After years of haggling and delays, Congress has finally passed and President Obama has signed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known since 2002 as No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature domestic program. The new legislation is named the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and while it will not immediately have drastic impact, it will significantly shift the focus and responsibility for student achievement to state and local educators and administrators, while maintaining the requirement of annual math and reading assessments in grades three through eight and again in high school. Otherwise, the new law gives back to the states the control over setting educational objectives and deciding how to hold students, teachers, schools, and districts accountable for failure to reach them.
I have never been a fan of federal intervention in public education and if I were czar for a day, the Department of Education would probably not survive until sundown. However, I do believe that the No Child Left Behind Act, in spite of its flaws, served the very positive purpose of seriously raising awareness of the threat posed to our democracy by the mediocre performance of public education and focusing the attention of the country on the necessity of accountability and standards based reform. This reauthorization also has its flaws, among them the dumping of the Public School Choice program for students in failing schools and the failure to “voucherize” Title I funds designated for low-income students, but overall it is a step in the right direction and will require review and reauthorization in four years.
The organization whose board I chair, the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER), followed the progress of the reauthorization carefully and upon adoption issued the following statement, which contains appropriate cautions for Texas:
While TIER is pleased that ESSA maintains mandatory student assessment, we are uneasy about how much latitude is being returned to state and local entities. In Texas’ current education policy climate, we’ve gutted most of our state’s stringent academic accountability measures. With this new law, Texas has even more control over the quality of our schools, and it is imperative that we don’t use that power to further backslide on accountability.