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NEA Position letter to the Senate on ESEA markup

April 15, 2015

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the students they serve, and as a follow-up to our previous letters this week, we applaud the improvements made on the first day of the markup to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 and urge you to VOTE YES to move the bill to the floor. The bipartisanly negotiated legislation, in combination with key amendments adopted by the committee, represents an important improvement over No Child Left Behind and the current waiver policies being adopted by states.  While we still believe there are areas of improvement needed to help each and every student, particularly those in poverty and with the greatest educational needs, we look forward to working with all senators to craft a final reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that promotes opportunity, equity, and excellence for all. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress.

Reauthorization of ESEA is an opportunity to set a new vision of shared responsibility for public education. Toward that end, we will continue to urge Congress fulfill three core goals:

  • Closing opportunity gaps for students by creating a new accountability system with an “opportunity dashboard” as its centerpiece. The dashboard should include data 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.
  • Giving students more time to learn by addressing over-testing and decoupling the tests from high-stakes decisions. Less high-stakes testing would allow teachers to spend more one-on-one time with students, especially those most in need of extra help, and undo narrowing of the curriculum. States and school districts also need flexibility to determine which tests provide the most useful information to help educators improve instruction and help students learn.
  • Ensuring all students have access to qualified educators who are empowered to lead. Every student deserves committed, caring, and qualified educators who are 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 for all school personnel, including education support professionals.

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, as amended by the Committee, takes key steps in the right direction, though elements remain for improvement. Among the significant steps made to date are:

  • The addition of multiple measures of success used by elementary and middle schools that are included in the manager’s substitute. The initial draft bill already included multiple measures for high schools.
  • The requirement, in the manager’s substitute, of student support and school success indicators in state-designed accountability systems, such as access to advanced coursework, access to school counselors or nurses, and access to fine arts and regular physical education. Requiring such indicators is necessary to ensure that states report—and act on—opportunity gaps in addition to student success measures in order to provide all students with the tools and resources needed to succeed.
  • The passage of the amendment by Senators Collins and Sanders to ensure the pilot program on state-designed assessment is accessible to all states that meet the criteria. This amendment also ensures those assessment systems are driven by teaching and learning and not accountability alone.
  • The passage of the amendment by Senators Baldwin and Cassidy to incorporate the SMART Act to provide states with funds to audit and streamline assessment systems, eliminate unnecessary assessments, and improve the use of assessments.
  • The passage of Senator Isakson’s amendment to maintain parent and guardian rights and allowing them to opt their child out of statewide academic assessments if state or local policies allow.

As noted in our initial letter on April 13, we remain concerned that the bill continues to fall short in key areas, including:

  • Fully closing opportunity gaps – a final reauthorization should require a more complete and broader range of student support and school success indicators be part of a state’s accountability system, and ensure states are held accountable for closing those gaps in order to give all students the resources they need.
  • Testing – the bill should go further in reducing the excessive testing of students happening across the country. The current mandatory testing regime of 17 tests first required under No Child Left Behind remains in place, meaning students will still have less time available for learning than they should.
  • Student performance – the bill continues the arbitrary cap of 1 percent on the number of alternative assessments for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities; and does not provide English Language Learners with enough time, based on research, to attain proficiency before their test scores are used for accountability purposes.
  • Educator pay / qualifications the bill promotes pay for performance despite evidence it does not work. We also believe states should be encouraged to ensure all educators are profession-ready and have the supports needed to be successful.
  • Charter schools – the bill largely preserves the status quo of an aggressive federal push to expand the charter sector without adequate accountability and transparency requirements.

We look forward to working with you and your colleagues in the Senate to further improve this bill as it heads to the floor, and urge to you vote YES on final passage in Committee. Our goal remains a final ESEA reauthorization that truly promotes opportunity, equity, and excellence for all students.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations