Thursday, December 03, 2015


There has been a boatload of analysis on the re-authorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Act now almost ironically known as the Every Child Succeeds Act. It passed the House of Representatives yesterday and is now heading for the Senate.

The new bill takes away much of the Secretary of Education's power over sanctioning schools that don't meet annual progress goals and leaves much up to the states. It also encourages educational profiteering.  No surprise here as it is a 1061 page bill. Diane Ravitch who supports the bill's passage still says:

Any law that is so long has all sorts of political compromises tucked into it, and all sorts of favors to lobbyists and special interests.  It is a Christmas tree, just in time for Christmas.

There are many major concerns with this bill.  As Mercedes Schneider pointed out in her piece on the House overwhelmingly passing the ESSA, test and punish education policy is alive and well.

Like NCLB, ESSA is a test-centered bill, and ESSA is clear in its requirement that a state receiving Title I funds tests at least 95 percent of all students in grades 3 through 8 and at least one grade in high school in English and math. (Science is a testing requirement, as well, but not as often as ELA and math.)

Unlike NCLB, ESSA does not dictate a state’s goal-setting terms for “annual yearly progress (AYP),” and it does not spell out a list of punitive consequences for states’ not achieving AYP. Nevertheless, I do not view ESSA as a happy marriage so much as a necessary divorce. ESSA is clear that states are expected to work the results of that at-least-95-percent-tested requirement into their state accountability systems– which on the face affects schools, and, yes, could still influence teachers’ being graded using student test scores.

It was the requirement that 95% of students must be tested for a district to qualify federal Title I funds that was used by UFT President Michael Mulgrew to withhold support from the parents who have led the movement to have students opt out of standardized exams. In reality, districts were not cut off when they came in under 95% but the threat was always thrown in our faces and this might continue but now it will be from the states.

I am not surprised that the UFT, AFT and NEA are for this bill or that anti-union groups such as Educators for Excellence also endorse it. Schneider calls it a lesser evil but still an evil.

Norm Scott tells us where various groups stand on the bill over at Ed Notes.

 Ravitch explains why she is in favor on her blog.  She says:

...there are some very good things in the bill. It puts an end to the hated No Child Left Behind and failed Race to the Top.  The bill eliminates AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) and Duncan's waivers.  States can drop out of Common Core without any penalty.  No more teacher evaluation by test scores unless the states want to do it. Bill Gates will no longer have the Department of Education mandating his latest ideas.  No more federal mandates about how to reform schools.

I know that many readers would like the law to go farther.  I would like to see an end to annual testing, a practice unknown in the high-performing nations of the world.  I would like to see stipulations about charter accountability and transparency. But that's not there.

Nonetheless, I support the bill because it gets rid of a terrible, failed law and a terrible, failed program.  The Bush-Obama era is over.  Now the fight for a humane education system shifts to the states.

Let's go back to Mercedes for some final analysis:

Now is the time to register discontent with the language of ESSA as it puts states in the position to try to force parents to allow their children to participate in high-stakes testing. Yes, ESSA has language about reducing the amount of time students spend on high-stakes testing. However, ESSA is a test-centered bill, including the expectation that test results will be part of state accountability systems; Title I is worth billions (and states will bow to those billions), and so, the stage is set for a child’s public school education to (continue to) be increasingly devoted to prep for high-stakes tests.

Under those circumstances, I am inclined not to support the Every Child Succeeds Act.  A slight improvement is probably better than nothing but we need much more to lift ourselves out of the mess public education is in.

PS-I wonder how Senator Bernie Sanders votes on this one when it comes around for a Senate vote. My guess is he supports it.


Harris L. said...

No, "now" is very definitely not the time to register discontent with any part of ESSA. The time to register discontent was six months ago. It is much too late to do anything about ESSA "now."

No, ESSA emphatically does not mean the end to Bush-Obama. The AFT and the UFT endorsed ESSA in the hope that they could use their "seat at the table" to end test-based "accountability." They got ESSA and they still have test-based "accountability"--they just have it at the state level instead of the federal level and the states will no more do away with test-based accountability than did Bush or Obama or Duncan or anyone else.

So, ESSA no longer has AYP in it...Who cares? Commissioner Elia won't be able to use Arne Duncan and the federal government to use as a hammer to cow non-complying local school districts. She'll just "repaint" the threat by making the more-complicated, and certainly less immediately terrifying, reference to ESSA, Clause Whatever, Section Read This, Article You're Screwed.

So, Bill Gates will no longer be able to use the federal government to enforce his lightning bolts from Seattle....Who cares? He, Broad, the Waltons, Zuckerberg and the rest of them will now pay a little more to a legion of lobbyists who have to fly to Pierre, South Dakota or Montpelier, Vermont now and then instead of skipping down every night to the local DC bistro. Diane Ravitch will have to explain to me exactly why the fact that "the fight for humane education programs shifts to the states" is good news.

Diane Ravitch had a marvelous and magnificent awakening on the "road to Damascus" and has spent the rest of her life doing good work to make up for all the unrecoverable damage that she and many others forced onto the world during the Bush Administration.

But she is Lily's and Randi's BFF and the three of them still believe, in the face of everything that has happened during the last ten years, that the fatal compromises they make every day in order to produce "necessary" of "lesser" evils is the exact same thing as doing God's work.

I can assure them that it most definitely is not.

Anonymous said...

So, if 20% of students (mostly in the 'burbs) opt-out, then the whole state loses funds. Am I reading that correctly? It seems that's how they are setting up the gambit with this 95% thing.

So, they are doubling down on testing, then.

ed notes online said...

Randi and Sandy Feldman said the very same things about NCLB - they supported it as flawed and Ed Notes took them to task for it back in 2003-4. The AFT has managed to bury that history. Give it over to the almost total Republican right wing states? That's a good thing?