McCaskill Shares Lessons Learned from Education Roundtables
Senator sends letter to Democratic and Republican Senate Leaders Who Will Be Rewriting "No Child Left Behind' Law
As a follow-up to the education roundtables she held across the state last month, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee recapping the lessons that were shared with her by Missourians across the state. This year, the Senate will likely begin reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, last reauthorized nearly a decade ago, when it was dubbed No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The HELP committee is tasked with drafting this legislation. Senator McCaskill asked the lawmakers to ensure the new law makes changes in the areas of great concern to the Missourians she heard from and pledged to work with them in achieving this goal.
Last month, McCaskill visited fifteen communities across the state: Festus, O'Fallon, Warrenton, Troy, Lebanon, Springfield, Nixa, Willard, Boonville, Fayette, Hardin, Independence, Kansas City, Liberty, and Platte City. In her letter, she outlined a number of concerns from educators, parents, administrators and students from each stop about some of the problems with the current system. McCaskill hopes that her colleagues will take those lessons into account, including fashioning specific policy changes to improve the No Child Left Behind law.
"During my travels, no one said to me that the current law should remain untouched...There is no question that NCLB was created with the best intentions in mind, as it sought to improve both access to quality education and educational outcomes for students of all types. However, NCLB failed to address some issues and, indeed, proved to create new obstacles for families and educators," McCaskill wrote.
Throughout her letter McCaskill noted that at all fifteen of her roundtable events, held in rural, urban and suburban communities throughout the state, many of the same concerns were raised about educators feeling obligated to "teach to the test' as a result of the weight NCLB places on standardized testing. She also highlighted the need for better early childhood education resources and professional development for teachers.
McCaskill closed the letter by highlighting the other theme that ran throughout her tour across Missouri: respect for educators and paying deference to their hard work and commitment.
"Recently there has been much negative, disrespectful rhetoric directed at America's teachers. These are not people who entered the profession because of the pay or perks. They teach because they love children, love learning and love their communities. We should acknowledge their contributions and treat them with the respect they deserve," she wrote.
McCaskill will work to incorporate the lessons she learned at her education roundtables as the Senate begins consideration of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The full text of McCaskill's letter is below:
Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi,
As you know, the Senate will soon begin the work of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). I would like to thank you both for the leadership you have shown as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. You have set the stage for a serious, reasoned debate about America's public education system and the federal government's role in supporting states, communities and families. While I am not a member of the HELP Committee, I have followed with interest as you and your fellow committee-members have conducted over a dozen ESEA-related hearings over the past year.
In an effort to fully understand the views of my constituents on this matter, I spent part of the April recess traveling across Missouri to hear from those most directly affected by decisions made in Washington. Over four days, I held fifteen "roundtables" to discuss what is working-and not working-in our public education system.
These conversations took place in gymnasiums and classrooms in rural, urban and suburban communities throughout Missouri and featured a broad representation of those on the "front lines" of education: parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, students, and local business leaders. I want to take this opportunity to share some of the words and ideas that I have brought back to Washington. I share these with you even as I am still evaluating how best to turn many of these views into effective legislative action during the reauthorization of ESEA. I welcome your assistance in integrating these important views into the reauthorization.
"'No Child Left Behind' has got to be completely tweaked. It is sending mixed messages, punishing kids, punishing districts and just needs to be realistic." -Superintendent, Booneville, Missouri
During my travels, no one said to me that the current law should remain untouched. The last time ESEA was reauthorized, nearly ten years ago, the result was dubbed No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This legislation was crafted in a bipartisan manner and enjoyed broad-based support from national education groups, both chambers of Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush. There is no question that NCLB was created with the best intentions in mind, as it sought to improve both access to quality education and educational outcomes for students of all types. However, NCLB failed to address some issues and, indeed, proved to create new obstacles for families and educators.
"We are told to think globally and have a community minded spirit, but we have to worry about the standard tests." -High School Student, Springfield, Missouri
The weight that NCLB places on standardized testing was consistently cited as harmful by stakeholders of all stripes. It has created an over-reliance on testing to determine the effectiveness of teachers and schools. While assessment and accountability measures are important, the current emphasis on the "snapshot" provided by annual, statewide tests of math and language arts has forced educators to "teach to the test."
A reauthorized ESEA should grant communities the freedom to provide a full education, including civics, the arts and humanities, and physical education. It should also put into place a "growth model" that assesses educators on how they improve the achievement of children throughout the school year, as opposed to judging progress made by this year's class compared to the one that preceded it.
"There is a misconception that education starts at Kindergarten. Birth to five is the most important time." -Teacher, O'Fallon, Missouri
We all know that education begins at the home. Scientific research is also teaching us that early childhood education is vital; important brain development occurs in the years before kindergarten. Additionally, these programs have been proven to narrow the achievement gap between kids from lower and upper income homes, increase graduation rates, and even reduce acts of crime later in life.
This is why I strongly support early childhood programs such as Head Start as well as programs that facilitate and encourage parental involvement. These programs are designed to help children gain the awareness, skills and confidence necessary to succeed in elementary school and beyond, and give parents the tools to play an active role in education. The extraordinary return on investment that we receive from these programs demands that we continue to properly support them. I urge you to ensure that a reauthorized ESEA fully embraces such programs.
"My child is receiving a quality education,and we have her teachers to thank for that." -Parent, Liberty, Missouri
Perhaps the biggest impression I got over those four days was the respect and admiration that parents, students and local leaders feel for our educators. Recently there has been much negative, disrespectful rhetoric directed at America's teachers. These are not people who entered the profession because of the pay or perks. They teach because they love children, love learning and love their communities. We should acknowledge their contributions and treat them with the respect they deserve.
We must also provide them with avenues for continued professional development, mentorship opportunities to help them stay on up-to-date with the latest pedagogy. Whether they've been in the classroom for five or twenty-five years, the teachers I spoke with agree that professional development is crucial. A reauthorized ESEA must improve the framework for giving teachers the opportunity to grow and excel in their profession.
The points that I've touched on are only a small sampling of the sentiments I heard last month, but I did not want to wait to share them with you as I know you and your staffs are working steadily on a reauthorization bill. Missourians also discussed important issues pertaining to reporting requirements tied to receiving federal funds, special education, and career and technical education, among others. I am confident that you are hearing similar thoughts from your constituents; indeed, I am hopeful that this dialogue is taking place between local communities and their elected representative across the nation.
I thank you for your time and your efforts. I look forward to advancing policy changes associated with the priorities Missourians shared with me and, therefore, to working with you as we consider an issue of such importance to families, states, and our entire nation.