Word on the street is that as soon as this coming Friday (February 27), the House of Representatives could be voting on H.R. 5- The Student Success Act. That means it's time for defenders of US public education to speak up. In a few paragraphs, I am going to tell you just how easy it is to speak up this time, but first let me make my case for why you need to do it.
H.R. 5 is the House GOP proposal for rewriting ESEA, and while the Legislation Currently Known As NCLB desperately needs to be rewritten, this is the not the rewrite we've been looking for.
The proposal is almost 600 pages long; even so, many smart people have read through that monster (Mercedes Schneider got through 52 of the more important pages and you should look at what she found). But the four big fire engine red flags are:
1) A requirement for Big Standardized Testing in every year from grade 3 through grade 8, plus once in high school. This gives the BS Testing the force of law, enshrining what we know to be unproven, unnecessary, and unhelpful.
2) Title I funding would be portable, which is a less-alarming way to say that Title I would become a student voucher, inevitably making poor schools even poorer.
3) Cuts way back on Title II funding for class size reduction. Because if we're going to support BS Testing, for which there's no proof of benefits, why not even things out by unsupporting smaller classes, for which there is proof of benefits.
4) Expands support for charter schools and charter school companies. Because politicians hate throwing money at public schools, but throwing money at charters is awesome.
So. It's time, again, to write your Representative. I know you're a teacher and it's not really your thing to be politically active. I know you have a lot of other things to take care of. But you know who doesn't have anything else to worry about except politics and legislation? Lobbyists.
This is part of why we struggle uphill on this reformster stuff. We've got classes to teach and papers to grade and lessons to plan and lunch money to collect and school plays to direct and paying attention to politics, following politics, speaking out to our politicians-- those are all things we have to squeeze in around the edges. But meanwhile, there are people out there who literally have absolutely nothing to do all day except agitate for their causes.
If we are going to counterbalance an army of corporate shills and well-paid lobbyists who spend every single day explaining to legislators why America really needs to support test corporations and charter companies and everyone else trying to divert public education tax dollars into private corporate pockets-- if we're going to be a counterforce to those people, we have to speak. And speak. And speak.
Because, I have to tell you, this is not the last time we'll be called on to speak up. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the reauthorization of ESEA is going to spawn a long windy parade of bad ideas auditioning for the role of Actual Law, and we're going to have to speak up every single time one rolls its parade float past our door. And we have to be tough and relentless because there will always be those paid lobbyists for the corporations getting up every morning with nothing to do except try to move legislation to their employers' benefit.
We can't count on someone else to do it. It wish we could count on our national teachers' unions, but they keep getting confused about what they support.
Fortunately, this time there's an easy approach.
The Network for Public Education, a group of public education supporters to which I proudly belong, has set up a quick an easy way to make your voice heard. Follow this link. Don't know for sure who your rep is? You'll type in your zip code and automatically get a form addressed to your representative's email. Not sure what to say or how to say it? The letter is already written; send it as is, edit it to suit, or erase it and write your own. And while you're at it, you can join NPE if you haven't already. Which you should.
Heaven only knows how long it will take to get an ESEA rewrite through both houses, or how long it will be before the next rewrite. But whatever comes out of this round will be the law we live with for years. It will be hard to get Congress to listen to us, and we may not succeed in all the ways we want to. But nobody is going to hear us if we don't speak. Raise your voice now.