Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Bipartisan Agreement on Education Comes at Cost to Students

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Bipartisan Agreement on Education Comes at Cost to Students

Article excerpt

The nation's capital is experiencing something of a thaw in polarization and partisanship. And the largest iceberg that has broken free is the Every Student Succeeds Act, the most consequential education reform in the past 15 years.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called it a "Christmas present" to American children. President Barack Obama proclaimed it a "Christmas miracle." The president of the American Federation of Teachers said the law marks "a new day in public education."

What does this mean for students? Let's start, as educators are wont to say, with a review.

In 2001, No Child Left Behind, the last major federal education reform, mandated yearly testing in the basics of reading and math for children in third through eighth grade. Schools were required to show yearly progress for students of every background (including every racial background). If a school consistently failed, it was required to implement reforms and, in the worst cases, hire new teachers and reorganize. The law set the utopian goal that every child should be "proficient" in reading and math by 2014.

The whole thing was a mess from the start. Failing schools didn't like to be labeled failures, which made administrators feel like they were, like, you know, failing or something.

Many teachers didn't like the relentless emphasis on testing, which ate into their time for the unmeasurable joys of learning.

Gov. Jerry Brown of California spoke for many when he recalled the formative prep school experience of an exam that consisted entirely of one question, asking students to give their impressions of a green leaf. That question has "haunted me for 50 years," he said.

"You can't put that on a standardized test," he explained.

The Every Student Succeeds Act ends the backseat driving of the federal government in education policy. State and local officials will now be free to set academic goals and to determine whether schools are meeting them. While the law still mandates consequences for the worst-performing schools, states will determine what those consequences actually are. …

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