NEA Government Relations Director Mary Kusler told Connecticut teachers gathered this morning for the start of the CEA Summer Leadership Conference that the Congressional Conference Committee finalizing an overhaul of federal education policy will make key decisions after Labor Day.
“We can start the school year with optimism that we can get this done,” Kusler said. She stressed, however, that strong teacher activism is necessary so that U.S. Senators and Representatives can send the best bill possible to President Obama’s desk.
“We have waited for 15 years for No Child Left Behind and its punitive measures to go away,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “We have made an important start this year, and we need to continue to advocate on behalf of our students.”
Key provisions championed by NEA that made it into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—also known as No Child Left Behind—reauthorization bills that passed the U.S. House and Senate include the following:
- Multiple measures of success in accountability systems, especially for elementary and middle schools
- Opportunity dashboard concept: State-designed accountability systems must include at least one measure of student or school support
- Greater access and flexibility in state-designed pilot assessments driven by teaching and learning
- Audits of state and local assessments to identify and eliminate duplicative tests
- Parents’ right to have their children opt out of testing
- Grant program to encourage states to develop robust early childhood systems
Despite these important wins, Kusler said that educators need to keep the pressure on their members of the U.S. Congress. As the Conference Committee meets to merge the ESEA bills, some Democratic U.S. Senators are pushing to resurrect a provision that was in a failed amendment to the Senate bill.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, along with Senators Warren and Booker ,have been advocating for a measure that would mark an entire school for intervention if a single subgroup misses goals for two consecutive years—precisely the approach that misidentified schools under the Adequate Yearly Progress provision of NCLB. That approach is one the U.S. Department of Education has criticized for “creat[ing] dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed.”
Kusler said that the final bill that passed the Senate 81-17 has a much better approach. “If Senator Murphy is not hearing from educators and parents in Connecticut that this approach is not good for children, we are missing an opportunity,” she said. “Despite a meeting with CEA President Sheila Cohen and conversations with CEA and NEA leaders, Senator Murphy continues to push for this measure.”
Kusler continued, “Teachers care deeply about low-income children and making sure they are served. We have 13 years to show this use of punitive Adequate Yearly Progress doesn’t work. We hope our elected officials will listen to classroom educators.”
Kusler urged Connecticut teachers to reach out to their colleagues and make sure all educators make their voices heard. “We need to make sure our lawmakers know what educators want for their students in the classroom.”
“All of us here today are characterized by what we do for our students,” said Cohen. “Our enthusiasm, perseverance, and passion for what we do, for what is right, is because of our dedication to our students.”
“This entire thing has been about the kids,” Kusler said. “All of our motivation to improve federal education policy is driven by what you see in the classroom every day, and finally we see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kusler said, “I have never been more hopeful that we are going to get a bill to President Obama’s desk that he will sign and that will improve public education.”
Contact your Senators and Representatives using the NEA website: www.getesearight.com.
Watch Kusler’s complete remarks to CEA members below.