Saturday, December 12, 2015

The New Law is Better but Not Good Enough

Oregon Save Our Schools member Joanne Yatvin comments on the new ESEA reauthorization, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed this week by President Obama. Find the original post on her blog, . 

Today’s post is a response to the law just passed by Congress to replace No child Left Behind (NCLB). The New York Times published a piece by David L. Kirp describing that law yesterday, which I found clear and accurate. So, if you can go to that article (link), I suggest that you read it first for a more complete description of the law than I can give here. Then read my analysis and my concerns.

The major changes in the Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) law are the shift from Federal control to state control and the removal of the rewards and punishments for schools that were used by the the Department of Education to ensure compliance.  Yearly student tests will continue, but they will be chosen or designed by the states. In addition, the effectiveness of schools will will be made on more evidence than just test scores. Finally, actions to improve the performance of students in high poverty schools will be the central  focus of states for the next several years.  Although these changes promise better days for our public schools in the future, I still see much to be concerned about.
First and foremost, the beliefs that have dominated American education over the past twenty-some years still hold sway among decision makers and the public at large. Those beliefs were first voiced in a 1983 report by a commission created by President Ronald Reagan, titled, “A Nation at Risk.” Its central theme was that the United States' educational system was failing to meet the national need for a competitive workforce. On the opening page the report declared, “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” And it continued with a frightening possibility: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
Like its predecessor, ESSA will operate on the same beliefs about our system of public education, and for that reason states will be inclined to identify the same goals and use similar strategies to reach them.  We are not done with judging our students, teachers, and schools mainly by test scores, or believing that comparisons with other countries' scores on international tests are meaningful. Nor, are we done with top-down decision making on what, when, and how our students should learn, in disregard of teachers' knowledge and experience.  Many state legislatures--and their constituents--will continue to believe that charter schools, on the whole, are better than public schools and move to increase them.  And some of those states will continue to offer vouchers to a few students to attend private or religious schools in the belief that they are throwing life preservers to drowning children.
Can these aberrations be stopped?  The only ways I see are for parents, teachers, and informed citizens to strengthen their efforts to support our public schools. We need to put pressure on state legislatures to use their funds and power to make intelligent decisions for our schools.  If we are silent, thinking that all is well now that NCLB is dead, the future will be no better than the past.