Home > Uncategorized > Another Lament for the Passage of ESSA… And for the Redefinition of the Federal Role in Education

Another Lament for the Passage of ESSA… And for the Redefinition of the Federal Role in Education

Today’s NYTimes trumpeted the passage Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by echoing President Obama’s declaration of its enactment as a “Christmas Miracle” and repeating the meme that it will result in improvements for all children.

“This bill makes long-overdue fixes to the last education law, replacing the one-size-fits-all approach to reform with a commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education,” Mr. Obama said at a White House signing ceremony for the law. “With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal that every child — regardless of race, income, background, the ZIP code where they live — deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will.”

Embraced by an unusual coalition of Republican, Democrats, business groups and teachers’ unions, the law was a curiosity in a capital more often gripped lately by partisan gridlock.

The article buried the most important aspect of the bill in the eighth paragraph:

The new measure will maintain the mandatory standardized testing in reading and math established by the Bush-era law, but leave it up to state and local officials to set their own performance goals, rate schools and determine how to fix those that fail to meet their objectives.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot see how this changes ANYTHING in the way we are measuring school performance, how it changes ANYTHING about the way many states will use tests to close public schools and replace them with for-profit charters, or how it changes ANYTHING about the glaring funding inequities between schools serving children raised in poverty and those raised in affluence. The most disheartening part of the article was the quote from AFT President Randi Weingarten:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the law marked “a new day in public education” that would bring about “the most sweeping, positive changes to public education we’ve seen in two decades.”

“It ensures that the federal government can no longer require these tests as part of teacher evaluation,” she said. “And it makes public education a joint responsibility.”

So… the federal government can no longer require these tests as part of teacher evaluation… but “state and local officials to set their own performance goals, rate schools and determine how to fix those that fail to meet their objectives.” For the life of me I cannot see how this is an improvement. How does this help Chicago teachers or schools? Schools in Ohio, Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, or ANY state where the political leaders have embraced standardized tests and the be-all-and-end-all?

The only heartening paragraph I read in this was this one, which came in the last 1/3 of the article:

“The whole purpose behind the original bill was to ensure that there were consistent standards and federal oversight to make sure that states and localities were doing the right thing by poor children, by children who needed that assistance the most, and reducing that and granting so much discretion to states is just worrisome,” said Leslie Proll, the director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “Some states will do the right thing, and that’s great, others may not, and therein lies the problem.”

Will the states like Alabama that are bending over backwards to prevent poor blacks from voting “do the right thing” when it comes to making sure that children who need assistance the most get it? Will states with governors who are trying to replace schools that fall short of their own rating systems “do the right thing” by providing a helping hand to them instead of handing them over to profiteers?

Here’s what everyone seems to be forgetting: education became federalized because states and local governments were neglecting the neediest children and were discriminating against minorities. We’ve seen voting rights eroded over the years… and now schooling is headed down the same path. Sorry to be the Grinch… but I think ESSA is coal in the stocking.

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  1. Elyssa
    December 12, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    I can see how ESSA is not a cause for joy. I fear that since it replaced the horrific NCLB and RTTT, people have been duped into thinking they got something better.

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