On November 30, 2015, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be released to the public. It will most likely be scheduled for a vote as early as December 2nd. Education watchdog groups like Network for Public Education (NPE) and local activists are asking for 60 day delay in order to allow for all taxpayers to read the unnumbered 600 page document, or at least the sections regarding testing, charter school funding, digital education, and Social Impact Bonds.
The general consensus is that this bill is a bit improved over No Child Left Behind, but there are areas of concern that will greatly affect our most at risk populations throughout the country. The section on testing still continues the annual mandate for Grades 3 thru 8. Proficiency rates and growth must still account for 51% of the state’s accountability system. Draconian testing methods will still loom over public schools and sustain a system of “winners” and “losers.” Title II funds can be used to purchase Social Impact Bonds instead of being used to reduce class size and for teacher initiative programs. Although, judging from the class sizes in Philadelphia public schools those funds have not been correctly utilized for many years so why not use our children as small mortgages that can be paid out to Wall Street in dividends on returns. If the criteria is not met how else will the monies be paid back to the stock market/investors? Bankruptcy? Further lowering the credit rates of school districts? An article in the New York Times published on November 3rd clearly details how these kinds of bonds have already been used in early childhood education programs in Utah.
Charter school funding is supported in the current bill, which will support continued local growth of charter schools despite the Supreme Court ruling in Washington that deemed the entities unconstitutional. Urban centers like Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City have seen the growth of charter schools increase as traditional neighborhood schools are shuttered or suffer severe budget cuts that eliminate programs, staff, and supplies. The long list of scandals, reported and unreported, looming over the vast majority of them should be enough to reevaluate this decision.
Another red flag is the emphasis on digital education in the section simply titled, Schools of the Future. At first glance, it appears to be a funding source that can be used for secondary education students to attend college courses online, but when you dig through the loosely written verbiage it can also be used to provide a cyber school option within a brick and mortar school. This reads like a support to eliminate more actual living and breathing teachers. It is also a cheaper way to provide advanced courses without hiring an actual person. This can also support an online testing measure that is “included in the curriculum” and protected from Opt Out language.
It is imperative that the bill is read in its completion by parents, community members, and supporters of public education. When major change occurs it always sends pneumonia and near death symptoms to communities that are identified as low-income, non-native English speakers, Black, or Latino/Hispanic. Once this bill is voted and passed, it will be the norm for the next several years. Call or email your local United States Representative tomorrow and ask for a 60 day delay and then curl up with some snacks and commence reading because we cannot afford another version of No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top. It is time that all of our children came first as opposed to constantly being collateral damage.