Archive for December, 2015

Every Student Succeeds Act

Sunday, December 13th, 2015
K-8 school, Lopez Island, Washington

K-8 school, Lopez Island, Washington

On December 9, 2015, fourteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act’s debacle, Congressional eyes opened. Congress voted to try again to give all students in public school education a chance for academic achievement, optimistically called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Anyone with an interest in education has an opinion on whether student achievement will succeed in the seven years until Congress debates revision again of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

What were teachers doing this Fall, waiting for Congress to get its act together?

In most states, besides planning and teaching lessons based on the new-ish Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they  hoped the legislation would reflect their long held stance that excessive testing does not lead automatically to academic proficiency in reading and math. ESSA makes CCSS voluntary. That brings a breath of relief to some states, but what now? is the question of many others as state and local entities decide on standards.

Another sigh of relief because the legislation does reduce the number of yearly standardized tests. Yearly tests are mandated, but they may be designed as the state wishes. If a state doesn’t like current assessments available, there will be another scramble to find suitable tests. From test examples on the websites, that may be good or bad.

What else are teachers talking about in the lunchroom?

A special report in the latest CTA Educator used six pages to explore the details of housing costs that outpace educator salaries. The new ESSA does not discuss salary and little about staff development that may lead to a raise in salary. That issue is resolved locally, of course, but collective bargaining that does influence teacher pay is low on ESAA’s totem pole. It’s true that NEA and AFT, the two national teachers unions, support ESSA because the focus is taken off teacher evaluation as the source of all troubles for schools, even though the legislation removes the clause in previous education legislation which protects collective bargaining.

The “Superintendent Shuffle” is another concern for teachers and school districts. For example, “Two-thirds of superintendents in the state’s (California) 30 largest districts have been in their posts for three years or less according to EdSource.” Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, Educator, November 2015, p. 33. Again, ESSA assumes states and local districts will readily resolve administrative issues. If that actually happens, superintendents should be very happy; if not, districts will be absorbed with hiring, not effective teaching.

In the 3000 schools (the 5% lowest-performing schools in the country) that will depend on Title I federal funds, staff and teachers have devoted their efforts to keep up attendance, reduce dropout rates, and from Kindergarten on prepare students to graduate high school. ESSA combines funds for special education, English Language Learners, at-risk and more into a huge Title I block grant for each state to handle. And, states must set aside funds for private/parochial school students who need help. Since there is no discussion of meaningful curriculum or disparities in school discipline and suspension, it is those 1 million students who will be subject to the arbitrary local program decisions in high-performing and low-performing school districts.

One good thing about NCLB was the transparency of data used to identify interventions and accountability. Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center and NAACP Legal Defense Fund worry that the data may be transparent, but the federal oversight of the data is the weakest link in ESSA. As David L. Kirp said in his opinion article “Left Behind No Longer” New York Times, December 10, 2015, “advocates will need to keep up the pressure for equity.”

That has ever been the educator’s responsibility since 1965 when Lyndon Johnson said ESEA was the “passport from poverty.” General enthusiasm may be the spin of the bipartisan ESSA legislation, but recall Alexander Pope’s famous line “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”