Open Message to California Senators – Save us from the New ESEA

6 Dec

Dear Senators, Boxer and Feinstein

As senior members of the US Senate, please use your influence to stop the disingenuous rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

There is an effort to ram this bill through congress sight unseen. It only became available to the public and our representatives including you on November 30th. As educators from around the country see the details of this bill, they are deeply concerned for the future of public education in America. Is it the intent of the US congress to privatize public schools like Chile or Sweden did?

I left a job doing research in magnetic recording in 1999 to become a teacher. As a person immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, I was a big believer in technology. After more than a decade in the classroom, I am convinced education technology has been mostly a waste of money. It has not improved either engagement or understanding.

Yet, this federal law spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. My personal experience with these ideas says they encourage bad pedagogy. Multiple choices testing to assess drill and skill teaching is the basic strength of these methodologies and that is not good teaching.

This is little more than money being earmarked for the benefit of particular corporations. Most technology spending creates a net harm to our students who are forced into larger classes so districts can pay for the required hardware and software.

The social improvement bonds that appear on page 797 under the name “Pay for Success Initiative” look like a way for Wall Street bankers to get a cut of those education tax dollars. It is a legal opening for investment bankers to pocket taxpayer money. Is this kind of policy the new normal under the citizens’ united ruling?

Today, the biggest threat to quality public schools is the charter school movement. It is a huge problem in California. Charter school theory postulates that charters with less restrictive state regulations are going to experiment with pedagogy and then transfer their successful innovations to the “failing” public school system. This theory was based on a fallacy. Public schools were never failing especially here in California and we have not seen one successful innovative idea come from the charter sector. In fact, those seven-thousand “no excuses” charter schools in the United States are practicing methods harkening back to the 19th century; very regressive education brought by untrained inexperienced people.

Worst of all is the record of charter schools is one of fraud, instability and segregation. It would make sense for the federal government to closely scrutinize this out of control segment of education that is being used by hedge fund investors as an investment vehicle. Instead, this law spends significant money promoting charter schools and coercing states for the benefit of the charter industry. Section 4302 calls for:

 “(1) supporting the startup of new charter schools, the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools;”

This facet of the law will harm public schools and expose more students to the unsupervised education market. It is not about improving schools for children; it is about pocketing those education tax dollars.

In his massive study of the rise and fall of numerous civilizations, the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.” We must protect our precious public education system from the sharks; unfortunately, this law is a shark feeder.

In the December 5th Washington Post, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle noted that “Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.” He believes this law will do significant harm to teacher education in America.

One facet of the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) that I liked was the requirement for a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom. As the prominent author and educator, Mercedes Schneider posted to her blog on December 5th:

 “What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in ‘certification obtained through alternative routes.’”

 On December 10th, the writer and educator from South Carolina, Professor Paul Tomas, wrote on his blog a conclusion I have reached:

 “At best, ESSA is a very slight shuffling of the test-mania element of the accountability era; however, this reverting to state-based accountability will guarantee another round of new standards and new tests—all of which will drain state and federal funding for processes that have never and will never achieve what they claim to achieve (Mathis, 2012).

 “ESSA will be another boondoggle for education-related corporations, but once again, that profit will be on the backs of children and underserved communities.”

This law does mandate that every child in grades 3 to 8 and 11 is tested every year. The NCLB era has taught me unambiguously that standards based testing harms teaching and learning for many profound reasons. Feedback from this corporate testing is not timely and there is no learning component related to what is going on in the classroom associated with the big test. And worst of all this kind of testing seriously harms the love of learning and thinking. Massive testing is not just expensive, it is harming children.

I know there are many people like the leaders of the AFT, NEA and PTA supporting this law. They believe it is a lesser evil, however, I think they listened to their big donors before they read the legislation. When a group is getting millions of dollars from Bill Gates, it is easy to rationalize supporting his position. Please look closely at this legislation and stand up for parents, children and public schools in America.

Fix it or kill it.

3 Responses to “Open Message to California Senators – Save us from the New ESEA”

  1. Sue Cavanaugh December 7, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    Here in Texas in 1990, Clayton Williams ran against Ann Richards for governor. During the campaign, Williams publicly made a joke likening the crime of rape to bad weather, having stated: “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” His sick joke reminds me of the mindset of people fighting for passage of this bill.

    • tultican December 7, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

      I remember that. Got to love my Texas relatives. To paraphrase one of my favorite Texans ever, they can’t help they were born with a cowboy boot in their mouth. I also loved me some Molly Ivins.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Editorial Peddles School Privatization Agenda | tultican - July 16, 2017

    […] I wrote to Diane Feinstein, ESSA continues the testing mandate and spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology […]

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