Just a Smidge on the June 29th ESSA Hearing
Today, I watched some of the June 29, 2016, hearing regarding US Secretary of Education John King’s proposed “guidance” for the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which the narrator refreshingly calls, “the successor of No Child Left Behind” (NCLB).
In this post, I offer limited commentary, only because I have been working a lot lately and am fighting fatigue.
When Senator Lamar Alexander refers to ESSA, he calls it “the law to fix No Child Left Behind,” as though he is trying to trade-mark ESSA into being perfect. ESSA is the NCLB successor; it is no more a “fix” than fleeing a burning building “fixes” the building.
ESSA addresses some of the governmental choke hold that was NCLB but certainly not all. If ESSA truly “fixed” NCLB, then there would be no need for a hearing to try and prevent a US secretary of education from trying to control the ESSA show in the name of federal guidance to states.
Alexander opens by quoting Humpty Dumpty to King:
Secretary King, you and I have had some debate on the meaning of words and the law, some discussion about it. It reminded me of Lewis Carroll’s book, Through the Looking Glass, when Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
Like Humpty Dumpty, we choose our words carefully, and we did when we wrote the law fixing No Child Left Behind. We held 24 hearings between 2007 and 2014. [In] 2015, we had 3 hearings [and] 58 amendments [and] many other amendments. The words we used were debated carefully and deliberately chosen. We meant for the words to mean what they say– nothing more– nothing less. That, of course, is our job. The Constitution settled that a long time ago. An elected Congress chooses the words that make the laws. It’s the executive’s job to implement the law in a way that is consistent with the meaning of those words.
I have problems with Alexander’s view of ESSA as being comprised of “carefully chosen words.” When it comes to state and local authority to opt out of federal testing, ESSA plays states and districts against parents and guardians even as it excuses the federal government from such a practice. As for all of those impressive hearings: In the final months when the House’s Student Success Act (SAA) and the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) were being merged into one bill, speedy negotiations were kept from public view, with some wording in ESSA not resembling either SSA or ECAA. (I am thinking particularly of the ESSA requirement that at least 95 percent of all enrolled students being mandated as part of the denominator for states calculations of federally-required testing outcomes.) Given the rush job in completing the ESSA final draft and subsequently rushing it to a vote in House, Senate, and, finally, to hit the President’s desk, it is not likely that many in Congress actually paid much attention to the contents of the entire ESSA document.
Alexander says that “the 17 federally mandated tests” were not “the problem– it was having the US Department of Education make all the decisions about what what to do about the results of the tests, which is what we call the accountability system….”
Alexander is wrong; the tests are the problem. The money, time, and other resources sunk into mandated testing is zapping the American public education system and putting too much focus on testing outcomes, whether the federal government mandates what to do with the results (ESSA still expressly requires use of federally mandated tests in state accountability systems) or not.
Alexander also wants King to agree to allow states time to get their new accountability systems in place before being forced to implement them; he wants King to agree that 2017-18 will be only a data collection year and 2018-19 to be the first year that states actually apply their accountability systems under ESSA.
Being who King is, he did not readily agree to this. (Again, if NCLB were “fixed” by ESSA (and if indeed all ESSA words had been chosen carefully), such negotiation regarding the fate of state education systems would not be according to the will of a single person, the US secretary of education.
What Alexander is trying to do is rein in a runaway USDOE headed by a power-wielding secretary. This abuse of federal power was the result of a NCLB that was itself supposed to be The Answer but that was not reauthorized for 14 years. Now we have ESSA, which is supposed to be reauthorized in four years. (ESSA funding is approved for FY2017-2020 (or October 2016 to September 2020).
Even though ESSA states that the accountability provisions are to take effect in the second year, 2017-18 (see pages 5 and 6), Alexander is asking King to not have states apply their accountability systems until the third year.
ESSA is only funded for four full school years (2016-17 to 2019-20). Rulemaker King will be gone by January 2017. Congress will face ESSA reauthorization in 2020.
ESSA is already choking on its own bureaucracy.
There is much, much more to the hearing, including King’s proposal that states “provide evidence” of academic standards when Alexander says ESSA only requires states to provide assurance. Alexander asks King,
Wouldn’t this give you the power to reject the standards by rejecting the evidence?
Alexander also calls King out for “creating out of whole cloth a so-called summative rating system that is nowhere in the law that would essentially require states to come up with an A though F rating system for all schools based primarily on test scores on federally mandated tests in reading and math. ”
Alexander says that ESSA is supposed to reverse the trend for the federal government to become a national school board. He also notes that ESSA restricts the role of the US secretary of education.
Again, based on the fact that this hearing even needs to be held, ESSA is apparently not enough to temper what has become an a USDOE led by a secretary with too much power.
There will surely be a showdown between Alexander/Congress and King as the 2016-17 school year rolls around and King supposedly guides states in their ESSA Title I applications.
John King/ Lamar Alexander
Coming July 08, 2016, from TC Press (revised release date):