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No Child Left Behind required states to have a 95% participation rate in state testing; so does the new Every Student Succeeds Act. However, the U.S. Department of Education recently sent a letter to states with high opt out rates warning that there would be serious sanctions if their participation rate drops below 95%. The only reason this would happen is if large numbers of parents opted their children out of the testing. The Education Department that sanctions might include withholding federal funds. This is ironic: suburban parents opt their children out, so urban children (the main recipients of Title I funding) will lose funding. Good thinking, bureaucrats!


Randi Weingarten sent a letter to John King calling on him to back off:



January 7, 2016


The Honorable John King


Acting Secretary Department of Education


400 Maryland Ave., SW


Washington, DC 20202


Dear Acting Secretary King,


I am writing to express my disappointment and frustration at the Dec. 22, 2015, letter signed by Acting Assistant Secretary Ann Whalen regarding participation rates on state tests and the U.S. Department of Education’s planned enforcement of the 95 percent participation rate requirement.


This Dec. 22 letter signals intent to vigorously enforce the 95 percent test participation requirement and outlines consequences that include withholding funds. The letter goes against the spirit of a Dec. 18 letter from Acting Assistant Secretary Whalen, issued less than a week earlier, indicating that the department would fully support states, districts and schools as they transition to implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act. As you are well aware, while the new ESSA requires states to test 95 percent of students, it allows them to decide how they will factor this requirement into their accountability system. States are now working out how they will move to new accountability systems, and they need the flexibility and support offered in your Dec. 18 letter, not the threat of sanctions contained in the Dec. 22 letter.


Make no mistake, the opt-out movement—the reason that so many states did not meet the 95 percent participation requirement in 2014-15—was a referendum on this administration’s policies that created the culture of overtesting and punishment. Your October 2015 “Testing Action Plan” admitted as much, and the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of ESSA was a strong signal that the page must be turned on these policies.


With one year left in your administration, we ask that you step away from business as usual. America’s schools don’t need letters threatening to withhold much- needed funds. They need support as they work to figure out their new accountability systems, including how the 95 percent participation requirement will be included.


Congratulations on your new role, and we look forward to working with you this year on ESSA implementation.




Randi Weingarten President

The Every Student Succeeds Act was released to the public on November 30, passed both houses of Congress with large majorities within 10 days, and was signed into law today by President Obama. That was fast. The good news is that No Child Left Behind is gone. There is so much we don’t know because there has been so little time to read it, discuss it, and hear different perspectives on how it will work.



Randi Weingarten here explains the charter portion of the law. Sure, some would prefer that the federal government stop subsidizing privatization. But this is a Republican-controlled Congress, so what did you expect? School choice is their favorite school reform.


Randi writes:



“This is what is in the bill on charters:

“The program is reauthorized through FY 2020 and replaced the current charter school grant program with a program awarding grants to states, and through them subgrants to charter school developers, to open new charters and expand and replicate high-quality charter school models. At the same time, ESSA strengthens and updates the charter school program by: · ensuring charter school quality, accountability and transparency including required fiscal audits; · incentivizes stronger charter school authorizing practices; · requires charter schools to improve community outreach and engagement · provides dedicated funding to expand and replicate the highest quality charter schools so that they can reach more students; · focuses on charter school practices recruitment, retention and discipline practices, particularly for underrepresented groups such as homeless and foster students. There is a grant priority for charter management organizations that operate racially integrated schools and prioritize serving a majority of low-income students. There is money for facilities assistance as the bill reserves 12.5 percent of the charter school program funding to be used for facilities assistance. ESSA also requires the Secretary of Education to address the recent findings of the Office of the Inspector General pertaining to operational challenges within the Charter School Program.”

Paul Thomas decribes the futility of rebranding the Common Core.

He writes: “Careful examination of both adopting Common Core and then the backlash resulting in dropping Common Core reveals that states remain firmly entrenched in the same exact accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing that has overburdened education since the 1980s. “The names and letters change, but not much else—except for throwing more money at a game of wasteful politics labeled “reform.” “Political posturing and public responses to all this Common Core puffery suggest that the next time a hurricane is plowing toward U.S. soil, the Weather Channel can lessen public panic by simply announcing a kitten is off the coast of Florida. “New and different standards and tests—these are jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, rearranging chairs on the Titanic. “We need to abandon ship.” It is time to aim for equity, for equality of opportunity, not a race with winners and losers.

On the second day of the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education’s Conference, I moderated a discussion between the leaders of the NEA and the AFT. Lily Eskelsen represented the NEA, and Randi Weingarten of the AFT.

This is the first video to emerge from the
program. Two very strong women! The video was made by Vibcent Precht.

Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain of colleges that has been under federal investigation, closed its doors and apparently is out of business. This is a shame for the 16,000 mostly low-income students who were lured to enroll and promised a good job. But it is good news to see a predatory venture go under.

These must be the remnants of the Corinthian chain, because last December, the U.S. Department of Education allowed the corporation to sell most of their campuses to a debt collection agency with no experience running colleges.

Congress and the U.S. Department of Education should have cracked down on these institutions long ago, but they hire the best lobbyists in town, from both parties and continue to offer a cheap version of “education” that makes money for them and rips off students. When Senator Tom Harkin was in charge of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he tore into the for-profits, but to no avail.

They make so much money in their business, that they can afford to hire the lobbyists who protect them but not their students.

This is what the New York Times wrote about the industry’s ability to dodge regulatory controls:

The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power brokering. Rattled by the administration’s tough talk, the colleges spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case.

Anita Dunn, a close friend of President Obama and his former White House communications director, worked with Kaplan University, one of the embattled school networks. Jamie Rubin, a major fund-raising bundler for the president’s re-election campaign, met with administration officials about ATI, a college network based in Dallas, in which Mr. Rubin’s private-equity firm has a stake.

A who’s who of Democratic lobbyists — including Richard A. Gephardt, the former House majority leader; John Breaux, the former Louisiana senator; and Tony Podesta, whose brother, John, ran Mr. Obama’s transition team — were hired to buttonhole officials.

And politically well-connected investors, including Donald E. Graham, chief executive of the Washington Post Company, which owns Kaplan, and John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix and a longtime friend of the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, made impassioned appeals.

In all, industry advocates met more than two dozen times with White House and Education Department officials, including senior officials like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, records show, even as Mr. Obama has vowed to reduce the “outsize” influence of lobbyists and special interests in Washington.

As I wrote just a few weeks ago, “The burgeoning of the for-profit college industry has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, sent many thousands of students out into the world with shoddy educations, and made a few people very rich.” No one is doing the perp walk, unlike the Atlanta educators. When we will see these sleazy operators go to jail for theft of government money and theft of services to students who were cheated of an education?

Randi Weingarten is on her way to speak at the Network for Public Education’s second annual conference in Chicago this weekend.

But she detoured to London to attend the Pearson shareholder meeting. She took the opportunity to tell Pearson to stop spying on children through their social media accounts. And she requested that Pearson stop lobbying and making campaign contributions to politicians for the sake of their testing business.

I am not sure that the folks at Prstson ever heard such straight talk.

This is great news!


Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted and wrote on her Facebook page yesterday that she supports parents who opt out of the PARCC tests. She had previously spoken out of behalf of opting out when participating in a parent-teacher rally at Fort Drum, New York. Yesterday she said that if she were a parent of children in the public schools of New York, she would opt out too.


Opting out is not about helping the teachers’ union or opposing accountability. It is a message to governors and legislators, to Congress and the Obama administration that testing is out of control. Testing is not teaching. Since the passage of NCLB in 2001-02, billions of dollars have been spent on test prep and testing. In the case of the Common Core tests, the results are not reported for 4-6 months, the teacher is not allowed to see what students got right or wrong. The tests have no diagnostic value. None. They are used solely to rank and rate students, teachers, principals, and schools. Furthermore, they are designed to fail the majority of students because of the absurd “cut scores” (passing mark) pegged to NAEP’s proficient level. We are the most over tested nation in the world. Enough!


Any politician who advocates for the tests should do one simple thing: Take the eighth grade math test and publish your score.


Thank you, Randi, for personally endorsing opt out! Encourage your members across the nation to join those who are defending their students and their profession. It is hard to stand up alone; in unity there is strength.



She wrote on her Facebook page:



I have been in NY alot fighting shoulder to shoulder with educators and parents against Cuomo’s wrongheaded actions. I was asked the question abt opt out today and this is what I tweeted out.


We believe parents have right to opt-out & tchrs shld be able to advise parents how. We’ve said it repeatedly, are fighting for it in ESEA.


@lacetothetop et al have asked what I’d do if I had kids in NYPS—based on what I’ve seen, if I had kids, I’d opt them out of the PEARSON (PAARC) tests this yr


It’s crazy what’s happening in NY, w/ Cuomo leading the misuse of testing. We understand why @NYSUT and parents are calling for an opt-out

Fresno’s ACEL Charter School will close immediately, due to financial problems. The charter school is $300,000 in debt and can’t get a loan, so it is shutting its doors. It started in 2008.

Students are upset and bewildered. Seniors are two months away from graduation and wondering how they will get a diploma.

“Many of the cash problems are being blamed on the unnamed company the board contracted to monitor its finances. Recently, the massive funding deficit was revealed.”

Charter schools come and go, like other businesses.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, takes issue with Secretary Duncan in reauthorization of NCLB. Duncan said last week that annual testing was “a line in the sand,” that is, non-negotiable. This, of course, ignores the views if educators and parents, who SES how the testing obsession has harmed teaching and learning and narrowed the curriculum.

Randi on Secretary Duncan’s ESEA Reauthorization Remarks

WASHINGTON— Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s speech regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“As I’ve said before, any law that doesn’t address our biggest challenges—funding inequity, segregation, the effects of poverty—will fail to make the sweeping transformation our kids and our schools need. Today, it was promising to hear Secretary Duncan make a call for equity, stressing, as we did through the Equity and Excellence Commission, the importance of early childhood education and engaging curriculum. It was encouraging to hear him laud the hard work of educators, who have had to overcome polarization and deep cuts after a harsh recession. And it was heartening to hear him acknowledge the progress our schools have made. However, the robust progress we saw in the first 40 years after the passage of ESEA has slowed over the last 10 years.

“On testing, we are glad the secretary has acknowledged that ‘there are too many tests that take up too much time’ and that ‘we need to take action to support a better balance.’ However, current federal educational policy—No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and waivers—has enshrined a focus on testing, not learning, especially high-stakes testing and the consequences and sanctions that flow from it. That’s wrong, and that’s why there is a clarion call for change. The waiver strategy and Race to the Top exacerbated the test-fixation that was put in place with NCLB, allowing sanctions and consequences to eclipse all else. From his words today, it seems the secretary may want to justify and enshrine that status quo and that’s worrisome.

“Yes, we need to get parents, educators and communities the information they need. And all of us must be accountable and responsible for helping all children succeed. That’s why we have suggested some new interventions, like community schools and wraparound services; project-based learning; service internships; and individual plans for over-age students, under-credited students and those who are not reading at grade level by third grade.

“If one test per year can cause an entire school to be shuttered or all the teachers fired, something is wrong with the way that test is being used. Even in the District of Columbia, where the secretary spoke from today, the school district has pulled back from the consequential nature of these tests.

“At the end of the day, the most important part of the debate shouldn’t happen in big speeches. It should happen in real conversations with parents, students and teachers, who are closest to the classroom. Communities understand the huge positive effect ESEA had for impoverished and at-risk communities 50 years ago. Those communities are saying loudly and clearly that they want more supports for students and schools, and data used to inform and improve, not sanction. It’s my hope that, in the coming weeks, leaders in Congress and the administration will listen to these voices and shape a law that reflects the needs of all our kids.”

Postscript: An advanced copy of Secretary Duncan’s remarks today included a quote from Albert Shanker, former president of the AFT, on accountability. To this, Weingarten responded, “If the secretary wants to invoke Shanker on accountability, then invoke him on his proposals for grade-span over annual testing. Shanker once called for ‘an immediate end to standardized tests as they are now,’ instead favoring testing over five-year intervals.”


Randi Weingarten

American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

During the Christmas holidays, the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School in Philadelphia announced that it was closing, due to financial problems. The School Reform Commission had already initiated action to close it for poor academic performance. The Philadelphia school district said that the charter school had claimed $1.5 million more than it was entitled to, and the school could not find the money to repay the debt. Why is this kind of turmoil and instability called “reform”?


Citing insurmountable financial obstacles, the Palmer charter sent letters to families and staff on Friday informing them that the school would close permanently Wednesday.
The move sent teachers on quests for new jobs and information about filing for unemployment, and left families of the school’s 675 students in kindergarten through eighth grade scrambling for new schools.


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