NEA Gives Kline ESEA Bills a Failing Grade
By Tim Walker
The National Education Association spoke out on Tuesday against two amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization effort for walking away from the federal government’s commitment to ensuring equity for students in need. The two bills, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, were marked up on Tuesday by the House Education and Workforce Committee. Both bills, introduced by committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), were voted out of committee on a party line vote line late Tuesday.
Although NEA has a number of concerns about the Kline bills, their lack of commitment to ensuring educational opportunities to less-fortunate students stands out.
“The original intent of 1965’s ESEA law was to ensure equity of opportunity and access to public education for all students, and Chairman Kline’s bills miss the mark,” said Van Roekel. “When one in five children in America lives in poverty, the federal government must ensure their schools and communities get the support and resources necessary to close achievement and opportunity gaps to ensure equity for all.”
Specifically, the Kline bills gut protection of state and local fiscal support for schools, triggering a race to the bottom in the foundation of public education. Federal dollars would be used to backfill state and local funding gaps rather than supporting students who need additional support or attention to thrive – particularly those in poverty.
The bills do contain several positive provisions, such as adding common-sense changes to testing requirements including changing Adequate Yearly Progress and providing for alternative assessments for some students with special needs.
In a letter to the House Education and Workforce Committee sent on Monday, Kim Anderson, Director of NEA’s Center for Advocacy, and Mary Kusler, NEA Director of Government Relations, said the key to a successful ESEA reauthorization is striking the right balance between the federal and state role in public education. While the federal government should ensure access to quality public education for all students, it must be more flexible in other areas, including the design and scope of teacher evaluation systems.
“Current law tips the balance too far in favor of the federal government,” wrote Anderson and Kusler, “with an overly prescriptive, one-size-fits-all system. The federal government should be a supporter- not a micro-manager of state, district and school responsibilities.”
The Kline bills, however, go too far in dictating what teacher evaluation systems should look like – a responsibility best left at the state and local level. Although the NEA supports strong evaluation systems, it has long opposed the creation of a national, federally mandated evaluation system, deeming it to be unfair, inaccurate and unworkable.
States and districts are already taking the initiative on establishing robust systems that properly address student needs. More interference at the federal level would therefore likely be counterproductive.
To ensure a highly skilled and effective teaching force, NEA has taken the lead as a union in proposing an ambitions framework to improve the profession, including raising the bar for entry, ensuring that those who are in the classroom are the best, and providing leadership to transform the profession.
“We have to attract and retain the best of the best for our students,” said Van Roekel. “They deserve nothing less.”
As ESEA reauthorization process moves forward, educators across the country will continue to voice their opinions on how to improve the law.
“We should remember the days before ESEA when generations of children were denied the basic educational opportunities they deserved,” Anderson and Kusler said. “And, we should look forward – to consider the needs of our nation in the 21st century and judge proposals on whether they will help us build a competitive workforce and strong democracy. “