With congressional efforts underway to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NYSUT has a clear message for federal lawmakers — educational access is a civil right; it's time to put the focus back on teaching not testing, and to give teachers the flexibility to offer a variety of subjects. The statewide union formalized its stance in a resolution unanimously passed by the NYSUT Board of Directors at its January meeting.
"In its current form, ESEA places too much focus on high-stakes testing and not enough on instilling a love of learning in students," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. ESEA is President Lyndon B. Johnson's landmark 1965 law to ensure equal opportunity for all students.
In the wake of the 2002 reauthorization under President George W. Bush, which renamed the law No Child Left Behind, subjects like art, music and world languages, and flexible, teacher-developed assessments, were pushed aside in favor of student test prep and rigid standardized testing. The law contributed to the destabilization of many communities with mass school closings and poorly regulated charter school expansion.
"A reauthorized ESEA must recognize that schools need greater support and greater funding than they currently receive," said Catalina Fortino, NYSUT vice president. "Additionally, it's time for a new accountability system — one that uses multiple measures, greatly reduces the use of high-stakes testing and promotes equity and the opportunity to learn for all our students."
In January, Stephen Lazar, a United Federation of Teachers member, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions during one of its first hearings on reauthorizing ESEA. He called on lawmakers to allow testing alternatives and to afford greater teacher autonomy. "I hope a reauthorized ESEA will formalize the inclusion of teachers' voices," said Lazar, a National Board Certified social studies teacher and founding teacher of Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City.
NYSUT's resolution affirmed the ESEA positions of its national affiliates, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
AFT calls for a return to the original purpose of the legislation — fighting poverty and ensuring equity. It also advocates for educator-designed and educator-administered tests, publicly reported results and relief from high-stakes tests. For a full list of AFT priorities, visit www. aft.org/sites/default/files/esea_reauth_ priorities_2015.pdf.
NEA calls for creating an "opportunity dashboard" that would support learning and expose opportunity gaps. The union also advocates for increased teacher autonomy, reducing the number of federally mandated tests and restoring "grade span" testing — administering tests once in elementary, middle and high school — to boost student learning and teacher instruction time. For a full list of NEA priorities, visit www.nea.org/home/61944.htm.