Republican Dominated Congress Betrays Students
A Republican and a Democrat worked together to create education policy in hopes of improving student performance. The new bill is a disaster. It increases the federal role in education, it ignores the rights of parents to determine what’s best for their children, and it expands the amount of student data collected and stored in an often unsecured manner.
Some might guess the described law is No Child Left Behind, a collaboration between President George W. Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy that never worked. But now it is the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, an equally misnamed law that will likely cause just as much chaos as No Child Left Behind did.
ESSA was cooked up by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democrat Senator Patty Murray. It was passed by a Congress that at best can be called “White Flag,” a term Eagle Forum uses when Republicans are willing to give in to whatever the Democrats want. Despite desperate pleas from parents who took the time to read the bill, the Republican-controlled House passed ESSA with a vote of 359 to 64. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill 85 to 12. Many believe those who are supposed to represent the people are actually deceiving them, or too lazy to read the bills they end up passing.
Congress claims that ESSA reins in the power of the Secretary of Education. But under ESSA, according to Education Week, “States would still have to submit accountability plans to the Education Department.” Sounds like federal control. But not to worry because “a state could get a hearing if the department turned down its plan.”(Education Week, 11-30-15)
The public won’t know for a while how bad the law passed in December of 2015 is because they are being lied to by their representatives, by the press, and by many education think tanks and gurus that are praising ESSA as the undoing of NCLB. The talking points aren’t borne out by an actual reading of the 1,061-page law, passed within hours of its release by the committee that reconciled the House and Senate versions. The reconciliation committee stripped out every conservative measure that was previously included.
While stating in a few places that the Secretary of Education doesn’t have final say over what states decide about education, in statement after statement, the bill gives the final say and the purse strings to the U.S. Department of Education.
How They Lie to Us
Parents who begged their representatives to vote against the bill received responses full of misstatements, like those from North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican who won his 2012 election by promising to govern as a conservative.
ESSA returns responsibility for education standards and accountability measures to where it belongs — the states. This bill ends the Common Core mandate and ensures that states decide what academic standards they will adopt, without interference from the federal government. ESSA also repeals numerous federal mandates on standardized testing, allowing North Carolina and other states to test less frequently and customize testing strategies.
The bill doesn’t do any of those things. Tillis concludes his letter with a thanks for contacting him, and, “Please do not hesitate to contact me again about other important issues.” One wonders, “Why bother?” His vote might be explained by the fact that he was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a major cheerleader for Common Core. The Chamber of Commerce contributed $2.7 million to the Tillis campaign. (Triangle Business Journal, 11-5-14)
Politico wrote an article titled, “How Congress finally killed No Child Left Behind.” But they didn’t kill it. Congress changed the name to an equally utopian sounding “Every Student Succeeds” and doubled down on federal control, mandated testing, and threw in a costly preschool monstrosity that will harm young children.
“ESSA codifies a new $250 million per year pre-K education program, thus asserting federal intervention even earlier in children’s lives.” (HeritageActionScorecard.com, 12-11-15)
The ability of parents to opt their children out of testing is effectively eliminated. Under ESSA, states must guarantee that 95% of students participate in testing. How parents will be cajoled and forced to cooperate is unclear, but suffice it to say there will be an enormous amount of pressure on them to comply or be blamed for the loss of federal funding that will follow.
Education Week says, “States would have to take low testing participation into consideration in their accountability systems. Just how to do that would be up to them.” Note that this is the same accountability system that must be approved by the federal Dept. of Education.
Sen. Tillis and many others claim that states can test less. They’re wrong. Education Week says, “The testing schedule would be the same as under NCLB. But in a twist, up to seven states could apply to try out local tests, with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.”
The Thomas Fordham Institute, which claims to be conservative but has never understood the problems that parents have with Common Core, celebrated ESSA passage, saying, “Thankfully, it’s now a matter of settled law.” Fordham proclaims about ESSA, “The action is finally moving out of Washington.” Fordham somehow believes that Common Core is no longer mandated because the standards are no longer called “college and career ready,” code words for Common Core. The federal language has mostly changed to “challenging” academic standards. This heralds no change because Common Core is already established in most states. Fordham has received about $6 million from the Gates Foundation, the largest private funder of Common Core, since the push for Common Core began.
Education Week says that under ESSA “the U.S. Secretary of Education is expressly prohibited from forcing or even encouraging states to pick a particular set of standards.” Most would ask what good does that do since the horse is already out of the barn? Common Core, the only set of standards available when Arne Duncan and President Obama goaded and enticed the states into adopting standards, are already cemented into most states and are almost impossible to ditch, as state after state is finding out.
The idea that ESSA gives control back to the states and local communities is ludicrous. Most of the bill consists of federal regulations that must be obeyed. The lengthy document is written in such an unclear manner that many already admit the details will need to be sorted out by court rulings. There are hearings already scheduled to try to determine what the law means.
Robust Federal Authority
Executive Director of Eagle Forum Glyn Wright says, “While the American people thought this would be a public debate, the final bill was put together behind closed doors by committee leaders and their staff. It doesn’t look like any of the reforms pushed by the grassroots [organizations] survived the process.” (School Reform News, 1-2016)
Education Week asked Congressional staffers who worked on the bill whether it gives control back to states and limits the federal Department of Education’s role. A Democratic staffer responded:
While there are new limitations on proactive rulemaking, Democrats would not have supported legislation that completely removes the department’s authority to interpret and implement the law. . . . I cannot predict what the Department of Education will or won’t do via regulation — our intent was that regulatory authority, while limited, remain robust enough to ensure the department can interpret and implement the law. (Education Week, 1-12-16)
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said he’s pleased by the passage of ESSA, as he touted pre-kindergarten for all students.
Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee described the process used to pass the ESSA in remarks on the floor of the Senate once the procedure was decided. He said, “Beneath the surface we know that all of this has already been pre-arranged, pre-cooked, pre-determined . . . by a select few members of Congress, working behind closed doors, free from scrutiny. And we know that this vote was scheduled on extremely short notice, so that it would be difficult — if not impossible — for the rest of us to influence the substance of the conference report through motions to instruct.” (Lee.Senate.gov, 11-28-15)
This is not the way a forceful, transparent, and conservative Republican majority would operate. This isn’t what parents expect when they turn out to vote for Republican candidates. Throwing a white flag to the Democratic party and giving the federal government control over children’s educations isn’t what they want or what will get them to the polls to support candidates in the future.
ESSA goes into full effect in the fall of 2017.