On the eve of passage of amendments to the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act, the Rev. Dr. William Barber, a distinguished contemporary Civil Rights leader, released a powerful statement of support that gave qualified support for the law’s draft reauthorization and pointed to the work ahead.
But as we under-resource our public schools, we are not just deferring dreams, we are shriveling and stomping on them.
ECAA as currently written has much to recommend it as compared to the previous version. The Senate has decisively turned away from some of the most damaging aspects of No Child Left Behind, such as jettisoning Race to the Top requirements and removing Adequate Yearly Progress to begin with, and the recent failure of the Murphy Amendment to reintroduce AYP into ECAA.
But it is far from complete or ideal and Dr. Barber’s opinion piece underscores the need for Every Child Achieves to be bolder in its explicit anti-poverty focus. He didn’t limit his call to action to anti-poverty measures — Dr. Barber also called for an end to toxic testing. Futile accountability systems that rely on single test scores emphasize outcomes and drain school coffers; fiscal accountability systems insist that schools increase meaningful resources to schools and make them more effective.
In this era, our Democrats who are the biggest Wall Street critics need to understand something about non-stop tests:
- Excessive testing is RENT-SEEKING by testing companies.
- Pearson is the vampire squid/Goldman Sachs of education.
- Student data become interchangeable units to commodify education just like mortgages were put in a blender and turned into Credit Default Swaps and Strategic Investment Vehicles. Test data are completely detached from the dream of a good education just like CDSs/SIVs were the financial industry’s perversion of many Americans’ dream of owning a home.
Knowing this, as Dr. Barber does and as many of the nation’s Opt Out parents do, we absolutely MUST change our approach in re-envisioning our big civil rights education law.
Here are six major recommendations:
1) Make Community Schools the center of your education policy. Of all the possible ways the federal government can assist children living in low-income or impoverished families, Community Schools are far and above the most proven way to surround these families with school-site services and programs that lift up children and the adults who care for them. Community Schools should be the go-to solution in Title I . Any Title I accountability mechanisms should focus on fiscal accountability only to measure how well the various groups and agencies are serving the children and families in alleviating poverty. Similar in concept to the medical loss ratio, a minimum percentage (80%) of each Title I funding dollar put toward Community Schools should be reflected in supports, programs, and services that appear in the classroom and directly help children.
2) Lead with a multi-agency approach to alleviate poverty : poverty demands more than silo’d solutions. Multi-agency approaches have been used before in the Obama administration to accelerate progress in priority areas. With Ta Nehisi Coates’ paradigm-shifting essay, “The Ghetto is Public Policy” and other work, we see how the historical prevention of real estate wealth accumulation in African American neighborhoods was no accident, but instead created through racially discriminatory federal home lending laws and veterans home-buying bills, and buttressed by rogue racist neighborhood councils, for example. When school funding comes from local residential property taxes, inequality in home valuation perpetuates school inequalities. We must reawaken the mission of the Housing and Urban Development agency, the Department of Education, and the Department Health and Human Services to make sure the federal government delivers on the equitable mission of these agencies. HHS, for example, could do more to support IDEA (the education of students with disability). The DOE — and the nation’s schools — must not remain sealed off from seeking systemic solutions.
3) Re-assess assessments: call for a 3-year moratorium to address a testing regime under No Child Left Behind that has made rent-seeking by testing companies the primary goal of high-stakes testing. Our economy, society, education system, and political culture are all facing tremendous volatility — no question. This deserves a national and substantive conversation. But we must be mindful about what it is that we believe assessments tell us. It’s time to create a Congressional panel that brings together teachers, parents, and students to actively reflect on the most meaningful ways to measure educational, social, and emotional growth, and the ability to master new material and demonstrate new skills. It’s time to institutionalize this authentic grassroots parent, teacher, and student participation through sustained engagement with the DOE, and not merely through cherry-picked parents or teachers brought to Washington, DC. We cannot simply allow states to revert to “states rights” and pre-Civil Rights era “separate and unequal.” Yet nonstop testing must not be allowed to take over the school day or year in the name of futile accountability. Instead let’s ask our students to start demonstrating their skills in applied projects that address problems rooted in their immediate communities; let the real-world assessment come from the community to gauge how well students define and create age-appropriate solutions, and then encourage them to create more. Only after we’ve determined what counts should we begin counting it.
4) Commit to the promotion of relevant anti-oppression education for all so that documented, corroborable history, evidence-based science, and inclusive curriculum that features racial/cultural/scientific literacies are available to all children K-12. Ethnic studies, womens studies, LGBT studies are all ways to expand the curriculum and make it more inclusive. Support this with expanded funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation so teacher professional development can proceed along these lines. Re-align graduate education programs so all teachers are proficient in teaching and practicing these deeply American principles and invest in their leadership in these values which should be core values of the profession. Fund this curriculum development in K-12 and teacher preparation programs.
5) Increase fiscal accountability and good governance practices for those education vendors, agencies, and non-profit partners that serve schools. Misappropriating money meant for the education of children is stealing from children. In the last two years, the voucherized charter school sector has seen hundreds of millions of dollars disappear to line the pockets of fly-by-night education management operators: “$203 million…the total that federal, state and local governments ‘stand to lose’ in 2015 is probably more than $1.4 billion.” Corrupt officials on school boards or in district administrations divert funds to cronies or arms’-length companies in which they have a financial interest. Violation of the public trust must be made a felony and investigation and criminal charges against those who would divert funds for personal profit in the education sector must be backed by Department of Justice prosecution and collaboration with DOE investigations.
6) Social democracy must be at the heart of all schools, with authentic participation locally in every single school district. All school districts must have a publicly-elected school board, including the state school board. Governors or mayors must not be allowed to appoint school board members.Candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, where are you on these issues?