Just recently, I was asked to critique the Student Success Act. The SSA is on track to become the re-authorization of the NCLB - President George W. Bush's re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) installed by LBJ in 1964. If you'll recall, the Obama Administration has been loathe to re-authorize NCLB as they have found it much easier and more effective to supplant state control of education by creating federal interventions into local public education by means of enticements (Race to the Top, etc.).
Unfortunately, while I believe there are a few good things about the SSA, the upshot is that the federal government apparently still doesn't understand it's Constitutional role. The entire bill is political in nature and wholly unnecessary. The Constitutionally proper thing to do is to repeal NCLB entirely, thereby putting the confederation of states we call the United States, back in charge of educating their own children in the manner their taxpaying citizens see fit. Obviously, the federal government has no Constitutional authority here and the interventions in public education at that level cannot possibly be better than anything a state would choose for its' children, as the state is closer to the voter/taxpayer/parent than any bureaucrat in a chair in Washington, D.C. Any federal level intervention in public K-12 education can do nothing but remove the ability of parents to fully direct their child's education according to their own desires and what is best for each individual child.
I reviewed the floor summary of the bill and as such, will arrange my comments according to the layout of that document.
Returning Responsibility for Student Achievement to States, School Districts, and Parents, While Maintaining High Expectations
- Academic Standards: By dictating FROM the federal government that states MUST use standards, this bill opens the door to Common Core (1). As we have found under RTT, states will most often use the PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE and choose a set of standards being pushed by either private vendors or the feds. Either way homogeneity in standards is the likely outcome. * I am most often offended by this bill's often use of the phrase, "States are ALLOWED". WRONG. States have ALL the power. Period. Reading the Constitution comes in handy here.
- Academic Assessments: By dictating FROM the federal government that states MUST test students over their standards - even going so far as to dictate the grades in which students should be tested - you have changed NOTHING under the current NCLB law. In fact, the last sentence of the paragraph dictates that 95% of students must be tested. Again, no different than NCLB. This one prevision in NCLB PREVENTED PARENTS (2) from opting their children out of state testing if they so desired. Schools made the argument that it was a federal mandate to test their student, therefore, opting out was not an available option - TO PARENTS - the people who have ALL CONTROL over their children in every legal sense of the word. How is this NOT egregious? ("states retain the OPTION", "states...are ALLOWED")
- Accountability: Removing AYP is a GOOD THING. However, the bill still dictates a system be used by which to grade school performance. This is the A-F metric used here in Oklahoma. As we have shown previously, the metrics in ANY school grading effort are ill-defined at best and excessively punitive at worst. If students take a national proficiency test like IOWA (4), parents will know how well THEIR child is doing in relationship to other students of the same age. Parents don't need to know how well their school is doing, just how well their individual CHILD is doing. The grading system can't help but open the door to cheating as surely as did the AYP score. A composite or average score of IOWA test scores could be used for each grade for parents wishing to identify schools with high performing students - which is the issue.
- School Improvement: Though SIG grants are eliminated (a GOOD THING) and the legislation mandating school improvement mechanisms is repealed (a GOOD THING), the bill still dictates states use a system of school improvement interventions for poorly performing schools. This is ridiculous to continue at any federal level for two reasons: School turnaround efforts have been shown NOT TO WORK (5) and open enrollment and school choice would likely eliminate the issue of poorly performing schools altogether. In addition, set-asides were a hotly contested item in Oklahoma's Common Core repeal by administrators who often use this money for uses other than that outlined for the set-aside, schools become dependent upon the money and then use it as an excuse for why laws (in this case the NCLB waiver) must be kept.
- Parent Information: Parent information should not be dictated at the federal level. This is a BAD THING. This entire paragraph supports the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) which is pulling TONS of personal, private data from individual students through individual district schools through the state to the federal government (6). ALL personal, private student data (7) should be kept at the STATE level only. The DOE has access to NAEP (8) scores and that's all they should have under the guise of 'protecting' students and 'informing parents'.
- State Laws On Parent Authority: reiterating that federal law cannot impact state laws dictating parental rights is a GOOD THING.
- Funding Flexibility: Again, the feds ALLOW states? At any rate, it appears that there will be block funding for "special population" programming. While block granting is a good thing (though not better than not taking the money from taxpayers in the first place!) 'special population' programming is a BAD THING. Again, this supports the SLDS and collects information on groups the federal government gets through the Census and only serves to collect MORE data on students (9) at the personal level without providing states anything they shouldn't already know more about and be more prepared to deal with.
- Schoolwide Programs: This eliminates the 40% poverty threshold...anytime the federal government DIVESTS itself of public control it is a GOOD THING.
Eliminating Ineffective Federal Programs and Investing Limited Taxpayer Dollars Wisely
- Authorization Levels: Unless I know specific numbers, all this section says is that the feds won't give the states back some of the money it takes from taxpayers to apply to the education of their children. Baloney - leave the money in the pocket of the taxpayer so they can decide which SCHOOL/DISTRICT/STATE can provide the best education for their child. Leaving money with the taxpayer provides SCHOOL CHOICE.
- Eliminated Program: GOOD THING.
- State and Local Innovation: Creates a NEW Local Academic Flexible Grant. BAD THING. This GROWS GOVERNMENT. Again, leave thee money in the hands of the taxpayer - don't take it from him and give it back with strings attached. After school activities are for PRIVATE and COMMUNITY organizations - including churches - to take on. *In addition, the grants will can be used for "efforts to protect student safety". BAD THING. Protecting student safety is a program called Safe and Drug Free Schools. Among other issues, it comes complete with a database that tracks bullying - including LGBT (10). The Safe and Drug Free Schools initiative is responsible for collecting data at the federal level from LOCAL districts. Oklahoma has hundreds of fields in our SLDS devoted to Safe and Drug Free Schools data. Many of these fields are subjective and include BEHAVIORS which then go onto a student's permanent record, harming their ability to be a success in the future when electronic transcripts are easily shared among schools and, thanks to the holes in FERPA (11), with anyone who can be identified as school-associated, including volunteers.
- Private Sector Initiatives: Dictates that states must reserve 10% grant monies to use in private sector, but again, leave money with the taxpayer.
- State and Local Spending Decisions: This looks as though it amounts to a block grant in essence. This is a GOOD THING, but not as good as leaving the money with the taxpayer. The section the goes on to say that to 'protect the traditional federal role in education' federal money 'supplements' state money. First of all THERE IS NO TRADITIONAL FEDERAL ROLE IN EDUCATION. Secondly, state money has always come first - except in Title 1 - so that part makes little sense.
- Department Bureaucracy: GOOD THING because it reduces employee positions associated with eliminated or consolidated programs.
- Program Evaluations: BAD THING. Directs Secretary of Ed to work with Institute or Education Sciences (IES) to perform evaluations on federal education initiatives. This portion of the bill absolutely ENSURES the further collection of student level data (12) in the name of 'accountability'. The only data collected at the federal level - until we rid ourselves of the DOE altogether - should be the NAEP.
- Earmarks: Stops earmarks to comply with House earmark ban. GOOD THING.
Strengthening Programs for Schools and Targeted Populations
- Education of Migratory Children
- Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children and Youth who are Neglected Delinquent, or At-Risk
- English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement and Academic Achievement
- Rural Education
- Indian Education
- BAD THING. NONE of these categories should be addressed at the federal level. Look at the wording used, "TARGETED". The federal government should not be targeting any "population" or "category" for any kind of data collection. Separating people into groups and then providing separate funding streams to facilitate the collection of data is completely wrong. The Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children and Youth...is the worst because of the individual, personal student data collected - information about guns, weapons and very subjective categories of behavior (see citation #9) - do not belong on a personal, electronic, shareable, record at the federal level when all information is best left to states to collect IF NECESSARY. In 2010, Congressman John Kline sent a letter to Arne Duncan (13) accusing him of creating a De Facto national database (establishment of which is against federal law). If Chairman Kline felt that way in 2010, this continued data collection should have stopped at that point and definitely should not be continued at the federal level. In fact, there is a Federal Law that prohibits the collection of data (14) that could be considered a national database.
Supporting Local Efforts to Measure Teacher Effectiveness
- Highly Qualified Teachers: GOOD THING. Repeals federal requirements for teacher certification.
- Teacher Evaluations: BAD THING. Teacher evaluations KEEP COMMON CORE ENTRENCHED (15) because the data collection models often point back to specific ways of teaching CC. Also, these systems include the collection of behavioral data on students which compromises student privacy (16). This kind of data is also subjective and can be used by school administrators as an excuse to fire teachers for ideology. There is no reason for the federal government to prescribe this action for states. Principles are hired by local school boards. These individuals are trained/certified to conduct evaluations on teachers in order to make employment decisions. This kind of law REMOVES LOCAL CONTROL by circumventing the school board process made up of local parents and community members.
- Uses of Funds: Frees up existing funds to be spent on whatever system the state imposed for teacher evaluations. Evaluation same as above - money needs to go back to the state and let local school boards make decisions on teacher employment.
- Teacher and School Leader Innovation: Consolidates remaining teacher quality programs into a new grant - Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant. BAD THING. As with the previous grant program creation evaluated (Local Academic Flexible Grant), this grant will also GROW GOVERNMENT and cut out local control. States will apply, feds will say what to do with the money and parents will get caught in the middle. As Lindsey Burke of Heritage Foundation writes in "The Dead Hand of Federal Education Reform" (17),
- Completing grant applications, monitoring the federal program notices and complying with reporting requirements siphons away huge amounts of educators' time and money - resources THAT WOULD BE MUCH BETTER DEVOTED TO THE CLASSROOM.
- Teacher and School Leader Academies: The U.S. already has enough issues with teacher preparation not being rigorous enough (18) while charging students a pretty penny for tuition. All that is really needed is a long-term (one school year?) on-the-job-training (student teacher) assignment. No money is required for this kind of preparation.
- Teacher Liability: Anything included under this category would be unnecessary as this is a state matter provided for by individual state law.
Engaging Parents in their Child's Education
- Charter Schools
- Direct Student Services
- Magnet Schools
- Family Engagement Centers
- BAD THING. None of the above are needed as what parents demand/expect of/for their children's education is SOLELY A LOCAL MATTER. Again the federal government is going to dictate to states that they set aside money for competitive grants which are better off left to private organizations or churches in the community. (19) Again, the federal government should not be taking taxpayer money and then doling it back out to them through another state tax-supported government office. *The Family Engagement Centers are particularly noxious as these are the kinds of places where excessive data collection is occurring (20). The school is not and should not be the center of the family (21) - the FAMILY (or the church) - is the center of the family.
Supporting Impact Aid
- Payments for Federal Property
- Payments for Federally-Connected Children
- Timely Payments
- The only one here I have an issue with (though, again, Constitutionally, all the money collected for education at the federal level should be returned to the state and ultimately taxpayers in order that they may be better able to educate their children) is the Payments for Federally Connected Children. Again, the reason is personal data collection on children. My goodness, just read the verbiage used in this paragraph..."count children", "counting children".
Maintaining and Strengthening Long-Standing Protections for State and Local Autonomy
- Secretary's Authority. It would have been best to scrap ALL of the current NCLB law and simply enact this section as law. GOOD THING.
- Private School Students: BAD THING. The Blaine Amendment (22) is the exact reason why the federal government should have absolutely NO SAY in PRIVATE EDUCATION ever. This is a local/parent/state matter. The Blaine Amendment has caused considerable issues with school choice - federal intervention in state matters often causes similar ills - therefore this section should be left out completely and all references to private education repealed.
- Military Recruiters: Germane?
Providing Services for Homeless Students
- Improved Collaborations
- School Stability
- This portion of the bill refers to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. BAD THING. This section should be removed. Data collection on the homeless is provided by the Census. Allowing the federal government to collect data on homeless children, is again, providing the federal government with more data than they need on individual children and states. This is a STATE/LOCAL issue best addressed through local private charities and churches and state-run facilities. See citation #9 for all the information on M-V data collection. For the money states get for this particular grant, schools must take time and resources away from classroom activities in order to collect the data required. Associations with organizations at the local level are in the best position to help with the least amount of red-tape, providing better services, faster.
(1) Is Common Core Meant To Blow Up The American Educational System?
(2) FairTest.org - How NCLB Relates To Opting Out Of Tests:
(3) Oklahoma's A-F Grading System Gets An "F"
(4) Seton Testing services including IOWA tests: http://www.setontesting.com/iowa-tests/
(5) School Turnaround Doesn't Work: http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/02/22/study-school-turnarounds-dont-work/
(6) An Analysis Of Recent Education Reforms and The Resulting Impact On Student Privacy:
(7) Does Our State Superintendent Truly Care About Student Privacy?
(8) National Assessment of Educational Progress: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Assessment_of_Educational_Progress
(9) EdFacts Overview: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/edfacts/edfacts-overview.pdf
(10) Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools database in EdFacts: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/edfacts/edfacts-overview.pdf
(11) Federal Register; FERPA
(12) Surveys and Programs Listed under National Center for Educational Statistics;
(13) Letter from Congressman John Kline to Arne Duncan
(14) ESEA laws. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg112.html#sec9531
(15) Seven Reasons Why Common Core Repeal in Oklahoma Isn't.
(16) I'm Outraged and You Should Be Too - Private Student Data On Google Docs For All To See
(17) The Dead Hand of Federal Education Reform:
(18) Training Our Future Teachers: http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/EasyAs
(19) Whiz Kids: http://www.whiz-kids.org/
(20) 21st Century After School Programming: http://www.scribd.com/doc/105519107/21st-Century-After-School-Programming
(21) A Review of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills White Papers
(22) The Blaine Amendment: http://www.churchstatelaw.com/historicalmaterials/8_11.asp