Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement
The Every Student Succeeds Act and How America's Children Will Not Be Successful
Teachers unions and other critics of federally required standardized tests have behaved in recent years as though killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States. In reality, getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades would make it impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year. Congress understood this fundamental point, and kept the testing requirement, when it reauthorized the No Child Left Behind Act — now called the Every Student Succeeds Act — last month. But lawmakers ducked the most important problem: the fact that most states still have weak curriculums and graduation requirements that make high school diplomas useless and that leave graduates unprepared for college, the job market or even meeting entry requirements for the Army.
The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL
The Counterfeit High School Diploma
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, NY TIMES, DEC. 31, 2015
Teachers unions and other critics of federally required standardized tests have behaved in recent years as though killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States. In reality, getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades would make it impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.
Congress understood this fundamental point, and kept the testing requirement, when it reauthorized the No Child Left Behind Act — now called the Every Student Succeeds Act — last month. But lawmakers ducked the most important problem: the fact that most states still have weak curriculums and graduation requirements that make high school diplomas useless and that leave graduates unprepared for college, the job market or even meeting entry requirements for the Army.
The costs associated with this problem are demonstrated in a recent report by Motoko Rich in The Times, which focused on Berea High School in Greenville, S.C., where the graduation rate has risen to 80 percent, from under 65 percent just four years ago. But college entrance exams given to 11th graders last year showed that only one in 10 students were ready for college-level reading and only about one in 14 were prepared for entry-level college math. On a separate job skills test, only about half of students demonstrated the math proficiency needed to succeed at most jobs.
With results like that, it’s no wonder some South Carolina business leaders are worried that the state is producing high school graduates who are not qualified to compete for higher-skilled jobs at companies like Boeing, Volvo and BMW.
This is a national problem. A recent study from Achieve, a nonpartisan organization that works with the states to raise academic standards, showed that only 18 states and the District of Columbia required all graduates in the class of 2014 to meet the minimum preparation requirements for college — four years of English and math through Algebra II, or its equivalent.
Nationally, graduation rates are rising — yet less than 40 percent of 12th graders are ready for math and reading at the college level. An alarming study by the Education Trust, a nonpartisan foundation, found that more than one in five recent high school graduates could not meet minimum entry test standards to enlist in the Army. Despite this problem, the states have continued to drag their feet on improving the quality of the teaching corps and especially on putting in place stronger curriculums.
The Common Core learning standards, pioneered by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, were supposed to remedy this by setting ambitious goals for math, reading and writing skills. But after an initial burst of support by school officials across the country, the standards came under fire from some in teachers unions who did not want to be evaluated based on how much students learned and from states’ rights advocates who viewed the idea as a prelude to a “government takeover.”
Many states reacted by settling for cosmetic changes in school curriculums and using weak tests that virtually anyone could pass. This allows them to hide how dismal their schools actually are and misleads families and students into believing that high school diplomas have value.
The country has yet to confront this problem and commit itself to the steps it would take to correct it. Until it does, the United States will continue to lose ground to nations that have better prepared teachers and rigorous school systems that do better jobs of giving their citizens the skills they need.
The Every Student Succeeds Act will leave children behind
The nation’s capital is experiencing something of a thaw in polarization and partisanship. And the largest iceberg that has broken free is the Every Student Succeeds Act, the most consequential education reform in the past 15 years.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate education committee, called it a “Christmas present” to American children. President Obama proclaimed it a “Christmas miracle.” The president of the American Federation of Teachers said the law marks “a new day in public education.”
What does this mean for students? Let’s start, as educators are wont to say, with a review. In 2001, No Child Left Behind, the last major federal education reform, mandated yearly testing in the basics of reading and math for children in third through eighth grades . Schools were required to show yearly progress for students of every background (including every racial background). If a school consistently failed, it was required to implement reforms and, in the worst cases, hire new teachers and reorganize. The law set the utopian goal that every child should be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014.
The whole thing was a mess from the start. Failing schools didn’t like to be labeled failures, because it made administrators feel as though they were, like, you know, failing or something. Many teachers didn’t like the relentless emphasis on testing, which ate into their time for the unmeasurable joys of learning. California Gov.?Jerry Brown (D) spoke for many when he recalled the formative prep school experience of an exam that consisted entirely of one question, asking students to give their impressions of a green leaf. That question, he said, has “haunted me for 50?years.” “You can’t put that on a standardized test,” he explained.
The Every Student Succeeds Act ends the back-seat driving of the federal government in education policy. State and local officials will be free to set academic goals and to determine if schools are meeting them. While the law still mandates consequences for the worst-performing schools, states will determine what those consequences are. Student testing will still take place, but it won’t mean as much. This, according to Obama, will relieve “undue stress for educators and students.”
California, for example, is so happy to be free from the tyranny of testing that it has suspended the California High School Exit Examination and ordered schools to retroactively reward diplomas to students who failed the test during the last decade. It has also suspended its Academic Performance Index, which allowed parents to see how the test scores achieved by their local school compare with scores at other schools. In California, accountability will be imposed according to “multiple measures” in eight “priority areas,” leaving parents entirely mystified about the actual performance of their local school.
The Every Student Succeeds Act is a win-win-win for everyone who counts. Most Republicans are pleased that the federal role in enforcing educational standards has been effectively abolished. Many teachers are pleased to see lower stakes on standardized tests. States and localities are pleased that they can declare all their schools successful, or at least make accountability a fuzzy, gentle, toothless friend.
The problem? We actually have some experience in how education systems operate in the absence of accountability enforced from above. Before No Child Left Behind, only 29?states had real accountability systems; 11 states did not disaggregate by race at all; only 22 states reported graduation rates by high school. What will happen with the end of federal nagging? “We’ll continue to see some high-flying states doing really creative, good things for students,” concludes education researcher Chad Aldeman. “But we’ll see a lot more just kind of getting by and doing the bare minimum, particularly when local politics and inertia prevent state leaders from pursuing bold changes on behalf of disadvantaged students.”
This is the group that loses in the Every Student Succeeds Act — disadvantaged students, particularly African American students. Their betrayal by our educational system can now be more effectively hidden in the proliferation of priorities.
We live in a nation in which gaps in academic achievement between black and white students are large, continuing and disturbing. This is a national scandal — a systemic failure resulting in racial injustice. A retreat from educational accountability is the measure of our complacency. And what does it say that the one thing everyone in Washington can agree on effectively devalues the educational needs of black children?
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