Missouri teacher advocates for less testing, more funding in ESEA reauthorization


by Colleen Flaherty

David Hope, firefighting and EMT instructor at South Technical High School in St. Louis, MO, traveled to Washington D.C. this week to advocate for career and technical education, for limits on high-stakes testing, but most of all, he came for his students.

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“To me, my kids are the most important. Anybody in my school will tell you, I’ll go to hell and back for my kids, period,” said Hope.

As Congress is working on reauthorization for the Elementary and Secondary Education act—also known as No Child Left Behind—educators like Hope are sharing their experiences in the classroom to inform legislators on education policy.

Properly funding career and technical education (CTE), says Hope, is absolutely crucial when it comes to filling gaps in education.

“Career and technical education can help close a learning gap. Right now, many students who graduate high school aren’t prepared to start college. On top of that, high school graduation rates are dropping,” said Hope. “Programs like ours has a 90 percent graduation rate. We’re doing something right.”

If funding falls short for these and many other crucial programs, Hope said that it hurts low-income and special needs students most. On Capitol Hill, he spoke about the importance of fully funding the Carl D Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, one of the largest sources of federal funding for high schools across the country.

“A lot of the money for CTE programs comes from Perkins, especially in rural school districts and disenfranchised, low-income areas,” said Hope.

In Hope’s school, many positions are made possible by Perkins loans, including the counselor that manages all the special education IEPs for students and the counselor that manages retention and college guidance.

“It’s so critical we have those positions, especially with the number of high-needs students we have.”

It’s not just CTE that needs addressing in the reauthorization, and Hope encourages everyone with an interest in flourishing public schools to pay attention to the current ESEA debate.

“It affects everybody. ESEA reauthorization doesn’t just affect career and tech ed students. It affects every student out there,” said Hope. “Parents, students all need to realize that this is something they need to focus on as it will affect their children, their grandchildren and the rest of the country.”

Hope also addressed a critical piece of ESEA, the federal testing mandate put in place by No Child Left Behind that dramatically increased the number of tests in schools.

“The high stakes testing is the most caustic part in the entire law, in my opinion. It forces teachers to teach to a test. It does not allow us to really get in and teach students,” said Hope. “I may have to teach a class four different ways to reach every student in my class, but the flexibility that I would have without having to worry about all the over-testing would make it easier.”

Currently, the House of Representatives has temporarily postponed voting on the ESEA reauthorization. The debate on the floor yesterday was promising, said Lily Eskelsen García, elementary school teacher and president of the National Education Association, as many bipartisan amendments were adopted that put students first, including flexibility for locally-designed assessments, audits to eliminate unnecessary state and local tests and requiring districts to inform parents of “opt out” policies.

“We welcome that bipartisan spirit and cooperation, and we applaud lawmakers for acknowledging that growing problem with too much federally-mandated testing and approving commonsense amendments that would again allow education to inspire students’ natural curiosity, imagination and desire to learn,” said Eskelsen García.

“We urge Congress to get ESEA right. We stand ready to work with members of both parties to fix this badly broken law.”

Next week, all eyes will be on the Senate as they work on their version for ESEA reauthorization; Sign the petition to tell Congress to get ESEA reauthorization right!

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