The US House Education and Workforce Committee amended and passed its Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind six hundred plus page reauthorization bill on February 11th. (Video, Bill and amendment language are available here). It passed on a straight party line vote and is scheduled to be debated on the House floor on February 24th. The Obama White has already issued a paper criticizing the bill, as well as a veto threat.
Ideally this massive, unconstitutional, ineffective and expensive law would be repealed and the Department of Education would be closed. Sadly, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Dr. Sandra Stotsky and other friends and experts in the movement issued a statement calling for a major elimination of mandates.
The bill, called The Student Success Act (HR5) was described by committee member and former Alabama State School Board member Bradley Byrne as "a step in the right direction, but still has far to go," because the federal government "needs a large dose of humility" when it comes to education. We agree!
However, while we oppose this bill as a whole, before discussing the significant issues of concern, it is important to congratulate and thank Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and the committee members that supported good language and fought off bad amendments. Here are the highlights:
- The bill contains language found in an anti-Common Core, anti-Federal interference bill call the Local Control of Education Act, HR 524 by committee member Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and co-sponsored by Florida Republican Reps. Curt Clawson, Tom Rooney, Ron DeSantis, and Ted Yoho, as well as 43 others. This language prevents the Secretary of Education from "incentivizing" or "coercing" national standards like Common Core or and national test like SBAC or PARCC in any federal law or program like waivers. It is important for preventing future disasters like Common Core.
- Rep. Steve Russell's amendment to prevent the transfer of individually identifiable student data to the federal government passed and was added to the bill. That amendment states that "All personal, private student data shall be prohibited from use beyond assessing student performance as provided for in subparagraph (C). The State's annual report shall only use such data as sufficient to yield statistically reliable information, and does not reveal personally identifiable information about individual students."
- The Committee fought off efforts to amend in a requirement for "college and career ready standards for all students," i.e. Common Core. Although the Student Success Act does not go far enough, at least the national standards would not imposed for everyone by the law.
- All of Title IV of NCLB was repealed. This includes many invasive, ineffective, and expensive education programs that EdWatch/Education Liberty Watch have been warning about since NCLB passed in 2001. These include early childhood mental health programs; federally run civic and community service programs; Ready to Learn Television, which basically contains money for propaganda in PBS children's programs like Sesame Street; and the full service schools idea of Arne Duncan and Lamar Alexander. An effort to put a lot of these back in the bill was defeated.
- The majority also defeated an effort to put in universal preschool language. Education Liberty Watch has chronicled the lack of effectiveness; academic and emotional harm; and high cost of these programs for a very long time, including Head Start and the Race to the Top Early learning Challenge. We are appreciative to the committee for their work on this.
- Eliminates unworkable Adequate Yearly Progress provisions These requirements would have made nearly 100% of schools failures. These provisions were the impetus behind the federal waivers that coerced Common Core.
- Continues the federal mandate that standards "include the same knowledge, skills, and levels of achievement expected of all public school students in the state." This use of cookie cutter standards for every unique child is unacceptable. Local and duly elected school boards in concert with parents and teachers should set their standards the way it was done prior to 1994 the beginning of federal interference in standards and assessments by the George HW Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.
- Continues the annual testing requirement - HR 5 continues the federal mandate that states test students every year in reading/English and math from grades 3-8 and once in high school require using "the same academic assessments...to measure the academic achievement of all public school students in the state." According to likely pro-Common Core presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, that is the proper role of the federal government in education, continuing the policies of his father and brother. This denies proper autonomy to local districts and has been ineffective according to much research including a statement signed by over 500 university professors.
- Portability provision risks inserting federal and Common Core control in private schools The Student Success Act currently has federal Title I funds follow students to the public or charter (also public schools but with less publicly accountable governance) of the family's choice. An amendment that was offered and withdrawn by Rep. Messer (R-IN) would have allowed that portability to apply to private schools as well. This should be vehemently opposed because it will likely end up requiring the state public school Common Core tests and therefore the standards on private schools as Indiana's voucher plan already has. This idea was pushed in Mitt Romney's education plan authored by Jeb Bush during the 2012 campaign which said:
- This bill does nothing to deal with psychological manipulation, profiling, and data collection rampant in Common Core and numerous other federal education programs These efforts by the US Department of Education, those behind the Common Core standards and tests, preschool socioemotional teaching and testing by the Head Start program, and admissions by major national organizations are extensively documented in our major research paper and discussion of the issues with the major federal data and research legislation. It is bad enough that the federal government is involved in education at all, but to then have them involved in the "social and emotional" needs of any citizen as on pages 426 and 508, much less children is not acceptable.
- The data protection statutes and those involved with student surveys are not yet updated The massive amount and frightening extent of student data collection with no real privacy protection due to the Obama administration's regulatory weakening of the Family Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) passed in 1974 and the large loophole in the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) allowing invasive and psychological profiling through academic curriculum assessments need to be remedied first before any reauthorization.
- There is potentially dangerous federal involvement in the parental relationship with schools Although well intended and with efforts to prevent coercion, the parental involvement language in Section 118 is yet another area in which the federal government has no authority to be involved. After all, we have seen how effective federal prohibitions on interference in standards and assessments have been in preventing the whole Common Core debacle.
- Students and families need protection against coercion to be labeled and placed on psychotropic medication There has been a tragic trend of labeling children, particularly minority children with behavioral and emotional disorders to improve test scores to make Adequate Yearly Progress and not because of the pressure of high stakes tests for performance pay. This story of a Florida father's loss of his son due to medication induced side effects after being coerced, which a teacher admits as all too frequent, is heart breaking. Rep. John Kline, chairman of this committee actually sponsored the Child Medication Safety Act in 2005-2006 to try to prevent this coercion and it passed the House 407-12, but was blocked in the Senate. Extensive references and testimony are available from EdWatch/Education Liberty Watch.
- Cut Federal Financial Strings with the LEARN Act, HR 121, by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) - Although clearly better than No Child Left Behind, the Student Success Act still keeps the federal government too much in control of education for which it has no constitutional authority. Rep. Garrett's bill does the following:
- Do NOT reauthorize the ESEA until the massive breaches in student and teacher privacy and data security are fixed.
- Eliminate the yearly statewide testing requirement and use the NAEP/TIMMS test on a sample of students or at the very least, decrease the statewide testing requirement in math and reading to once in elementary, once in middle school and once in high school as is done for science currently .
- Refuse to fund any program that psychologically teaches, assesses, or collects data on children under the guise of academics.
- Amend in an updated version of the Child Medication Safety Act that prohibits federal funds from going to states or schools that allow parents to be coerced via threat of not receiving academic teaching or a child protection referral if they refuse to put their children on any psychotropic medication The language needs updating from the 2005 version so that children are protected from coercion by ALL psychiatric medications, not just Ritalin and Adderall and any others that are on the DEA's controlled substances lists. There has been much research and evidence that all of the psychiatric medications have potentially great, if not fatal dangers for children, including suicide and homicide, strokes and heart attacks.
- Remove the parental involvement language in Section 118 Parental involvement is a good thing. Having the federal government anywhere near it is not. The only exception would be the language that prohibits coercion of parents to have their children developmentally screened or to participate in any preschool program. This language should be applied to programs for Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and Native Americans as well.