ESSA Marginalized K-12 Education Policy Debates, Ensures the Beat Will Go On
Earlier this month I spent time with family members at a reunion and came away more distressed than ever over the condition of public education today. My nieces and cousins who work in public school have now experienced 10-15 years of teaching where test scores are the be all and end all of their jobs. Worse, their children have no experience in a school setting where test scores were not the predominant concern.
For the past couple weeks we’ve been subjected to the frightening reality that Donald Trump, a candidate who plays to the basest instincts of our citizenry, and Hillary Clinton, a neoliberal who until recently espoused the “reform” line that led to the evaluation of schooling based solely on standardized testing, will be the candidates for 2016. A recent Atlantic article contrasts the two candidates positions on K-12 education, noting that Mr. Trump’s position is more a slogan than a well-conceived policy idea.
But the article failed to note the reality that the passage of ESSA took the air out of any meaningful discussion about K-12 education on the campaign trail and will make any change to education policy in the first term of either Trump or Clinton a near impossibility. The bi-partisan ESSA legislation gives the decision on testing back to states where ALEC influenced Republicans control 35 State houses and legislatures. In so doing, it undercuts the Federal role in setting educational policy, which could be a good thing after NCLB and RTTT and will be a good thing if progressive activists focus on state elections and elect governors and legislators who want to use something something more than high-stakes tests to measure school effectiveness.
This means it will become increasingly difficult to make changes to the test-and-punish “reform” system in place after 15 years of NCLB and RTTT and that, in turn, means that a full generation of students will experience schooling that uses standardized testing as the primary means of measurement, a full generation of teachers will know only that kind of teaching, and a full generation of school board members will believe that only test scores can “objectively measure” the effectiveness of public schooling. The only exception to this kind of education will take place in the most affluent school districts where the vast majority of students can pass the so-called “accountability” tests with ease and can therefore focus on “frills” like the arts, technology, and emotional development.