Education Jon Tester

Senator Tester on Education Reform: Working for Students

Written by Don Pogreba
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I’ve been remiss in the past few weeks for not spending a little time talking about the work Senator Tester has done in Washington to improve education for Montana students. While Senator Daines cast a bizarre, reactionary vote against modifying the provisions of No Child Left Behind, Senator Tester not only supported it, but worked to improve the measure.

One of the important measures pushed by Senator Tester was an amendment to the bill, one that would change the requirements of annual testing to “grade span” testing, which would let students take tests less frequently. Before the 2001 implementation of NCLB, students were only required to test once in elementary, middle, and high school, but that system was replaced by annual mandatory testing through 8th grade and once again in high school.

I’m not opposed to testing. We need measures of how schools are educating their children, but it’s foolish to waste as much time as we do on the current testing regime, especially when there are real questions about the testing that is coming out as the kinks in Common Core are worked out. And having students fill out bubble sheets and engage in endless test prep is hardly meaningful education for life.

As the House, Senate, and Obama administration fight through three competing visions for federal testing, Senator Tester’s model offers a sensible path to follow.

More recently, Senator Tester introduced a measure to encourage more Native American teachers working on reservation schools. According to the Great Falls Tribune, his NEST Act would establish scholarships, develop loan forgiveness plans, and develop programs to eliminate the teacher shortage on reservations.

Teacher quality and consistency have to be two of the most important elements in student success. Far too often, teaching jobs on the reservations are short-term stepping stones for new teachers, and while no one should shortchange these efforts, working to develop a core of teachers from the communities who will offer consistency and quality education is exactly the direction federal education policy towards the tribes should go. As Education Week noted, the need is there:

A 2011 report in the Journal of Indigenous Research found that few postsecondary programs are graduating consistent numbers of American Indian teachers, which means “many reservation schools continue to hire temporary and sometimes poorly prepared teachers to fill in the gaps.” Native teachers make up less than 1 percent of the teachers enrolled in teacher preparation programs, even though 1.3 percent of students in K-12 identify as Native students.

Tester’s work illustrates the importance of having a former teacher in the Senate. The model of the terrible No Child Left Behind law has always been to inadequately fund schools serving high needs populations, shame them with testing that reflects the weakness of those schools, and then take away funding when they fail to meet targets that are not only impossible, but made more difficult by the law.

While some Montana politicians only seem interested in the amount of coal that can be pulled from a reservation, it’s heartening to see Senator Tester working to improve the education Native youth receive. Real, sustainable, and meaningful poverty reduction depends on educational opportunities. Perhaps Senator Daines and Representative Zinke can find their way to support legislation that will improve educational outcomes for Native kids.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate. In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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