In December, Congress approved a bill (and President Obama signed it into law) that would send the much-maligned No Child Left Behind to the glue factory once and for all.
With No Child Left Behind, the involvement in education on the federal level was intense. High-stakes testing and uniform, rigorous goals that didn’t take into account how wildly student populations and backgrounds vary made it unpopular with many.
In its place is the Every Student Succeeds Act (formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), which scales back federal involvement and emphasis on testing, and allows states to set up their own guidelines, albeit with federal oversight and parameters. The re-tooled ESSA also requires states to track student performance and intervene when necessary. It also prevents current and future Education secretaries from requiring things like Common Core be taught universally, and also limits what the department can specifically regulate.
It also offers more money for pre-school development grants, helping states expand and enhance early childhood education programs.
Every Student Succeeds will go into effect in the 2017-2018 school year, giving states and schools a year to learn about the new law, and what parameters they will need to work within.
“You will still measure students’ progress every year, typically with new and much better tests that offer actionable information about students’ learning – and still have information about how each group of students is progressing,” Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, said. “Also encouraging states to cut back on excessive testing, so you don’t waste precious hours on tests that don’t contribute to real learning. There’s some money in the bill to help states to do that and that’s good news.”
The bill would still require annual standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and those results will still be reported to the public. But it’s up to the states to decide what to do with the information gleaned from the tests regarding student achievement, although the act does require states to intervene in the bottom 5 percent of their schools, in high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent and where specific groups of students regularly struggle.
“It also commits to wraparound services and place-based interventions like Promise Neighborhoods, so you’re more likely to teach in a school where students are safe, healthy and ready to learn,” Duncan added. “And, building on the success of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, there will continue to be innovation funding so educators like you translate your ideas into approaches that serve many more students throughout the country.”
“This bill says what we all know to be true: you can’t have a great school without great teachers and principals,” Duncan said. “Through this bill, districts can access federal dollars to invest in school leaders, and develop teacher leaders through mentorship, hybrid roles and professional development. And it ensures that there will be plans to put strong teachers in schools where they’re needed most.”
But what does that mean for Texas? In an interview with education reporter Laura Isensee, Linda McSpadden McNeil, a professor of education at Rice University said people are worried.
“States that have a commitment from their legislature, from their local school boards, from their governors, to protect and enhance and adequately and equitably fund their public schools are really seeing this as just an enormous opportunity to bring the knowledge that they and their teachers and their communities have had about schooling,” McNeil said.
“In states like Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, states where the current governor and legislature are not supportive of the public schools, or where the budgets have been so cut, then people are very worried. And what I’m hearing is that people feel that this going to require much more citizen awareness, much more parents being informed and not just wait to see what one politician or one public official is going to do.”
Daria Hall, with the Education Trust, echoed that sentiment in an interview with NPR, saying that over time, “states have not made decisions with the best interest of vulnerable kids in mind.”
Hall said that if given the opportunity, states still engage in subterfuge to mask inequities in low-income, black and Latino student education. “Those kids are losing ground. And yet, we’re telling parents and the public this is an A school when the reality is it’s doing C work or maybe D work. That’s why we need a continued federal role in education,” she said.
But if that level of civic and parental engagement can change legislative and gubernatorial stances on public school funding, this act, McNeil said, could encourage that. “If anything this is a bill that could really empower parents, teachers, citizens who care about public schools to say, ‘Let’s make this flexibility work for us in creative ways by claiming a vision for our kids.’ Let’s decide what we want for kids and figure out how we can let this new, potential opening give us a space to do that and I think that more than just what comes out of Washington is going to be the great opportunity in this bill.”