Sadly, despite clear and detailed warnings from parents, teachers, activists, and policy experts, the US Senate passed its rewrite of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB)/Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) called The Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA S1170) on July 16th by a vote of 81-17. Three Democrats voted against the bill because of not enough government control, but nonetheless did the right thing. It is extremely clear that big government and big business interests, who are supporting pro-Common Core candidates like Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Hillary Clinton, are colluding to cement federal control over American education.
We would like to thank the following senators for their opposition votes to the overall bill:
Three of the five presidential candidates in the Senate Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) voted no. Bernie Sanders (I-VT, a member of the Socialist Party running for president as a Democrat) voted for the bill. The fifth, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), did not vote. Senator Sanders offered one amendment on youth unemployment that was rejected (see below). Senators Rubio and Graham did not offer any amendments to the bill, nor did they make any statements about it afterwards. Here are the statements of Cruz, Paul, and Sanders:
"While this bill makes some improvements to the status quo, it ultimately falls short of empowering parents and local school districts. To that end, it is a missed opportunity for meaningful change.
"Decisions regarding our children's future should be placed in the hands of those closest to students, and that is teachers and parents. This is why I introduced an amendment to give states the flexibility to develop their own accountability standards, rather than meeting criteria outlined by federal bureaucrats in the Washington cartel. This type of federal control has led to the failed, top-down policies that produced Common Core. We also had the opportunity today to significantly advance school choice for low-income students, giving them a chance to succeed at a public or private school of their choosing. Unfortunately, my colleagues in the Senate rejected these amendments, perpetuating the same tired approach that continues to fail our children.
"When the federal government is in charge, the most common outcome is accepting the lowest common denominator. When it comes to the future of our country and our children's future, the lowest common denominator is simply unacceptable. We can do better and our children deserve better."
"I believe education is the great equalizer, but Washington's intrusion in the classroom leaves most kids behind. This bill is not the solution, as it retains some of No Child Left Behind's biggest flaws a lack of adequate parental choice, a federal testing mandate, and continued support for Common Core," Sen. Paul said.
"On Thursday, the Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, which would fundamentally reform No Child Left Behind. The law would replace the current high-stakes standardized testing model with an approach that would give Vermont significant flexibility to determine how to intervene in struggling schools. As a member of the Senate Education Committee, Sanders had a role in crafting the bill and successfully fought to lower the stakes on standardized testing and to preserve a federal after-school program that serves thousands of low-income students around Vermont. The bill also included a pilot program written by Senator Sanders that would allow states to develop innovative alternatives to standardized testing."
Well, aside from the fact that things were not fixed, but made worse with this bill, here is a little history lesson for the senior senator from Tennessee. There was an even more remarkable bipartisan consensus in Congress in 2001 when NCLB passed the Senate floor under Senator Edward Kennedy and President George W. Bush by a whopping 91-8 vote. Only eight senators had the constitutional and educational understanding to know what a disaster NCLB would be at this same point in the process. That number has more than doubled with ECAA, so from that perspective, the forces of educational freedom are actually making some progress. We especially also want to thank Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who voted against NCLB as a congressman and remained consistent to vote against ECAA as a senator. Also important to note is that Senators Mike Crapo (R-!D) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) voted for NCLB in 2001 and had the great sense to change their votes due to the major continued federal overreach, psychological profiling and expansion of invasive, Common Core aligned early childhood programs for ECAA and the strong work of the grassroots in their states. They deserve great thanks for that!
It is very concerning that several senators look to be making the same disastrous mistake again of imposing punitive, ineffective, invasive, annual statewide testing on our students and teachers and all of the other flaws of NCLB that are falsely promised to be fixed in ECAA along with all of its new problems:
Although the overall bill passed, there were a few small bright spots:
Senator Alexander listened to the grassroots and realized the huge error of removing the prohibition on attitudinal testing in the statewide assessments. In an amendment adopted by voice vote on July 16th, he restored the prohibition in NCLB to make sure the state assessments "do not evaluate or assess personal or family beliefs and attitudes, or publicly disclose personally identifiable information." Here are statements released by Emmett McGroarty of American Principle in Action and myself in praise of this result:
Karen Effrem, M.D., president of Education Liberty Watch and executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, added, "We hope this is an indication that Congress is going to rein in the many other places in ECAA, in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), in the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA), and in early childhood programs where federal regulation authorizes the federal government to collect personal information on the dispositions, emotions, and attitudes of American children."
The Senate also rejected, by a vote of 45-52, a universal preschool and home visiting program offered by Senators Robert Casey (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and others that would have been implemented on top of the already very concerning Preschool Alignment and Improvement Grants that we have explained. Senator Alexander should be thanked for leading the opposition to this nanny state expansion, even invoking one of our talking points about "Baby Common Core," instead calling it "Kindergarten Common Core." All of the Republicans correctly voted against this bad amendment, except for Graham and Rubio, who did not vote. Sanders voted in support.
The Republican majority also rejected another huge expansion of mental health grants offered by North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp by a vote of 58-39 (60 votes were needed for passage). Given that there are already more than 10 other places that ECAA expands mental health programs and psychological profiling of our children, this amendment was completely duplicative and unnecessary. Of the presidential candidates, Paul and Rubio correctly voted no, Sanders voted yes, Cruz and Graham did not vote. All Democrats voted yes and all Republicans voted no except: Ayotte (NH), Cassiday (LA), Collins (ME), Daines (MT), Ernst (IA), Heller (NV), Kirk (IL), Moran (KS), Murkowski (AK), Portman (OH), Sullivan (AK), and Thune (SD).
Finally, the Republicans led by Alexander wisely rejected the Markey (D-MA) amendment (SA 2176) to establish a federal climate change education program. The amendment failed by a vote of 44-53. All of the Republicans exceot two joined by Democrats Heitkamp (ND) and Tester (MT) opposed this controversial and scientifically unsound language while all of the Democrats/Independents voted for it joined by Republicans Ayotte and Kirk. Graham did not vote.
Here is a recap of some of the other important amendments and votes that were largely disappointing for those wanting educational freedom in this now approximately 1000 page bill based on category (Please see the Congress.gov website for all of the amendments offered with links to language and a list of status, the Senate website for specific roll call votes on the amendments and S 1177 itself, and Education Week for other summaries.)
Lee amendment (SA 2162) to allow written parental testing opt out Sadly, this also failed by a vote of 32-64. Every single Democrat and nineteen Republicans voted against this fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children. Of the presidential candidates, Cruz and Paul correctly voted for this important amendment while Sanders voted against it, and Graham and Rubio did not vote.
Paul amendment (SA 2218) to permit parental opt out without being counted against the 95% participation mandate This is quite similar to the Salmon amendment that was one of the few really strong pieces of language to pass in HR 5, The Student Success Act, the House version of the NCLB rewrite. Senator Alexander did not allow this amendment to the floor.
Tester amendment (SA 2129) to reduce testing mandate to three times in grades 3-12 for English and math instead of annually This was never allowed to the floor for debate.
Isakson amendment (SA 2194) "to require local educational agencies to inform parents of any State or local educational agency policy, procedure, or parental right regarding student participation in any mandated assessments for that school year" This largely symbolic amendment will be basically useless for protecting parental opt-out rights due to the 95% participation and other mandates in the main bill, but it is all the administration, leadership of both parties, and the corporate interests were willing to accept. It passed by a vote of 97-0 with Graham and Rubio not voting.
Murphy amendment (SA 2241) to reinstate the high stakes testing accountability of NCLB Fortunately, this failed by a complete party line vote of 43-54, with Democrats and Sanders supporting, Republicans opposing, and Cruz and Graham not voting. Teachers are appalled that the Democrats voted to return to the "test and punish" paradigm of NCLB.
Kirk amendment (SA 2161) to re-establish more test based accountability as in NCLB This amendment similar to the Murphy amendment also failed by mostly party line a vote of 40-56 (60 votes were required) with Democrat Tester and Independent King joining most all of the Republicans in opposition; Republicans Hatch, Heller, Kirk and Murkowski joining Sanders and the rest of the Democrats in support; and Cruz, Graham, and Blumenthal (D-CT) not voting.
Blunt amendment (SA 2195) to expand school based mental health services This amendment to add even more mental health services was unfortunately adopted by a voice vote. This will result in more psychological profiling and data gathering, more improper and subjective mental health labeling, and more drugging of children with psychotropic medications that have harmful if not fatal side effects. (See HERE for citations).
Franken Amendment (SA 2093) "To end discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools" - This highly subjective, unconstitutional amendment failed by an unfortunate mostly party line vote of 52-45 (60 votes were required for passage. Ayotte (NH), Collins (ME), Kirk (IL), Heller (NV), Johnson (WI), Murkowski (AK) and Portman (OH) were the Republicans voting in support along with all of the Democrats). Presidential candidates Cruz and Paul rightly voted against this amendment and Sanders not surprisingly voted for it, while Graham and Rubio did not vote. Senator Alexander led the opposition rightly saying that this is not a federal issue, but one belonging to states. Regardless of one's views on this issue, it would be impossible for the federal government to fairly enforce a discrimination policy based on "perceived sexual orientation or gender identity" just as it is with the bullying bill or the athletic policy allowing transgendered athletes to play on the teams of their choice instead of their biological gender that have recently passed in Franken's home state of Minnesota. Completely inappropriate issues about gender identity and family structure diversity are appearing in preschool curriculum and state and national Head Start pre-K standards, which makes the preschool language that passed in ECAA all the more dangerous.
EARLY CHILDHOOD While appreciative that the Casey universal preschool amendment was defeated, there is still plenty of early childhood in the underlying Senate bill, so we do not understand why Republican Orrin Hatch (UT) had to have another early childhood provision addedl:
Hatch amendment (SA 2082) to include "such as pay for success initiatives that promote coordination among existing programs and meet the purposes of this part" This will require much more data gathering for the controversial pre-K assessments dealing with psychosocial issues, which is ironic because Hatch is supposed to be the data privacy guru in the Senate and he offered an amendment (see below) to "study student privacy issues." Alexander added it under an agreement and it unfortunately passed by a voice vote.
DATA PRIVACY There is much disturbing individual data gathering, including data on socioemotional issues that happens already thanks to Common Core related assessments, the current provisions in ESEA and other federal law and the 2012 regulatory gutting of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). There are also several data privacy bills that have been introduced including Senator David Vitter's Student Privacy Protection Act (SPPA), S 1341, which is the only one that deals with psychological data gathering. While appreciative that they restored the prohibition on psychological data gathering in the statewide assessments, that provision is only one small step to protecting the minds and rights of conscience of our children. So it is very disturbing that all the Senate can muster is a provision requiring a symbolic study commission to deal with student privacy issues. Senator Hatch, author of the important but weakened Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) is the author of that amendment. It appears that the Obama administration efforts to expand data collection and the big business interests (Gates, Exxon) and foundation partners (Jeb Bush's former foundation Foundation for Excellence in Education) such as those found in the Data Quality Campaign held sway over the Senate instead of parents and privacy advocates. The amendment passed unanimously with a vote of 89-0 with the following 11 senators not voting:
|Not Voting 11|
Sanders amendment (SA 2177) to reduce youth unemployment This amendment was to correct a very real problem of high minority youth incarceration by a very incorrect method of raising taxes to sponsor another ineffective federal program. What Sanders and the federal government need to realize is that their social policies since the 1960s that have exploded the rates of out of wedlock births are what is responsible for this tragic circumstance. Fortunately, this failed by vote of 43-55 mostly along party lines. Democrat Manchin and Independent King (ME who usually caucuses and votes with the Democrats) voted in opposition and Graham did not vote.
Despite any discouragement, we must keep fighting to save the hearts and minds of our children and give them education for a free nation. Please continue to inform your members of Congress about the many problems with both of these bills and demand that they leave these bills alone until after the next election. Anything that this president would sign would not be supportive of local control, parental rights and teacher autonomy given his administration's track record with Common Core and Race to the Top.