Parents Across America demands ESEA reform

Press release – for immediate release 4.20.11

It’s time for lawmakers to listen to parents!

National parent group reaches out to Congress on ESEA,

demanding less testing and privatization and more proven, effective reforms

As Congress considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, aka No Child Left Behind), Parents Across America, a national network of public school parents, will be calling on our U. S. Senators and Congressmen this week to share our concerns about the direction of federal education policy, and offer our proposals in this ESEA position paper.

Members of Parents Across America (PAA) are concerned that education reform in this nation is going in the wrong direction, and dangerously eroding our children’s opportunity to realize their potential and experience a quality education.

It’s time to stop doing things that don’t work, like expanding charter schools and testing, and to start doing more of those things that improve education and student outcomes, like lowering class size and including parents in decision making,” said PAA co-founder Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.

“Parents Across America believes that a decade of NCLB’s incessant focus on high-stakes tests has resulted in the narrowed curriculum that we have today. Further, each new initiative has ratcheted up the stakes, making it clear that we’re abandoning the very children NCLB sought to serve. The explosion of new testing resulting from the Common Core standards and assessments forced on states by the federal government is a huge unfunded mandate that will likely drain billions of dollars from cash-strapped states and districts, and further harm children. We must urgently reverse course before it’s too late,” said Rita M. Solnet of Testing is not Teaching, and PAA-Florida’s co-founder.

Specifically, Parents Across America opposes:

  • Policies that use standardized test scores as the most important accountability measure for schools, teachers or students, and/or expands the use of standardized testing in our schools;
  • Competition for federal funds; a quality education is not a race but a right.
  • Parent trigger” laws, vouchers, charter takeovers or other forms of school privatization that take resources from the schools attended by most students and put them into private hands, with less oversight.
  • Limiting federally-mandated school improvement models to a narrow set of strategies, including closing schools and/or firing teachers, favored by corporate reformers but which have had little success in improving student outcomes.

"PAA opposes the expansion of charter schools and other forms of school privatization. Charter schools in New Orleans and elsewhere often push out students with disabilities or do not serve them well, and there have been many instances where such children have been turned away. It's time for the federal government to support policies that strengthen every neighborhood school so that every child gets a top quality education,” said Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent and founding PAA member.

PAA believes a new ESEA must include:

  • Sufficient and equitable resources in all public schools, so that every child can receive a high-quality education.
  • Improving schools rather than closing them, by means of evidence-based solutions backed by parents and other stakeholders.
  • Less standardized testing and more reliable accountability and assessment practices.
  • Programs that encourage the retention of professional, experienced teachers.
  • A full range of parent involvement opportunities, including a stronger parent voice in decision making at the school, district, state, and national levels;
  • The right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.

Simply put, parents know their children best, and local school boards know their districts best. It’s time to let parents and local school boards focus resources and strategies in the ways that are most effective and appropriate for them, not be shackled with unfunded mandates from Washington. Further, NCLB has severely hampered districts’ ability to properly serve our English Language Learners and special-needs students and has virtually forced districts to segregate students according to socioeconomic status and race,” said Andrea Merida, a member of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education and a PAA founding member. “That’s not the America I want for our children.”

PAA co-founder Julie Woestehoff concluded, “It’s time for a more responsible federal education law that will strengthen our nation’s public schools and provide a high-quality education for all our children.”

During the next ten days, while Congress is on spring break, PAA members will reach out to their Senators and Congressmen in their home offices to share our views, talk about the reforms needed to improve our children’s schools, and open up a positive dialogue between lawmakers and parents, who have the most at stake in stronger, more effective federal education policies.

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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.