Behind the Velvet Rope: A Parent Perspective on the ESEA Hearings

In my younger years I used to go out to night clubs. Sometimes there would be a long line to get in, and at the front of the line a hostess who had a clipboard. If you were fortunate because you knew a member or two in the band that was playing, you could go to the front of the line, give your name, and the velvet rope would be unclasped and you'd get into the club while all those in line shot daggers from their eyes at you. But more often than not, you might be the one shooting those daggers.

Why do I mention this? I recently went to  DC to meet with staff from the Department of Education as well as to take the opportunity to attend the November 8 ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) hearings.  Along with a few other Mom Congress delegates we wanted to participate in the discussion happening (or let's be honest, not happening) surrounding ESEA markups, amendments, NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) at the Federal level which will have an impact on State and local decision making in the next few years. Certainly this 1000 page document has been picked over with a fine tooth comb by both parties as compromise and cooperation is key in moving forward. One of the biggest points of debate is that of accountability, how it will be determined, who will be held accountable, and in what way.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced 74 amendments alone to this bill, one which asked for the immediate dissolution of the Dept. of Ed. and getting rid of NCLB completely. Both those amendments failed on the floor, and although he managed to stall the markup proceedings last week, he agreed to move things forward as long as there was a hearing and parents could testify. I called. Twice. And emailed. Got a very nice form letter in response from the Sen. about how he had talked with teachers, superintendents and school administrators and that they all agreed that we need to slow down the proceedings about ESEA.

Really? How much slower can things get? Just recently the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as The Nation's Report Card) released their test results...and although Kentucky increased in 4th/8th math and language arts scores, overall as a nation, we increased by ONE point. If that doesn't say we need to take action now, I don't know what does.

So while I know that not everything is perfect in the ESEA reauthorization, that we will continue to debate just what makes a "highly qualified teacher," whether school districts should be able to come up with their own "turnaround" strategies for failing schools, that some want block grants, some want more RTTT type opportunities, I am at least encouraged that debate and discussion is taking place

What I find discouraging is the fact that although Sen. Paul said he wanted PARENTS to testify, there were no parents on the witness list. I spent the week prior to heading to DC contacting Sen. Harkin's office, and the other Mom Congress delegates contacted their Senator's as well. Melissa Bilash (MC PA 2010) and her staff actually took the time to read through and summarize the ESEA documentation in order to be able to better help the rest of us facilitate a conversation. And when we arrived at the hearing we found...a line. A line 100 people long. The first 50 in the line were lobbyists. Not parents. So Melissa asked if there was a way for the parents who had travelled at their own expense from Oklahoma, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania to be able to move to the front of the line. Unfortunately, no. However we did manage to get a few front row seats...BEHIND THE VELVET ROPE.

Sen. Harkin opened the round table hearing. Thanked all those who came to testify. And those that testified...talked about everything that has been talked about before. It was nothing new. No earth shattering revelation. In fact all those who were in attendance and twittering about the event said the same thing. That we need to remove the "over sized federal footprint;" that we need "consistent college/career standards" and to "press for performance targets;" that we need a "whole child education" and "less competition between teachers;" and the only mention of parents was by Sen. Harkin himself who pointed out that we have to stop marginalizing parents from education.

Did you hear that? Stop MARGINALIZING parents. So why were we BEHIND THE VELVET ROPE? I looked around that room and saw parents AND students. Listening, taking notes, making comments to their neighbors, but not ONE PARENT testified. Not one spoke about how AYP has impacted their school, their child, or them personally. Not one spoke about what a highly qualified teacher looks like to them.

Not one spoke. Not one was asked to speak. Not one.

So as we move forward, there is still time for you to have your voice heard. Reach out to your elected leaders. Tell them what you think about NCLB and ESEA. About education in your schools and community. There is still time to be heard as this bill will now go to the floor for debate. And you may want the federal government to have a lesser role in education, you may have an idea of what makes a highly qualified teacher, you may be a parent whose child is attending a "failing" school or have a child who is on the verge of dropping out. Marginalization occurs only if we let ourselves be marginalized. If you are happy standing in the cold watching every one else get in the nightclub, that's okay. But me? I want to be on the list and hear the band.

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