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NYSAPE February 2, 2015 comments on the ESEA draft legislation to Senators Lamar Alexandar & Patty Murray, and members of the HELP Committee

NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) www.nysape.org

Contact: Lisa Rudley, nys.allies@gmail.com

 

Summary of comments on ESEA draft bill

 

  • Support option 1 to eliminate mandated annual testing, remove high stakes attached to standardized tests, encourage flexibility in designing assessments, and provide the right for parents to opt their children out of standardized testing.
  • Add to the reporting requirements of districts, states and the federal government on average class size data, (which is now very hard to find) and especially the disparity in class size between high- and low-poverty schools;
  • Strengthen the language around student data privacy and limit federally mandated data collection of individual students;
  • We strongly oppose the diversion of resources to private and charter schools through portability of Title One funds and through expansion of federal funding to charters.
  • Restore reducing class size as option that states and districts can use with their Title II funds, which is a research-based reform that also works to lower teacher attrition. Also eliminate the use of federal funds for merit pay, which is a waste of money and has been repeatedly shown to fail to improve student outcomes.
  • Require maintenance of effort, so that states and districts cannot cut back on their own support for schools which replacing their funding with federal dollars.
  • We believe it is especially critical to significantly increase overall funding for Title One, Title II, and Title X for homeless students, especially as the majority of children in our public schools are now from low-income families.

 

More specifically:

 

Title I STATE PLANS;.

 

We support the section entitled “Limitations” which prohibits the Secretary of Education from requiring any particular specific standards, assessments, accountability systems, or teacher or principal evaluation systems.

 

 We support this section of the bill because states and districts should be allowed to craft their own standards and accountability systems, as long as they are research –based and are responsive to stakeholder and community input – neither of which is true of the currently mandated federal accountability systems and standards.

 

In this section we would like to see the language around student privacy also strengthened:

 

Section 6D removes the ability of the Secretary to “require the collection, publication, or transmission to the Department of individual student data that is not expressly required to be collected under this Act.”

 

This is rather ambiguously phrased, as it could allow for the Secretary to require states and/or districts to collect and publish individual student data as long as they do not transmit such data to the Department.

 

We would like this section to clearly prohibit the Secretary from requiring the collection or publication of ANY individual student data by states or districts, and/or restrict the Secretary from requiring that this data be transmitted to any third parties outside state and local education agencies, including the US Department of Education.

 

 

Testing:

 

We support Option 1 – to require that states to give assessments only in the relevant grade spans, and to limit the footprint of the federal government in this way, especially as US children are over-tested.  This has led to the narrowing of the curriculum, and taking up too much instructional time and resources.  As far as we know, the US is the only high-performing nation in the world that requires annual testing.

 

We would like two critical provisions to be added to this section; that along with multi-faceted accountability systems that include resources and inputs as well as outcomes, and involve many different ways of measuring and ensuring student learning and quality education.  The US Department of Education should also:

 

  • Discourage high stakes to be attached to standardized tests, since high stakes have not only been showing to be damaging to the quality of education overall but has caused the data to be less reliable as a diagnostic or analytic tool, as a result of Campbell’s Law.
  • That parents should be afforded the rights to opt out of state standardized tests, if they so choose.

 

 

Reporting:

 

Under the section that requires states and LEAs to report student achievement data, graduation rates, teacher qualifications, and other important metrics, disaggregated by high and low poverty schools, states should also be required to report on average class sizes by grade, and disaggregated by high and low poverty schools.  Class size has been shown to be a significant factor in student success, and yet accurate class size data has been difficult to find.  The Secretary’s annual report to Congress should also include trends in national class size data, average class size trends per state and per LEA, and disaggregated according to district and school poverty level.

 

As disadvantaged students tend to benefit the most from small classes, they often have much higher class sizes than those enrolled in low-poverty schools.  We would also like the language removed that requires the reporting of “teacher effectiveness” as there is currently no reliable system to measure this factor.

 

 

Privacy

 

In the section entitled (5) Presentation of Data in the reporting section:  There is a discussion of states and LEAs including only that data in their annual report cards sufficient for statistically reliable information & not revealing personally identifiable student  information.

 

We would like added to “(B) STUDENT PRIVACY.—“In carrying this out, student education records shall not be released without written consent consistent with the Family Educational

Rights and Privacy Act of 1974’ we would like the following words added: “and nothing shall require state or local education departments to collect, amass or share individual or personally identifiable student data with any third party or official, not employed directly by their agency without explicit parental notification and consent.

 

Title I portability:

 

The base bill includes Title I portability, allowing states to allocate Title I dollars on the count of students living in poverty. This is a significant shift away from ensuring funds are targeted at schools with high concentrations of poverty. We strongly oppose portability which undermines the purpose of Title I funds – which is to support schools with many poor students, who need additional resources the most.   Additionally, portability as defined in this draft would require a new level of federally-mandated bureaucracy and data collection and is a first step towards private school vouchers.

 

Title II- High Quality Teachers and Principals :

 

This draft bill omits critical language that currently allows Title II funds to be used to reduce class size, which is highly undesirable, especially as states and districts are currently using more than 30% of these funds for this purpose.  Nevertheless, because of state and local budget cuts, class sizes have increased in most states even as class size reduction is one of the few reforms  cited by the Institute of Education Sciences that been proven to work through rigorous evidence. 

 

 Small class size is also particularly important as it has been shown to significantly narrow the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and yet because of funding inequities, these students are more likely to be subjected to large classes.  We also oppose the “transferability” language that would allow states and LEAs to transfer up to 100 percent of the respective funds received under Titles II and IV. 

 

As for the Teacher incentive funds:  We oppose the use of any federal funds to “develop, implement, or expand comprehensive performance- based compensation systems for teachers, principals, and other school leaders” as this has been proven over and over again though research to be an ineffective and wasteful use of funds.

 

 

Title IV- Safe and Healthy Students

 

We support restoring funding to targeted programs such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Promise Neighborhoods, the AP program and school counselors, and to allow 21st Century funds to be used for community schools. While the Bill purports that allowing the transfer of Title II and Title IV funds provides funding flexibility, this is tantamount to a back-door way to defund education programs. Given the impact of out-of-school issues on student learning, retaining funding for strategies like full service community schools are important. 

 

Title V Charter schools

 

We oppose the section of the bill that would increase the funding for charters, the number of charters and would encourage states to provide funding for facilities commensurate with the funding of public schools.​  Charter schools have been shown to increase segregation, enroll fewer at-risk students including students with disabilities and English language learners, and often feature abusive disciplinary practices and high suspension and expulsion rates. We support the language in the law that would require independent financial audits that are publicly reported, but to add that charter schools should be subject to the same governmental auditing authority that exists for public schools in the same state or locality.  It is important that all entities taking public dollars are faced with the same burdens/compliance requirements.

 

The definition of a “high quality” charter school that is eligible for federal or state funding should include not only academic measures but also their overall rates of student enrollment, retention, suspension and expulsion of students in the highest need categories, as cited above.

 

Each state should be required to report annually on charter schools’ rates of enrollment of high-needs students, including students with disabilities, English language learners, homeless students, and students who receive free lunch, as well as their overall suspension and expulsion rates, as compared to the public schools in the same area. The state also should be required to audit and provide proper oversight for the lotteries and admission practices of charter schools, to ensure that all applicants have the same chance to enroll.

 

Title IX Maintenance of Effort:

 

The language around the supplement/supplant language compliance test has been greatly modified. The proposed change means that a district would need to only show that the methodology of getting state/local funds to its schools is clear/transparent enough to ensure that Title I funds are not used to supplant state/local dollars. This change significantly dilutes the Title I focus on serving at-risk students in schools by eliminating the Maintenance of Effort. We oppose the elimination of the maintenance-of-effort requirement that would allow states to use federal funds to displace their own funding and eliminate the requirement that states maintain at least 90 percent of their funding from the previous year. We encourage Congress to retain the current legislative language to help state and local education agencies better serve students in poverty.

 

 

Title X:

 

We support increased rather than reduced levels of funding for homeless students, the numbers of which are a record high in many localities.  Instead of $65M for each of FY 2016-2021 –$5 million less than was allocated for fiscal years 2003-2007 — we support an increase in the funding for this purpose to at least $70 million per year.

 

 Overall Funding:

 

The bill provides flat funding for programs for FY2016 thru FY2021. While certain programs are funded above FY15 level, the collective impact (factoring in block grants, consolidations and program elimination) is a cut to ESEA programs of $120 million. The authorization levels in this draft bill are inadequate to ensure that disadvantaged students are provided an education that provides them with an equitable chance to learn.  Title I and other programs would continue to be frozen at $14.9 billion for the next five years.  At the same time, the number of poor children has increased dramatically in our public schools.

 

For the first time in at least fifty years, more than 50% of the children attending our public schools come from low-income families and are eligible for free and reduced price lunch.  Meanwhile, our federal investment in their education is lagging.  Title I is the flagship program of the law designed to promote equity in education and so it is critical that Title I be funded at a level to support its mission and that its dollars are allocated in a truly equitable manner that adequately serves schools with high concentrations of poverty.  According to OECD figures, the United States is one of only three developed nations where fewer public dollars are spent on poor children than wealthier children, and where disadvantaged schools have higher student/teacher ratios. Our nation must increase current funding levels for Title I and other targeted education programs to ensure that more federal dollars are provided to our neediest students.

 

 

 

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