We object to the way in which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) completely shut out the parent voice, encourage more test prep and narrowing of the curriculum, lead to more privatization and inequities in funding, and would further undermine the quality of our children's public schools.
Parent leaders from across America have written a letter to the President and the US Congress, posted here., demanding that parents have a seat at the decision-making table, and that they enact real education reforms that have been proven to work, including requiring more parent involvement and reducing class size.
We insist that the next version of the ESEA formally incorporates the views of public school parents. Please join us by signing the letter below!
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters
As public school parents and parent advocates, we have grave reservations about the Blueprint for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) put forward by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
So far, the parent voice has been missing from the debate over education and is entirely absent from the top-down and often draconian proposals being put forward by the administration.
We believe that the Blueprint’s proposals would undermine rather than strengthen our public school system, particularly in the urban districts whose parents we represent.
Focus on Competitive Grants
Our schools are facing huge budget cuts, resulting in sharp increases in class size, the shortening of the school year, massive teacher layoffs, and the loss of many valuable programs and services.
ESEA was originally designed as extra support for poor children, and federal funding was distributed by a formula to assure that funds reached those who needed them. Yet the new proposed funding system will rely primarily on competitive grants, as exemplified in the “Race to the Top” program. This means that millions of at-risk children will become “losers” in the race for federal funds.
Failure to Involve Parents
A central flaw in the administration’s approach is the failure to encourage parent involvement in decision-making. Studies show that the more involved parents are at the school level, the better their children’s outcomes. Yet the proposed education budget would eliminate the sole funding dedicated to family engagement, and the ESEA Blueprint removes essential mechanisms for engaging parents at the school or district level.
Severing the Connection between Schools and Neighborhoods
Neighborhood schools are often the anchors of their communities. In many cities, thousands of parents, teachers and students have erupted in protest against the closing of their neighborhood schools. Yet the proposed legislation threatens to further undermine these schools, by requiring that five percent of these schools be closed or turned into charter schools, or that half of their teaching staff be fired. There is little evidence that this strategy works.
In Chicago, the mass closure of schools has been associated with increased violence, including students murdering other students. Moreover, research shows that the students sent elsewhere after the closure of their schools did no better academically than before. In New York, the closing of schools has led to more overcrowding and destabilization of nearby schools, and sharp spikes in the discharge rate – with thousands more students leaving the system or being pushed out without graduating.
Undermining Quality Teaching and Learning
The punitive approaches proposed by the administration are likely to deter rather than attract qualified teachers to work in our highest-need schools. Blaming teachers and threatening them with the loss of their jobs in under-resourced, overcrowded schools with the most at-risk students is like blaming doctors for the results of our inequitable health care system.
Tying teacher pay and tenure to gains or losses in student standardized test scores will not only make the prospect of teaching in our inner cities less attractive, but is also highly unreliable, as the National Academy of Sciences has pointed out. Too many of our schools have already become joyless test-prep factories. Proposals to link teacher pay and evaluations to standardized test scores are likely to make a bad situation worse.
Ignoring Proven Strategies
Only a handful of education reforms have been proven to increase learning and narrow the achievement gap. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, evidence supporting small classes is especially strong. Both parents and teachers have made class size a priority. Yet the Blueprint does not include small classes in its slate of reforms -- and it must, to ensure that our children receive their right to a quality education.
Overlooking Resource Inequality
Finally, the Blueprint pays almost no attention to the need to address enormous disparities in funding across and within states, saying only that "states be asked to measure and report on resource disparities and develop a plan to tackle them."
The Perils of Privatization
We particularly object to the focus on forcing states to privatize education, by radically expanding their charter school sector. Though some charter schools offer a quality education, the largest national study shows they are on average no better and often are worse than neighboring public schools. They also draw resources and in many cases precious space from our district public schools, while enrolling fewer immigrant, special needs, and poor children than the communities in which they reside.
Education is a public trust and the very foundation of our democracy. We urge you to be wary of the influence of venture philanthropy on our public education system. We are well aware that powerful foundations, such as those founded by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family, are shaping many of our federal and local education policies with dollars rather than evidence-based solutions.
Reject the Blueprint Plans and Enact Positive, Proven Policies
You hold a great responsibility in your hands this year in reauthorizing the ESEA. We hope you will listen to parents, the most important stakeholders of our public school system, before you make the radical and destructive changes that the administration has put forward.
We insist that the next version of the ESEA formally incorporates the views of public school parents. As highly knowledgeable primary stakeholders, we must be permitted to have a seat at the decision-making table.
Instead, we urge you to replace these risky experiments with proposals that offer real solutions to the problems facing our schools, including ending unfair funding disparities, reducing class sizes, providing a balanced curriculum with multiple assessments, and requiring that schools involve parents in the decision-making process.
These are the changes that parents want, that will work, and that, if incorporated into ESEA, will provide our neediest public school children with their best chance to learn and succeed.
Sincerely, Parents Across America
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