Obama Weekly Radio Address On ESEA

After a couple of weeks of back and forth on the Hill the President used his weekly radio address to talk about Elementary And Secondary Education Act reauthorization. Suffice it to say it wasn’t a valentine for Republican leaders on the Hill. You can watch and read it here.

Two things jump out. First, the President does say:

That means cutting testing down to the bare minimum required to make sure parents and teachers know how our kids and schools are doing from year to year, and relative to schools statewide.

That’s not exactly an endorsement of annual statewide testing or Secretary Duncan’s position but it’s awfully close. The President of the United States is not going to split hairs over local testing versus statewide testing in a weekly radio address at this point. (Update: Senior administration officials confirm this is the intent, common annual statewide assessments as in current law).

There are not a lot of words to use in those addresses and he could have just said nothing – especially within the architecture of this particular one. The teachers unions, seeing the issue of annual testing slipping away from them, have now pivoted hard to arguing for local assessments as an alternative to statewide assessments. It’s a great idea except it’s inefficient from a financial and quality point of view, would undercut equity efforts, and in many places would likely end up working at cross-purposes with the goal of having less testing. Otherwise, good policy! This is an important signal from the White House.

The second theme is more important in terms of the politics of a possible ESEA bill.  Class warfare in ESEA? It’s on! The president says:

At a time when we should invest more in our kids, their plan would lock in cuts to schools for the rest of this decade.  We’d end up actually invest less in our kids in 2021 than we did in 2012.

At a time when we should give our teachers all the resources they need, their plan could let states and cities shuffle education dollars into things like sports stadiums or tax cuts for the wealthy.

 At a time when we have to give every child, everywhere, a fair shot – this Congress would actually allow states to make even deeper cuts into school districts that need the most support, send even more money to some of the wealthiest school districts in America, and turn back the clock to a time when too many students were left behind in failing schools.

Denying a quality education to the children of working families is as wrong as denying health care or child care to working families.  We are better than this.

I have a different vision for the middle class.

Could be wrong but I’m pretty sure those lines are not pulled from the “How To Make Friends And Reauthorize ESEA” manual. On the substance I’m pretty hard core on the importance of targeting federal dollars to poor students (and one of the very cool moments of No Child Left Behind was when some Democratic and Republican electeds in the House actually supported a plan that sent less money to their own congressional districts and more to poor students overall. Most of those people are gone now, but one is Speaker of the House).  I’d also like to see more federal spending if it were smart effective spending rather than more of the same. But, at a macro level this is political and not about substance and to the extent this turns into a big public fight about money it’s one more reason that if you’re a school administrator the Washington groundhogs* are saying a few more years of NCLB.**

*Groundhog references work all month right?

**Also, this week the old differences between the House and Senate Republicans seem to be emerging again. Senator Alexander says he wants a bipartisan process, that’s not what House Republicans want to see now that they control the Hill and it’s hard to see that caucus being really excited about Senator Alexander riding to the rescue with a compromise ESEA bill.  Of course, this could all be the ritualistic back and forth needed before a bill gets done but a few things auger against that. First, the calendar in the Senate is tough, not a lot of time.  And, second, this cast of characters has not proven adept at fighting publicly and working to get things done behind the scenes on big pieces of legislation like this. Rather it’s fighting in public and behind the scenes.

5 thoughts on “Obama Weekly Radio Address On ESEA

  1. Bruce William Smith

    I agree that we need a bipartisan approach similar to that of Senator Alexander rather than more straight party-line votes, which won’t get anything done. Therefore I listen to a speech of the top Democrat and search for areas of agreement. First, the general notion that our children deserve the best; next, that No Child Left Behind should be “replaced” (I like that word); next, the opposition to the overuse of standardized testing, which obsession has made too many classrooms sad places to be, and contradict evidence of progress, regardless of the relative inaccessibility of data that measures misery and the desire to escape from such a state education system. No one is suggesting states can’t elect to continue with annual testing to inform parents and teachers, if they so choose; but if a state that really provides the best for its children — imagine Finland as an American state — were to answer that it doesn’t think the benefits of federally mandated annual testing outweigh the harm, what is the argument that Washington, D.C. should insist that it continue with this 13-year-old approach that has provided such limited progress, regardless of the opposed wishes of that state’s citizens?

  2. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    We’ve had annual statewide testing for many, many years and I can’t recall the “teacher’s union” being against them. What teachers are against is the frenzied and shameful misuse of standardized tests in the past twenty years. These tests have been used in ways that totally invalidate them and yet the results have been used for research, teacher evaluation and other “high-stakes” decisions. Of course teachers are against this misuse, and you ought to be as well.

    As for providing poor and working class children with equal educational opportunities, this administration could have done so much by encouraging and supporting fair housing in all communities. Instead, the president stood by while public schools for our poorest children were literally given away to corporate interests. That’ll save money for cash-strapped cities!

    Well, as the saying goes, the truth usually emerges in the end and it’s good to see the Gates Foundation looking at housing practices as a way to level the field for all children. I’m convinced that we will soon respond to what the research is telling us regarding education, and when we do, we’ll see real progress, instead of smoke and mirror “reforms.”

  3. Leslie Rose

    In my community, NCLB has become a four-letter word. The question of reauthorizing ESEA in the midst of Common Core Standards adoption in so many states (with new standardized tests and pedagogical shifts to support “deeper” and applied learning that are difficult to measure in standardized tests) poses a serious challenge to lawmakers. In California, the state has suspended using the results of the annual standardized test until districts have adjusted to this new terrain. And state educational leaders are talking about the need for less “compliance” in the state’s system and of hopes that accountability will be tempered with healthy doses of collaboration and technical support from the department of education and county offices of education.

    The punitive approach of NCLB whereby struggling schools ultimately receive less funding (as an incentive to improve) has created a grim climate of distrust in our schools. The defensiveness of administrators and teachers, the adversarial relationship toward parents of struggling students and the pervasive sense of failure, has damaged our education system. In order for more of our students to succeed in school, lawmakers must reconsider their policy’s track record and proven effects.

  4. PhillipMarlowe

    In Prince George’s County, MD (former resting place of the accidental superintendent and Mr. Rotherham’s kindred spirit “Dr”. John Deasy)
    they just administered their quarter two benchmarks in math and reading for grades 3-8 (as well as science for grades 5 and 8). The tests took about 6 hours over 4 days with an additional day for the science. The tests are given to predict how students will do on the state NCLB tests in March.
    The students took these types of tests at the end of the 1st quarter. They skip the 3rd quarter as that would be the same time as the state NCLB tests. In years past, they would take them in May near the end of the 4th quarter, but won’t this year because the students will be taking the EOY PARCC tests (3 days, about 60~90 minutes each day).
    (Science will still be given 4th quarter).
    Just before the students took the quarterly tests, they took the Scholastic Reading Inventory to measure their Lexile reading level. That level is not measured by the NCLB exams. They took the SRI in September and will again in June. And this year, the students took the Scholastic Math Inventory.
    Back in August, all students were given a bubble sheet test by their PE teacher. By last week, the PE were to have given another bubble sheet test to all students. The purpose of these two tests- to determine the student test score portion of the PE teachers’ evaluation. The data from 10~20 students is used to calculate the PE teachers’ two Student Learning Objective (SLO) scores. Counties in Maryland are required by the agreement the state and the NEA affiliates made to USDOE to “win” RTTT money.
    Needless to say, this is done by the art teachers, the music teachers, vocational ed teachers, et. al.
    In addition to taking the SMI, the SRI, the quarter exam, the PE exam, 6th graders also got to take a county writing diagnostic exam and another county reading exam.

    Despite being intelligent people, Mr. Rotherham, Mr. Duncan and President Obama fail to see the impact of their need to data on the classroom.

    Perhaps Mr. Rotherham, you care to share what Arlington County Public Schools do to satisfy this need for data.

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