Kate Childs Graham
WASHINGTON—Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the Department of Education's waiver renewal guidance.
"This fall, in poll after poll, the American people, and in particular parents, told us that they want great neighborhood schools with the funding they need to provide all kids with rich, rigorous instruction including art and music. They want teachers to have the latitude to teach more. They want less testing.
"And it seemed, for a moment at least, like education policymakers were listening, admitting—as the secretary of education did—that testing is sucking the oxygen out of the classroom, and congratulating those—like some state superintendents—who apologized for overtesting. But now today, a week after the midterm elections, the department is "staying the course," trading No Child Left Behind waivers for the very same policies that promoted this test fixation in the first place.
"The waiver guidance issued today says: No Child Left Behind failed, but you can get out of it if you have college- and career-ready standards, high-stakes testing on those standards, and teacher evaluations that rely heavily on testing. It's basically Race to the Top without the funding. It doesn't take into consideration the pressing need in the 21st-century economy to help all kids become critical thinkers and problem solvers, learn team work, and develop resilience and persistence. It doesn't take into consideration the concerns parents, teachers and students have been raising for years about testing, the narrowing of the curriculum, or the rocky implementation and transition to the Common Core standards. At best, it permits, and at worst, it rewards, states that habitually overtest—like Florida, whose kids now lose an average of 70 days of instruction due to testing. It lacks a concrete strategy to address the out-of-classroom factors that account for two-thirds of what affects student achievement. And sadly, even when focusing on teachers as a silver bullet, it lacks the answer to how we recruit, retain and support teachers at hard-to-staff schools. It fails to address inequity, which we know is the biggest obstacle our schools face.
"Strategies to build teacher capacity, small class sizes, community schools, professional development, early childhood education, project-based learning, multiple pathways to graduation, including career and technical education—these are some solutions that would help all kids succeed. Yet, in this guidance, they are absent. Education policy should be informed by evidence, by research, by the lived experience of parents, students and teachers across the country. It should support proven solutions to help all kids, not create more obstacles. This new waiver guidance fails to pass this test."
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The AFT represents 1.6 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.