Remember when a return to local control was the biggest selling point for the passage of The Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

States would be allowed to set their own education policies. Principals, teachers, and parents could escape the long shadow of the “broken” No Child Left Behind.

I’ll let Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers take us back.

For years, educators, parents and members of our broader communities were the canaries in the coal mine, crying out that hypertesting was hurting students, demoralizing teachers and frustrating parents. We will continue to be vigilant as work shifts to the states to fix accountability systems and develop teacher evaluation systems that are fair and aimed at improving and supporting good instruction. This new bill promises the creation of better accountability and support systems, and our students, their parents and their educators deserve nothing less.

To be fair, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, was sure passage meant teacher and parent input would matter.

But “shrinking” doesn’t describe Garcia. She firmly declares that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act earlier this year, the major federal education overhaul, opens the way for her members, in partnership with parents and other groups, to reinvent education for the better — this time, with an eye toward equity and educating the whole child. “I think the next big thing is doing the opposite of all the bad things,” she says.

Sounds so wonderful, right?

But how does this play out in the brutal and dysfunctional world of state politics? Where lobbyists rule, money is king, and the lack of the proper connections gets you nowhere.

For the Gates Foundation, this deplorable state of democracy is a distinct advantage. All that foundation money and non-profit proxies willing to do your bidding – for a price. It’s the perfect playing field for keeping the locals from having any real control.

Case in point:

In August of this year, the Gates Foundation awarded over $8 million ($8,725,010) in grants to:

  • support states as they development and implement ESSA plans
  • support Personalized Learning adoption in states leveraging the new ESSA guidelines

Wow, $8 million in Gates money to “help guide” the implementation of the ESSA.

Just in case you missed it: the local control provision in the ESSA means squat if Gates can use his money to co-opt the process. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

But wait, there’s more.

Politicians, like Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander, get political cover from the soon to be horrible implementation of the ESSA by arguing that they fought hard for local control – knowing full well Gates had the interest, money and influence to exploit this “in” to dominate and shape how the ESSA would be implemented. What an ingenious scam.

Back to grants. Let’s take a look:

$7,900,010 to the New Venture Fund


$75,000 to Rodel Charitable Foundation DE


$750,000 to Education Commission of the States


Parent Involvement?

This got me thinking: What was the quality of the parent involvement that went into the development of Washington’s ESSA state plan?

According to a white paper by the National PTA, parents are supposed to play a big role:

ESSA specifically calls for parents to be meaningfully involved and consulted in the development of state and school district education plans. These education plans provide the framework for how a state and school district will deliver education services to public elementary and secondary school students. Additionally, the law requires that parents must be involved in the creation of “state report cards” that provide information on how all schools in the state are performing—such as graduation rates, attendance and student achievement levels. The report cards must be written in a parent-friendly manner so that families can understand the information provided and take action to support their child’s education.

Were parents “meaningfully involved and consulted in the development of” Washington’s state plan? So far, the evidence I’ve found points to “No”.

When I look over the list of the voting members of the ESSA Consolidated Plan Team, I see no parents listed.

What’s even more egregious: Of the 70 member of the ESSA workgroup, only one is designated as a parent representative – and THEY’RE also associated with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.


Even the Parent and Community Engagement Workgroup had minimal parent input. Of the 22 voting members, three were parents: Ellie Hutton, Laura Regala, and Stacey Klim.  But get this, of the three parent representatives, only one – Ellie Hutton, attended the three meetings of the workgroup. (Meeting minutes: May 20th 2016June 17th 2016, July 15th 2016.)

Even at the state level, it looks like the deck is stacked against parent input.

Which bring up the uncomfortable question: How do parents stand a chance against the Gates Foundation money and the insider approach to the development of the ESSA plan?

Answer: They don’t.

Final Thoughts

Randi Weingarten, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and the rest of the ESSA promoters have a lot to answer for – and we should make them do it.

Randi and Lily both seem to love accountability for other people, especially children.

Now is the time for both union leaders to step up and own their mistaken faith in and active promotion of the ESSA as the answer to the wrongs created by No Child Left Behind. Otherwise, they’re just more empty suits spouting empty talk. (I’m not holding my breath.)

The rest of us need to get over the idea that our leaders hold our best interests above their own. Here’s the hard truth – they never have and never will.

You can’t outsource your activism. Protecting public education is too important to trust to politicians or any other leader. It’s something we have to do for ourselves.

-Carolyn Leith