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Letter to Congress on the Student Success Act (HR 5)

February 25, 2015

United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the students they serve, we urge you to VOTE NO on the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), scheduled to be voted on this week. The bill erodes the crucial federal role in public education: targeting resources and supports to marginalized student populations as a means of helping ensure opportunity for all students. Votes on this bill may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress. We will follow up with a separate letter on specific amendments to H.R. 5 that are made in order by the Rules Committee.

Our vision for ESEA

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for the last 13 years, is the cornerstone of the federal presence and historic role in public education. Students, parents, educators, and policymakers recognize that NCLB has not worked—the current system delivers unequal opportunities and uneven quality to America’s children based, too often, on the zip code where they live. Educators welcome the renewed effort to reauthorize ESEA and stand ready to work with members of both parties to complete a reauthorization that fixes this badly broken law.

Reauthorization is an opportunity to set a new vision of shared responsibility for public education that promotes opportunity, equity, and excellence for all students. Toward that end, we believe a final bill should:

  • Create a new generation accountability system that includes an “opportunity dashboard.” The dashboard should include data, disaggregated by NCLB’s current population groups, on attendance and graduation rates, as well as students’ access to resources and supports such as advanced coursework, fully qualified teachers, specialized instructional personnel, high-quality early education programs, and arts and athletic programs. States and school districts should be required to develop “opportunity and equity plans” to address gaps revealed by the dashboard.
  • Ensuring more time for students to learn and teachers to teach. We support reducing the amount of mandatory standardized testing—and the high stakes associated with it—and the approach known as “grade-span” testing: once in elementary, once in middle, and once in high school. Less testing would allow teachers to spend more one-on-one time with students, especially those most in need of extra help, and free up resources to undo the narrowing of the curriculum that has been an unfortunate consequence of NCLB. While NEA supports an annual measure of student learning, we strongly believe states and school districts should have flexibility to determine the assessment system that provides the most useful information to help students; and that tests that are redundant or not useful should be eliminated.
  • Ensuring qualified educators for students and empowering them to lead. Every student deserves committed, caring, and qualified educators. To ensure they get them, educators must be empowered to focus on what is most important: student learning. To help ensure that the expertise of accomplished educators shapes policy and practice, incentives should be provided for educator-led professional development and training—for example, in using data to inform instruction, cultural competence, bullying prevention, and positive behavioral supports.

As currently written, H.R. 5 fails to address these principles. More specifically, we are deeply troubled that the bill falls short in several areas, including:

Opportunity. The bill does not push states enough to narrow achievement or opportunity gaps, or ensure that all children have access to a well-rounded education that includes music, the arts, and daily physical education.

Portability. The bill allows Title I funds to “follow the child”—i.e., provides a flat dollar amount per child instead of greater funding for greater concentrations of poverty. This approach will lead to less funding for the schools that serve the most children in poverty.

Maintenance of Effort (MOE). The bill eliminates MOE requirements, which would trigger a race to the bottom in state and local spending and violate a driving principal of Title I: using federal dollars to augment state and local support for the students most in need.

Annual tests. Like NCLB, the bill measures schools and students with annual standardized testing in grades 3-8.

Collective bargaining. The bill lacks clear protection of collective bargaining agreements that are already part of state laws, and eliminates provisions of current law that respect educators’ rights to bargain.

Charter School Accountability. The bill fails to address long-standing, significant issues of accountability and transparency in the charter sector. Charter schools should be required to be more transparent about their finances, disciplinary policies, boards, conflicts of interest, and policies that impact student well-being.

Funding. The bill provides insufficient funding. The amount authorized for all ESEA programs under the bill is lower than the Title I authorization for the last year it was authorized under current law.

Performance pay. The bill promotes pay for performance and appears to encourage using standardized test scores as the primary metric even though today’s tests are unreliable indicators of student learning and therefore not a valid way to measure performance.

Support for school professionals. The bill lacks sufficient recognition of—and support for—education support professionals (ESPs) and specialized instructional support personnel (SISPs) who play key roles in helping students succeed.

Professional development. The bill diminishes the focus on professional development and does not provide enough support for all school professionals.

Class size. The bill caps the use of Title II, Part A funds for class size reduction at 10 percent, which would mean less one-on-one attention for students.

English-language learners. The bill merges Title III into Title I, which could lead to a loss of targeted national focus on the needs of English-language learners.

While the provisions cited above raise significant concerns, we do recognize and appreciate that the bill eliminates Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the arbitrary deadline for 100 percent proficiency, and NCLB’s one-size-fits-all system of labeling and punishing schools based only on standardized test scores; and, allows for multiple measures of school and student performance. While these elements are encouraging, overall the measure falls well short of what is needed in ESEA reauthorization.

Thank you for your consideration of our views on these vital issues. We urge you to VOTE NO on H.R. 5.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations