Thursday, December 3, 2015


Thursday evening NEA Government Relations Director Mary Kusler and Director of Education Policy and Practice Donna Harris-Aikensspoke on a brief conference call about NEA and the New ESSA. This will be as disjointed as my notes, and there aren't many surprises here, though a few pieces of clarifying information (I may have missed a crossed T or dotted I thanks to my phone connection.)

Richard Allen Smith opened by observing that "we can see the finish line" for ending NCLB. Then he handed the conference off to Kusler.

Kusler used the word "historic" roughly six billion times, noting among other things that this was the first education conference committee meeting since about 2008, with a full conference committee meeting further still in the past.

Who was naughty

She also noted that it was bipartisan and bicameral about a thousand times (my notes are sloppy). She did note that the bill came out of committee with just one nay vote, and that nay-voter was Rand Paul.

The language NEA keeps using to praise the bill which Kusler echoed is that every child will have access to quality education regardless of their zip code. She thinks ESSA will do that. She's apparently kind of an optomist.

Kusler noted that NEA had "three buckets" that marked their goals:

1) reduce testing and divorce it from high stakes
2) maximize multiple measures, noting that everyone loved the disagregated data of NCLB, but we should also be noting if all subgroups are getting art class and guidance counselors, and not just test scores.
3) when educators have a voice, students do better. Looking out for the profession. That kind of thing.

What next?

Senate vote next week. It will pass overwhelmingly. Rumors are that the Pres could be signing this by the end of next week. We are on the cusp of changing the federal government's role and insuring quality education etc etc every child.

Dropping her rose colored glasses for more accurate ones, Kusler noted that the President signing this bill is not the end but merely the beginning. Implementation will be key. I will give my Senator a crisp twenty dollar bill if he can work in a provision that we don't have to hear the word "implementation" in the ed world for the next ten years.

The I Word

Harris-Aikensspoke will be the NEA implementation czar. She says there's a lot of opportunity built into this bill, pushing down responsibility so that state and local education folks have to decide what assessment should look like. She notes that there are pieces that guarantee educator (by which she means more than teachers) voice will be critical.

Note too that early education and community schools play an important role in there somewhere.

NEA will be developing a suite of materials for parents and teachers will be able to use, and teachers will help make them, and I resisted the urge to ask if they would be a crappy as the junk NEA banged out in support of Common Core.


Actually, most folks resisted the urge to ask questions. I don't know. It's always hard to ask questions when you can't read or see the room, but fortunately, Leonie Haimson was there, and she asked:

What about special ed and ELL?

The answer was illuminating to me. The old rule is that only 1% of Students with disabilities could be proficient. The new rule is that only 1% of SWD can take an alternative assessment [Correction-- h/t to Leonie Haimson. 1% of all students, 10% of IEP students]. NEA does not love that, but they feel that language in ESSA clarifies that IDEA trumps ESEA and the the IEP team has the final word on what assessment a student should take.

Waivers can be granted on state and federal level. I suspect this will all end up in a court somewhere, but NEA seems to think IDEA has gotten the upper hand.

What about social impact bonds?

Leonie asked this too. The answer is A) NEA thinks these sucks and B) that old NEA favorite, you should have seen it before we got involved. Apparently SIB references were spread like crabgrass through the bill, and now are weeeded back to only two references in some specific locations. So, bad, but could have been worse?

And that was it. Quick and over in about 30 minutes, slightly illuminating. Particularly the Rand Paul part.


  1. What about the early childhood education piece? So little has been written or said about it.

  2. I am so sick of hearing about "quality education" and "success" for all. Apparently the feel-good language is all the public needs to nod their head and figure the problems are solved. They never ask policy makers to define the terms--or question those definitions--so the meanings always stay the same. Quality education is anything that results in higher test scores. Success (as defined by the ruling segment of society) is getting good grades on tests so you can get into a good college so you can get a good job so you can make a lot of money (yeah, right--working for someone else to make them even richer). In other words, so you can fulfill the DOE's mission statement to "successfully compete in the global economy." I wonder how many children wake up in the morning with the goal of successfully competing in the global economy.

    1. When I hear school Admin or teachers talk of "college and career" ready, it about makes me want to vomit!! My 14 and 11 year old can't make a decision on what shirt to wear for the day let alone make a decision about what they want to do after college....or even if they want to go to college. Life is about more than just working/competing in the global economy.