Thursday, December 24, 2015

There Could End Up Being Little Difference Between No Child Left Behind and the ESSA - The Atlantic

There Could End Up Being Little Difference Between No Child Left Behind and the ESSA - The Atlantic:

No Child Left Behind Is Gone, But Will It Be Back?

The new law could mean it will still be business as usual.

For years, there has been talk of leaving the 2002 “No Child Left Behind” law—the first real attempt by the federal government to hold schools accountable for helping all students learn—behind. 2015 is the year it finally happened. But the story of why NCLB ultimately failed may also tell the tale of why the legislation now standing in its stead might, too.
First, though, a quick review of the rise and fall of NCLB: Although “NCLB” began its life as a much-revered, bipartisan effort with something for almost everyone to love, it ended up having something for almost everyone to hate.
NCLB, the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was preceded by the Improving America’s Schools Act. Under that law, high-quality teaching and learning were not prevalent in all schools, and achievement gaps persisted, leading to agreement that a greater federal role for accountability was necessary—from which NCLB was born. NCLB authorized 45 programs in 10 different areas, but public debate tended to focus on the law’stesting, accountability, and teacher-quality requirements. NCLB required that students be tested in the subjects of English language arts (ELA) and math in grades three through eight and once in high school, and for states to use the results to assess how well schools were meeting “adequate yearly progress” goals for student proficiency in these subjects. Schools that consistently did not meet these goals overall, or for subgroups of students, were targeted for interventions, and eventually for sanctions. Additionally, recognizing the important role teachers play in student learning, the law strove to ensure that every student have a “highly qualified teacher” (HQT), as based on teacher credentials in the grade and subject area taught.
The popular narrative is that NCLB failed at least in part because each of these aspects of the law resulted in real issues. Testing took on an outsized role in schools, and the focus on math and ELA began pushing out electives, like art. Many of the suggested interventions for schools identified as needing improvement were more like a machete than a knife, such as replacing all of a school’s staff (although few schools chose this option). And even teachers who were still working toward certification were deemed “highly qualified,” making the HQT provision largely toothless.
Many of the suggested interventions for schools identified as needing improvement were more like a machete than a knife.
As a result of these issues, many agreed that NCLB needed to be replaced. But that didn’t mean that members of Congress and the White House could agree on what should replace it. First up for reauthorization in 2007, NCLB continued to be the acting law of the land until 2012 when states began to loudly voice concerns about NCLB’s most daunting ultimatum: that 100 percent of students be proficient in ELA and math by 2014, a goal that was clearly becoming unachievable. In response, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan provided many states “waivers” from NCLB, with major conditions for instituting college- and career-ready standards, rigorous teacher evaluation systems, and school rating and accountability systems.
Many members of Congress believed the Secretary greatly overstepped his authority in putting conditions on states’ waivers, and some were furious. Republicans in particular were motivated to put a law in place that strips authority from the Secretary and put it in the hands of states. And, in what would seem like a perfect storm for replacing NCLB, the traditionally Democratic-leaning teachers’ unions also wanted to devolve control back to the states, in an effort to relieve “high-stakes” federal pressure on teachers.
But the Secretary’s actions may have actually pushed the anti-federalist Tea Party wing of the Republican party, some of whom want the federal Department of Education fully dismantled, further away from voting for any bill the President would sign. Meanwhile,some civil rights groups wanted to ensure that strong school accountability systems were a federal requirement. 2014 came and went, and Congress could not come to agreement.
Then, a series of unexpected events occurred. First, on the Democratic side, two key players on the House and Senate Education Committees who supported a strong federal role for school and teacher accountability decided to retire. This brought new voices into the mix that were more sympathetic to the teachers’ unions agenda. Second, amidst pushback from the Tea Party for being too open to bipartisan compromise, the Republican speaker of the House—a key architect of NCLB—suddenly announced he was stepping down and retiring as soon as a replacement was chosen. All of this took place against the backdrop of the upcoming 2016 elections, and anxiety about which party would be in power the next time NCLB was revisited. The perhaps counterintuitive (and, to many, unexpected) result was that all stakeholders—including the Obama administration, which exceedingly wanted to pass a bipartisan Elementary and There Could End Up Being Little Difference Between No Child Left Behind and the ESSA - The Atlantic:

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