A group of education stakeholders met with U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney and State Representative Tom Reynolds Tuesday morning in Hartford to discuss the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Courtney sits on the House Education and Labor Committee and Reynolds is Assistant Majority Leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
The Obama administration released its blueprint for revising ESEA March 13. Obama has called on Congress to pass a bill this year, and Senator Harkin, chair of the Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee, has said he’d like to get legislation through the Senate this summer.
Courtney met with education leaders to hear their priorities and concerns for education in Connecticut prior to federal debate about ESEA reauthorization.
Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year, Kristi Luetjen, a West Hartford kindergarten teacher, commented that she and other state Teachers of the Year were disheartened after a recent meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other Department of Education officials. She said that one of the first things she noticed looking at the blueprint was that preschool was only mentioned once in the entire document. “Clearly teachers were not overly involved in writing [the blueprint].”
Mary Loftus Levine, CEA Director of Policy and Professional Practice said, “Here in Connecticut, the chairs of the state’s Education Committee brought education stakeholders together and worked on consensus in connection with state legislation that would support Connecticut’s second application for Race to the Top (RTTT) funds. This collaboration is a good thing that has never happened before. In contrast, the competitive tone being set by Washington has got to stop – it’s showing up again in the blueprint.”
She added that Connecticut is being penalized because we didn’t win RTTT, but the state is still doing a lot of great things. We have the most progressive teacher induction program in the country and we’re working to raise certification standards. The CommPACT schools program is a research based reform model that is already showing strong results, yet the state was ready to throw away three years of work and research because it doesn’t fit Secretary Duncan’s vision of how to turn around a school.
Several attendees raised concerns about Secretary Duncan’s role as the highest profile education secretary the country has seen, and the way in which federal mandates have been steadily encroaching on state’s rights to make their own education policy decisions. Reynolds responded that, in his opinion, the current and growing role of the federal government in education is out of line with its constitutional role. He said that it is “excessive and inappropriate to offer such overly prescriptive mandates to the states.”
Courtney agreed that over time the federal government’s role in education has increasingly been crossing the rubicon, from IDEA to ESEA and NCLB. He said that he and other members of the Education Committee will likely look into limiting the policy discretion the Department of Education has recently enjoyed.
NCLB was bad – but the current administration seems to be determined to break the backs of teachers with merit style pay tied to test scores in which we only control part of the puzzle. Where are the accountability models for students and parents? I have my students for 78 minutes a day – every other day. I work under attendance policies that accept a student being absent for 30 days a year without any repercussions for excessive absenteeism etc… The new “Blueprint” includes firing whole faculties due to poor test scores etc… which is ludicrous. Too many factors are outside a teachers control for us to be solely accountable for a students scores. Washington is looking for simple answers to a very complicated issue. The reauthorization of ESEA must include all stakeholders – not just Arnie Duncan’s wishful thinking and punitive action towards those that teach this nations children.