Is Education a National Issue?

Education is not mentioned in the Constitution…. We have heard how this argument goes.Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 10.57.46 AM

Because of no specific mention of education, the responsibility for educating the young people of our republic is deferred to the States in the 10th Amendment …. with the caveat “or to the people.”

People, you need to decide. Is public education a national issue?

If we never have that discussion, then we never examine the arguments that have been stalling our progress in education reform for the last three decades.


And, we must look back at the historical precedents surrounding the issue of federal support for public education.

How do we make informed decisions without this conversation?


State versus Federal: Are we sure we should be fighting that battle?

The Constitution doesn’t mention a whole lot of things — by design.

“The original Constitution of 1788 contained very few specific restrictions on the ways in which the power of the national government could be exercised against the people.”


“…the state delegations at the Constitutional Convention voted 10-0 against including a bill of rights in the Constitution.”

One reason they gave for being against such specific rights being in this governing document is

“…any list of rights would be incomplete. Such a list might indirectly endanger any rights not included on it.”

the-preamble-to-the-united-states-constitution-sourceThat is really something to think about. Has the argument over State versus Federal law governing education actually endangered the general Welfare of the children in our nation?

The 10th Amendment …

“— emphasizes that … the fundamental character of the national government… remains a government of limited and enumerated powers, so that the first question involving an exercise of federal power is not whether it violates someone’s rights, but whether it exceeds the national government’s enumerated powers.”

Note in that quote that the authors interchange the words “national” and “federal.” Unfortunately — but fortunately for the country — the Founding Fathers understood the differences, chose to make our constitution a unique blend of those concepts, but it appears they made the assumption that our representatives (and the populous) would forever understand and make distinction between the two concepts. For example…

From blog post titled "Fixing Our national Accountability System: Part 1."

From blog post titled “Fixing Our National Accountability System: Part 1.”

The Founding Fathers seemed to have also assumed that there would always be open debate and deliberation especially in the Senate.…anyway….

Let’s consider how our predecessors sorted things out when confronted with issues concerning education. Starting pre-Constitution…

1784 — Land Ordinance — This was outlined by Thomas Jefferson while we were still floundering under the Articles of Confederation because “Congress did not have the power to raise revenue by direct taxation. Therefore, the immediate goal of the ordinance was to raise money through the sale of land…”

“The ordinance was also significant for establishing a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships…”

Education was a national issue then.

1787 —September 17— the Constitution was signed.

1789 — President George Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance, which established (among other things) “the precedent by which the federal government would be sovereign,” it designated “prohibition of slavery” in the [new] territories, and it stated (Art. 3) that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Under our new constitution and through the Northwest Ordinance, our new nation made a statement of national support for education and its importance as well as inching us ALL towards individual freedom and equal opportunity.

1841/1848 — Congress made grants of land to support public education.

The History Of Federal Government In Public Education: Where Have We Been And How Did We Get Here?

The History Of Federal Government In Public Education: Where Have We Been And How Did We Get Here? League of Women Voters

Education remained a national issue.

1862 — The First Morrill Act (Land Grant Act) was passed granting public lands to support one college per state for specific purposes.

1867 — Original “Office” of Education was established and, in 1890, the Second Morrill Act “gave the Office of Education responsibility for administering support for the original system of land-grant colleges.”

Obviously, there is a pattern of federal support for public education and many more laws followed that have supported educating the nation —very well. (Don’t forget the GI Bill.)

What is missing in kicking off a national conversation now is what John F. Kennedy was very careful to discuss when he proposed the ideas behind what became the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Can the federal government give aid to the nations’ public schools without exerting “control” over them? The answer is yes.

President Johnson was left to answer for President Kennedy - in law.

President Johnson was left to answer for President Kennedy – in the 1965 ESEA law.

What do our representatives and political candidates now have to say about the proper role of the federal government in education? Can they even tell you what was wrong with NCLB? After all these years, do they have anything specific to say about correcting their mistake? Do they not see how they crossed the line into federal CONTROL versus SUPPORT?

Today, the public is accepting the idea that if politicians say “I support universal preschool” or “community college should be free” that it means they care about supporting the K-12 public education system. That isn’t the case.

K-12 education is the playing field best positioned to offer all kids a chance to explore and fulfill their personal potential. The long-term benefits of preschool without K-3 improvements is still debatable. And, should we really be investing in free community college to make up for what we didn’t do in K-12? How efficient is that?

Did you know we have never provided the funding requested for K-12 disadvantaged students through ESEA Title I? Where’s that conversation taking place?

When the federal policy of the last 15 years undermines the very foundation of K-12 public education — like No Child Left Behind has, does, and continues to do eight years after it should have gone away — that says the lawmakers don’t care.

When the country doesn’t push for the right supports for educating children, what does that say about us?

Grow the vision or let it go?

Grow the vision or let it go?

No deliberation, no debate, no demands, no progress.

End of the road for real national support for public education? Or time to raise the issue to a new level?

According to the 10th Amendment, the people have the power.

Title I & ESEA Reauthorization

Does Congress understand how Title I money was meant to be used? Looking at what they have proposed to date, it is a question in need of a good, clear answer.

A requirement in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was that a president-appointed advisory council report yearly to the president. The National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children was to review the laws’ progress with the programs and projects Title I funding supported.

In turn, the president was to report the findings to our Congress along with comments and further recommendations.489596

To do this responsibly and hold our government “accountable,” we all need to understand Title I. Title I is the touchstone of the original ESEA.

The federal formula funding was distributed to assist “children of low-income families.” The directive was to address the needs of “educationally deprived children,” which the architects understood would include more than just the low-income children given that the schools where the most funds would flow were “inherently unequal.” Needs are going to vary from community to community but potentially all students in schools in low-income communities are at risk for being under-served.

Title I was to address the disadvantages CHILDREN face — economically, educationally, mentally, or physically “disadvantaged”— when their learning needs aren’t being met by state and local agencies.

The goal of ESEA was to provide equal access to quality education — that is how “equal opportunity” was defined.

To do so, we have to recognize the barriers “disadvantaged” students and their families face in our communities, schools, and classrooms and fully address those problems directly. Title I dollars flowed to meet the needs of CHILDREN from low-income families….PERIOD. The other five titles of ESEA addressed the needs of low-income schools, communities, and states.

This is our ESEA history.

In 1966, less than a year into ESEA’s implementation, President Johnson received his first report from the Council. They reviewed and summarized the programs. They gave examples including one district reporting that health examinations had been conducted for the first time showing that 45% of the children tested were anemic.

Now, how do we expect these disadvantaged children to have the same standards-based outcomes at the same time as healthy children?

As President Obama expressed in Selma,

“Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity,…”

To fulfill our duty to America’s children, effective schools must be established in every community where they do not currently exist. Understanding that those communities with the highest concentrations of poverty have children at greatest risk of being educationally under-served, their needs should be our first priority.

At President Obama’s request, we have identified the lowest performing schools throughout our land. It is our responsibility as a nation to support their improvement, as a short-term goal, while providing a long-term strategy to prevent the wide gaps in opportunities, and therefore educational achievement, that we have experienced in our past and that continues to plague our nation’s children today.

In addition to providing the best in educational opportunities to every child, now is the time for a plan that views appropriation of funds as a national strategic educational investment and expects communities to make wise use of all education resources.

And let it be acknowledged that the urgent need of children begs for some emergency measures.

Let us not lose sight of the purposes of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA):

* To establish equal access to quality education,

* To strengthen and improve all schools.

Here’s the beginning of an alternative a plan to what Congress currently (in March of 2015) is cooking up:

Title I – Education of Children of Low Income Families to provide formula-funded financial assistance to local education agencies in support of children from low-income families in order expand and improve community efforts to meet their learning needs.

Execution: To address learning needs requires a “needs assessment.” School staff (principals, counselors, aids, and teachers) and parents (or other adults involved in these high-needs children’s lives) will be the first to collectively identify those needs. Those identified needs will then be brought to the attention of the larger group of community stakeholders (civic, non-profit organizations, foundations and concerned individuals) to be further defined, measures for success indicators established, and existing resources in the community identified. “Gaps” in resources will be identified and brought to the attention of state education officials so that no identified need goes unaddressed. State officials will be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success and to continually monitor and report on their ability to meet their responsibility. Needs assessments will be done using the existing government assessment tools.

Emergency measures: Those Title I schools now designated as chronically low-performing or “priority” schools will be guided through the assessment and improvement processes with cooperative funding (“set aside” Title I money) and staff from the state and local districts with a “support team” provided through the U.S. Department of Education.

Schools identified as chronically low-performing need strong, effective, democratic leadership to take these schools through a successful school improvement process. A federal leadership program (Academy) will be

“designed to enable people who are already experienced principals and other school leaders, knowledgeable about how schools work and the special problems they face, to learn how to turn around the expectations, beliefs and practices of school stakeholders in low-performing schools. The expected focus of the Academy would be on how to improve instruction and change schools’ culture” (Ratner, The “Lead Act,” H.R. 5495/S 3469: Briefing Paper).

Accountability: Using the indicators of success as designated for targeted results through the school improvement process, the “appropriate objective measurements” will be used to judge the “effectiveness of the programs in meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children.” Local and state officials will have established the parameters (what and how often) of those measurements and will make those facts transparent to the community and state, respectively. An accounting of expenses and results of the uses of Title I money will be reported to federal officials for review. National monitoring of achievement gaps through the random use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will continue unchanged. Results of progress by the nation and cost /benefits will be reported annually to the President, Congress, and the Nation.

Title I was focused on meeting children’s needs NOT a test-based accountability system.

Currently, with ESEA reauthorization conversations being more about a “national accountability system” and “choice,” and less about disadvantaged children, I worry that we have lost our way on the march towards equal educational opportunity.

But then I remember — “WE the People” and the “highest of ideals” that were put into law in 1965 — there is hope.

[The preceding was a modified excerpt from addendum 1 of The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present: Education’s Missing Ingredient, second edition, by Victoria M. Young, © 2012]

Kill No Child Left Behind & Do An Autopsy

If we kill No Child left Behind and do an autopsy, buried deep in its bowels you will find the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Over time the guiding principles of ESEA have become obscured with almost 1000 pages of ideologically and financially driven “projects.” From venture capitalists looking to pocket more public dollars through products and services, to our military gaining access to student data for easier and targeted recruiting, to the establishment of national standards without really talking about who controls them — the No Child Left Behind Act has been the place to put the devils details. When ESEA was 35 pages long, this was not a problem.

At the heart of ESEA is Title I. Its purpose was to even the playing field for our nation’s youngest citizens.

The signing of ESEA into law by LBJ, 1965

The signing of ESEA into law by LBJ, 1965

By investing federal funds to meet the needs of “disadvantaged” children, it is known as one of many “War on Poverty” laws because the original funding formula focused on children from poverty-stricken families. That flow of funds, like the major vein coming into the heart, enabled ESEA to function.

The autopsy reveals a couple of large strictures in that main vein.

The original formula funding used each state’s average dollar per student and allotted half again as much to focus on meeting the educational needs of those children living in poverty. The formula was quickly changed to using the national average in order to better help the “poorer states.” However in 1968, only three years after passage of ESEA, the formula funding was made “conditional upon availability of sufficient appropriations” (Congressional Quarterly. Congress and the Nation: A Review of the Government and Politics During the Johnson Years, Vol. II, 1965–1968, p710. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1969).

Availability of federal funds for investment in education took a backseat to the funding for the Vietnam War. The law was crippled but did not die.

Through the shear fortitude of the people willing to keep the dream of equal opportunity alive, the law underwent attempts to make it right with “reauthorization” occurring every five to six years. But in 1978, the focus of funding shifted to whole schools instead of remaining dedicated to meeting the needs of disadvantaged children.

Forgotten it seems was this 1966 warning by the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children:

“…it is important to keep the purpose of Title I in sharp focus…The efforts of Title I should not be merged at this time with general aid for schools…in the administration of the Title, it is important to insist that its objective is to help children, not institutions.”

Warning: Simply focus on children.

Today, there is no sign of rectification. This is where we stand –Title I, Part A .

“(ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.”

The focus is blurred and the money is seen as general aid to schools.

Title I is crippled and blinded but ESEA had four other titles.

Like the oxygen-poor blood coming into the heart is incapable of sustaining life without the rest of the circulatory system working effectively, funding alone is not enough to improve access to “quality” education. To improve overall educational quality so as to ensure equal access, the other titles were to be guided by the identified needs of impoverished communities. Never forgetting that Title I is the heart of ESEA, improving and strengthening the whole public education system was the bigger purpose of the other ESEA titles.

Title II focused funding on instructional materials including textbooks and school library resources, which benefitted all students. Title III filled “services” gaps as identified by community needs assessments. Title IV, known as the Cooperative Research Act, was designed to provide research, training, and dissemination of information aimed at improving the quality of teachers and counselors. And Title V was “to stimulate and assist in strengthening the leadership resources of State educational agencies” because the writers of ESEA understood that the states failing to improve at a satisfactory rate lacked the competence to improve themselves.

The lawmakers back in 1965 recognized that disadvantages of various kinds led to the inequalities in educational opportunities. No single artery or vein of improvement improves the viability of the system. Every part needs to serve its purpose.

Through materials and services that support teaching and learning, better university training of teachers and counselors, and better distribution of “best practices” to the states and the communities who need them the most, the 1965 ESEA attempted to bring social justice to the education system by focusing federal funding on the needs of impoverished children. The country invested in them.

At the heart of ESEA are strong, reasoned, and researched-based concepts.

But with the current ESEA reauthorization now being narrowed to pre-determined topics of discussion and fast-tracked after an eight-year delay, the People need to scream for a halt to the process. The autopsy is not complete. It has only just begun.

The public hears that federal education law, NCLB/ESEA, didn’t work to improve education but until the people understand what went wrong in the past, the country is doomed to continue allowing the diseased portions of the law to kill the system.

Does it sound to you like the law ever had a fair shot at addressing the unique educational needs of poverty-stricken children?

And there is much more to consider.

Same Song: Different Dance

This go-around — with test-based education and standardization of instruction — is much riskier than the last one that we call No Child Left Behind. It’s the same song with a more intense dance. Here’s what I mean…

Follow the "leader"?

Follow the “leader”?

Last night, I attended a school board meeting and I’d sum it up by saying “We are here!” We have officially created an education system that picks winners and losers based on the numbers!...1,2,3…1,2,3…bow down.

In this dance, my district is a step ahead in that we employ a person that helped develop the new “STAR” accountability mechanism that replaces the No Child Left Behind “AYP” accounting. So, we know before the dance starts what numbers are likely to come up — what has been chosen to be weighted in “value” — what the administration (& board & public) believes to be a judge of the quality of their work.

This time, unlike a decade and a half ago, the dance begins with parents and the public celebrating test scores as if that is the goal of education — oh, but it is. Everything from “accountability” to scholarships is now based on the scores. We are here! What now?

Next, we look to move forward to the next step in the dance. So with our new-found insight and “recession-forced” austerity measures, we will offer elementary age summer school only to Title I Migrant children. The other Title I children and any middle-income students that need help…sorry, you don’t get the opportunity to dance this go-around. Your number isn’t up. In the bigger picture of “accountability,” you don’t matter – statistically.

Also in the new “STAR” system, we will be counting the number of students that pass advanced placement tests. So, the school board approved money to start prepping them as sophomores — the chosen 40 that is. That should be enough to satisfy the new accountability measures.

And of course, we do have money to complete work on upgrading all our technology and getting our collected student data sent into the state collection system (see how that will “work”) because thus far they have done such a bang-up job!

Is this dance risky? Could the country be hurt, tripped up by the “accountability” dance that began so long ago?

The pied piper of test-based accountability has played a powerful tune. Boogie on America and you will soon be doing the same steps as the Chinese parents do; it’s the pressure-cooker hustle. Push those babies so they won’t be left behind. Winners?

What Failed?

A Mind is Too Beautiful to Waste

A Mind is Too Beautiful to Waste

The beliefs — test-based accountability, financial flexibility, and “choice” — the principles — the pillars upon which No Child Left Behind (NCLB) promised “to close the achievement gap” — have FAILED.

The theory was hailed by state education officialdom prior to NCLB. So all-in-all this grand experiment, concocted by those unwilling to listen to people in the trenches, had decades to “work” to “close the achievement gap.” It failed; it’s a FACT!

People across America are waking up to the reality that testing itself is wasting instructional time and our money. Parents are seeing that test-based accountability led to a narrow and boring curriculum for their children. It is one of the reasons many left the traditional public system to home-school.

Many are also using the “choice” part of this failed equation. But the reality is that “choice-based reform” has not led to reform. And it must be remembered that test-based accountability was used to declare schools as failed thus trumpeting the need for “choice” through a charter system. Failed and double failed!

But what of “flexibility”? Ah, that began as a token gesture of local control. Giving the local people the ability to spend Title I money (federal education dollars for low-income students) in a manner they saw fit was actually part of the original 1965 law. But back then it was understood that the money would be directed to serve the needs of those low-income students. When the states became convinced that test-based accountability was the way to go, the stage was set for federal dollars to be spent on this new focus. The public was duped and double duped.

It is time to view education differently – accountability, flexibility, and choice have failed to deliver on what it promised. And in the process, it did damage. Face that fact. Riding on accountability, flexibility, and choice as reform strategies is like riding a dead horse. Have a little respect. Dismount and bury it!

Shake Before Lifting

Now what?

Now what?

The people that always do the heavy lifting of community and/or school improvement are those in the trenches. You can’t mandate them to do it. You can’t twist their arms, as much as we might like to. People need to see the need, know they share a common problem, see a way to solve it, and believe they can. Can that be put into reform law? Yes, I not only know think it can; I know that the philosophy of helping people help themselves was put into education law in 1965.

Our common problem is that the education reform laws now are designed to “do to us” instead of helping us to improve. In Idaho, there are clearly ten Title I (low-income schools) that are falling behind the other 93% of Idaho’s Title I schools. The law did make us identify and label theses schools but we — not the schools — continue to fail because society isn’t providing them with the help they need to improve. Recent laws actually make that process harder.

We fail to serve the neediest of our schools because there are no people adequately representing these schools at “the table” were decisions are being made for them. We toss them a bone now and then, occasionally allowing them three minutes to testify and sometimes even inviting them to a conference. This is not allowing them to be part of the solution; it only serves to pacify them, momentarily. This is not full and continuous engagement in the improvement process.

What we need from real “reform” laws — laws that address the needs of schools most in need of improvement — are laws that provide direction, guidance, and assistance in evaluating the problems on the ground, educating the community about those problems and the array of solutions available to them, and making sure the public feels welcomed into the process of being successful with the plan they themselves created. After all, ordinary Americans are the real doers and shakers.

Time to shake it up?