Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] – Caveat Emptor
When unveiling a new, or in the case of the ESSA, a renewed paradigm, it is important to use extreme creativity and hard, indisputable facts to ensure that proof of concept is readily accepted by the consumer. This is a simple and basic tenet of marketing 101. The true challenge lays four square on whether that proof of concept is rooted in fact or tainted by too much fiction [wishful thinking].
I posit that proof of concept is what seems to be missing in the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA] – a bit too much wishful thinking baked into the hard print without sufficient unchallenged fact to accompany the falderal, sadly. Every Student Succeeds Act – what a positive ring it has, how ethereal. Why, it almost brings the same chills that No Child Left Behind [NCLB] did when it was first unveiled in 2001. Just the thought of no child failing in school is simply, you know, simply . . . . unbelievable; that’s the word.
ESSA returns us to a lax and unregulated system of allowing states, counties, and local communities to establish their own success benchmarks. Then, unbelievably, it also allows them to measure success against locally grown curricular norms. This is not a mechanism for leveling the educational playing field; it is a wholesale bulldozing of accountability and transparency. Such thinking also produced the “participation trophy.”
One has to ask – what was Congress thinking? Are not the many carcasses of failed local education reforms, cheating scandals, and outright administrative corruption sufficient to remind us that parochial decision making cannot produce a fair assessment of educational progress or student attainment?
As an aside, I am not a fan of big government. National oversight is equally fraught with rapaciousness. I believe NCLB was misdirected. It did not account for myriad national, state, and local variables. It did not truly embrace the core standards movement. It did not arrive with a set of accepted outcome measurements. And, it did not provide sufficient funding in support of its implementation or its continued modification over time.
NCLB attempted to evaluate schools and school systems through questionable assessment procedures and guide change through unenforceable policies. It was far too porous and this allowed for complaint-based challenges that eventually led to so many waivers that whatever national energy initially existed quickly disintegrated. It was a well-intended, but faulty mechanism for improving public K-12 education nationwide. This despite the bi-partisan applause it received at its unveiling. In the end, NCLB was equivalent to what Charlton Heston found as he turned the corner on the beach in the first Planet of the Apes movie – ruins caused by too much meddling.
I may be wrong. ESSA may well be this decade’s education Holy Grail. However, forty-five years of involvement in public, private, for profit, and non-profit education lead me to believe otherwise. ESSA will not succeed. It is just another Andersenian legislative feel good.
It will take a lot more than well intended Congressional action to truly change our educational system for the better. It will take a commitment to end local control of educational policy and practice to break the log jam holding back true change. This, I’m convinced, will not happen in this country in the foreseeable future.
So, I wait for the trumpets – Le roi est mort, vive le roi! In four, possibly eight years there will be yet another new vision on how to manage educational reform. This is our Groundhog Day. Welcome to it!