Murphy’s Law can be summarized as “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Murphy’s Amendment was a proposed amendment to the recently reauthorized version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The last reauthorization of ESEA in 2002 was known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and is generally considered a fiasco by both Democrats and Republicans.
The Murphy Amendment is sometimes called the ‘Murphy-Booker ESEA Accountability Amendment’ after Chris Murphy and Cory Booker, two of the six Democratic co-sponsors of the amendment.
I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness the Republicans won the majority in the Senate in the last election. The Murphy Amendment which failed by a vote of 43 to 54. And the 43 ‘yea’ votes were 41 Democrats, 1 Republican, and 1 Independent. The 54 ‘nay’ votes were 51 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and 1 Independent.
The reason I’m thankful that the Murphy Amendment did not pass is that Murphy’s Amendment was highly susceptible to Murphy’s Law. A ‘close reading’ (thank you common core standards for language arts!) of the amendment reveals that people concerned about what it could lead to were very justified in those concerns. In a reauthorization that was intended, as a starting point, to recognize why NCLB was such a disaster, the Murphy Amendment would have maintained some of the worst parts about NCLB.
I have the text from the amendment at the end of the post, but I’ll summarize what I understand of it here from reading it myself. It says that the states must identify the schools most in need of intervention, which must be at least the bottom 5%. It seems that the Democrats did not learn the lessons from NCLB about the danger of putting specific numerical targets into federal law and how those numerical targets can be abused. The fact that there is always a bottom 5% no matter how good the schools are in a state. Also, schools where the graduation rate is less than 67%, a magic number for ‘failing school’ that is not grounded in any real research (not to mention one that is easy to game with different ‘credit recovery’ schemes, but that’s another issue altogether). For schools like this some of the federally mandated interventions are to inform the parents that their child is attending a failing school, to establish ‘partnerships’ with ‘private entities’ to turn around these schools, and to give the states the ability to make, and for this I’ll use a verbatim quote, “any changes to personnel necessary to improve educational opportunities for children in the school.”
So where does Murphy’s Law come in? What could possibly go wrong with this? Well for starters, there would need to be an accurate way to gauge which schools are truly in the ‘bottom 5%.’ I admit that there are some schools that are run much less efficiently than others and surely the different superintendents should have a sense of which schools they are. But as NCLB and Race To The Top (RTTT) taught us, with all the money spent on creating these metrics and the costly tests and ‘growth metrics’ that go along with those tests, it is likely to lead to way too much test prep and neglect of some of the things that make school worth going to. Then those ‘private entities’, could it be any more clear that these are charter schools taking over public schools? And as far as “changes to personnel necessary to improve educational opportunities for the children in the school”, well, firing teachers after school ‘closures’ in New York City hasn’t resulted in improved ‘educational opportunities.’ My sense is that with enough of these mass firings, it will be very difficult to get anyone to risk their careers by teaching at a so-called failing school and the new staff is likely be less effective than the old staff. So you can see why the NEA wrote a letter to the Senate urging them to vote against it. Sadly nearly all the Democrats (and Independent Bernie Sanders!) ignored the plea of the NEA.
Now Teach For America is known to have a team of lobbyists advancing their cause. These lobbyists generally operate behind the scenes so that TFA can at least make the appearance of neutrality as they embrace the diversity of their alumni. But when it came to the ESEA reauthorization, TFA did take two stands publicly.
The first was against the parent opt-out amendment. In The 74, disgraced former Tennessee Education Commissioner and TFA alum (not to mention ex-husband of Michelle Rhee-Johnston) Kevin Huffman wrote a completely incoherent comparison of parents opting their children out of state tests to parents opting their children out of vaccinations. The title of the article was “Why We Need to Ignore Opt-Outers Like We Do Anti-Vaxxers.” Not that we need to ‘challenge’ them, but we need to ‘ignore’ them. Don’t bother learning what motivates them to do what they do, just assume you know and ignore whatever concerns are causing them to want to do this. Huffman is also a lawyer, though his argument is quite weak. He says that wealthy opt-outers are selfish since they are doing something that somehow benefits themselves while hurting the other, less wealthy people. But does he consider that many opt-outers are doing it as a protest against the misuse of their students test scores to unfairly close schools and fire teachers? Or to protest an over emphasis on testing and testing subjects so they opt out to say “Since I’m opting out anyway, please teach my child as you would have before all this high stakes testing nonsense.” Now I can’t speak for every opt-out supporter, but I believe that opting-out helps everyone, especially the poor since the way the results of the state tests have been used has hurt them disproportionately with school closures and random teacher firings so the idea that all opt-out supporters do so knowingly at the expense of less fortunate others is something that I find offensive. Both co-CEOs of TFA, however, tweeted their approval of this article.
On the Murphy Amendment, TFA tweeted their support for this pro-charter, anti-teacher, NCLB loving turkey:
There is still a chance that a version of the Murphy Amendment will make it into the final ESEA rewrite as over the next few months the two versions that were passed in the Senate and The House are merged and smoothed out. So the defeat of the amendment might not be the end of the story, but it is certainly gives a bit of hope to the more optimistic of us out there.
Note: The relevant portion of the defeated Murphy Amendment is copied below, emphasis mine:
``(a) State Review and Responsibilities.-- ``(1) In general.--Each State educational agency receiving funds under this part shall use the system designed by the State under section 1111(b)(3) to annually-- ``(A) meaningfully differentiate among all public schools, including public schools operated or supported by the Bureau of Indian Education, that receive funds under this part and are in need of intervention and support using the method established by the State in section 1111(b)(3)(B)(ii) which-- ``(i) may include establishing multiple levels of school performance or other methods for differentiating among all public schools; and ``(ii) shall include the identification of at least-- ``(I) the lowest-performing public schools that receive funds under this part in the State not meeting the goals described in section 1111(b)(3)(B)(i), and which shall include at least 5 percent of all the State's public schools that receive funds under this part; ``(II) any public high school that receives funds under this part and has a 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate at or below 67 percent for 2 or more consecutive years, or an extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rate for 2 or more consecutive years that is at or below a rate determined by the State and set higher than 67 percent; and ``(III) any public school that receives funds under this part with any category of students, as defined in section 1111(b)(3)(A), not meeting the goals described in section 1111(b)(3)(B)(i) for 2 consecutive years; ``(B) require for inclusion-- ``(i) on each local educational agency report card required under section 1111(d), the names of schools served by the agency described under subparagraph (A)(ii); and ``(ii) on each school report card required under section 1111(d), whether the school was described under subparagraph (A)(ii); ``(C) ensure that all public schools that receive funds under this part and are identified as in need of intervention and support under subparagraph (A), implement an evidence- based intervention or support strategy designed by the State or local educational agency described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of subsection (b)(3) that addresses the reason for the school's identification and that takes into account performance on all of the indicators in the State's accountability system under section 1111(b)(3)(B)(i); ``(D) prioritize intervention and supports in the identified schools most in need of intervention and support, as determined by the State, using the results of the accountability system under 1111(b)(3)(B); and ``(E) monitor and evaluate the implementation of school intervention and support strategies by local educational agencies, including in the lowest-performing elementary schools and secondary schools in the State, and use the results of the evaluation to take appropriate steps to change or improve interventions or support strategies as necessary. ``(2) State educational agency responsibilities.--The State educational agency shall-- ``(A) make technical assistance available to local educational agencies that serve schools identified as in need of intervention and support under paragraph (1)(A); ``(B) if the State educational agency determines that a local educational agency failed to carry out its responsibilities under this section, or that its intervention and support strategies were not effective within 3 years of implementation, take such actions as the State educational agency determines to be appropriate and in compliance with State law to assist the local educational agency and ensure that such local educational agency is carrying out its responsibilities; ``(C) inform local educational agencies of schools identified as in need of intervention and support under paragraph (1)(A) in a timely and easily accessible manner that is before the beginning of the school year; and ``(D) publicize and disseminate to the public, including teachers, principals and other school leaders, and parents, the results of the State review under paragraph (1). ``(b) Local Educational Agency Review and Responsibilities.-- ``(1) In general.--Each local educational agency with a school identified as in need of intervention and support under subsection (a)(1)(A) shall, in consultation with teachers, principals and other school leaders, school personnel, parents, and community members-- ``(A) conduct a review of such school, including by examining the indicators and measures included in the State- determined accountability system described in section 1111(b)(3)(B) to determine the factors that led to such identification; ``(B) conduct a review of the policies, procedures, personnel decisions, and budgetary decisions of the local educational agency, including the measures on the local educational agency and school report cards under section 1111(d) that impact the school and could have contributed to the identification of the school; ``(C) develop and implement appropriate intervention and support strategies, as described in paragraph (3), that are proportional to the identified needs of the school, for assisting the identified school; ``(D) develop a rigorous comprehensive plan that will be publicly available and provided to parents, for ensuring the successful implementation of the intervention and support strategies described in paragraph (3) in identified schools, which may include-- ``(i) technical assistance that will be provided to the school; ``(ii) ensuring identified schools have access to resources, such as adequate facilities, funding, and technology; ``(iii) improved delivery of services to be provided by the local educational agency; ``(iv) increased support for stronger curriculum, program of instruction, wraparound services, or other resources provided to students in the school; ``(v) any changes to personnel necessary to improve educational opportunities for children in the school; ``(vi) redesigning how time for student learning or teacher collaboration is used within the school; ``(vii) using data to inform instruction for continuous improvement; ``(viii) providing increased coaching or support for principals and other school leaders and teachers; ``(ix) improving school climate and safety; ``(x) providing ongoing mechanisms, such as evidence-based community schools and wraparound services, for family and community engagement to improve student learning; ``(xi) establishing partnerships with entities, including private entities with a demonstrated record of improving student achievement, that will assist the local educational agency in fulfilling its responsibilities under this section; and ``(xii) an ongoing process, involving parents, teachers and their representatives, principals, and other school leaders, to improve school leader and staff engagement in the development and implementation of the comprehensive plan; and ``(E) collect and use data on an ongoing basis to monitor the results of the intervention and support strategies and adjust such strategies as necessary during implementation in order to improve student academic achievement. ``(2) Notice to parents.--A local educational agency shall promptly provide to a parent or parents of each student enrolled in a school identified as in need of intervention and support under subsection (a)(1)(A) in an easily accessible and understandable form and, to the extent practicable, in a language that parents can understand-- ``(A) an explanation of what the identification means, and how the school compares in terms of academic achievement and other measures in the State accountability system under section 1111(b)(3)(B) to other schools served by the local educational agency and the State educational agency involved; ``(B) the reasons for the identification; ``(C) an explanation of what the local educational agency or State educational agency is doing to help the school address student academic achievement and other measures, including a description of the intervention and support strategies developed under paragraph (1)(C) that will be implemented in the school; ``(D) an explanation of how the parents can become involved in addressing academic achievement and other measures that caused the school to be identified; and ``(E) an explanation of the parents' option to transfer their child to another public school under paragraph (4), if applicable. ``(3) School intervention and support strategies.-- ``(A) In general.--Consistent with subsection (a)(1) and paragraph (1), a local educational agency shall develop and implement evidence-based intervention and support strategies for an identified school that the local educational agency determines appropriate to address the needs of students in such identified school, which shall-- ``(i) be designed to address the specific reasons for identification, as described in paragraph (1)(A); ``(ii) take into account performance on the indicators used by the State as described in 1111(b)(3)(B)(i); ``(iii) be implemented, at a minimum, in a manner that is proportional to the specific reasons for identification, as described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of paragraph (1); and ``(iv) distinguish between the schools identified in subclauses (I) and (II) of subsection (a)(1)(A)(ii) and in need of comprehensive supports and schools identified in subsection (a)(1)(A)(ii)(III) in need of targeted supports. ``(B) State-determined strategies.--Consistent with State law, a State educational agency may establish alternative evidence-based State-determined strategies that can be used by local educational agencies to assist a school identified as in need of intervention and support under subsection (a)(1)(A), in addition to the assistance strategies developed by a local educational agency under subparagraph (A). ``(4) Public school choice.-- ``(A) In general.--A local educational agency may provide all students enrolled in a school identified as in need of intervention and support under subclauses (I) and (II) of subsection (a)(1)(A)(ii) with the option to transfer to another public school served by the local educational agency, unless such an option is prohibited by State law. ``(B) Priority.--In providing students the option to transfer to another public school, the local educational agency shall give priority to the lowest achieving children from low-income families, as determined by the local educational agency for the purposes of allocating funds to schools under section 1113(a)(3). ``(C) Treatment.--Students who use the option to transfer to another public school shall be enrolled in classes and other activities in the public school to which the students transfer in the same manner as all other children at the public school. ``(D) Special rule.--A local educational agency shall permit a child who transfers to another public school under this paragraph to remain in that school until the child has completed the highest grade in that school. ``(E) Funding for transportation.--A local educational agency may spend an amount equal to not more than 5 percent of its allocation under subpart 2 to pay for the provision of transportation for students who transfer under this paragraph to the public schools to which the students transfer.