Political grandstanding about education and proposed as well as adopted education legislation make me feel trapped in something between a George Orwell dystopian novel (“WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH) and a Firesign Theatre skit (“The Department of Redundancy Department”).
One of my most recent experiences with the political process exposed me to the horrors (real, not fictional or comical) of compromise while I witnessed people and organizations typically associated with being strong supporters of public education defer to what became the Read to Succeed act in South Carolina despite the addition of third-grade retention ; the justification was that the compromise brought more funding to reading in the state.
Political compromise for education legislation, I regret, results in more dystopian fiction: Ursula K. Le Guin’s allegory of privilege in which she illustrates how some prosper while knowingly sacrificing a child as the “other.”
Now after much sound and fury, public education is poised to be bludgeoned once again as the federal government has committed to doubling down (again) by reverting to state-based accountability and continuing its ominous tradition of Orwellian names for education legislation: the Every Student Succeeds Act .
A couple of decades of patchwork state-based accountability throughout the 1980s and 1990s convinced the feds that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was the answer, and now about a decade and a half of NCLB-style federal accountability has failed just a miserably (mostly causing more harm than good); thus, as Alyson Klein reports, “The ESSA is in many ways a U-turn from the current, much-maligned version of the ESEA law, the No Child Left Behind Act.”
And just as I experienced in SC with Read to Succeed, those we would hope are on the right side of children, families, and public education are scrambling (as many of them did to embrace Common Core) to praise ESSA—although this newest iteration is “really about the same.”
At best, ESSA is a very slight shuffling of the test-mania element of the accountability era; however, this reverting to state-based accountability will guarantee another round of new standards and new tests—all of which will drain state and federal funding for processes that have never and will never achieve what they claim to achieve (Mathis, 2012).
ESSA will be another boondoggle for education-related corporations, but once again, that profit will be on the backs of children and underserved communities.
Yet, ESSA is not all U-turn since it has remnants of the nastiest elements of the snowballing accountability era; while some of the unsavory teacher-bashing is waning, ESSA nudges forward the dismantling of teacher education (a sneaky way to keep bashing teachers, by the way).
ESSA is finding oneself in a hole and continuing to dig. For those who jumped in, it is time to climb out. For those standing at the edge, back away.
Although now tarnished by Obama’s promises of “hope and change” (the Obama administration has been no friend of education), education legislation and policy need change, real substantive change that confronts what is truly wrong with teaching, learning, and teacher education—none of which has anything to do with accountability.
That change rejects accountability based on standards and testing (a “no excuses” ideology) and seeks social context reform that addresses equity in both the lives and schooling of children.
As I have detailed before, those new commitments should include:
- Food security for all children and their families.
- Universal healthcare with a priority on children.
- Stable work opportunities that offer robust wages and are divorced from insurance and other so-called “benefits.”
- Ending the accountability era based on standards and high-stakes testing.
- Developing a small-scale assessment system that captures trends but avoids student, teacher, and school labeling and punitive structures.
- Ending tracking of students.
- Ending grade retention.
- Insuring equitable teacher assignments (experience and certification levels) for all students.
- Decreasing the bureaucracy of teacher certification (standards and accreditation) and increase the academic integrity of education degrees to be comparable with other disciplines.
- Supporting teacher and school professional autonomy and implement mechanisms for transparency, not accountability.
- Addressing the inequity of schooling based on race and social class related to funding, class size, technology, facilities, and discipline.
- Resisting ranking students, teachers, schools, or states.
- Reimagining testing/assessment and grades.
- Adopting a culture of patience, and rejecting the on-going culture of crisis.
When will we tire of “finding only the same old stupid plan”?
When “[t]he lone and level sands stretch far away” where public education used to reside, it will be too late.
There’s a Way to Help Inner-City Schools. Obama’s New Education Law Isn’t It., Kristina Rizga interviews Pedro Noguera
 See the National Council of Teachers of English’s Resolution on Mandatory Grade Retention and High-Stakes Testing.
 Possibly the greatest flaw with NCLB was the requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014. We have to go no further that the ridiculous name of the act to see politicians (ironically) haven’t learned a thing: “every” is 100%.