Critics remain concerned about accountability under ESSA
- With Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability proposals in from 16 states and Washington, DC, The Washington Post reports that former education reform standards like mass teacher firings and charter school transformations are thus few and far between in the submissions — a detail raising concern among critics of the law's more hands-off federal approach.
- Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, expressed concern that states and districts would simply "go through the motions" rather than enact any substantive accountability measures. The Post, however, reports that stakeholders ranging from state ed chiefs to teacher unions have a much more positive outlook that schools and districts will use the additional autonomy to craft strategies unique to their communities' challenges and needs.
- Additionally, the Post notes data showing a lack of success under years of reform efforts under the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act and strategies favored by the Obama administration like closure, charter transformation, staff firings or cultural transformation.
With the passage of the ESSA came an expectation that the federal government's hand in education would be mitigated, with more decision-making power returning largely to states and local districts. This came not just from a sense that former Education Secretary Arne Duncan had wielded too much power, but that one-size-fits-all education reform solutions mandated from the top down were not adequate for addressing situations unique to various regions or municipalities.
Many critics of these approaches leveled arguments over the years that included the outsized role of poverty and food insecurity in achievement for many urban and rural students, that judging every student by their ability to perform on a standardized exam was like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree, and that struggling educators in difficult schools should be offered professional development opportunities to hone their skills rather than being fired outright.
While ESSA does leave in place requirements around a certain amount of standardized testing, it does give states more flexibility in deciding what that looks like and what metrics they use. And teachers are increasingly pushing for better, more personalized approaches to professional development. But with funding still a concern, it remains to be seen how much progress will be made on that front, as well as on efforts to tackle food insecurity and other poverty-related concerns.
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