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

Friday, April 22, 2016

Reactions to NPR's Interview with NEA Prez

by Jim Horn

From my reading NPR's interview with NEA president, Lily Eskelsen, in the wake of the ESSA passage, some of NEA’s positions and priorities are made disturbingly clear.   

First and foremost, it is clear that NEA’s aggressive marketing of ESSA continues with the same bubbly and unrelenting intensity, entirely unaltered by either factual reading or studied interpretation of the ESSA testing and privatization plan.

It is clear, too, that NEA wants more data, rather than less, in a dashboard of information that it hopes will replace the testing thermometer.  Eskelsen boasts that NEA “got language in there” that even our best friends said, ‘You’re never getting in.’” That magic new language that NEA’s intrepid negotiators insisted upon for the ESSA: “multiple indicators of success.” 

Does Eskelsen not know, or does she think that teachers don’t know, that the old NCLB had the same empty rhetoric, except that it was called “multiple measures:”

NCLB calls for multiple measures that assess higher order thinking and are diagnostically useful. However, these provisions are not enforced by the U.S. Department of Education and are not embedded in most state practices. The push for standardization and the requirements for quickly imposing "in need of improvement" judgments and sanctions make it nearly impossible for states to implement an assessment system that fosters high-quality learning.

Perhaps someone should tell Eskelsen this, since she seems to count the inclusion of this same empty promise about mulitiple indicators as a major victory for teachers and children.  We should know, too, that with ESSA’s weakening of ED, any chance to enforce “multiple indicators” will be even weaker than during the bad old days of NCLB.

And speaking of “in need of improvement,” it is clear that NEA has chosen to ignore this continued school crushing element of ESSA, even as NEA celebrates the end of AYP in a manner that would be fitting if the bubonic plague had ended overnight.  Yes, AYP is gone, but what remains is just as odious if you are trying to keep your public school doors open in a poor neighborhood. 

You see, Eskelsen’s pretensions and posturing about the end of test and punish are based on the purest of fictions.   ESSA maintains the federal requirement that states test at least 95 percent of students, and it includes no opt out provisions for parents.  Additionally, ESSA requires that states continue to take corrective action for the bottom five percent of schools each year, as measured by annual tests. 

What kind of corrective action will be left up to the states, even though ESSA provides for unprecedented levels of federal grants for “no excuses” charter start-ups and expansions.

Oh yes, Eskelsen does mention charters in her interview.  Seems someone out there beyond Washington offered her some news:

The other thing that we're really looking at, and this is coming from our state and local school district affiliates, as people have now started to see charter schools as: Wow, there are studies that say they are really no better, depending on which charter schools and how selective they are, and they're not really improving the public schools the way the original concept had hoped.

Twenty years after charters began draining school budgets and 6 years after a national study showed the majority of charters as worse or no better than the public schools in the same neighborhoods, the NEA has been given this news by its affiliates.  Since the ESSA could have been more accurately named the Charter School Protection and Expansion Act, it is hard to fathom the level of duplicity and bone-headedness that NEA represents.  If they were as stupid as they pretend, that would not be forgivable, but we know they are not, and that is reason for demolition of the entire corporate union structure.

Finally, what is most clear from Eskelsen's interview is that NEA will continue to do nothing with its billions 1) to challenge standardized testing, 2) to confront and demand the end of segregation in schools, 3) to use its lobbying prowess to end policies that continue systemic poverty in urban America (besides handing out used clothing), or 4) to fight for ending corporate control of public education. 

It is clear that NEA will continue to stand on the sidelines and wait for unfunded parents and teachers and students to stand up against the corporate education reformists.   No responsibility, no accountability, no guts—but lots of unearned glory and vacuous celebration.  

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