(ESSA) What started out as two bad bills to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, went to a Committee of Conference and then was passed by the United States House last week.  Today the United States Senate voted to also pass the “Every Student Succeeds Act.

ESSA reauthorizes the old and failed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, but continues the damaging practices of federal involvement in public education.

Legislators are claiming that ESSA fixes the problems from NCLB but if you read through the 1061 pages (YES that’s 1061 pages) you begin to see that there are still big problems with this new federal law.

According to Utahns Against Common Core No Child Left Behind (NCLB):2002 vs Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):2015, “In short, this bill purports to fix the problems created under NCLB (some of which were, in fact, created outside of NCLB but incorrectly attributed to it, e.g. Common Core), but there is evidence that it doesn’t, in fact, fix federal overreach, and, in many instances, like in standards and mandated testing, it increases it.”
Comparing NCLB to ESSA, readers can see how ESSA increases federal control in public education.

It should come as no surprise that Governor Hassan, one of the federal governments main facilitators of the federal reforms, is praising the passage of ESSA by the Senate today.

Governor Hassan issued this statement  By reauthorizing and reforming the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – something I fought for as Vice Chair of the National Governors Association Education and Workforce Development Committee – the Every Student Succeeds Act gives states greater flexibility necessary to meet the needs of our students, teachers and schools, and in turn, our businesses and economy.”

Governor Hassan goes on to say, “This includes more locally managed assessments that empower our students and our teachers, allowing more states to follow the model created here in New Hampshire through our Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) pilot….”

PACE assessments are not locally managed assessments.  According to schoolchoicenh.org,The NH Department of Education claims that PACE is “locally designed” with input from “stakeholders” including teachers, superintendents, and parents. At best, this is an exaggeration; at worst, it is an outright falsehood. School boards did not vote to participate in the PACE program. In Rochester, for example, the SAU superintendent alone made the determination that the district would apply to the experimental program; it was never brought to the school board as a body or the public for comment or a vote. The switch to PACE was simply steamrolled into the district without any approval process.”

It’s important at this time to note that New Hampshire legislators rejected the PACE assessments in HB323.  Since many parents were refusing to force their children to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), PACE has become a way for Governor Hassan’s Dept. of Education to force compliance through the PACE assessments.

What data will be collected on your children through PACE?
Will parents be able to refuse the PACE assessments like they did the SBA?

Competency Based Assessments like PACE are not achievement tests so parents may not be interested in having their child’s values, attitudes and beliefs assessed and data collected and sent to the various government data-bases.

New Hampshire Families for Education also reported on how the PACE assessments are being implemented in local school districts without any input from local parents, “The NH Commissioner of Education promised the US Education Department that she would transition all NH school districts over to the controversial PACE (Performance Assessment Competency Education) program in her 2015 ESEA (No Child Left Behind) Waiver. The NH legislature refused to authorize PACE program which was proposed in HB 323. The state Senate eliminated PACE from the bill.”

Governor Hassan praises ESSA in her statement but then goes on to identify all of the federal reforms like “PACE” assessments and Competency Based Education she is helping to facilitate.

If ESSA is giving back “control” in education, why is she continuing to facilitate the federal reforms?  Shouldn’t she, as the leader in New Hampshire, be the one with a plan to improve public education in the state?  Instead of fully complying with the federal government on their agenda?

Finally, the media is reporting that ESSA bars the Federal Government from enforcing Common Core.  The Federal Government never mandated Common Core in the first place.  They just used coercion (No Child Left Behind Waivers) and bribes (Race to the Top Grants) to get Governors to comply.

Since most Governors lack leadership in pushing back the federal government, many took the bribes and caved to the coercion instead of fighting back.  Is anyone surprised that many of those Governors now running for president in the Republican primary, are doing so poorly in the nation polls?

What does ESSA really say?

There are two good resources that explain some of the biggest problems with this bill.

The first one is a letter written by State Senator William Ligon from Georgia.  In his letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, he writes about the frustration people are having with the Republican party and goes on to admonish the Republicans for supporting ESSA.
The latest attempt by Congress to reauthorize ESEA under its new name, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is a prime example of how the federal government exceeds its constitutional authority. Many of our supporters in the Republican base are wondering why we need a 1061-page federal bill dealing with education policy. I have been told by a member of our congressional delegation that bill’s length was needed to repeal many existing federal laws dealing with education. Unfortunately, a review of the bill reveals not much in the way of repeal but that once again the federal government is driving education policy in every State in the Union through grants and waivers.”

Senator Ligon summarizes ESSA by identifying the problems as:
1) ESSA continues to advance the top-down, federal reform agenda
2) Expands the federal role in government preschool
3) The data collection on these children is invasive and that these early learning data systems are designed to link with not only the K-12 data systems, but also post-secondary data, and labor data, as well as universal newborn screening and health data systems.
4) ESSA continues the federal testing mandates. Assessments of students’ skills and psychological attributes
5) ESSA also incentivizes the Obama administration’s pet concept of schools as “community learning centers,” perhaps more accurately dubbed “parent replacement centers.”

The last article, What ESSA Really Says, readers have a more detailed explanation on where the problems are located in the 1061 page bill.  Heather warns the Senators that if they vote for ESSA,  “Know what you are voting on is not an end to common core or a return to local control. It is an expansion of “the secretary’s” duties and Federal control. The new ESEA is an expansion of K-12 education mandates. It sets up “college and career ready” preschoolers and encourages SLDS tracking by numerous governmental agencies into the post secondary education years.

ESSA outlines data collection, competency based pay for teachers, pipeline services from birth to age 20, new federally monitored “promise” neighborhoods, an expansion of data driven computer adaptive testing, and in-school mental health services which will not be protected by HIPPA privacy protection laws. It is an erosion of local control and the continuation of a data driven model which corporate interests will benefit from.”

She then goes on to give readers the exact pages where you will find all of the problems.

How did the Senators vote? Including the New Hampshire Senators and those running for President?

Senator Kelly Ayotte (R)  YEA
Senator Jeanne Shaheen  (D) YEA

Senator Rand Paul (R) NAY
Senator Marco Rubio (R): ABSENT
Senator Ted Cruz (R): ABSENT
Senator Bernie Sanders (D): ABSENT

In the U. S. House last week:
Congressman Frank Guinta (R): NAY
Congresswoman Anne Kuster (D): YEA

I would encourage everyone, if they get a chance, to thank Congressman Frank Guinta and Senator Rand Paul for voting with the people on this historic vote.

In spite of all of the hype about ESSA, parents face more problems than ever before.

Ann Marie Banfield currently volunteers as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire. She has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports parental rights, literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can reach her at: abanfield@nhcornerstone.org