"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Parents Across America Share Ideas on ESEA

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From PAA:
This letter is available as a pdf here.  A version of the letter which you can edit to fax to your Senators is here.
A handy chart laying out which provisions in the bill we support and oppose is here. 

October 18, 2011

Re: Reauthorization of ESEA

Dear Senator Harkin:

Your proposed revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act show that you and the HELP Committee have listened to some of the concerns voiced by parents and others about the problems with No Child Left Behind. For example, we strongly support doing away with the adequate yearly progress measurement, and agree that requiring states to adopt unreliable test-based principal and teacher evaluation will only lead to an overemphasis on standardized tests and the further narrowing of the curriculum. Thank you from Parents Across America!

However, we believe that too many of the ineffective, damaging elements of NCLB remain in the Senate proposal, and that it does not address more important, fundamental problems facing our nation’s schools and students.

Specifically, instead of the rigid menu imposed on schools needing improvement, including punitive school closings, privatization, or other set policies imposed from above with no track record of success, solutions should be devised through stakeholder input from the ground up, including parents.

In addition, options should include research-based improvements including class size reduction, expansion of preschool programs, and more parent involvement in decision-making at all levels. Right now, schools with the most at-risk students are being closed or forced to arbitrarily fire half their staff. Not only does this seriously disrupt children’s lives, but it also undermines communities and fatally weakens the effort to recruit and keep high-quality teachers in our neediest schools. Given the harsh school budget cuts being carried out across the U. S., this is simply not the time to throw more precious education funds away on more experimental or damaging policies.

We also feel strongly that parents should have the right to have their children opt out of high-stakes testing—and that any accountability system should include multiple measures of success, including parent and teacher surveys. We oppose the continuation of the risky and damaging Race to the Top and Innovation grant programs. Attached please find a summary of specific recommendations from PAA for a better ESEA.

As the primary stakeholders of the public schools, parents have a deep-rooted understanding of the challenges facing our educational system. We would welcome the opportunity to testify at any hearings called on the topic of ESEA reauthorization.

Thank you so much for your time and attention, and for your service to our children.

Julie Woestehoff, Legislative Chair, Parents Across America
Parents Across America Recommendations for a better ESEA

October 2011

ESEA should NOT:

  • Promote policies that use standardized test scores or graduation data as the primary accountability measures for schools, teachers or students. Overemphasis on such data encourages cheating and manipulation, and has led to narrowing of the school curriculum and replacing important school subjects with math and reading test prep.
  • Limit federally-mandated school improvement models to a narrow set of strategies, including school closings privatization, and/or firing half the staff, which are punitive and have had little verified success. Right now, schools with the highest needs students are being targeted for closure or other damaging prescriptions that disrupt children’s lives and undermine any effort to recruit and keep high-quality teachers in our neediest schools.
  • Mandate charter takeovers or other forms of outsourcing school management that take resources from the schools attended by most students and put them into private hands, with less oversight.
  • Identify those schools needing improvement by means of rigid formulas that do not take into account the need level of the student population.
  • Continue the risky and damaging Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation grant programs.
A better ESEA should include

  • Requirements that ensure fairly distributed, adequate resources in all public schools, so that every child receives a high-quality education.
  • Support for improving schools rather than closing them, by means of evidence-based solutions, including class size reduction and expansion of preK programs, as designed by parents and other stakeholders at the school level.
  • Less emphasis on standardized testing and more reliable accountability and assessment practices including local, teacher-designed assessments supplemented with teacher and parent surveys and site visits.
Programs that encourage the retention of professional, experienced teachers, especially at the most challenged schools.
  • A full range of parent involvement opportunities including a stronger parent voice in decision making at the school, district, state, and national levels.
  • The right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.
The full version of the Parents Across America Position Paper on the Reauthorization
of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) can be found at

For more information please email us at info@parentsacrossamerica.org or visit us online at www.parentsacrossamerica.org

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