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More Puffery on ESSA from the NYTimes

December 10, 2015

I am using this blog to release my frustration… I’m frustrated that ESSA was endorsed by education organizations across the board based primarily on the notion that “it could have been worse” and a parallel belief that a 1,000+ document would not include any surprises. I’m frustrated that Senators and legislators voted for it without any pushback on the insistence that standardized testing continue and opting out be forbidden. As noted previously in this blog I’m especially frustrated because the passage of ESSA means that public education will not be a national campaign issue and it also means that high stakes testing will continue until all the teachers who remember a time when it didn’t exist are retired and at least two generations of students will only know schooling that measured their worth based on test scores.

A column by David Kirp in today’s NYTimes failed to make any of those points, instead focusing on the optimistic notion that shifting the responsibility for education policy back to the states will result in a change to the way schools are measured. Kirp notes that the new law eliminated AYP, that states have to provide help to the lowest performing schools, and the RTTT mandate that tests count for a high percentage of school and teacher performance is gone and that states must include “at least one other measure of academic improvement, like graduation rates and, for nonnative speakers, proficiency in English” in their measurement of school performance.

As I’ve written repeatedly, I am not so sanguine about leaving education policy decisions to the states. The original intent of ESEA in 1964 was to provide all children in the nation with an equal opportunity to a good education. Yet since that time 42 states have been sued because their funding formulas are inequitable and very few of them have passed laws to remedy the problem. 22 states refused to accept Medicare, which clearly has an adverse impact on the neediest children. Virtually all the states responded to the 2008 fiscal crisis by cutting funds for public schools.

The notion that the curriculum is being determined by the States gives me no comfort. Some states did not support the Common Core because they were fearful it might require students to learn about evolution. Other state legislatures passed laws forbidding the mention of climate change in their chambers. One State, TX, adopted a text book that referred to slaves as “workers”.

And finally, the idea that States will loosen the test-and-punish regimen is hard to imagine. RTTT did not invent the flawed idea of value added measurement: it came out of TN in the 1990s and took root as a result of NCLB. It’s hard to believe that governors like Walker, Abbott, Brownstein, Rauner, and Katich will abandon high stakes testing any time soon.

Kirp concludes his article with this:

Hope springs eternal in school reform, only to be followed by disappointment. (Announcing his education bill, Lyndon B. Johnson declared his education plan the “passport from poverty.” Clearly, that didn’t work.) Rewriting the standards of evaluation and giving states freer rein in bailing out weak schools, as this law does, is a good day’s work inside the Beltway, but it’s no guarantee that the quality of teaching and learning will change. Making those improvements will take hard work on the part of committed educators and parents. Stay tuned.

I’ll stay tuned… but I fear the programming isn’t going to change… except MAYBE in VT and NH.

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