July 29, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 136

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: Nicki Minaj, Sandra Bland, Misogynoir; No Child Left Behind, Illegal Immigration, Prison Reform. People: Bill, Kelley, De Ana, and Guest Maria. Produced: July 26th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Why it’s ok to talk about both Nicki Minaj and Sandra Bland in the same week (and how the two stories relate to each other).
– What Pres. Obama is doing on prison reform. Can Congress find a compromise on No Child Left Behind? Texas isn’t handling illegal immigration very well.

Episode 136 (52 min):
AFD 136

Related Links

AFD: De Ana: Policing Black Women’s Emotions and Opinions
AFD: Maria: What Happened to Sandra Bland?
AFD: Bill: Utah’s Homicide by Police Epidemic
AFD: Kelley: President Obama stands up for second chances
AFD: Kelley: 8 years late, Congress ready to revisit No Child Left Behind
AFD: Kelley: 3 Dem Senators say NCLB reforms don’t go far enough
AFD: Kelley: Texas abandons the 14th Amendment
AFD: Kelley: Mass graves of immigrants in Texas elicit little response


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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

3 Dem Senators say NCLB reforms don’t go far enough


The US Senate passed a bill last Thursday, which would overhaul No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, by a strong bipartisan vote of 81-17.  Only three Democratic Senators voted against passage of the Senate’s version of the bill: Elizabeth Warren (MA), Chris Murphy (CT), and Cory Booker (NJ).

These three Senators, along with Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), had with broad Democratic support unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to the bill, called the “Murphy Amendment.” The amendment had called for states to identify schools that required intervention: the lowest performing 5% of schools in the state; high schools where less than 2/3 of students graduate on time; and any school where poor, disabled, or English language learner (ELL) students do not meet state-set goals for two consecutive years.

States would then be required to set-up an intervention strategy to better support those schools. Unlike the original NCLB legislation, under-performing schools would not lose funding, but would receive extra support to create a long-term plan to improve education outcomes.

All but three Democratic Senators voted in favor of the Murphy Amendment. The exceptions were Florida’s Bill Nelson (who did not vote), New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, and Montana’s Jon Tester. The only member of the Republican majority to join them was Rob Portman of Ohio.

Supporters of the amendment (including the President) believed that this amendment would have allowed the education reform bill to also serve as a civil rights bill, forcing each state to live up to its responsibilities to all of its citizens. A press release from Senator Murphy’s office notes the support the amendment received from civil rights advocates:

“While many educators hail the Senate bill as an improvement over the current federal education system, a coalition of 36 civil rights organizations are concerned there won’t be enough accountability, and that failing minority and disabled students will fall through the cracks.”

Accountability is a key term in the debate over education reform. Senator Booker says the reforms which passed in the Senate do not, “provide meaningful accountability measures that address the disparate achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color.” Without appropriate safeguards to identify and serve the states’ failing students and schools, there will be no way to tell if the bill is effective or fair.

The amendment’s opponents claim that the amendment would retain NCLB’s emphasis on testing, since states would be required to use test scores in their formula to determine failing schools. However, the amendment would give more power to the states to use other measures in their formula as well, such as high school graduation rates.

Senator Warren, who initially voted for the bill as a member of the Education Committee, explained her vote on the final bill:

“In many ways, this bill represents a significant improvement from No Child Left Behind, moving away from rigid standardized tests and respecting the vital work that our teachers do every day–and I strongly support those changes. But this bill is also about money, and it eliminates basic, fundamental safeguards to ensure that federal dollars are actually used to improve both schools and educational outcomes for those students who are often ignored.”

Although the Murphy Amendment was rejected, it remains relevant in the NCLB overhaul debate. The U.S. House passed a much less bipartisan reform bill on July 8, by a margin of one vote after a sizable Republican revolt and unified Democratic opposition.

The House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House will now have to work to merge the House version and the Senate version into a bill that President Obama will sign. The call to make this a sweeping civil rights bill and the need to ensure that bill brings improvement to our nation’s education system are themes that are sure to echo throughout DC and around the country in coming weeks.

Warren, Booker, and Murphy have probably foreshadowed much of the debate ahead, as each legislator lobbies for their vision of education in America in the ultimate version of the legislation.

8 years late, Congress ready to revisit No Child Left Behind

When the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed into law in 2002, it was intended to last only until 2007, when lawmakers would revisit and improve the law. Instead, our country’s lawmakers allowed the bill to expire, forcing states to continue to abide by it until another law replaces it (or, after 2011, seek a conditional waiver from the Obama Administration).

Finally, with both sides of the aisle dissatisfied with NCLB, Congress has decided to take note of the lessons learned in the past 13 years and begin debates to replace the law. Meaningful changes in the law are far from a slam dunk; those on the left are calling for reforms as progressive as universal pre-kindergarten and those on the right wish to see more decision-making power reside in the states. If an agreement is to be struck, it will surely come at the end of impassioned and tumultuous debate.

The bill that has been brought to the Senate floor is sponsored by Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) — both of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where the bill passed unanimously in April. The proposed bill calls for the continued use of mandated math and reading tests, but would allow states to decide what to do with their results. Furthermore, in direct response to the debate over Common Core, the bill would prohibit the federal government from requiring, or even encouraging, a nationwide set of academic standards.

The House of Representatives is set to debate their own version of the bill, sponsored by John Kline (R-MN), which includes giving states control over school accountability and a controversial school choice provision. This bill was set to be voted upon in February, but that vote was withdrawn because there was not enough support, even within the Republican majority, for it to pass — and the White House announced that it would be vetoed, should it reach the President.

Here’s a primer on some of the key issues set to unfold during the debate:

Veto Power. The White House has announced that it does not support either the House or Senate bills in their current form due to a lack of accountability. While they haven’t said that they would veto the Senate’s bill, they have made it clear that they hope to see improvements. Namely, they would like to see a plan for failing schools. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, pointed out, “To simply label a school as failing, that doesn’t change a kid’s life.”

It’s a civil rights issue. Although a school and its students are far more than a number, testing has allowed for a quantitative way to highlight the differences in quality of our country’s schools and has been particularly effective in bringing the black/white achievement gap out of the shadows. When the President and his Secretary of Education refer to accountability, they are, in many ways, referring to the federal government’s responsibility to figure out which of its citizens it is failing and fix it.

Testing, testing, and, oh wait, more testing. The country’s largest teacher’s union, The National Education Association, has long been calling for the elimination or severe reduction of standardized tests. Banking on a renewed anti-testing fervor stemming from frustration with the Common Core, their voice is sure to be heard in this debate. While testing is disruptive, wildly unpopular, and known to distract school systems from the true mission of educating children, another viable accountability option would have to be brought forward to see the elimination of testing. In the meantime, there’s a real chance the testing could be limited and the scores used in a different way.

Wish lists. It is impossible to overstate the importance of public education, and everyone wants to leave their mark on the issue. Bob Casey (D-PA) seeks to provide universal pre-kindergarten and believes he can fund it by closing a corporate loophole allowing US companies to move part of their business overseas in order to become foreign corporations for tax purposes. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) will ask for more detailed background checks of all school personnel. Other lawmakers are sure to add their opinions and addendums to the bill.

In the words of John F Kennedy, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” Nothing short of the fate of our country rests upon the education we provide to its children. Let us insist that our lawmakers take this opportunity to make sound, effective, and significant improvements to our education system.