Three Observations About Betsy DeVos’ Speech at AEI

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at AEI Conference on 1/16/18.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the AEI Conference on 1/16/18.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at the American Enterprise Institute conference yesterday and reading through her prepared remarks, discussing education reforms by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, here are three observations.

1. Common Core is far from dead.

Where the Bush administration emphasized NCLB’s stick, the Obama administration focused on carrots. They recognized that states would not be able to legitimately meet the NCLB’s strict standards. Secretary Duncan testified that 82 percent of the nation’s schools would likely fail to meet the law’s requirements — thus subjecting them to crippling sanctions.

The Obama administration dangled billions of dollars through the “Race to the Top” competition, and the grant-making process not so subtly encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the “largest-ever federal investment in school reform.” Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies — essentially making law while Congress negotiated the reauthorization of ESEA.

Unsurprisingly, nearly every state accepted Common Core standards and applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in “Race to the Top” funds. But despite this change, the United States’ PISA performance did not improve in reading and science, and it dropped in math from 2012 to 2015.

Then, rightly, came the public backlash to federally imposed tests and the Common Core. I agree – and have always agreed – with President Trump on this: “Common Core is a disaster.” And at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.

Sure, the U.S. Department of Education is not actively pushing Common Core, they don’t need to. The standards and assessment consortiums don’t need to be funded anymore. The damage is done.

They don’t need to publicly push it because ESSA essentially codified Common Core.

Peter Cunningham, the former assistant secretary for communications at the U.S. Department of Education, served under former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says to say ESSA gets rid of Common Core is nonsensical.

He wrote in an op/ed he wrote shortly after the bill was passed:

(Alexander) begins an op-ed in the Tennessean with the outlandish claim that he ran for reelection last year on a promise to “repeal the federal Common Core mandate and reverse the trend toward a national school board.”

Sorry, Senator, but there never was a Common Core mandate so your new law can’t repeal what didn’t exist.

There was an incentive to adopt “college- and career-ready” standards in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program and some conservative pundits and politicians viewed this incentive as “coercive.” But it wasn’t a mandate. It was voluntary and 46 states and D.C. leaped at the opportunity to compete for those dollars by adopting higher standards.

Ironically, the new law that the senator from Tennessee is so proud of, the Every Student Succeeds Act, now mandates the very thing he rails against. Under the new law, every state must adopt “college- and career-ready” standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards—or a reasonable imitation under a different name—will likely remain in place in most states.

So, unfortunately for Secretary DeVos (and us), status quo keeps Common Core in place.

Truth in American Education shared early our concerns with ESSA.

As a requirement of the ESSA, states must “demonstrate” to the Secretary that they have adopted standards that are aligned to the same definition of “college and career” standards used to force states into adopting Common Core under NCLB waivers.

Also, we noted that “The state accountability system must be structured as per the federal bill.”

Then, we observed, “Bill language appears to require standards that align with career and technical education standards, indicating that the standards must align to the federally approved Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.”

And voila, while states may have changed the name of their standards or revised some of their standards all have essentially rebranded and tweaked Common Core. No one has gotten rid of root and branch.

So while Common Core may be dead in the U.S. Department of Education, I have my doubts as many Common Core advocates now work there, but it certainly is not dead in the states.

2. She says federal mandates don’t work, but supports a federal mandate.

She said:

Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem. Too many of America’s students are still unprepared.

Perhaps the lesson lies not in what made the approaches different, but in what made them the same: the federal government. Both approaches had the same Washington “experts” telling educators how to behave.

The lesson is in the false premise: that Washington knows what’s best for educators, parents and students.

Rick, you’ve rightly pointed out that the federal government is good at making states, districts, and schools do something, but it’s not good at making them do it well. Getting real results for students hinges on how that “something” is done.

That’s because when it comes to education – and any other issue in public life – those closest to the problem are always better able to solve it. Washington bureaucrats and self-styled education “experts” are about as far removed from students as you can get.

Yet under both Republican and Democratic administrations, Washington overextended itself time and time again.

Educators don’t need engineering from Washington. Parents don’t need prescriptions from Washington. Students don’t need standards from Washington.

That’s a nice sentiment, but what is Secretary DeVos going to do about it? If this is something she truly believed she would support the repeal of ESEA instead of touting it in its current form as the Every Student Succeeds Act.

She said:

The Every Student Succeeds Act charted a path in a new direction. ESSA takes important steps to return power where it belongs by recognizing states – not Washington — should shape education policy around their own people. But state lawmakers should also resist the urge to centrally plan education. “Leave it to the states” may be a compelling campaign-season slogan, but state capitols aren’t exactly close to every family either. That’s why states should empower teachers and parents and provide the same flexibility ESSA allows states.

But let’s recognize that many states are now struggling with what comes next. State ESSA plans aren’t the finish line. Those words on paper mean very little if state and local leaders don’t seize the opportunity to truly transform education. They must move past a mindset of compliance and embrace individual empowerment.

Under ESSA, school leaders, educators and parents have the latitude and freedom to try new approaches to serve individual students.

Please!

States still have to play “Mother, may I” with her department.

Until she actively fights to decouple federal mandates from states and local school districts the rhetoric is meaningless.

3. She says she opposes top-down reforms but then touts one.

She gave kudos to personalized learning without actually using the term:

Our children deserve better than the 19th century assembly-line approach. They deserve learning environments that are agile, relevant, exciting. Every student deserves a customized, self-paced, and challenging life-long learning journey.

Sitting in front of a screen. Personalized learning is another education fad pushed by education “experts” and embraced by education technology providers who have dollar signs in their eyes.

This is also just another dataless reform pushed from on high like Common Core, not only that, but the concept contradicts what we already know to be true as Jane Robbins recently pointed out:

How does PL conflict with this scientific reality? Because students who are controlling the content of their learning, usually by finding information on the Internet or clicking through an educational-software program, are highly unlikely to commit that information to long-term memory. They scan it, they click it, they’re on to the next task. Certainly there are exceptional students who will delve deeply enough to implant the information in their brains, but the vast majority of students simply won’t, unless they’re made to.

If by personalized learning, we mean smaller class sizes, individualized attention, homeschooling, etc. That’s great, but where personalized learning is headed it may be personalized, but it is hardly learning.

And the U.S. Secretary of Education just gave it a shout-out.

Trump Orders Enforcement of Statutory Prohibitions on Federal Control of Ed

The Washington Times ran with this headline after President Trump’s executive order today regarding reining in the federal government involvement in education.

Donald Trump to pull feds out of K-12 education.”

As glorious as that would be he needs Congress to repeal various education laws first.

Even so, this is significant action.

Here’s the executive order for your perusal.

ENFORCING STATUTORY PROHIBITIONS ON FEDERAL CONTROL OF EDUCATION

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to restore the proper division of power under the Constitution between the Federal Government and the States and to further the goals of, and to ensure strict compliance with, statutes that prohibit Federal interference with State and local control over education, including section 103 of the Department of Education Organization Act (DEOA) (20 U.S.C. 3403), sections 438 and 447 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), as amended (20 U.S.C. 1232a and 1232j), and sections 8526A, 8527, and 8529 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (20 U.S.C. 7906a, 7907, and 7909), it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  It shall be the policy of the executive branch to protect and preserve State and local control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, and personnel of educational institutions, schools, and school systems, consistent with applicable law, including ESEA, as amended by ESSA, and ESEA’s restrictions related to the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Sec. 2.  Review of Regulations and Guidance Documents.  (a)  The Secretary of Education (Secretary) shall review all Department of Education (Department) regulations and guidance documents relating to DEOA, GEPA, and ESEA, as amended by ESSA.

(b)  The Secretary shall examine whether these regulations and guidance documents comply with Federal laws that prohibit the Department from exercising any direction, supervision, or control over areas subject to State and local control, including:

(i)    the curriculum or program of instruction of any elementary and secondary school and school system;

(ii)   school administration and personnel; and

(iii)  selection and content of library resources, textbooks, and instructional materials.

(c)  The Secretary shall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, rescind or revise any regulations that are identified pursuant to subsection (b) of this section as inconsistent with statutory prohibitions.  The Secretary shall also rescind or revise any guidance documents that are identified pursuant to subsection (b) of this section as inconsistent with statutory prohibitions.  The Secretary shall, to the extent consistent with law, publish any proposed regulations and withdraw or modify any guidance documents pursuant to this subsection no later than 300 days after the date of this order.

Sec. 3.  Definition.  The term “guidance document” means any written statement issued by the Department to the public that sets forth a policy on a statutory, regulatory, or technical issue or an interpretation of a statutory or regulatory issue, including Dear Colleague letters, interpretive memoranda, policy statements, manuals, circulars, memoranda, pamphlets, bulletins, advisories, technical assistance, and grants of applications for waivers.

Sec. 4.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

In a nutshell, it is a review of every existing federal regulation, rule or guidance related to K-12 education. It is certainly a welcome action, but let’s not do a happy dance yet.

Utah Legislature Calls for Abolishment of U.S. Department of Education

Utah State Representative Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) sponsored a resolution calling for the restoration of the division of governmental responsibilities between the national government and the state (aka Federalism).

HJR 017 passed the Utah House on March 6 with a 60 to 14 vote. On March 9 it passed the Utah Senate on a 20 to 1 vote. It was then enrolled on March 17.

Below is the excerpt of the resolution dealing with education:

WHEREAS, the [federalism] Commission received the following summary of federal overreach: EDUCATION

  • Recognize that education is not a power delegated to the federal government under the Constitution, it is reserved to the states;
  • Abolish the United States Department of Education and block grant administration costs and federal appropriations to the state;
  • Repeal the mandates of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; and
  • Relax the overly expansive interpretation of federal regulations, which increase costs and adversely affects education at all levels;

The bill sends a strong message to Congress and the White House that Utah at least is fed up with federal overreach. Hopefully other states will do the same to put pressure on Congress to act.

What Can a President Do to Address Common Core?

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

It has been pointed out after the most recent GOP presidential debate that a President can’t repeal the Common Core State Standards.

I agree, ironically a federal mandate to end the Common Core in the states would be just as unconstitutional as the involvement by the Obama administration’s back door funding approach via Race to the Top. There is no legitimate federal role in education beyond addressing civil rights violations in the public schools when necessary and only when necessary, I wouldn’t consider the feds interjecting themselves into locker room and restroom policy as necessary, but I digress. That’s a topic for a different time and a different website.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution does not list education as an enumerated power of Congress. Our founders intended that education remain a local and state matter. That was always the case until Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. President Jimmy Carter further expanded the federal involvement in education by forming the U.S. Department of Education in 1979. Yes, there was a Department of Education that was created in 1867, but it was downgraded to an office in 1868 and education was never a federal priority until the Johnson Administration.

I expect candidates whether they are presidential, Congressional or Senatorial to understand this. If they do not they get checked off my list pretty quickly.

So in the vein, what can a President do? Here are eight ideas.

1. Eliminate the U.S. Department of Education

I understand that this suggestion is a radical one for educrats who love centralized education. Show me what child the Department of Education has taught? Also how has K-12 public education improved under their watch? I think it’s fair to say it hasn’t. Kids somehow, magically, were educated long before there was a federal department of education. We sent a man to the moon 10 years before the department’s formation!

Politically speaking I understand this is a huge ask and it would require a ton of political capital, and perhaps a willingness to not be reelected. It would also require legislators willing to do the same.

2. Downgrade the U.S. Department of Education

Recognizing political reality at the moment an incremental step would be an attempt to downgrade the Department of Education and no longer have a Secretary of Education that serve’s on the President’s cabinet, but instead just have an appointed director instead. Again, this would require an act of Congress, but it would probably be an easier ask than eliminating the department in one swoop.

3. Reduce the size of the U.S. Department of Education

This is something the President can do through his or her budget proposal. Cut, not just slow the increase in spending, but cut the Department’s budget and cut the bureaucracy that exists within the department. Force programs to demonstrate results to justify their existence. Direct the Secretary (or Director) to implement zero-based budgeting (actually do that government-wide, but I digress again). Exercise the Presidential authority to line-item veto sections of the budget passed by Congress that increases spending.

4. Veto any bill that would expand the scope and reach of the Department of Education.

Simple enough – don’t allow the Department to grow in size or in oversight. This is the bare minimum for a candidate who says he or she believes in local control.

5. Eliminate any carrot and stick competitive grant program, and block grant all federal funds to the states.

If there has to be federal education dollars, the Department should act as a pass-through for those dollars to the states with little to no strings attached other than they be used for education, but let states decide how those dollars are used in education according to the original purpose stated in federal law. Work to reduce the regulation to dollar ratio we’ve see where schools receive relatively few federal dollars, but are ransacked by federal regulations. Cut through the regulations, and whatever the President can legally do through executive order he or she must do.

Also do not allow the funding of specific education trends or assessments.

6. Work to repeal the Every Student Succeeds Act

Advocate for the sunset of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in its current form, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The passing of this bill did not eliminate Common Core, in many ways it codified it through the law’s frequent mention of “college and career-ready standards,” as well as, other provisions of the law. The President should instruct the Secretary that they should give a lot of latitude when approving state plans until the law with it’s testing mandate is gone.

7. Insist on ending the student data-hungry culture in the U.S. Department of Education

Champion the tightening of FERPA by Congress. Eliminate by executive order any rule changes that weakened the law. Eliminate offices within the Department that pushed for increased student data collection. Work to eliminate any law or rule that requires data collection by the Department or requires states to collect data for the department.

8. Pick the right Secretary of Education

This goes without saying. It should be someone willing to work themselves out of a job. The candidate should value decentralized education over centralized education. That person should share and complement the President’s goals.

Those are some ideas starters, what else would you recommend?

Mike Lee: There’s a Better Way to Improve America’s Schools

U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) spoke out in opposition of the ESEA reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act, Tuesday morning.  The bill passed Wednesday morning, but I wanted to highlight his speech as he was one of our champions in the Senate yesterday.

Here is the video:

Here’s a transcript:

Later today the Senate will vote on the “Every Student Succeeds Act” – a bill that reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is the legislation governing federal K-12 education policy.

By all accounts, the Senate is expected to pass this bill, with a bipartisan majority, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law.

This would be a serious setback for America’s schools, teachers, and students, one that will have sweeping consequences for decades to come… because when we get education policy wrong – as this bill does and as we have for so many years – it affects not just the quality of education students receive as children, but the quality of life available to them as adults.

The problem is not just the particular provisions of this bill, but the dysfunctional and outdated model of education on which it’s built – a model that concentrates authority over education decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, instead of parents, teachers, principals, and local school boards.

For the past 50 years, this model has defined and guided the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – and the bill before us today is no exception.

Not coincidentally, this central-planning model has also failed to produce any meaningful improvements in academic achievement – especially for students from low-income communities.

In fact, since 1969, test scores in reading and math have hardly budged for public school students of all ages – even while per-pupil spending has nearly doubled and school staff has increased more than 80 percent.

And yet, here we are: once again on the verge of passing another ESEA reauthorization built on the same K-12 education model that has trapped so many kids in failing schools and confined America’s education system to a state of stagnant mediocrity for half a century.

This is not simply a failure of policy – it’s a failure of imagination.

Our 1960s-era, top-down model of elementary and secondary schooling has endured, essentially unchallenged, for so many decades that the education establishment has come to take it for granted. For many policymakers and education officials in Washington and in state capitals around the country, the status quo isn’t just seen as the best way – but as the only way – to design K-12 education policy today.

Even the most creative policy thinking is confined within the narrow boundaries of the centrally planned status quo.

The only reform proposals that are given the time of day are those that seek to standardize America’s classrooms, enforce uniformity across school districts, and systematize the way that teachers teach and the way that students learn.

So we insist that the most important teaching decisions – about what to teach, when to teach it, and how to assess learning – are made by individuals outside of the classroom and are uniformly applied, and reapplied, regardless of the particular character and composition of a class.

We expect students of the same age to progress through the curriculum and master each subject at the exact same pace.

We assign students to their school according to zip codes.

We allocate public education funds to education agencies and schools – never directly to parents – and manage their use through bureaucratic restrictions and mandates.

We evaluate teachers and determine their compensation not on the basis their performance, but according to standards that can be quantified, like the number of years on the job. Student learning is assessed in much the same way – using standardized tests and age-based benchmarks.

And we never let stagnant educational outcomes or a persistent achievement gap shake our faith in the ability of central planners to engineer and superintend the education of the tens of millions of students in America.

These are the fundamental pillars of the status quo model for elementary and secondary education. And the Every Student Succeeds Act leaves them wholly intact.

But schools are not factories; education can’t be systematized; learning can’t be centrally planned.

Good teachers are successful not because they’re following some magic formula concocted by “experts” in Washington, but because they do what good teachers everywhere have always done: they work harder than just about anyone, and they know their class material inside and out; they communicate early and often with each students’ parents, so that they, and their students, can be held accountable; they observe and listen to their students, in order to understand their unique learning needs and goals, and tailor each day’s lesson plans accordingly; and they evaluate students honestly and comprehensively, assessing whether they’ve mastered the material, not just figured out how to take a test.

So instead of imposing an obsolete conformity on an invariably varied environment, we should be empowering teachers and parents with the tools they need to meet the unique educational needs of their students and children.

Instead of continuing to standardize and systematize education across the entire country, we should be trying to customize and personalize it for every student.

The good news is that we don’t need to start from scratch.

We know that local control over K-12 – and even pre-K – education is more effective than Washington, D.C.’s prescriptive, heavy handed approach, because we’ve seen it work in communities all across the country.

For years, education entrepreneurs in the states – including my home state of Utah – have been implementing and refining policies that put parents, teachers, principals, and school boards back in control of education policy.

Perhaps the most popular state-initiated reform is the movement toward school choice, which overturns the embarrassingly outdated and unfair practice of assigning schools based on zip codes.

We know that a good education starting at a young age is an essential ingredient for economic opportunity and democratic citizenship later in life. And we also know that America has always aspired to be a place where the condition of your birth doesn’t determine your path in life.

So why on earth would we prohibit parents from choosing the school that’s best for their children, especially if, as is far too common, their local school is underperforming?

School choice is one of the most important locally driven reforms aimed at resolving this fundamental injustice of our current assignment-by-zip-code system. But it’s not the only one.

There are also Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which give parents control over the per-pupil education dollars that would have been spent on their child by the school system.

There is the recent innovation of “course choice” – pioneered in my home state of Utah – which brings the same kind of education customization and à la carte choice that have spread on college campuses to elementary and secondary schools.

And of course there’s the distinctively American notion that parents, principals, school districts, and state officials have the right, and should have the ability, to opt-out of the most onerous, restrictive, misguided federal commands.

Whether it’s parents who don’t want their children wasting dozens of hours each year taking standardized tests, or state policymakers who develop local education reforms that are more effective and less expensive than federal one-size-fits-all policies, we should support the rights of all Americans to have a say in the education of their children.

Mr. President, the point isn’t that there’s a better way to improve America’s schools – but that there are fifty better ways… even thousands of better ways.

In our increasingly decentralized world, there are as many ideal education policies as there are children and teachers, communities and schools.

But Washington is standing in the way, distrustful of any alternative to the top-down education status quo. And under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Washington’s outdated, conformist policies will continue to be in the way.

Which is why I urge all of my colleagues to join me in voting against this bill.

But even if most senators vote in favor of the failed status quo, I’m confident that I have the majority of moms and dads in America on my side.

I often hear from Utah parents, calling or writing my office to express their support for local control over education.

I recently received an email from Kierston, a proud mother of four and the PTA president at her local school, who urged me to vote against this ESEA reauthorization.

I thought I’d let her have the last word today.

Based on years of experience with the public schools in her community, Kierston warns that maintaining Washington D.C.’s monopoly over America’s public schools will

“force my three incredibly different children who learn in very different ways into a box where my daughter will be forced to learn things she isn’t ready to learn […] my oldest who is ahead of his peers will be forced to slow down or help teach his peers in a way they don’t understand […] and my third will constantly be in trouble for not sitting still and pestering his peers because he understands quickly and is bored.”

“We need standards, we need benchmarks,” Kierston wrote, “but we also need to allow children to learn at their own pace. […] We need child centered education where children have the ability to go as fast or as slow as they need. […] Please think about the children of Utah. Vote against [the ESEA reauthorization]. Allow our kids the freedom to learn.”

U.S. Senate Sends ESEA Reauthorization to Obama

Photo credit: UpstateNYer (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: UpstateNYer (CC-By-SA 3.0)

I reported at Caffeinated Thoughts that the U.S. Senate voted in favor – 85 to 12 – to pass the Every Student Achieves Act, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that replaces No Child Left Behind.  It is intended as a fix.  It may provide a little more flexibility for states, primarily through the repeal of the adequate yearly progress measure that is replaced by a statewide accountability process.

The bill is essentially saying… we’ll control you a little less. There’s really nothing to cheer about in this bill. No parental opt-out language, the testing mandate is still there, it doesn’t repeal Common Core (as Common Core didn’t exist in No Child Left Behind). Simply put, the U.S. Secretary of Education still has a lot of control K-12 education, and to top it off it starts a new federal preschool program.

As a reminder, here are the 12 primary concerns about what is expected to be law:

  1. PROCESS VIOLATES TENENTS OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT – OF TRANSPARENCY IN THE BILL PROCESS AND DELIBERATIVE DEBATE. Process of forwarding conference report echoes the process of (Un) Affordable Care Act “You have to pass it to see what’s in it” – that is. Congress won’t be reading it.
  2. HEAVILY INCENTIVIZES STATES TO MAINTAIN COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS: As a requirement of the Act, states must “demonstrate” to the Secretary that they have adopted standards that are aligned to the same definition of “college and career” standards used to force states into adopting Common Core under NCLB waivers.
  3. ASSESSSMENT OF NON-COGNITIVE ATTITUDES, BEHAVIORS, and MINDSETS: Bill will maintain momentum for increasing non-academic data collection of student and family information into statewide longitudinal data systems.
  4. PARENT RIGHTS: The Salmon Amendment in HR5 that allowed parents to opt out of high-stakes state assessments is no longer included. Students whose parents opt them out of the test, must be included in the 95% participation formula.
  5. EROSION OF STATE POWER OVER EDUCATION: The state accountability system must be structured as per the federal bill.
  6. FEDERAL CONTROL OF STANDARDS CONTENT: Bill language appears to require standards that align with career and technical education standards, indicating that the standards must align to the federally approved Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
  7. NO CHECKS ON FEDERAL POWER, FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS JUDGE AND JURY OF ITS OWN ACTIVITY – NO SUNSET OF LAW: The framework would only “authorize” ESEA for four more years, as opposed to the typical five, but, there’s no sunset provision in the bill, so it could go on in perpetuity.
  8. EXPANSION OF GOVERNMENT ROLE IN CHILDCARE/DISINCENTIVE TO ACTIVELY SEEK EMPLOYMENT: Bill is said to expand Head Start to childcare with Child Care Development Block Grant Act of 2014 so that no work requirements will be expected of low income parents to access grant money to pay for childcare.
  9. ADVANCES PROFITING BY PRIVATE CORPORATIONS USING EDUCATION DOLLARS THAT SHOULD GO TO CLASSROOMS: Increasing the education budget to fund private investors to implement government- selected social goals is outside the scope of improving education, and outside the authority of Congress as described in the U.S. Constitution.
  10. INCREASED ESEA SPENDING: ESSA authorizes appropriations for fiscal years 2017-2020. Spending authority will increase by 2% each year.
  11. EROSION OF LOCAL CONTROL: The conference report language encourages states to form consortia that, without congressional approval, may be determined illegal.
  12. DATA PRIVACY: Language in the conference report appears to rein in the Secretary of Education’s power and protect student data by inserting prohibitions of collecting additional student data, but makes no attempt to reverse the harm already done by Secretary Duncan’s modification of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Michael Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rand Paul (R-KY), James Risch (R-ID), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA) voted against cloture and the bill’s final passage. Cruz voted against cloture but missed the final vote, and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for in favor of cloture, but against final passage (so we’re not giving him credit).

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was absent for the cloture vote, but voted for the bill’s final passage. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was absent for both the cloture vote and the final vote.

ESEA Reauthorization Conference Report Advances to Final Vote in the Senate

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

The ESEA reauthorization conference report, S.1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) advanced in the U.S. Senate on a 84 to 12 cloture vote. The vote took place after an hour-and-a-half of “debate.”

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said that the final vote is scheduled for tomorrow – Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 10:45a (EST).  He inferred during his comments following the cloture vote that the bill’s passage is pretty much in the bag and then proceeded to pat himself and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on the back.  It was nauseating.

Yesterday, Politico reported that outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the House vote last week “gave him hope for democracy.”

It did the exact opposite for me, and today’s vote tarnished my view even further. How can we have a healthy, functional representative democracy when our elected representatives in the U.S House and U.S. Senate vote on a bill that is over 1000 pages a few days after it is made public. The House voted on this two days after the conference report was released. The Senate had one week.

One week is not long enough or somebody would have called Alexander on his B.S. that this bill allows parents to opt-out and that it would get rid of Common Core.  It does neither.  As far as “fixing” No Child Left Behind how can one say that with a straight face. It doesn’t even do that.

Here are the Senators who voted no on cloture. Please take time to thank them as they took a stand against ESEA reauthorization.

U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Michael Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rand Paul (R-KY), James Risch (R-ID), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA).

Apparently U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were too busy running for President to come back to DC to vote.

William Ligon’s Open Letter to Congress About Reauthorizing ESEA

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Georgia State Senator William Ligon (R-Brunswick) has been a stalwart fighter against the Common Core in his state.  He recently sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), members of the U.S. House and members of the U.S. Senate.

Here is the text of the letter shared with his permission below.  You can see his signed letter to Speaker Ryan here.

As a State Senator, it never ceases to amaze me how often our federal officials easily overlook the constitutional principle of federalism and the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee that the States have a republican form of government. This lack of constitutional integrity is especially true in the arena of education. As someone who has taken the lead in the Georgia Legislature on attempting to restore state, local, and parental sovereignty over education, I recognize that the real obstacle is the federal government.

I can honestly say I understand the frustration people are feeling in the Republican Party and why they are so willing to support total outsiders in the race for President. People are frustrated that the federal government is too large, fails to do what the Constitution requires, meddles where it has no real authority, and actually creates more problems than it solves.

The latest attempt by Congress to reauthorize ESEA under its new name, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is a prime example of how the federal government exceeds its constitutional authority. Many of our supporters in the Republican base are wondering why we need a 1061-page federal bill dealing with education policy. I have been told by a member of our congressional delegation that bill’s length was needed to repeal many existing federal laws dealing with education. Unfortunately, a review of the bill reveals not much in the way of repeal but that once again the federal government is driving education policy in every State in the Union through grants and waivers.

I certainly recognize that the federal ESSA provides somewhat more flexibility for States than the previous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization of ESEA. However, it is not the proper role for the federal government to guide education policy. When will federal officials start to realize that their massive educational reform agenda, almost approaching a 30-year effort, has not improved education? In fact, the federal reform agenda has thrown away countless billions of taxpayer funds into progressive educational schemes that have greatly contributed to the ill- prepared, unruly, and polarized student bodies we now see in many of our universities today.

As for ESSA specifically, here are a few of the issues that I find troubling in the bill. Although Section 8544 (p. 859) assures us that States face no penalties for withdrawing from the Common Core standards or for otherwise revising their standards, ESSA requires that state standards must align with higher-education requirements. Since federal mandates have already ensured that our colleges and universities have aligned their entrance requirements with Common Core (known as College and Career Ready) then it would appear that we again have an entire process, both lengthy and expensive, to readdress college entrance requirements before Georgia could exit the Common Core. Furthermore, ESSA still requires “career and technical education standards” that must align to the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). It is also apparent that ESSA still requires state educational plans, which includes standards, to comply with 11 existing federal statutes, and that the Secretary of Education must sign off on these plans (Section 1005, amending Section 1111(a)(1)(B), pp. 38-39). These statutes run the gamut from Head Start to WIOA. As with all the previous reform legislation from Goals 2000 onward, this bill is intertwined and additive to the overall federal framework for education. ESSA may mitigate some of the onerous effects of NCLB, but it continues to advance the top-down, federal reform agenda.

I am also greatly troubled by the bill’s language that expands the federal role in government preschool in Section 9212, bringing us closer to President’s Obama’s vision for universal preschool. The best research shows that early education has little to no effect on long-term learning. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services conducted its own rigorous scientific evaluation of Head Start and found that three- and four-year-old preschoolers had no measureable benefits from the program when evaluated in both the first and third grades. The study even failed to show improvements in parenting outcomes and child health outcomes. There were even negative social-emotional development effects associated with these children who had attended Head Start.

Early education through government programs not only wastes money, but is based on a faulty foundation. The best early childhood learning takes place with family, not government programs. Furthermore, the assurances (pp. 968-969) that the Secretary of Education cannot prescribe early learning development guidelines, standards, or specific assessments, preschool curriculum and the like are meaningless when considering that preschool authority rests within the Department of Health and Human Services (p. 971), and such programs already require adherence to Head Start, which demands federal performance standards, or the Baby Common Core as some have dubbed it. There are already 45 federal early learning and childcare programs that spend $14.2 billion annually. This bill continues to expand early learning subsidies and will add another $1 billion in spending over the next four years.

Within this topic of early childhood education, I would be remiss if I did not also mention that data collection on these children is invasive and that these early learning data systems are designed to link with not only the K-12 data systems, but also post-secondary data, and labor data, as well as universal newborn screening and health data systems. This is readily apparent from a quick review of Early Learning Challenge grants from various states. It is truly a cradle- to-grave system of government data collection on the citizens of this nation. Congress is paving the way for the next generation to live in the” brave new world” which facilitates the government’s management of its citizens. If history is any guide, when government controls this much information on its citizens, it will abuse its power.

ESSA continues the federal testing mandates (Section 1005, amending Section 1111(b)(2), pp. 52-54). And the types of assessments dictated by the bill include subjective assessments of students’ skills and psychological attributes via the requirement to assess higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). Even though the bill states that assessments will not evaluate or access personal or family beliefs or attitudes, by definition, HOTS, as developed in Bloom’s Taxonomy, includes not only the cognitive domain, but the affective domain and the psychomotor domain. Particularly, the affective domain includes attitudes, feelings, values, motivations, and the like. The federal government has no business imposing any requirements concerning state assessments, but certainly should not require assessments that target students’ psychological profiles.

The bill also incentivizes the Obama administration’s pet concept of schools as “community learning centers,” perhaps more accurately dubbed “parent replacement centers.” This section of the bill, Part B- 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Section 4201, starting on p. 489), creates a service center for youth development that could offer anything from health care and wellness programs to service learning or “environmental literacy.” In addition, the Promise Neighborhoods (Section 4624, starting on p. 606) provide another smorgasbord that offer services to train families to promote early learning and child development as well as provide “social, health, nutrition, and mental health services and supports, for children, family members, and community members…” (609-610). The nanny-state just continues to grow in this legislation.

Although I have other concerns about the bill, I would also like to say that the process epitomizes everything that’s wrong with how Washington conducts the people’s business. ESSA was drafted behind closed doors, by unknown parties. The news was sprung on the public only a day or two before a conference committee was hastily appointed. No draft of the bill was released. After a few hours of discussion, the conference committee quickly approved the document the public was not allowed to see. A final draft of the 1,061-page bill wasn’t released until November 30, with a vote planned in the House only two or three days later. Personally, I have not had enough time to wade through every part of the bill. No congressman should be expected

to vote to pass a tome he hasn’t even had time to read, and the people are right to expect that their congressman will refuse to do so.

Let me also remind Congress that throughout the federal government’s educational reform efforts, there has been a woeful lack of concern for the legislative process in the States. For decades, each reauthorization of ESEA, along with grants such as Race to the Top, ignore the right of the people to decide if they want federal involvement in their local schools. Congress sets up the flow of money straight to State Executive branches. When the people’s representatives in the States are bypassed, we no longer have a republican form of government where education is concerned.

Finally, it should give Republicans great pause to consider that every anti-Common Core grassroots group in the nation appear to strongly oppose this bill, and the very organizations (National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers) that masterminded and engineered the development and rollout of the Common Core are quite pleased with the ESSA and give it their full endorsement. It should also be another red flag that ESSA is a bill that President Obama will readily sign. By now, surely we know that his view of America and his solutions for America are quite different from those of us who believe in a self- governing Republic of free people who do not need a nanny state to look after our best interests. We just need big government to get out of the way and let the people in each of our states determine the best course for their families and their children’s education.

Therefore, I am urging you not to even take up this bill for consideration. Instead, I urge you to wait until we have a new President in the White House, hopefully one who would work for greatly decreasing the federal role in education. If this bill is brought to a vote, I ask you to vote no.

Late-Stage Draft of ESEA Reauthorization Bill

Education Week shared what they thought to be a late-stage draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization that confirms much of what has already been leaked.  We do not know if this is final version approved by the conferees on Thursday, but it’s likely pretty close.

It’s also 391 pages so enjoy the light reading material.  This is what our Representatives are supposed to fully vet and then vote on within two days.

Speaker Paul Ryan, Make ESEA Reauthorization Bill Public for 60 Days

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) after being sworn in.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) after being sworn in.

Because the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) will be the largest piece of federal education legislation Congress will pass in over a decade, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) should allow the bill to be made publicly available for at least 60 days before the House considers it.

The bill is not scheduled to be made publicly available until November 30th. Thus, a vote should not be scheduled until late January. Currently, it is scheduled for December 2; two days is clearly not sufficient. House members will be forced to vote on a bill they haven’t read.

The American people expected a new style of leadership under Speaker Ryan, not more of the same. If he allows a bill of this magnitude to become law without adequately vetting its merits and faults, it will affirm that the same ills that plagued Congress under Speaker Boehner remain fully intact.

While the conference committee hearing consisted mostly of members editorializing about how important it is to pass the bill, we did learn a little about the bill:

Neither the House version of the bill, the Student Success Act (SSA), nor the Senate version, the Every Child Achieves Act, were considered ideal to conservatives. In fact, the SSA barely passed the house amid complaints it didn’t do enough to restore power back to the states. The main incentive for conservatives to ignore less appealing aspects of the bill and pass it was the inclusion of a provision to allow the portability of Title 1 funds, which many believed important to the School Choice movement. The conference committee proceedings confirmed that Title 1 portability was no longer included in the new bill.

The conference committee proceedings also revealed that the new bill would increase spending by 12% over the next five years. Do conservatives think this increase is appropriate when our country is facing 18 trillion in debt? The federal government has increased spending on education by 300% since ESEA was passed with nothing to show for it; student test scores have remained flat.

High-stakes testing mandates are retained.

What we have heard, but can’t confirm:

The new bill is hundreds of pages longer than either prior version.

It contains new programs that weren’t in either prior version.

There is a new competitive grant for pre-schools- think Race to the Top for Tots

Very complex language that is unclear. This means the US Depart of Education will have tremendous leeway to interpret it to the advantage of the federal government. Because it has discretion over how to administer the law, unclear language makes it easier for the US Department of Education to justify and make decisions to place requirements on the states through its rule-making authority.