by Jia Lee, Chapter Leader, The Earth School
MORE/New Action 2016 Candidate for President of the UFT
Here is the disturbing email that all UFT members received on Tuesday, December 1, a day before the Federal HELP Senate Committee was to vote on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). UFT President Michael Mulgrew urges us to contact our senators to “Vote Yes” and I can only stare in shock at the screen.
We’re almost there.
For years, the UFT, in partnership with the AFT and education advocacy groups, has been lobbying Congress to fix the problems created by the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top, particularly the mandates that tied test scores to teacher evaluation and turned our classrooms into test-prep factories.
Congress is now set to vote on a new education bill that will get the federal government out of the business of teacher evaluations and offers real relief from the testing fixation that has increasingly narrowed the curriculum and done little to close the achievement gap.
Please ask your House representative to vote “YES” to support the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, signed by George W. Bush, established punitive measures for public schools tied to student performance on annual tests for students in grades 3 through 8. The stakes associated with these new tests grew ever higher when the Obama administration, through Race to the Top, required states to tie teacher evaluation to standardized test scores.
Today, thanks to pressure from the UFT, the AFT and parents all across the country, lawmakers from both parties are calling for the repeal of these mandates. The proposed bill will maintain annual testing but removes the punishments for struggling schools and eliminates the federal regulation that required the use of test scores in evaluating teachers.
The bill also maintains the law’s historic commitment to targeting funding to districts and schools serving high concentrations of poor children. New York City depends upon the law’s Title I provisions — preserved in the new bill — which provide funding to help bridge the gap between children from low-income families and those whose families are more affluent.
We believe this bill sets the stage for educators to once again focus on student learning.
Thank you for everything that you do.
|United Federation of Teachers • A Union of Professionals
52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 • 212.777.7500 • www.uft.org
In what is being touted as a fix for the many problems of No Child Left Behind, members have a right to know that the full 1,059 page reauthorization came out only a few days before the vote. While it includes removal of teacher evaluations based on test scores and leaves the decision to the states, this does not do enough to disconnect misguided “accountability” measures from schools through the use of standardized testing. Further, there are grave problems that reek of catering to private interests. By now, we know that since NCLB, education policies have been rooted in the interests of private corporations and groups, such as ALEC, the Waltons, Rupert Murdoch, Bill and Melinda Gates and others. Read on to find out more that is being uncovered as the public has a chance to read and digest the densely packed document.
The logical “Action Alert” we would hope to expect would not just include a call to contact our elected officials to “Vote No”, but we would have been given the chance for some kind of analysis, even if there is a lack of time for discussion. There is a deja vu in the feeling of being rushed to take a position on something we hardly know enough about, such as the last contract negotiation.
Here are just some of the reasons why any UFT member in NYC, if given the chance to fully understand for ourselves the implications of ESSA, would never take an action to support its passing. Linked are the numerous articles by trusted and respected education experts in the movement to save our schools, responding to the the problems within this legislation that will most likely go into law. ESSA is riddled with language that opens the way for continued benefits for edu-corporations and venture philanthropists who the UFT leadership purports to fight against:
- The bill was issued for review on November 30 and then rewritten and redistributed one day before the vote. That hardly gave time for senators to exercise protocols for democratic debate over the 1,000+ page document. That alone should raise red flags, and in a world where folks are really following the presidential election, it makes sense that the UFT and AFT would support the passage of this bill, since it removes the federal role in how states determine testing and accountability. After all, the AFT announced an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton, whose connections to the elite would benefit from taking the issue off the table altogether.
- There is still annual testing mandated for grades 3-8 and high school science, with reporting based on race, class and English Language acquisition. The federal government did not remove the 95% standardized test participation rate currently necessary for schools and districts to avoid potential penalties, and has doubled down on heavily discouraging parents from choosing to opt their children out of standardized testing. Annual testing is, above all, a cash cow for testing and ed corporations. This will now be continued at the state, rather than federal level.
- Under Title I, Part D, “Pay for Success” investors can earn money for not referring students for special education services. This is alarming since, across the city, state and nation, our most vulnerable students are not receiving the services they are legally entitled to and need as it is. Read more here, in a piece that is posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog.
- Under the rewrite, teacher preparation programs now incentivize programs organized by the very venture philanthropists who have churned out short-term teachers for placement in poor urban districts with the goal of increasing student achievement through test scores. Read the Washington Post piece by Kenneth Zeichner, member of the National Academy of Education and professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. and another must read piece by Mercedes Schneider here.
- Taking a step back, the entire process was political, with little to gain for our students, teachers and public schools. In fact, many of the components provide the space to increase charter caps, create an influx and incentivization of Teach for America type programs, alignment of tests to standards (Common Core or state produced), and the biggest hits are to our students who are English Language Learners and to special education mandates under IDEA. Read for yourself.
Instead of doing this analysis, the leadership credits the UFT, AFT and parents across the country for putting pressure on elected officials to remove the mandates for teacher evaluations based on value added metrics. This is incorrect. The UFT and AFT never placed any such pressure. In fact, they whole heartedly agreed to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
It was the grass roots organizing of parents, teachers of conscience and supporters of public education who made the opt out movement a force of change. Mulgrew once stated at a delegate assembly in June of 2015 that 19 teachers in a Brooklyn high school were being rated “ineffective” by their administrator. According to him, their VAM score saved them. We say that there is clearly some other problem that needs to be addressed at the school when an administrator is gunning for 19 teachers. Many teachers in our city can attest to the micromanagement so prevalent in our schools. Instead of addressing this most pressing issue for his members, Mulgrew tells us it’s fine when it works in his favor politically.
Call to Action: If you feel compelled, United Opt Out has created an online petition where you can add your name to the list of people who are calling for senators to Vote NO.
Join MORE caucus as we continue to call for a broader analysis of the ESEA reauthorization to understand how this will impact our schools, communities, students and our profession.