(Issued April 7, 2017)
Supporting Great Public Education
By: Jana Lynne Sanchez
Effective, comprehensive public education is a fundamental building block of our democracy and the key to our continued prosperity and opportunity. As a product of public education, I support it 100% and believe the best place for most children to be educated is in their local neighborhood public schools. We must make sure these schools are not threatened by ideologies and initiatives that seek to deprive schools of vital funding in order to promote expensive and ineffective private and religious education. Vouchers deplete resources from those schools and only provide enough subsidy to wealthier parents who were already sending their kids to expensive private schools.
Emphatically, I do not support depleting public schools to provide vouchers for students attending private or for-profit charter schools and will do everything possible at a federal level to prevent such initiatives. While this is primarily a state and local issue, I will do everything possible at a federal level to promote public education.
Likewise, we must invest in public education that meets the needs of all children, including students from low-income families, English language learners, recent immigrants, and students with disabilities.
The Trump administration has floated the idea of providing more flexible education block grants to states. They have made no secret of the fact that these monies can be used for state voucher programs that would divert federal tax dollars to private schools.
Many parents and teachers tell me that far too many resources are spent on state tests mandated by federal law. I would like to see this policy reviewed to reduce the stress on students, teachers, parents and schools. While we do need to be assured schools are educating students, let’s make sure we are not creating an undue burden in doing so. The main groups that benefit from exam-based assessments are corporate testing agencies, not students. Companies that create state assessments, curriculum, and review materials for state assessment exams profit greatly from laws that make these tests mandatory. Some facts on standardized testing:
- The annual assessments are not accompanied by federal funding for the assessments. A rough estimate of annual state spending (all 50 states) is $85,000,000,000.
- Because failing to meet adequate yearly progress assessments (AYP) is so punitive to schools, excessive time is devoted to preparing students directly for the tests, including benchmark testing, and class time devoted to make sure students have sufficient test-taking skills.
- Although the intent is admirable, and definitely makes certain that subgroups of students (such as African American males) are not ignored and receive necessary interventions, the overwhelming amount of testing has not resulted in dramatically improved test scores.
- Many students will do well on every test in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school. It is not necessary to measure what is going well. It would be better to reduce testing for students meeting state performance standards in reading and math, and perhaps test them every three years, or once in elementary, once in middle school and once in high school. Keep the annual testing requirement for those NOT meeting state benchmarks. This would allow schools to focus more time on intervention with students who need it. They would be able to spend less time reviewing and preparing everyone across the board for the state test. This can single out students who are not meeting performance standards, but it would focus time, money, staff and resources on the students who need it most.
I credit my public school teachers in Ellis County for helping me go on to Rice University. Without these teachers who took time and initiative to help me of their own accord, I would never have been able to escape the cycle of poverty. Our teachers are our greatest resource in education, but there is too little support for teacher training and development. Unfortunately, schools with lower performing students have trouble attracting qualified and experienced teachers. Turnover rates are also high. If a district has a school that is not meeting expectations, a common first step is to change the principal. These schools do not have stable leadership, and so quality teachers leave to find more stability. Instead of changing leadership in schools that need good leaders, we should support our teachers and administrators.
I believe in holding our teachers to high standards, and in giving them the tools they need to succeed. With our funding focused on training and retaining excellent teachers instead of teaching to the test, we can improve public education for all Texas children.
I support the continued funding of higher education in the US through Title IV institutions and through Pell Grants and other federal aid making it possible for students from low-income families to attend university.
I would like to see more funding going into programs in community colleges that provide graduates with successful careers in technology, healthcare and emerging fields such as renewable energy.
The following information is provided to help constituents understand the background leading up to the current federal policy in education.
ESSA Background and History
The purpose of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is to provide equal access to education and establish high standards and accountability. It is a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was passed as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The intent was to close the gap in basic skills (reading, writing and math) between low income and middle class students. Funding from ESEA provided states with grants for teacher professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and for programs to increase parental involvement.
When ESEA was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), sweeping changes were made in regard to school accountability. It required each state to give assessments to every student in basic skills (reading and math in grades 3-8 and high school, and science at elementary, middle and high school). NCLB was also punitive to schools that did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the school overall as well as for subgroup student populations. NCLB dramatically changed the role of the federal government in public education, and eliminated much of state and local control. NCLB also opened up a wide door to corporate interest in education. Companies that create state assessments, curriculum and review materials for state assessments began to greatly profit from the NCLB mandates. In Texas alone, one company had a five-year contract for $462,000,000. After receiving the contract a state senator on the Education committee went to work for the same company. Multimillion-dollar deals went on in all fifty states to follow the mandates of NCLB, and states were left with no choice but to comply.
Although ESSA gave states greater flexibility with some accountability measures (like using SAT or ACT scores for high school testing), it does not reduce the amount of testing that goes on in public schools. ESSA does add some new programs such as the National Center on Reading Issues and requires states to get parental input on state education plans. Under the Trump administration (3/13/2017), the application for states to submit their accountability plans is shorter, notably reducing requirements for states to use input from educators and advocates of public education.
ESSA funding divisions are as follows:
- Title I—Improving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Educational Agencies (funding for schools with a high percentage of students from low income families)
- Title II—Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, or Other School Leaders
- Title III—Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students
- Title IV—21st Century Schools
- Title V—State Innovation and Local Flexibility
- Title VI—Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education
- Title VII—Impact Aid
- Title VIII—General Provisions
States and school districts can receive funding based on grant programs, and direct allocation (Title I). Federal funds are still used to address issues of education inequity such as providing additional funds to schools with large numbers of low-income students or schools with large percentages of English language learners. Accompanying these funds are requirements to show adequate yearly progress.
How ESSA advances education equity:
ESSA requires state-adopted standards for all students that are aligned with the demands of postsecondary education and workplace readiness.
- Standards can vary widely from state to state
- “Readiness” is also not defined, and although each state has a common goal of ensuring that students are prepared for education and employment beyond high school, the interpretation varies widely.
ESSA requires annual assessments aligned with state standards.
ESSA has clear requirements that state accountability systems must track and demand progress for low performing groups of students, base school ratings on the progress of all groups of students, and expect state intervention when any group of students is consistently underperforming.
- Making sure that the lowest performing groups of students show progress is a worthy goal, but this cannot be met merely by testing. For example, annual testing compares one year’s fourth-graders in math versus the next year’s fourth-graders in math. The group of students is entirely different, and the teachers may have also changed from year to year. There are too many variables to determine what will result in school improvement.
- A far better way to ensure that the lowest performing students show progress is to make sure they have the best teachers – ones that are teaching in their certification area, ones that are paid well, and ones with more teaching experience.
ESSA asks for more detailed public reporting on academic outcomes and opportunities to learn for all groups of students, including, for the first time, school-level per-pupil spending and access to rigorous coursework.
- Adding the reporting requirement of per-pupil spending is a wonderful addition.
- The achievement gap between students in high-income districts and low-income districts shrinks when school funding is more equitable.
- Additional spending on subgroup of children targeting broader skills can help. When low-income students receive training in social-emotional skills (sharing, cooperation, persistence), they do better in a different measure – last level of educational attainment and adult income.
- Often schools with high numbers of low income students offer fewer advanced high school courses, and this requirement will bring that to light. Conversely, it may lower the accountability of rural schools, that have fewer students and fewer teacher, making it more difficult to offer a wide variety of advanced courses.
ESSA provides resources to support teachers and leaders, and asks states to report and address inequities in the rates at which low-income students and students of color are assigned to ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.
- Adding the reporting category of out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers is a great step. Unfortunately, schools with low-income students have trouble attracting more highly qualified and experienced teachers. When teachers are held directly accountable for student performance on assessments, it is not surprising that they would prefer to work with students who have a greater chance of meeting accountability standards.
- Schools with high numbers of low-income students also have greater teacher turnover. This is due to a wide variety of factors, most notably that there is a high turnover in campus leadership. If a district has a school that is not meeting AYP, a first step is often to change the principal. These schools do not have stable leadership, and teachers will leave to find more stability.
ESSA targets federal funding to the highest poverty schools and districts.
- This ESSA provision has remained largely unchanged since ESEA was passed in 1965. It has been incredible successful at providing education funding to millions of low income students each year.