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Jared P.
Democrat CO 2

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  • Providing for Further Consideration of H.R. 5, Student Success Act, and Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2647, Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015

    by Representative Jared Polis

    Posted on 2015-07-08

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    POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume, and I thank the gentleman from Washington for yielding me the customary 30 minutes.

    Mr. Speaker, this morning, I got to meet with one of the superintendents from my district, Bruce Messinger, superintendent of the Boulder Valley [[Page H4881]] School District. Bruce told me, as so many others have over the previous years, how the outdated policies under No Child Left Behind stifle innovation and burden teachers and principals with a culture of overtesting.

    I remember a lot of these concerns well because I served on our State Board of Education in Colorado from 2000 to 2006, when we were originally implementing No Child Left Behind; and just as we are now frustrated, we were then frustrated with the lack of flexibility, the fact that solutions were coming out of Washington rather than honoring our local accountability system in how we were able to make things work locally, and a formula, adequate yearly progress, that we knew wouldn't work.

    We knew that we wouldn't have 100 percent proficiency in all subgroups within a decade. We knew we needed reasonable goals to look at student achievement growth rather than the 1-year picture. Since that time, there has been additional discretion given through a policy of waivers that have been given in many States, including my home State of Colorado, but I think we can all agree that it is past time to reauthorize and replace No Child Left Behind with a Federal education policy that makes sense.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, the bill before us today is not that policy that makes sense. One need go no further than the very beginning of the bill in the sense of Congress section on page 7, just to see some of the Tea Party paranoia that underpins a lot of this bill.

    It starts out on page 7 as a finding of Congress saying that the Secretary of Education, through three separate initiatives, has created a system of waivers and grants that influence, incentivize, and coerce State educational agencies into implementing common national curriculum programs of instruction and assessments for elementary and secondary education, which is just patently false.

    First of all, I believe this is a reference--incorrect of course--to the Common Core standards. Now, first of all, standards are different from curriculum. Standards are certainly different from programs of instruction which stem from curriculum, and standards are different from assessments.

    Common Core was an effort of the States to create college- and career-ready standards. What the Federal Government and Secretary Duncan have attempted to do is say States need to have college- and career-ready standards.

    We can't define success downwards and say that kids are passing the test because it is a low test, it is an insufficient test. Whether States want to do it through Common Core or other mechanisms and other types of standards, they are welcome to do it.

    Now, none of that--and the most factually erroneous part--none of that has to do with curriculum or program of instruction. Those are entirely developed at the local level. Standards and the grade level expectations are one thing, as anybody involved with education knows; curriculum is another.

    This bill starts with a false premise. It starts with a premise that somehow Washington is trying to run local school districts. That has never been the case, nor should it be the case. If that is the beginning of the essence of our cooperation, I think we can work together on a bill that empowers teachers, empowers local school districts, and empowers States with an accountability system that makes sense and the resources they need to meet the learning needs of all students.

    Now, more than a decade has passed since Congress has authorized No Child Left Behind. While again, there are some good intentions in this bill, and there is some good language--which is also reflected in our Democratic substitute--it is far outweighed by some of the unintended consequences of the harmful language which will hurt students that is in this bill.

    Now, Mr. Speaker, let me give a little refresher on how we got here. In early February, Chairman Kline introduced this bill. The bill was introduced without input or buy-in from Democrats, and it was drafted with zero committee hearings on ESEA.

    The bill immediately went to markup and was passed along partisan lines. The bill resembles a bill last session that passed this Chamber with zero Democratic votes. This bill is actually worse from my perspective and the perspective of Democrats, for a number of reasons that I will get into, than the bill that attracted zero Democratic support last session.

    This bill was brought before the House in February. It was then pulled. Look, everybody can agree that this is a bad bill. Teachers say it is a bad bill; principals say it is a bad bill; parents say it is a bad bill; the civil rights community says it is a bad bill; disabilities advocates say it is a bad bill, and the business community and the chamber do not support this bill.

    I think--and I am sure they will mention it--the only group that we can even find that supports this bill are superintendents. I am sure they will find a few more. We will have an enormous record of disability groups, civil rights groups, teachers groups, and many others that oppose this bill for a number of reasons, and those reasons are correct.

    If it looks bad, if it looks like a duck, it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it really is a duck. It is hard to bring together the business community, the civil rights community, and teachers unions around anything; and to bring them around saying that this bill will result in less educational opportunities for American kids really is a crowning achievement.

    We need a bill that prepares the next generation of our workforce with the skills they need to succeed.

    {time} 1300 We need an ESEA reauthorization that helps improve American competitiveness in the global economy. We need a bill that expects the best of teachers and gives teachers the respect that they deserve as a profession. We need a bill that cares about students with special needs and gives them the support they need. We need a bill that allows for innovation in our schools. We need a bill that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students from discrimination and bullying; and yet both times that I offered an amendment to include the Student Non-Discrimination Act, it was not allowed in the Rules Committee. And we need a bill that ensures that every child in America has access to a world-class education, regardless of their ZIP Code, their race, their background, their socioeconomic class, or their sexual orientation.

    The Democratic substitute that Mr. Scott has offered and will be debated and voted on is a strong step forward and reflects many of these priorities. It would have been wise for Chairman Kline and the sponsors of the bill to take a closer look at Mr. Scott's Democratic substitute and to have considered many of those provisions in the underlying bill.

    Now, I do want to point out a few of the good provisions in the bill, all of which are also reflected in the Democratic substitute and are generally reflected in some of the language being debated in the Senate as well.

    As the founder of a public charter school network called the New America School, I understand how the freedom to innovate and flexibility to pursue a unique mission can help public charter schools achieve the highest levels of success.

    The New America School has campuses in two States--Colorado and New Mexico--serving over 2,000 students from 40 countries. Just a few years ago, I was honored to speak at its Colorado graduation, and it was moving to hear the tales of some of the immigrant students who were served by this school.

    There is excellent language around the charter school title V programs in both the Democratic substitute and nearly identical language in the underlying bill that ups the bar on charter schools and makes sure that the districts and States have best policies surrounding accountability for charter schools and makes sure that successful charter school models can replicate and expand to serve more students.

    I am also pleased that two of my amendments to H.R. 5 were made in order and have already passed the House in the previous debate in February. One of my amendments encouraged collaboration among charter schools and traditional public schools, and another amendment allowed funds to be used for open educational resources to help save districts and students money on textbooks and other programs. These resources that are [[Page H4882]] open source, which are licensed but free to use, can reduce the burden of overtesting and can help reduce costs in education.

    Now, there is not a lot more to say with regard to the positive provisions of this bill, but I want to talk about one of its biggest shortcomings and, namely, getting accountability right.

    We can all agree that No Child Left Behind did not get accountability right, but the answer is to move forward and improve upon and make accountability work, not to take a step backward, which is what this bill does, by having a misguided set of principles defining performance targets and accountability.

    In fact, if this bill were to become law, States would not be required to set performance targets based on student growth, proficiency, or graduation rates. The bill doesn't define low- performing schools, nor does it establish any parameters for intervention when we know a school isn't working.

    One of the most compelling things that we can do here in Washington is equip local superintendents with the toolbox they need to help turn around persistently failing schools, and this bill fails to do that.

    Mr. Speaker, we should provide schools with more flexibility to design school improvement programs that No Child Left Behind does, but we should not provide schools with the option to do nothing and allow dropout factories to continue to exist, elementary schools where we know that kids are falling further and further behind every year.

    No child should be trapped in a failing school with no recourse. We need to fix accountability, not step away from it. This bill constitutes the Federal Government throwing up its arms and letting States define success downward to make themselves look good while leaving more students behind.

    This problem is compounded by another amendment that was not even previously discussed that has now been allowed under this rule, namely, the Salmon amendment, 129, which is universally opposed by civil rights groups from the NAACP to La Raza to the Urban League to LULAC to the Education Trust.

    The Salmon amendment assumes that disadvantaged students aren't capable of high achievement, perpetuating low expectations that are projected on students of color, poor students, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and others.

    This amendment effectively gives in to those political pressures which we all feel that work against disadvantaged students, that work against them at the district level because often their parents are not enfranchised members of the community or voting in school board races or serving on the board that work against them at the State level because they are up against the special interests and, yes, work against them here even in Washington.

    This body needs to stand up for disadvantaged communities, needs to stand up for African Americans, Latinos, immigrant communities, those students with disabilities and ensure that any deficiency in the quality of instruction for disadvantaged communities is not swept under the rug as the Salmon amendment would do.

    I strongly encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject the Salmon amendment.

    While No Child Left Behind certainly had its flaws, it did move us forward in continuing to serve low-income and minority students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

    H.R. 5 is a step backwards. Even without the Salmon amendment, it excludes students with disabilities from school accountability systems. The bill eliminates the 1 percent cap on alternate assessments based on alternative achievement standards.

    Now, again, there is a real-world problem to be solved. There are some kids with learning disabilities so severe that they can't be given a test for accountability purposes. And that 1 percent number is an arbitrary number. You can argue it should be half a percent, you can argue it should be 1\1/2\ percent. That is a very legitimate discussion to have. And I would be fully open, as many of my colleagues were, to figuring out what that number is.

    The answer is not to eliminate that number and effectively allow a State that might serve 12 percent of a population with students with disabilities to say none of those students will be tested; none of those students with individual education plans, none of those students who might be dyslexic will be looked at in terms of how they are learning.

    Do you know what? My father was dyslexic, and it took him until fifth grade to learn to read. But under provisions of this bill, he might never have learned to read because he and millions of other Americans with disabilities would be completely swept under the rug with the elimination of the cap.

    This bill also fails to invest in our Nation's teachers. In February, I introduced the Great Teaching and Leading for Great Schools Act, which would advance a new definition of professional development based on research and best practices.

    Professional development doesn't have to simply be hiring someone to lecture teachers for a few hours while they are all bored. In fact, there is better proven, data-proven ways that can help advance teaching and learning in schools, including collaborative peer networks, feedback from teachers and principals, tying data in to ensure that our professional development opportunities work. Unfortunately, H.R. 5 eliminates any requirement that ensures quality professional development for teachers.

    Now, let me talk about one of the most concerning provisions in this bill to Democrats, including myself, and it has an innocuous name. It is called title I portability. It sounds like a good concept. It says that Federal aid for students of poverty would follow the student.

    Now, that sounds good, again, just as that finding that somehow the Federal Government should never do these programs of destruction in national curriculum sounds good. But again, it is devoid of facts.

    Let me tell you what the effect of this provision would do. What this provision would do is it would shift millions of dollars from schools that serve our most at-risk kids to schools that serve wealthier children.

    The Center for American Progress recently released a report that broke down exactly what the language would mean for high-need schools in each State. In Colorado alone, schools that serve students of poverty would lose over $8 million of funding.

    So again, let's talk about how this works.

    There is a threshold in each school district for schools that receive title I free and reduced lunch services. They are focused on the schools that serve the largest pockets of poverty.

    In a school district like Boulder Valley School District whose superintendent was in to meet with me earlier today, they offer title I services in their schools that have about 40 percent or more free and reduced lunch kids. That allows them to focus on the eight or nine schools that have the highest need in what is overall a fairly prosperous school district.

    If this provision were passed, resources would be diverted out of those schools that are in our neediest communities to the schools that are in our wealthiest communities.

    As our ranking member has said and probably will say again, what problem is it you are trying to solve by shifting resources from poor schools to wealthy schools? While, again, it is a noble concept, and if there were a way to hold harmless or provide additional support for schools that serve at-risk kids, there might be some basis of discussion with myself and Members on my side of the aisle; but to simply say that we are going to shift tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from schools that serve kids in communities of poverty to wealthier schools, under any possible accountability metric, I guarantee you, will only increase the already persistent learning gap that exists between communities of poverty and prosperous communities, and is exactly the wrong way to go with regard to how we target our Federal resources to make the biggest difference in the lives of Americans who deserve access to quality public education.

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