TFA endorses Murphy’s Law

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.
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4 Responses to TFA endorses Murphy’s Law

  1. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: TFA Supported Adding NCLB Punishments to Senate ESEA and Opposed Opting Out | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. Reblogged this on Cloaking Inequity and commented:
    Teach For America shows their true colors on parent and student political free speech rights to opt out of testing.

  3. Pingback: Ed News, Friday, July 31, 2015 Edition | tigersteach

  4. Old Teacher says:

    I see the 74 comments section was lit up like a Christmas tree. The opposition to testing and disagreement with Huffman was almost unanimous. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of one decrying opting out while doing the same. His children do not take these tests, why should yours? His schools are not rated by these tests, why should yours be?

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