Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to
enforce testing standards this year as if it were just any year. Any year, that
is, since the war on teachers and public schools reached its fever pitch in the
early 2000s, under the guise of quality control.
With its passage in 2002, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) brought with it the rise of K-12 standardized testing as a means of teacher evaluation. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), designed to loosen the stranglehold of test-based evaluation, did little on that front. ESSA relied on testing to evaluate teachers and schools and justified the aggressive movement toward private and charter systems.
For an intensive breakdown of the wild contradictions in the world of high-stakes testing, check out educator and experience curriculum designer Bob Shepherd’s great piece on the staggeringly low quality of these tests. In a recent mini-poll sent to The Children’s Network here First Focus on Children, 80% said students should not be tested this year.
The purpose of testing is to reduce learning
to something objective that can be maximized under the guise of productive efficiency.
That doesn’t make sense in a year where, in the face of crisis, students and
educators are working to find new ways to learn. Standardized tests are not
flexible and cannot provide us a true measure of how kids are learning or
developing. Even before the crisis, the same teacher might score in the top
percentile and bottom percentile in the same year,
on the same test, for different classes.
In reality, testing provides the justification for an attack on teachers. The tidal wave of tests, and their evaluation systems, coincided with the greatest teaching crisis in the history of our public education system. Derek Black, the author of Schoolhouse Burning and professor of constitutional law at the University of South Carolina, points out that between 2009 and 2012 schools lost 300,000 teaching positions. As the effects of the pandemic resonate, advocates fear that up to 2 million education jobs could be lost. A host of factors – punitive evaluations based on testing, a dearth of school resources and support, and the coordinated devaluation of teaching as a profession – is to blame for what has become a shortage of teachers.
“Standardized” testing is anything but. From
year to year, Black explains, teachers may go from being considered extremely
effective to being considered ineffective, with little difference in teaching
practice. He writes:
“Isolating one teacher’s effect on a student’s scores from the effects of all the other teachers a student had that year (and in prior years) is nearly impossible. Isolating the effects of teaching from those important factors that exist outside school – poverty, family crisis, parental engagement – is just as hard.”
“The tests drive how and what people teach and much of what is created by curriculum developers. These distortions are grave. In U.S. curriculum development today, the tail is wagging the dog. To an enormous extent, we’ve basically replaced traditional English curricula with test prep.”
Testing looks to create a tangible object out of the process of learning. Learning, by nature, is flexible. It changes, bends, and warps over time. Today, K-12 education has become the servant of a rigid test. We’re asked to accept a dubious claim: a collection of multiple-choice questions are the key to evaluating teachers and schools, or at least enough to make important decisions on which students and schools deserve adequate funding. But the soul of education doesn’t lie in rote testing ability or data retention. To learn is to actively engage with the world; to teach is to encourage the growth of those who seek to change it. Tests don’t tell that story.
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, teachers are adapting to a new teaching environment. They are working to build remote relationships with their students while adjusting their pedagogical practices to a wildly different setup, whether they are physically back in school or not. Students, too, are learning to learn in new ways. Testing has long been used as the justification for attacking public education and teachers. It has never told the whole story of classroom learning, and that is especially true now. The Department of Education’s push to enforce a testing mandate, this year, in particular, is an attack on public schools, teachers, and students.
Former Obama White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jason Furman recently published a “Memorandum on Priorities for Economic Policy” addressed to the next Director of the National Economic Council (NEC) – whoever that may be under President Trump or a President Biden.
“Making the US economy work for families is critical in its own right and also to give Americans the security and confidence to participate in greater global integration and a greater US role in the world. Many elements go into this, but if you had to prioritize one, it should be investments in children, which not only provide direct assistance today but have long-run benefits in the form of increased work, higher earnings, better health, and less imprisonment.”
Furman is right – investing in kids pays dividends not only in the short term, with healthy and happier families, but in the long term, with improved potential on many different fronts that would boost the economy. Since Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the children’s share of federal spending has dropped 9%, reaching just 7.48%of the budget in FY 2020. This level was inadequate before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it iswoefully inadequate in light of it.
Furman also stressed the need to invest in children internationally,
“The 2014 G20 included a goal of
increasing women’s labor force participation; consider whether a similar goal
of investing in children would make sense for the G20 going forward.”
A G20 commitment to this effort would help
put children’s issues front and center on the global stage; in Children’s
Budget 2020, we estimate that just 0.08% of federal spending goes toward
helping children abroad. That’s about one-twelfth of what we spend on foreign
aid as a whole, which is a mere 1 percent of the federal budget.
It’s well past time that lawmakers get serious about
investing in the next generation. Following Furman’s advice would be a welcome
step in the next presidential agenda.
Tonight, there will be a new rule for the final presidential debate — the candidates will be muted when the other is speaking. This has never been done before, but everyone seems to understand that it’s just like a kindergarten teacher muting their students in a Zoom class.
And while remote learning is on the minds of most voters, it’s not clear that the candidates will actually talk about kids in those Zoom classes, or the terrifying rise in child poverty, or the unprecedented decline in health care coverage for children.
Or any of the questions these kids raise in this video…👇
Kids can’t vote, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get a say in this election. The issues facing our nation’s children are simply too important for us to ignore their voices. That’s why we’ve teamed up with the National Children’s Museum — whose mission is to inspire children to care about and change the world — to create the #Commit2Kids Virtual Video Booth so kids can ask candidates where they stand on the issues that matter most to them.
Take a look at a few of our favorite questions so far — from climatechange to homelessness and poverty to STEMeducation — and find out how the kids in your life can ask their own question.
More than 35 million Americans have already cast their votes. Whether they’ve entered a literal voting booth or dropped their ballot into the mail, our nation’s adults have had their say. Will you help us ensure that kids get theirs?
The election is less than two weeks away. Candidates are busy crisscrossing the country or their respective states to ensure they are addressing the concerns of all constituents. But the issues that affect kids, affect all of us. Kids are one-quarter of our population, but they represent all of our future. Let’s make sure that anyone on the ballot this November has the best interest of the child in mind before they take office.
It’s time we all #Commit2Kids. Before it’s too late.
“Congress is already heading into a big budget
year, regardless of the outcome on Election Day. After a decade of enduring
strict budget caps and operating under the threat of automatic spending cuts,
lawmakers face no overall limits on defense and non-defense discretionary
spending for fiscal 2022. Washington will also have to again grapple with
raising the debt limit on federal borrowing next summer in order to stave off
This “new budget territory,” as Emma calls it, offers a rare opportunity to prioritize children. For example, the temporary continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government expires on December 11, 2020, and action will be required to avoid a government shutdown. The election outcome likely will have a huge impact on how long Congress extends the CR deadline into next year or if it tackles some appropriations bills sooner, such as the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which provides more than 70% of annual spending for children’s programs and services.
As Emma points out, FY2022 offers a clean slate as the spending limits set out by the 2011 Budget Control Act sunset after FY2021. Depending on the election results, Congress also may decide to use a reconciliation package — which requires a simple majority vote for passage — to pursue policy priorities such as health care, climate change, and infrastructure improvements, and of course, to revisit the lopsided provisions in the 2017 tax law, which favor the wealthy. The Republican majority used the reconciliation process to usher through the tax legislation. Democrats used it to pass the Affordable Care Act.
On top of all this, Congress will need to address the debt ceiling limit before its expiration next July and may even consider eliminating it at a time when budget hawks will be calling for austerity measures. All of these decisions could profoundly impact the well-being of our children as the dual public health and economic crises intensify their needs and compound existing disparities in our society.
Even before the pandemic, children regularly fell into the shadows during budget negotiations. On September 30, 2020, we released the 14th edition of our Children’s Budget book, presenting our analysis of more than 200 federally supported programs dedicated in part or entirely to children. Unfortunately, our analysis identifies a persistent and alarming trend: Children continue to receive a smaller and smaller share of federal spending.
In 2020, the share of federal
spending on children hit just 7.48% — a decline of 9% from its FY2016 levels. For
the record, children make up roughly one-quarter of our population. Under the president’s FY2021 request,
investment in our children would drop to just 7.32% as it proposed harmful cuts
and recommended eliminating or consolidating into block grants 59 different
programs benefitting children.
investment in children overseas is not doing any better. The Children’s Budget
2020 marks the first time that we at First Focus on Children have analyzed
federal spending on children from the international affairs budget, which spans
seven entities including the State Department and U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID). Our research finds that the dollars dedicated to aiding
children globally reflects far less than 1% of our spending — a dismal 0.11 percent of the overall federal budget.
There are two legislative proposals
introduced in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Bob
Menendez (D-NJ) to help bring greater transparency to Congressional budget
decisions. The Focus on Children Act
(S.1780) and the Congressional Budget Act (S.1776) would authorize the
Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, respectively,
to regularly conduct a clear and full accounting of federal spending on
children’s programs and services. These complementary bills would help
policymakers and the public better understand and accurately evaluate how
children are faring in critical, federal budget decisions.
So, as Congress and the president negotiate critically important budget decisions in the coming days, weeks, and months, we urge them to place children front and center to ensure kids are not left further behind. Our future depends on our children and budget decisions expose our leaders’ priorities for that future.
“We have a real opportunity to infuse equity and
justice throughout our budget process,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told
Let’s remember that this election season. Put kids first.
is hard, but for the 20,000 youth who “age out” of foster care each year,
suddenly required to be self-sufficient, it is downright cruel. Historically,
many youth who age out of foster care fail to achieve their full potential
because they don’t enjoy the same parental support as kids who are not in
foster care. Roughly 34 percent of non-foster care youth aged 18-to-34 still
lived at home with their parents in 2015, according to one study, and during this time, they
received approximately $48,000 in financial support.
in foster care deserve and need similar support. The Fostering Connections to Success and
Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008
incentivized states to provide that type of care. Since the law’s enactment, more
than half of all states have extended foster care, some using federal funds and
others using state funds, to allow foster youth to remain in care until age 21
and to receive support and services sometimes up to age 26. The supports were
designed with the hope that young adults who aged out of foster care would start
attaining housing, employment, and education outcomes more similar to those who
do not have foster care experience.
So new research from Georgia State University Ph.D. candidate Alex Prettyman suggests good news. Using data from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) from Fiscal Years 2011 and 2014, Prettyman assesses the costs and benefits of extended foster care and finds that “a dollar spent on extended foster care maintenance payments yielded a return of $2 to $4.” In “Happy 18th Birthday, Now Leave: The Hardships of Aging Out of Foster Care,” Prettyman explains:
else equal, if no states implemented extended foster care during 2012 to 2016,
then 362 more youth might have experienced homelessness, 361 more youth might
have been incarcerated, and 169 fewer youth might have graduated high school by
to the NYTD FY2011 and FY2014 cohorts, extended foster care reduced costs to
society by $88.4 million to $190 million, depending on the cost of
Journalist Jason DeParle of the New York Times is one of the leading media voices covering child poverty in the United States, and in a front-page article this week he once again highlighted the issue by covering new research on the impact of COVID-19 on poverty, including child poverty. Referring to two new studies, one from Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy and a joint study by the University of Chicago and Notre Dame, he wrote:
“Both studies also found child poverty rising at a rapid rate, with an additional 2.5 million children falling below the poverty line since May. Research shows that even short stays in poverty can cause children lasting harm.”
The study from Columbia’s Center on
Poverty & Social Policy
finds that assistance provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic
Stimulus Act (CARES) Act, particularly expanded Unemployment Insurance benefits
and Economic Impact Payments, temporarily prevented child poverty from spiking
earlier this year. However, given that
this assistance has run out, our child poverty rate is now higher than before
“The Cares Act was unusually successful,
but now it’s gone, and a lot more people are poor,” Zachary Parolin, an author
of the Columbia analysis, told DeParle.
By calculating monthly
estimates of poverty, including child poverty, CPSP is able to not only provide
more recent information on poverty than annual estimates (which lag behind by nearly
a year and do not reflect the impact of COVID-19) but also supply more detailed
information on how temporary influxes of resources throughout the year affect a
household’s ability to weather economic volatility.
This week, the nomination hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett have been noteworthy only perhaps for how un-noteworthy they’ve been — with Judge Barrett declining to answer most questions pertaining to the law or precedent. But, there was at least one question that has captured the attention of the country — even though it, too, featured Judge Barrett refusing to answer.
Yesterday afternoon, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked if the judge believes “it’s wrong to separate children from their parents to deter immigrants from coming to the U.S.”
Watch the full exchange below:
Judge Barrett did not answer the question, stating — as many Supreme Court nominees have in the past — that the issue was a matter of debate and that she “can’t express a view or be drawn into as a judge.”
But, we believe the answer is clear — yes, yes it is wrong to separate children from their parents as a method of deterrence.
We’ve been clear on this issue, dating back to at least 2009 when First Focus President Bruce Lesley said:
As a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, we see the ramifications of our broken immigration system every day. Family separation is detrimental to both the physical and mental health of any child. And children of immigrants comprise one-fifth of all U.S. children and are the fastest growing child population in this country. Therefore, it is paramount that our nation, founded by immigrants, enacts reforms to immigration laws that promote family unity.
With dire urgency, the administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-family policies must be rejected. In a democracy, we are all accountable for our government, which includes how we treat the most vulnerable among us. The Administration’s family separation policy directly harms children and amounts to child abuse. Anyone concerned about the tragedy of family separation and the harm it is doing to children should contact their elected officials and demand the end to this policy. Our country has to be better than this.
And, with all due respect to Judge Barrett, this has also been clear to those on the bench. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw found (in June of 2018) that the practice of separating minor children and parents is a violation of constitutional rights and “shocks the conscience.” Judge Sabraw went on to say:
These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child. Such conduct, if true, as it is assumed to be on the present motion, is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.
If confirmed, a then-Justice Barrett may have this question before her again. Let’s hope it’s as clear to her then as it has been to all of us.
The Trump Administration has yet again rejected science in a new and harmful Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) risk assessment that proclaims the pesticide chlorpyrifos — banned for household use since 2000 — not hazardous to children. In fact, to make the ruling, the agency has rejected its own research, directly contradicting the findings of federal scientists who concluded five years ago that chlorpyrifos can stunt brain development in children.
EPA dismissed its previous conclusion by saying that the “science addressing
neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved,” yet it excluded several
epidemiological studies that established a link between prenatal exposure to
the pesticide and developmental disorders in young children, such as lower IQ
and impaired working memory.
chlorpyrifos assessment is just the latest in a series of Administration
rollbacks that put the needs of the agriculture industry and chemical companies
above the health of our nation’s children. In June, the Trump Administration
finalized a decision to not regulate perchlorate, a toxic chemical found in rocket fuel that can
contaminate drinking water. Perchlorate has been linked to fetal and infant
EPA has also been lax on the regulation of lead. Lead is a well-established
toxin, and any exposure is considered dangerous to children, as it can cause
irreversible damage to the nervous system. The EPA failed to require the replacement of 6 million water lines throughout
the country that are made of lead; refused to lower the enforceable level of
lead in water, known as the “lead action level;” and did not tighten the
standards for lead-based paint exposure at home. Furthermore, the EPA has failed
to effectively regulate a group of synthetic
chemicals called PFAS, that are used in a wide variety of household products
and industrial processes even though
research has shown that children are extremely vulnerable to these toxins. The
Trump Administration has not enforced
monitoring, testing, and cleanup of PFAS in water. They had also continually blocked the release of a government study which found that PFAS
could be more toxic than we thought, calling the study a “public relations
nightmare.” The study was finally released in June 2018; it found that PFAS
exposure could be dangerous at levels the EPA deemed safe.
When will enough be enough?
How much longer will this government continue to ignore science and put the health of our children at risk? The Trump Administration’s disregard for our environment spans from indulging corporations on these toxins to ignoring the impact of climate change. It is our children who will bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change – and we should demand more from our leaders.
Learn more about the Trump Administration’s attack on the environment and children here.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is not a court many Americans know about. People may talk about sending officials who commit crimes to “The Hague,” but many do not understand what that means or how it happens. But for children around the world who are victims of atrocities such as war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, the ICC is an important avenue for justice. However, the Trump administration has targeted this court with harmful rhetoric and sanctions. In doing so, the administration may be depriving the world’s child victims of justice.
In 1998, 160 countries came together in Rome to establish the ICC. The United States was among them. At the end of that conference, 120 countries signed a treaty called the Rome Statute, and the ICC was born. Its mandate? To be a permanent court of last resort, investigating and prosecuting individuals “for the most serious crimes of international concern”— war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The United States has signed the treaty, which indicates support of the institution, but is not a member state, which would have required Congress to ratify it.
The Rome Statute explicitly gives the ICC jurisdiction over international crimes against children, including the use of child soldiers, the forcible transfer of children from one national, ethnic, racial, or religious group to another, attacks against educational buildings, and gender-based violence. The Rome Statute integrates the consideration of children in the court’s procedures, including electing judges and appointing advisers with legal expertise on violence against children. The court’s first trial, in 2009 against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), exclusively addressed charges of child conscription in hostilities, and many individuals have since been charged for using child soldiers. The ICC has also tried several defendants for gender-based violence against girls in the DRC, Uganda, and Sudan.
The current ICC prosecutor Fatou
Bensouda has worked to elevate the issue of crimes against children and has taken
steps to specifically consider these crimes. Since 2012, she has worked with Diane
Marie Amann, the prosecutor’s special adviser on children in and affected
by armed conflict. In 2016, Bensouda launched the ICC Policy on Children, pledging
that every ICC investigation will consider crimes against and affecting
This aggressive anti-ICC stance is
harmful and unnecessary. The
United States has historically supported international criminal justice — from
Chief Justice Robert H. Jackson’s role as Chief Prosecutor for the U.S. at the
Nuremberg trials to the Obama Administration offering rewards and supporting
the transfer of indicted defendants to the ICC. Polls show that an
increasing number of Americans support the work of the ICC and think that the
United States should either join or support it. Now is not the time to cripple
an entity seeking to bring justice to those who need it most.
Even if the U.S. government does
not wish to join the ICC, it can and should rescind sanctions against ICC
personnel, rescind the executive order that has had a chilling effect on
advocates seeking justice for victims of the worst crimes, and robustly support
the efforts of the Court to hold accountable perpetrators of war crimes, crimes
against humanity, and genocide. The United States must let child victims of the
gravest crimes know that we stand with them and stand for accountability for
those who harm them.
A new report from the advocacy group Groundwork Ohio, which champions high-quality early learning and healthy development strategies for Ohio’s youngest children, outlines ways to end the deeply rooted disparities among the state’s children. Titled “Drafting a New Blueprint for Success” and supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the report offers steps to create equity among kids in Ohio.
“COVID-19 has laid bare how profoundly inequitable our experiences are. The tragic truth for children in Ohio is that their chance at success too often depends on their race, their family’s socioeconomic status and their ZIP code. Skin color, family income and neighborhood consistently determine whether a child will live to his or her first birthday, get appropriate medical care and start kindergarten on track. These factors even correlate with whether a child learns to read well and goes on to graduate from high school and attend college or get a skill.”