After weeks of negotiations between Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), the committee released a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and set a date for the markup on April 14. The purpose of the Every Child Achieves Act is to “enable states and local communities to improve and support our nation’s public schools and ensure that every child has an opportunity to achieve.”

The following is a summary of Titles I and II of the bill:

Unlike No Child Left Behind, the latest iteration of ESEA, the bill does not provide a specific amount for Title I or any other programs in the bill but instead authorizes “to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary for each of fiscal years 2016 through 2021.”

NASSP is pleased to see that the bill eliminates the School Improvement Grants program and the turnaround models that all require the principal to be replaced as a condition for receiving federal funding. Instead the bill would authorize funding for schools to implement school intervention and support strategies, but it provides districts with flexibility in choosing those strategies.

In order to receive Title I funding, states must submit a plan that is developed in consultation with educators, including organizations representing teachers or principals, that provides an assurance that the state has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards in math, reading, science, and any other subjects as determined by the state. States must demonstrate that their standards are aligned with entrance requirements, without the need for academic remediation, for public higher education, relevant state career and technical education standards, and relevant early learning guidelines.

Consistent with current law, states would be required to annually assess all students in math and reading in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school. States would also be required to annually assess students in science not less than one time in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12.

The bill would prohibit the Secretary of Education for requiring states to use specific standards or assessments or specify annual achievement goals, requirements for teacher or principal evaluation systems, or indicators of teacher or principal effectiveness.

States would be allowed to adopt alternate academic achievement standards for only students with the most cognitive disabilities (currently the 1% requirement under Title I regulations). They would also be required to adopt English language proficiency standards that are aligned with the state academic standards.

States would be required to develop a single, statewide accountability system that annually establishes state-designed goals for all students, which includes academic achievement or student growth and high school graduation rates. At the state’s discretion, it could include extended-year graduation rates in addition to the four-year cohort graduation rate. The plan would require states to identify schools in need of intervention and support, and then district would conduct a review of the schools and develop and implement appropriate intervention and support strategies.

Title II is structured similar to current law with a number of allowable uses at the state and local level to prepare, train, and recruit high-quality teachers, principals, and other school leaders. The bill would allow states to reserve not more than 3 percent for activities focused on the recruitment, preparation, placement, support, and retention of effective principals and other school leaders. States could also use the funds to support the design and implementation of teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that are based in part on evidence of student academic achievement or growth and must include multiple measures of educator performance.

School districts receiving Title II funds would be required to conduct a needs assessment to determine the schools with the most acute staffing needs. Funds could then be used to develop evaluation and support systems for teachers and principals; recruit, hire, and retain highly effective teachers and principals; train school leaders on how to accurately differentiate performance, provide useful feedback, and use evaluation results to inform decision making about professional development, improvement strategies, and personnel decisions; recruiting individuals from other fields to become teachers and principals; providing high-quality professional development for teachers and principals; support teacher and principal residency programs; and improving teacher and principal preparation programs. Unfortunately, the bill would still expand the allowable uses under Title II to include reducing class size, supporting school librarians, and providing liability insurance coverage for teachers.

The bill would continue to authorize competitive grants for programs of national significance, but 40 of the funds shall be reserved by the Department of Education for a competitive grant to improve the recruitment, preparation, placement, support, and retention of effective principals and high-need schools. The language is based on the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act, which NASSP strongly supports.

The bill also includes a new provision under Title II that mirrors the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation Act, which is another bill that NASSP helped developed. Districts receiving a grant under this section would be required to develop and implement comprehensive literacy instruction plan with specific requirements for early childhood, grades K-5, and grades 6-12.

Check back on the Principal’s Policy Blog for additional details, and follow @akarhuse on Twitter for live tweets during the committee markup on April 14.

Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) yesterday introduced the Better Educator Support and Training (BEST) Act that amends Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to elevate the teaching and principal professions, support educators, improve student achievement, and ensure equity in the nation’s schools. The BEST Act would accomplish this by increasing the capacity of states and local educational agencies to develop and sustain a coherent, comprehensive, and aligned professional continuum for teachers, principals, and other educators that leads to accomplished practice, leadership opportunities, and increased student learning.

““I’m proud to introduce the Better Educator Support and Training (BEST) Act to ensure that our teachers and principals receive the support they deserve to give our children the best education possible,” said Senator Casey. “By providing greater support and training for educators, we can keep the best teachers in the classroom and better prepare our students for the college or career of their choice.”

The legislation aims to increase the capacity of local educational agencies, schools, teachers, principals, and other educators to increase the academic achievement of the most disadvantaged students, including students with disabilities, English language learners, low-income, and minority students. The act would require each State Education Agency (SEA) to conduct an analysis of district-by-district gaps for disadvantaged students and their access to profession-ready educators resulting in the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to improve educator development and support.

Of interest to NASSP members is language in the bill that requires SEAs to use not less than 2 percent and not more than 5 percent of its total allotment of federal funds to improve the effectiveness of principals and other school leaders in high need schools through comprehensive, job-embedded professional development opportunities as part of their implementation plans. In addition, an SEA must use funds to strengthen teacher and principal certification (including recertification) or licensing requirements to ensure that all new teachers, principals, and other educators are profession-ready prior to becoming the educator of record

Over the course of the past several months, NASSP advocacy staff worked closely with staff from Sen. Casey’s and Reed’s offices to ensure that the final bill language reflected the skills, knowledge, and attributes linked to effective leadership at the school building level. While the BEST Act will not be voted on separately in the Senate, it provides a strong foundation for a possible amendment to be offered during the upcoming debate on ESEA reauthorization to improve Title II of ESEA, ultimately helping to ensure that local education agencies have the resources to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers and principals serving their most disadvantaged students.

As the ESEA debate continues, NASSP will strongly advocate improving policies that have inadvertently overlooked principal professional development. Currently, only about 4 percent of federal funds are specifically spent on principal activities. The research clearly demonstrates that in order to improve student achievement and ensure equity in our schools, effective school leadership is second only to direct classroom instruction and teachers and principals must be supported in a comprehensive continuum of services.

In an effort to help high schools that enroll traditionally underserved students in the development and implementation of comprehensive, evidence-based reform, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has introduced the Next Generation (NextGen) High Schools Act. NASSP strongly supports the bill, which mirrors many of the recommendations contained in the Breaking Ranks framework for school improvement.

“A high school diploma is the gateway to success and the ultimate goal of a K–12 education,” said Sen. Baldwin in a press release. “Unfortunately, the promise of a high-quality education is not realized by many of the nation’s youth, especially students of color and those from low-income families. By personalizing education, integrating coursework with career-based learning, and connecting their learning to real-world experiences, the NextGen High Schools Act will ensure our students are well situated to graduate college and career-ready.”

The NextGen High Schools Act would authorize $300 million for a competitive grant program to ensure that low-performing high schools provide students with challenging, engaging, and relevant academic and career-related experiences that will allow them to be college and career ready upon graduation. Districts would be required to implement an early warning indicator system in high schools and their feeder middle schools that identifies struggling students and create a system of evidence-based and linguistically and culturally relevant interventions. Schools would also be required to personalize the learning experience; providing comprehensive, ongoing job-embedded professional development for school leaders and teachers, and strengthening the transition between high school and postsecondary education.

“The NextGen High Schools Act has the same priority as all of our member principals—to increase the number and percentage of students who graduate from high school ready for college and a career,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “The bill’s recommendations for getting there are very much on target: whole school improvement efforts, early identification and intervention for low-performing schools, and specialized supports for schools most in need. We are confident that the provisions of the NextGen High Schools Act will make a positive contribution to personalized, real-world learning for students across the nation.”

NASSP will continue to work with Sen. Baldwin and her staff in the coming weeks to ensure that the NextGen High Schools Act is enacted as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

During consideration of the House bill (H.R. 5) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), an amendment was approved that underscores the vital role school principals play in their schools every day. NASSP worked closely with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA) to encourage Reps. Susan Davis (D-CA), Robert Dold (R-IL), and Jared Polis (D-CO) to introduce the amendment and activated our grassroots network to ensure its approval.

As written in the original bill, the definition of “school leader” failed to make clear to state and school districts that a school leader is an individual who runs the operations and instructional programs within a school building. As a result, states and districts could have interpreted this definition to apply to an assistant superintendent of curriculum or instruction, or a subject matter content specialist who oversees instructional practices within an LEA, but is not in a school building on a daily basis. Additionally, if left unchanged, it was possible that district administrators could become eligible for Title II professional development funds currently aimed at improving the quality of our nation’s school principals. And those Title II funds are already stretched too thin.

NASSP was also very pleased that the House approved an amendment offered by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Ryan Costello (R-PA) that would encourage states to conduct assessment audits. We hear from many principals about testing fatigue and concerns about the instructional time lost to testing and test prep activities. This provision will help states get a clear picture of their testing systems, the time spent on test taking and preparation, and how to streamline and improve the quality of assessments for purposes of informing instruction and learning.

Finally, a potential amendment to expand the Title I portability provision to private schools and essentially create a new private school voucher program was ruled out of order and was not considered on the House floor. This was another huge victory for NASSP and our colleagues at the National Coalition for Public Education, which had sent numerous action alerts in opposition to the amendment.

The House considered more than 40 amendments over a two-day period and was expected to pass H.R. 5 on Friday afternoon, February 27. However, concerns from conservative members of the Republican Party and bipartisan politics related to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill and a possible agency shutdown caused the House leadership to delay the final vote until next week. And it still remains unclear whether there will be enough votes to pass the bill this year.

All eyes are now on the Senate where bipartisan negotiations between Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) continue. The latest rumor is that they would like to mark up a bill in the Senate HELP Committee the week of March 9 with full Senate consideration later this spring.

NASSP will continue to collaborate with NAESP and AFSA to ensure that the principal is at the table during ESEA negotiations, and all three organizations are urging members of Congress to oppose H.R. 5. Visit the Principal’s Legislative Action Center to email your representative, continue to check the Principal’s Policy Blog for updates, and follow me at @akarhuse for live tweets!

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Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.00.54 AMWe know that the principalship is important, but only in recent years have we been able to quantify just how important. More than a decade of rigorous research by the Wallace Foundation has confirmed that the quality of leadership is second only to the quality of instruction in school-based factors that affect student learning. But do not let that “second” label lead you to believe schools can do without effective leadership. The Wallace Foundation was unable to identify a single instance of a school turning around to become high achieving without a strong, skillful leader. To further quantify the principal’s impact, a research project led by Robert Marzano calculated that a full 25 percent of schoolwide achievement can be attributed to how the principal chooses to dedicate time, what the principal emphasizes, and the culture the principal fosters.

Unfortunately, support for the principal has not grown along with our understanding of the role’s importance. Like most professionals, principals need opportunities to update their knowledge, improve their skills, and connect with colleagues in professional learning networks. These activities take time. And money. Such activities are perfectly appropriate uses for the $2.5 billion allocated under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). But the funds are not used that way. The federal government has expanded the list of “allowable uses” so broadly that principal professional development does not even register on the radar. Schools are forced to compete for those funds with other important priorities like class-size reduction, teacher recruitment, teacher development, and others. As a result, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, of the 44 percent of funds used for professional development, a meager 4 percent was dedicated to principal development.

That low level of funding would matter far less if we were not in the midst of a crisis in the principalship. As high stakes accountability and pressures mount, it is becoming more difficult to find well-prepared professionals who are willing to occupy the principal’s chair. And when we find them, it is even more difficult to keep them. It takes five to seven years for a principal to lead a culture change that will really last in a school. Yet, only 27 percent of principals felt supported enough to remain in place for year five. That means most high school principals are not in place to see their freshman class graduate. More importantly, only one in four schools has an opportunity to see a change initiative through to completion. A new leader introduces new priorities and school communities pay the price of the jerky stop-and-start of school improvement plans.

Fortunately, we can now begin to change that condition. While Congress discusses the next version of ESEA, NASSP along with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the American Federation of School Administrators have proposed that Congress require 10 percent of Title II funds be dedicated to principals’ ongoing development.

To raise awareness of the need for more professional development for principals, we have launched the #PD4Principals campaign. We invite everyone who is concerned about the issue to tweet with the hashtag and a link back to this blog entry (www.nassp.org/title2). To make the tweet more personal, take a picture with one of our campaign posters and tweet the picture to members of Congress:

We all know how important the principalship is. Let’s work to make sure our principals are the best they can be.

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House Hearing Addresses Student Data Privacy Issues

On February 12, 2015, in Technology, by Amanda Karhuse

Following up on a speech given by President Obama in January, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing on February 12 to explore the use of new technology in the classroom and examine the need to modernize the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Pointing out that FERPA has not been “significantly updated” since its introduction in 1974, Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN) said that recent efforts to address student privacy issues have not addressed the rules under which schools must operate as the “guardians” of student data. Ranking Member Marcia Fudge (D-OH) said that Congress must ensure that student data is only used for defined educational purposes. She also pointed out that teachers and school leaders need to know how to properly protect student data.

Shannon Sevier from the National PTA said that the organization opposes “collecting, compiling, selling or using” student data without notifying parents or giving them a choice concerning whether and how their children’s personal information is collected and used. She also noted that federal policy should address who owns the data and who is responsible for management of the data.

“Technology in the classroom has resulted in the creation and collection of much more data than ever before,” said Microsoft Director of Education Policy and Programs Allyson Knox. She argued that FERPA needed to be updated to keep pace with new technologies such as cloud email and storage, limit how third parties can use protected student information, and include penalties that will provide an incentive for third parties to improve data privacy practices.

Sheryl Abshire, a former principal and now Chief Technology Officer of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana, says that technology and data use play a central role in her district’s strategy for supporting teaching and learning. She argued that data sharing “must be complemented by well-designed strategies and practices to protect student privacy and ensure confidentiality.” She also said that teachers and school leaders must be educated to know how to use and protect student data and expressed support for the Enhancing Education Through Technology program.

Fordham University law professor Joel Reidenberg outlined four steps Congress should take to restore and assure the privacy of student information:

  • Modernize FERPA to include a prohibition on non-educational uses of student information and graduated enforcement remedies such as private rights of action;
  • Require specific information about data use and disposal in written contracts with third party vendors;
  • Require states to adopt an oversight mechanism for the collection and use of student data by local and state educational agencies;
  • Encourage the U.S. Department of Education to compile and disseminate best practices for schools and third party vendors.

The NASSP Board of Directors will finalize its position statement on Student Data Privacy at its meeting next week. We’ll continue to follow this issue closely and work with Congress to ensure that educators have the tools they need to use data appropriately and ensure the privacy of student data.

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The Student Success Act (H.R. 5) passed the House Education and Workforce committee along a party-line vote on Wednesday evening, with all republicans voting in favor of the bill and all democrats opposed. The approximately eight and a half hour mark-up of the bill included two hours of remarks by various members and then a total of 25 amendments, debate, and votes.

The democrats on the committee lead by Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) offered a substitute amendment to replace H.R. 5 that was voted down on a party line. NASSP supported the Scott substitute, and opposed H.R. 5. NASSP joined forces with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the American Federation of School Administrators to issue this letter earlier in the week expressing our concerns with the Student Success Act.

Throughout the mark-up, democrats consistently raised objections about the lack of bipartisanship, hearings, and inclusion of protections for high-need students in the ESEA reauthorization proposal by Chairman Kline (R-MN). Republicans retorted that H.R. 5 has been around for years and that the bill provides more freedom and flexibility for states and districts to meet the educational needs of students.

H.R. 5 is now expected to get floor time the week of February 23. On the Senate side, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are in negotiations to see if they can produce a bipartisan bill that can pass out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and get to the Senate floor in early spring.

As for the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) that was reported out of committee, four republican amendments were added to the bill. All the democratic amendments that were offered failed along party-line votes. There were two amendments that received bipartisan support—an amendment offered by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) that would require the disaggregated reporting of military student achievement data and an amendment by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) that would change English language learner accountability requirements on math assessments from one year to two years and accountability on reading assessments from one year to three years. This amendment received support from his fellow Floridian, Rep. Fredericka Wilson (D-FL). You can review all amendments on the House Education and Workforce website.

The other two amendments that were added to the bill were the addition of an annual study from the Institute of Education Science on the reduced federal role in education due to H.R. 5 and to recommend further funding reductions and Rep. Steve Russell’s (R-OK) amendment that would protect student and teacher privacy by only allowing data collected at the local level to be sent to the U.S. Secretary of Education in the aggregate. During debate, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) expressed concern about how the amendment was written and that it would limit the ability of data collected to be able to better inform and personalize pedagogy and instruction to students.

Of concern to NASSP and many education advocates was the introduction of an amendment by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) to allow Title I funds to pay for private school tuition, effectively creating a federal school voucher program. Fortunately, Rep. Messer withdrew his amendment for consideration but we expect portability and voucher amendments to resurface during the floor debate and vote of H.R. 5.

NASSP looks forward to working with both the House and the Senate to ensure that the needs of students, schools, teachers, and principals are met with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

 

When I taught government class, I told my high school students that a budget outlines the priorities in which you are willing to invest. While President Obama clearly values education, the U.S. Department of Education budget does not directly support the growing professional learning and development needs of the nation’s principals. The president has proposed a $70.7 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Education, a 5.4 percent increase over FY 2015. Furthermore, the department’s budget increases investments in the ESEA programs by $2.7 billion, or 11.8 percent over FY 2015 levels ($26 billion total).

While there are several increases in important federal investments in education, such as in Title I and IDEA, the president’s budget does not adhere to the discretionary spending caps established under the Budget Control Act brokered by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) in 2013. As the caps stand now, appropriations for FY 2016 would be effectively frozen for a second year at about $1.017 trillion. However, President’s Obama’s budget increases the cap by $74 billion that would be split evenly between defense and domestic spending.

The Department of Education’s budget identifies four key areas for investment: high-quality early learning; equity and opportunity for all students; supporting teachers and school leaders; and access, affordability, and student outcomes in college. While NASSP is pleased to see a focus on supporting school leaders, that priority does not bear out in the president’s budget. The Administration’s budget consolidates the only federal program dedicated to recruiting, mentoring, and training principals and assistant principals to serve in high-need schools into a larger funding stream to support teacher and principal preparation. We find this problematic for two reasons: 1) The School leadership Program does more than just prepare school leaders, but provides professional development, ongoing support, and retention initiatives to strengthen the continuum of effective school leadership, and 2) barely 4 percent of Title II funds currently go to principal professional development. To that end, we are also disappointed that the president level-funded investments in Title II for FY 2016 at $2.3 billion dollars.  NASSP has been a strong advocate for a set-aside of funds within Title II to support specialized professional learning and growth opportunities as principals continue to lead schools in implementing more rigorous college and career-readiness standards, new teacher evaluation systems, and support for digital learning and transitions to online assessments.

We are also disappointed to see the refocus of the Striving Readers program, from a state comprehensive literacy program supporting children from birth to grade 12 to a local grant initiative that would only be required to serve at least two grade levels in a high-need school. This change would undo all the promising results for combatting the literacy gap facing so many of the nation’s students. The six states that receive discretionary funding under the current Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program to support school districts in improving literacy instruction for the neediest students all report increases in literacy achievement.

The president’s budget does win some accolades for increasing Title I funding by $1 billion dollars and by increasing IDEA state grants by $175 million. However, while the president responded to our calls to increase investments in foundational educational programs, the resources provided to IDEA still fall far short of the 40 percent of per-pupil expenses promised by the federal government to states that support special education services. As schools continue to transform their buildings and classrooms into hubs of digital learning, we were pleased to see the budget proposal include $200 million dollars for Educational Technology state grants program to support exemplary models of technology-based instruction in high-need districts.

The president also proposes three new competitive grant programs: Next Generation High Schools, Teaching for Tomorrow (TFT), and Excellent Educators. The Next Generation High Schools program, $125 million STEM-focused competitive grant initiative would support a comprehensive transformation of the high school experience to provide challenging and relevant learning opportunities to prepare students for postsecondary education and/or careers.

The Teaching for Tomorrow (TFT) program would provide $1 billion over five years in mandatory spending to recruit, train, support, and retain highly effective teachers. There is some concern that the purpose of this new program is to help states implement the Education Department’s new and controversial teacher preparation regulations. Lastly, the budget request includes an expanded version of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) for teachers and principals, called the Excellent Educator grants, which would allow states and districts to develop and implement not only compensation-based programs, but innovative approaches to professional development, support, and career advancement based on an analysis of local need.

We look forward to working with Congress to ensure our nation’s students, schools, and principals receive the maximum federal investment to support the success of each student.

 

 

As Congress moves to quickly reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), NASSP Board Member Christine Handy testified January 27 at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on supporting teachers and leaders.

“My experience, the experience of my colleagues, and 10 years of rigorous research by the Wallace Foundation bear out one large reality: School. Leadership. Matters,” said Handy who is the principal of Gaithersburg High School, a large and diverse school in the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Maryland. “The nation must invest in the recruitment, preparation, and ongoing support of principals if we want each student in every school to succeed. The reauthorization of ESEA gives Congress the perfect opportunity to provide that support to school leaders.”

Handy urged Congress to provide dedicated funding for professional development for principals. While Title II of ESEA is the primary source of federal funds to improve principal quality, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has found that only 4 percent is actually spent for principal professional development. The reality is that principal professional learning and growth competes with teacher development, class-size reduction, and other priorities once federal funds arrive to the school district.

“I have benefited enormously in my professional life from guidance and development from my district and from our state and national principal organizations,” continued Handy. “But as state budgets tighten, that professional development becomes less and less accessible.” She noted that Congress recently instructed ED to provide guidance to states to support professional development opportunities for principals. In addition, NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Federation of Teachers have proposed a 10 percent set-aside within Title II for principal professional development.

To read Handy’s full written remarks, visit the NASSP website.

Other witnesses spoke about teacher quality and preparation programs, including the importance of teacher residencies and mentoring. Questions from the senators on the committee covered every aspect of ESEA such as testing, recruitment of effective teachers and leaders, and the appropriate federal role in education.

The Senate HELP Committee is expected to consider a draft bill on ESEA reauthorization in mid-February with the House Education and the Workforce Committee following close behind. Be sure to read the latest information on the Principal’s Policy Blog and follow @akarhuse and @balljacki on Twitter.

The English language has a magnificent tradition of doublespeak. Where in the 1980s, “peacekeeping devices” (bombs) were sufficient to stave off war, today we respond to attacks with “pain compliance techniques” (torture). A generation that endured the most severe economic conditions in nearly a century has come to know mass layoffs as “rightsizing.” And how did “No Child Left Behind” turn out?

January 25–31 is “National School Choice Week,” a rhetorical gem to which George Orwell himself would tip his hat. This annual event presents private school voucher proponents with the opportunity to tout the supposed benefits of “school choice,” a-downright-friendly-sounding moniker that ostensibly clusters public school choice like charter and magnet schools into its privatization agenda. But the public school options are mere window dressing. Pull back the curtain and you see that the real focus of this event is a push for private school vouchers, a scheme designed exclusively to funnel public funds to private and for-profit schools without regard for educational equity or quality.

First, private school vouchers do not provide students and parents with real and meaningful choice. Under private school voucher schemes, the ultimate choice rests with the school, not with the students and their families. Voucher programs usually allow participating private schools to reject students based on numerous factors, including economic status, gender, religion, academic achievement, sexual orientation, and even disability. Public schools, on the other hand, are required to accept all students.

Some students have even less choice than others. Students with disabilities often aren’t guaranteed the same services in the voucher school that they would ordinarily receive in a public school and can find few voucher schools that offer them the services they need. That is likely why they number only 1.6 percent of the city’s voucher school students, although students with disabilities comprise almost 20 percent of the Milwaukee public school population. And, students who want to attend a secular school are also left with few options, as the vast majority of schools that accept vouchers are religious schools.

Second, voucher programs don’t provide students and families with quality options. Studies consistently show that private school vouchers don’t improve reading and math achievement.   For example, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—the country’s oldest voucher program—a recent study shows that the students in the voucher program do no better in reading or math than their peers in public schools. Similarly in Louisiana, 67 percent of public school students pass their standardized tests, whereas only 44 percent of voucher students do.

Unfortunately, parents often don’t know and can’t discover these problems in voucher schools. Without oversight, access to records and test scores, or public meetings—all hallmarks of public education—parents are often denied the pertinent information required to make a good choice.

Nonetheless, states continue to create and expand voucher programs. There are currently private school voucher and tuition tax credit (backdoor voucher) programs in 23 states. And as states begin their 2015 legislative sessions, we are already seeing the introduction of numerous voucher bills.

Congress will likely debate private school vouchers too, as it attempts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In fact, the Senate bill already includes a scheme called “Title I Portability”—a clever name, but not quite clever enough to steal the crown from DC’s “Opportunity Scholarships”—which proposes that Title I funds should follow the student from school to school.

First, Title I funding was designed to promote equity. Funds are directed to schools with high concentrations of poverty, allowing schools to pool funds to mitigate the compounded effects of poverty. Portability would dismantle Title I and crush the ESEA’s equity agenda. To be clear, the current proposal limits the portability of funds just to public schools. But there is no masking the agenda: Clear the first hurdle by getting Title I funds assigned to the student instead of the school, then expanding choice to private school vouchers becomes a much easier—and more lucrative—endeavor.

During this National School Choice Week, it is important to remember that private school vouchers are not true school choice, and they do not offer any real benefit to the children most in need of better educational opportunities. That’s why voters in several states have voted down vouchers at the ballot box. Take the time to let your legislators know that you don’t support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs, including Title I portability.

So during National School Choice Week, we do indeed have a choice: Use the NASSP Principal’s Legislative Action Center to alert your members of Congress that Title I must remain intact to preserve the equity goal inherent in ESEA. Otherwise, we could soon see schools with the greatest need suffering under conditions that are, well, “less than optimal.”