that the original ESEA was written to directly fight childhood poverty, NOT create a testocracy. Too bad Patty Murray doesn’t understand this.

You can contact Patty Murray toll free at (866) 481-9186.

-Carolyn Leith

5 thoughts on “Patty Murray’s ESEA Re-Write Leaves No Assessment Behind

  1. Outstanding job Carolyn Leith! YAY! And Dora too. We’ll win this fight because it’s a moral issue. The more people see this… the more they will be unable to see this and they will do something.

  2. Dear Sue, Dora, and Carolyn:

    I enjoy your newsletter and I mention many of the posts to my students. They are all teacher candidates. Thus it occurs to me that you do not have a category of news items about teacher preparation, an important link in the feeder system to produce more teachers. As you know, there is something of a shortage. Apparently even if every teacher preparation program in the state doubles its graduates there will still not be enough new teachers to fill all classrooms, and that’s before McCleary is addressed. Yet across the board we see declining enrollments and whole endorsement programs are being closed due to strict funding formulas requiring them to be self-sufficient.

    The re-written NCLB is the topic of the blog that arrived today, and I was surprised that in the long list of things worthy of redirected post-NCLB funds did not include the tragically underfunded college students whose debt discourages them to pursue lesser-paying careers, like teaching. Interestingly, countries that fully fund higher education report that more students go into service sector jobs that pay less but are of great social worth, like teaching.

    Legislation aimed at raising the standard of excellence for new teachers is at odds with the pressure on university programs to reduce required credits and ensure graduation in a timely manner. This is a challenge with the increased range of competencies required of the candidates and with the decreased time they have to devote to their studies because nearly all of them have to work. It seems logical to reduce the need to work at the same time as they must prepare for the complexities of the classroom.

    The influence of teacher preparation programs is difficult to measure given how many factors are involved, and perhaps there has been too much emphasis in the past on Carnegie units and the quality of ‘inputs’ from the faculty. The NCLB era and the SLIG/EALR/WASL era reforms of the WBEA prompted the current trend toward standardized measures, that is, easily obtained data with little to recommend its use to hold schools and teachers accountable. It is instructive that the Washington law that restructured the profession (to include a ‘residency’ certificate similar to a medical school model and created the governor-appointed Professional Education Standards Board) was self-described as a ‘consumer protection’ bill. That clearly identifies the stakeholders as being the taxpayer, not the student. In Norway, laws regarding schools are framed as the rights of children.

    At any rate, we do have more scrutiny in the admission and advancement of candidates, perhaps to the good, but with its own unintended consequences. Did you know that there is irrefutable evidence of the bias in the West-B test that candidates must, by state law, pass in order to be admitted to a teacher education program? Yes, they should certainly be literate to be teachers, but why is there such a disparity between their performance on the West-B and their SAT/ACT scores compared to other populations? Of the three sections, the Writing is failed as much as the other two, Reading and Mathematics, combined. The students who fail it are predictably those least prepared to write well, often due to patterns of unconventional English, and are least able to pay the horrific costs (over $100) each time they must re-take it. Not only that, Pearson, which administers the test, charges a criminal fee ($140) for them to get the diagnostics that would help us help them prepare.

    However, a federal law due to be enacted next month poses a more alarming threat. Here is a summary “The Secretary proposes new regulations to implement requirements for the teacher preparation program accountability system under title II of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), that would result in the development and distribution of more meaningful data on teacher preparation program quality (title II reporting system). … These proposed regulations would address shortcomings in the current system by defining the indicators of quality that States will use to assess the performance of their teacher preparation programs, (Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 232 / Wednesday, December 3, 2014 / Proposed Rules p. 71820)

    It, too, is a consumer protection bill, arguing that candidates should have the equivalent of a consumer report to comparison shop for a bargain university. This begs the question of whether students attend universities for a liberal arts education that will promote a mature, ethical, tolerant, and productive graduate. I have long insisted “We are not a trade school. We are an institution of higher education. We don’t just perform tasks. We solve problems and make decisions that affect lives.” However, the indicators that this new federally mandated system would use (and that are already being implemented by PESB) are
    a. associated student learning outcome results;
    b. teacher placement results;
    c. teacher retention results;
    d. teacher placement rate calculated for high-need school results;
    e. teacher retention rate calculated for high-need school results;
    f. teacher satisfaction survey results;
    g. employer satisfaction survey results; and
    h. assurance of specialized accreditation or assurance of content and pedagogical knowledge, quality clinical preparation, and rigorous entry and exit standards. (p. 71877)

    Why is this horrifying? For its omission of critical factors in teacher effectiveness and its failure to address rival hypothesis that would explain different outcomes. Compare them to the questions teacher preparation programs typically use to assess their quality: What did we teach them? Did they learn what we taught them? Are they doing what we taught them? Is what they are doing resulting in student learning? Only the last question is related to the eight criteria to be used in the database to compare teacher education programs.

    What other profession is monitored this way? I know of no medical schools that are graded according to their graduates’ employment or patient morbidity; no dental schools held accountable for their graduate’s record of patients’ x-rays showing fewer caries. Yet what other profession than teaching is essential for the fabric of society to function? The classroom teachers who are abandoning their white boards because of the high stakes accountability and thankless hours spent on paperwork to defend themselves are now echoed with the teacher educators who wonder if there is any hope of the once-noble effort to be change agents for a better world through the preparation of teachers.

    Well, I did truly begin this message in order to thank you for your diligent reporting. We are a hundred miles from Seattle yet in the thick of the circumstances. Most of our students are from the west side and nearly all of them student teach along the I-5 corridor. If you are monitoring the realities of your district’s classrooms, you are no doubt aware of the crisis in simply placing candidates for the 450 hours clinical experience required for certification and the increased responsibilities expected of mentors.

    Thank you again and I hope you don’t mind my sharing these concerns.

    Naomi Jeffery Petersen, EdD
    Associate Professor, Education Foundations & Curriculum
    Coordinator, Professional Education Program
    (509) 607-9407

    “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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