Issued on November 8, 2011
 
Today, the national group, Parents Across America, sent a letter to the
members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
after noting that panelists testifying at a committee hearing today
about 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.
 
Here 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 attached.
***
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
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 at