Power Plays in Ed Policies


The Reading: ‘No Child Left Behind’ is No More published in The Atlantic on December 9, 2015

America’s current love affair with educational mandates and initiatives is quite intriguing – to say the least. Legislators clamor for rules, restrictions, and regulations within the school environment, but policies passed without much consideration to how they will work in practice seems to be the “glue” that holds this tumultuous relationship together. Countless submissions of waivers to avoid the excessive consequences of federal educational policy suggest that the theory of the laws falls short in the area of implementation.

The new law returns significant power to the states to develop their own accountability standards for schools, repealing the requirement that schools demonstrate “adequate yearly progress.”

Hmm. Well, it’s nice to know that state education agencies will have the authority to determine what their students’ achievement and progress should look like, but the seeming lack of accountability that AYP brought is a bit concerning. How can we be sure that states will continue to push for yearly progress? The honor code? I’d like to trust the states, but it was that mentality that pushed the country towards NCLB in the first place.

“We spent about 50 pages in this bill putting very strict prohibitions on what the secretary can and cannot do,” he said in a phone interview. “There are some things in there that I’m sure Arne Duncan likes. But there’s also a lot in there to keep this education secretary or any education secretary from writing their own policy. That’s very important.”

…seriously? The bipartisan agreement almost gutted the federal power in the Secretary of Education’s office, and that’s a win for American children? If the secretary and the office have virtually no power to push state accountability in student achievement, who will pull their coattails? I would have much rather seen state plans before wiping out the Secretary of Education and the office’s authority. Show us what these state education agencies are doing, of their own volition, to close the looming achievement gap and prepare their students for life outside of the classroom walls. Congress “trusts” the states to do what’s right for students, but is that trust based on good faith like it was pre-NCLB?

Federal education policy is often far removed from the day-to-day reality in America’s classrooms, and it will take years to determine if this new approach yields improvements.

Back to my original issue – theory versus practice. No, the federal policy may not be explicitly seen or mentioned in American classrooms on a daily basis, but the states’ and local education agencies’ attempts at implementation are, and that is where the issue remains. We push data-driven decision making and all of the buzz words in education, but when it comes down to it, the implementation is often lacking and creates far more angst and resentment than it should. Can we afford another 15 years of “let’s see how it goes” before we find out if the swinging pendulum in the other direction is the answer? I think not.

Photo Credit: Myke Yest, PhD

In these backroom conversations and late-night fireside chats on ways to improve student achievement, has any thought and consideration been given to what students can contribute to the conversation? Who better to tell us what works for them than the ones we do this all for anyway?

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