PAA letter to Senate HELP Committee: ESEA needs parent input!

Today, Parents Across America sent a letter to the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee after noting that panelists testifying this morning at a committee hearing on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education law included no parent representatives.

PAA has reached out to the HELP committee repeatedly with our concern that parent voices are being left out of this critical discussion of the federal laws which will impact our children’s education for years to come.

Below is the text of the letter to the HELP committee, which includes PAA’s recommendations for an improved ESEA. A chart comparing PAA’s positions with the current Senate proposal is here.

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November 8, 2011

Re: Reauthorization of ESEA

Dear Senator Harkin and members of the HELP Committee:

We applaud the fact that you included several teachers and other educators as witnesses in today’s important hearing on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, we were disappointed to see no parent representatives on the panel. As the primary stakeholders of the public schools, parents have a deep-rooted understanding of the challenges facing our educational system. Our perspective would provide valuable information and ought to be included in your deliberations.

Had a representative from Parents Across America been asked to testify, here’s what we would have said:

PAA opposes the current version of ESEA because, while some important modifications have been made, too many of the ineffective, damaging elements of NCLB remain in the Senate reauthorization proposal, and it does not address more important, fundamental problems facing our nation’s schools and students.

Specifically, instead of the rigid menu imposed on high-poverty schools needing improvement, including punitive school closings, privatization, or other set policies imposed from above with no track record of success, solutions should be devised through stakeholder input from the ground up, including parents. In addition, options should include research-based improvements such as class size reduction, expansion of preschool programs, and more parent involvement in decision making at all levels. Right now, schools with the most at-risk children are being closed or forced to arbitrarily fire half their staff. Not only does this seriously disrupt children’s lives, but it also undermines communities and fatally weakens the effort to recruit and keep high-quality teachers in our neediest schools. Given the harsh school budget cuts being carried out across the U. S., this is simply not the time to throw more precious education funds away on more experimental programs or damaging policies. with little oversight and few meaningful results.

We also feel strongly that parents must have the right to have their children opt out of high-stakes testing, and that any accountability
system should include multiple measures of success, including parent and teacher surveys. Attached please find a summary of specific
recommendations from PAA for a better ESEA, and a chart displaying our position on the current Senate bill.

We would welcome the opportunity to testify at any upcoming hearings called on the topic of ESEA reauthorization, or meet with legislators or staff at any time.

Thank you so much for your time and attention, and for your service to our children.

Sincerely,

Julie Woestehoff, Legislative Chair, Parents Across America
JulieW@ParentsAcrossAmerica.org

Parents Across America’s recommendations for a better ESEA

October 2011

ESEA should NOT:

* Promote policies that use standardized test scores or graduation data as the primary accountability measures for schools,
teachers or students. Overemphasis on such data encourages cheating and manipulation, and has led to narrowing of the
school curriculum and replacing important school subjects with math and reading test prep.

* Limit federally-mandated school improvement models to a narrow set of strategies, including school closing and privatization
and/or firing half the staff, which are punitive and have had little verified success. Right now the schools with the highest
needs students are being targeted for closure or other damaging prescriptions which disrupts children’s lives and communities,
and undermines any effort to recruit and keep high-quality teachers in our neediest schools.

* Mandate charter takeovers or other forms of outsourcing school management, which take resources from the schools attended by
most students and put them into private hands, with less oversight.

* Identify those schools needing improvement by means of rigid formulas that do not take into account the need level of the
student population.

* Continue the risky and damaging Race to the Top and innovation grant programs.

A better ESEA should include:

* Requirements that ensure fairly distributed, adequate resources in all public schools, so that every child receives a
high-quality education.

* Support for improving schools rather than closing them, by means of evidence-based solutions, including class size reduction and
expansion of preK programs, designed by parents and other stakeholders at the school level.

* Less emphasis on standardized testing and more reliable accountability and assessment practices including local,
teacher-designed assessments supplemented by other measures such as site visits and teacher and parent surveys.

* Programs that encourage the retention of professional, experienced teachers, especially in the most challenged schools.

* A full range of parent involvement opportunities including a stronger parent voice in decision making at the school,
district, state, and national levels.

* The right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.

The full version of the Parents Across America Position Paper on the Reauthorization of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) can be found here.

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