Saturday, December 12, 2015

NCLB is gone! Is the new ESSA better????

Fourteen years of educational history ended when President Obama signed the new ESSA Act – Every Student Succeeds Act.  It will take the place of NCLB, or No Child Left Behind.
No Child Left Behind LEAVES behind a legacy of testing and of using those test scores to punish schools that do not meet the standards set by the federal government.  While accountability is desirable, NCLB has been behind the culture of testing that has taken over our schools.   

We aren’t done with tests under the new act. It still requires two tests, in reading and math, per child per year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. It also requires science tests be given three times between grades 3 and 8.  States will have the power to decide how the tests are used in holding schools accountable for the performance of students.
The NEA reports in the most recent “Lily’s Blackboard” that, “ESSA empowers educators as trusted professionals to make school and classroom decisions while keeping the focus on students most in need. Educators who were shut out during the past decade are going to be heard again—not after the fact, but as participants in the policymaking process. The law also reduces the amount of standardized testing in schools and, most importantly, decouples high-stakes decision making and statewide standardized tests so that so students have more time to learn and teachers have more time to teach. Last, ESSA begins to close the opportunity gaps for students by providing a new accountability system that includes an “opportunity dashboard” with—for the first time—indicators of school success and student support.”

There are those out there who are reluctant to say the new program will be successful.  Alan Singer, Social Studies Professor at Hofstra University, warns that while repealing the annual federal yearly progress reports is good, there are weak spots in the law.  For instance individual states may design their own accountability systems.  States will be responsible for identifying and supporting struggling schools.  Singer questions whether all states will be able to implement systems that are reliable and can truly accomplish this task.  

Singer also warns that this new bill requires states to set aside funds for “equitable services” for eligible students who attend private and religious schools.  Plus, the states must create an ombudsman position to ensure that private and religious schools get what they consider a fair share of federal funds.  What else might this lead to?

Finally, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington in Seattle, believes this new law may very well lead to “fast track” teacher education programs provided by corporate interests.  He says the bill establishes “teacher prep academies” designed to promote “entrepreneurial programs”.

Leaving behind aspects of No Child Left Behind is certainly more than desirable.  However, as states begin to design their own programs for accountability systems and student support, the ability to allow educators to have input in the design is imperative.  In this state’s current culture of teacher and public school bashing, that might prove difficult.  Our best place to have input is most likely through the Michigan Department of Education and the State Superintendent’s office. 

Send an email to Brian Whiston, Michigan Superintendent of Schools;