The Senate-passed No Child Left Behind reform bill gives states the option to dictate assessment criteria, while a range of outside interest groups continuously lobby to promote standardized tests, says teacher and researcher Mercedes Schneider.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. It’s been 14 years since President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act that called for 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014 or schools would pay. It’s been criticized from a multitude of factions, from teachers to parents to lawmakers. And now in an 81-17 vote the Senate passed on Thursday a bipartisan bill that would leave No Child Left Behind behind and adopting new legislation called Every Child Achieves. Here to help us unpack the good and the bad of the bill and how it will affect everyday families and children is our guest Mercedes Schneider. She is a career classroom teacher, trained researcher, and author of two books on education reform. Thanks for joining us. MERCEDES SCHNEIDER: Hi Jessica, my pleasure. DESVARIEUX: So Mercedes, you’ve read all 601 pages of this bill. And a major concern with the No Child Left Behind Act was that teachers and parents saw that there was a rise in standardized tests and as a result teachers were teaching to a test instead of focusing on a child’s development. What does this bill do with regards to testing, and do you think this bill will be able to balance holding schools accountable while improving a child’s development? SCHNEIDER: At this point accountability is a loaded word, because accountability has come to mean raising test scores. And that’s problematic because the focus has become narrowed on just raising those test scores. So I don’t even like the word accountability anymore. Not that I don’t expect to have accountability, but because that terminology–and George Bush, his administration really contributed to that idea that accountability is high test scores. What the Senate passed yesterday with its Every Child Achieves Act is still test score-dependent, it still has annual testing. What it does do is it allows states that what–to use alternative assessments, to write those into their application for Title I funding. That bill gives states a lot more room and a lot more decision-making and authority than did No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind was very prescriptive. It told the states, you’ll set the goals but here’s the punishment if you don’t reach those goals. And so all that that did was it created more incentives to game the test score system. Every Child Achieves Act relaxes the whole–it still expects annual testing. It moves back from that. Its critics say that it leaves room for states to not teach all subgroups of children. But we have a problem here, and the problem is if we put the squeeze on states the way that No Child Left Behind did, there’s only incentive to continue gaming the system if such tight focus is on the test scores. I would like to see us move away from accountability [mostly] tied to test scores only because of this gaming the system. DESVARIEUX: Mercedes, I wanted to also bring up a point about what’s happened regarding the power of the education secretary, Arnie Duncan. Can you just lay out for us what this bill does, and how does it limit his power? SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. Every Child Achieves Act in numerous places outlines, prescribes limits to the U.S. secretary of education. Now right now, we know that that is Arnie Duncan. He’s already on his way out. He’s already moved his family back to Chicago. He’s not living any dream that he’s going to continue being the U.S. secretary of education for the next administration. But he is still the U.S. secretary of education now, and it’s particularly through his use of No Child Left Behind waivers that he has been the sole decider, the sole authority, of state accountability. And there has been a backlash to that. One of the greater backlashes has been from the opt-out movement in standardized testing that’s gone on across the states. The Every Child Achieves Act is clear that the U.S. secretary of education must go by the strictures of the application. And he can only or she can only approve that the states have addressed those different areas. And the U.S. secretary can comment if those areas are unaddressed. But he or she cannot prescribe certain standards, certain [inaud.]. That’s a major improvement. DESVARIEUX: Okay. Also in the bill there’s a provision called Title V. It’s essentially removing federal oversight of charter schools. I want to get your take on that. What is so significant about Title V? SCHNEIDER: Title V is one of the tradeoffs in this bill. We now have a predominantly Republican Congress. For the most part the Republicans are pushing back against the federal control. They are wanting more state control in this reauthorization. But they are also wanting school choice in the form of particularly charters, charter schools. The U.S. government has never done well with holding charter schools accountable. They’ve not done that. And this bill continues that by offering Title V money to initiate and expand charter schools and states, and the accountability on those schools has never been good. But there is the assumption behind Title V that more charter schools is good for public education. We are–we have so many scandals, it’s almost not possible, I don’t think a week goes by that some charter school scandal is not in the news. And the reason being is that there are not valid accountability measures in place for charter schools. Not on the state level in most cases and not on the federal level. And so Title V just keeps that door open. DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s pause the conversation here, Mercedes, because there’s tons to talk about. I want to get behind the scenes of this bill and speak of the interests that are really for and against this bill, and what are some real solutions to improving our education system. All right. Mercedes Schneider, thank you so much for joining us. SCHNEIDER: [Thank you]. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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