Please Read this Penetrating Indictment of the Every Student Succeeds Act by Jan Resseger

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Fellow public education advocate and education blogger Jan Resseger posted an important article today about the problems associated with the Every Student Succeeds Act.  ESSA, as it is called, replaced the ill-fated No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top federal initiatives. Both NCLB and RttT institutionalized the destructive corporate education reform policies that are turning our public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories dedicated to “test prep” around a narrow curriculum, rather than a broad-based, comprehensive education the ensures every child is provided with the knowledge and skills they will need to live more fulfilling lives,

As we are now learning, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues these failed policies and, in some ways, is even worse than its predecessors.

Jan Resseger is absolutely right, please do read this Penetrating Indictment of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Participating earlier this week in one of the Ohio Department of Education’s stakeholder meetings about the plan Ohio will be developing to submit to the U.S. Department of Education to comply with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I watched as many people tried valiantly to frame their objections to the test-and-punish policies that have dominated federal and state education policy for more than a generation. Most people have a clear sense that something is very wrong, but framing their objections in specific policy terms is much harder. On Monday, Valerie Strauss published among the most lucid explanations I have read of what’s wrong, how the new law reproduces much of the same policy as the old No Child Left Behind, and what those of us who value our nation’s system of public education ought to be saying as we respond to these policies.

In Monday’s column, Bill Mathis and Tina Trujillo are promoting the new book they have editedLearning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act. (This blog has covered that book here and here.) The book was published by the National Education Policy Center, where Mathis is the managing director. Please read Mathis and Trujillo’s column carefully and then plan to consult the academic research collected in this important book.

In this week’s column, Mathis and Trujillo set the context for the new Every Student Succeeds Act: “Washington was euphoric. In a barren time for bi-partisan cooperation late in 2015, both Democrats and Republicans were happy to get rid of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The K-12 education law was almost universally excoriated as being a failure—particularly in that most important goal of closing the achievement gap. Looking at long-term trends from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, gains were seen in some areas but the achievement gap was stuck. NCLB provided no upward blips on the charts. Thus, it is stunning that the successor law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed by Congress last December, is basically an extension of NCLB. Fundamentally, ESSA maintains the same philosophy and direction. It is still a standardized test-driven system that is punitive in nature. The main difference is that states are now responsible for designing the enforcement systems—which must be approved by the federal government. But states will not likely make many fundamental changes. They have invested heavily in their systems, as have local schools and districts. Test-based accountability has been the law of the land for the past 30 years—which means that it is the only system that many educators have experienced. Furthermore, vendors, textbook manufacturers, testing companies, consultants and the like have a strong bias toward protecting their investment—even while acknowledging that it didn’t work.”

What are the specific problems with No Child Left Behind-style school policy?  “First, children who are hungry, suffering from malnutrition and live in substandard conditions are highly unlikely to score well on tests. We will never close the achievement gap until we close the opportunity gap… While giving considerable lip service to the plight of poor children and children of color, we have not backed-up our rhetoric with our actions… The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (of which NCLB and ESSA are the latest versions) has always been intended to address these disparities, but it has never been adequately funded.”

“Second, test-based accountability does not improve learning.  Psychologist B.F. Skinner taught us more than 60 years ago that negative reinforcement has unpredictable and undesirable consequences. Yet, we embarked on a path of test and punishment whose inevitable outcome was sadly predictable.” Mathis and Trujillo add that third, the various punishments including the prescribed school turnarounds failed. These included firing teachers, closing schools, and changing public schools into charter schools. Fourth, “The invisible hand of the market was to be the solution primarily through charters and privatizing schools… A growing body of literature shows that charter schools do not perform better than traditional public schools and they segregate schools by race and by socio-economic status.”

What about the underlying assumption of the whole scheme—that we have the capacity accurately to measure school quality?  There is a big debate going on right now about whether states should provide a single summative “grade” for the state’s schools and school districts. Here is Mathis and Trujillo’s analysis: “The problem is in defining what should be measured, how it should be tallied, and how multiple scores can be combined into one… The challenge is that schools have many purposes and each would lend itself to a different way of measuring and weighing… The companion difficulty is trying to validly represent an important feature with an imperfect measure….  What is a valid combination and weighting of… measures?  Or does one exist?  Should the math scores be double the ELA (English Language Arts) scores?  Should they be divided by the attendance rate?  Such decisions are central but are not empirical. They are based on our underlying values.” And, “We learned that evaluating teacher and preparation programs creates a false scientism by placing too much trust in too weak a measure.”

Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms is a collection of peer-reviewed academic studies and is organized conceptually into sections. In this week’s column, Mathis and Trujillo summarize the conclusions of the academic research in each section of the new book.  I believe the first is the most important: “The Opportunity Gap—The primary finding was that students must have opportunities, funding, and resources sufficient to meet what the state requires of them. There have been some 70 or so state adequacy studies and with very few exceptions, they have indicated we are not meeting the needs of students.”

Mathis and Trujillo’s conclusions are sobering, and they reflect much of what I heard earlier this week at my round-table discussion at the Ohio ESSA stakeholder meeting I attended.  I wonder if the people collecting the comments from all the table-by-table conversations will tease out this message, even though I heard it reinforced in dozens of ways throughout the evening:

“The greatest conceptual and most damaging mistake of test-based accountability systems has been the pretense that poorly supported schools could systemically overcome the effects of concentrated poverty and racial segregation by rigorous instruction and testing. This system has inadequately supported teachers and students, has imposed astronomically high goals, and has inflicted punishment on those for whom it has demanded impossible achievements.” “This diverse nation and our common good require all students to be well educated. Yet, we have embarked on economic and educational paths that systematically privilege only a small percentage of the population. In education, we invest less on children of color and poor families. At the same time, we support a testing regime that measures wealth rather than providing a rich kaleidoscope of experience and knowledge to all. And we do not hold ourselves responsible for the basic denial of equal opportunities.”

I urge you to read and then re-read Mathis and Trujillo’s commentary published on Monday by Valerie Strauss.  It is a discerning indictment of the public school policy that now pervades our society.

You can read Jan Resseger’s outstanding blog at –

Race to the Bottom: A story about the strings attached to federal funding;


On any given day, Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and other “education reformers” including superintendents in Bridgeport, Hartford and elsewhere are racing around – often in circles – in pursuit of some of the money that is being handed out by the United States Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program.

Applications and waivers are the terms of the day as more and more states and cities promise to implement reforms in return for more federal funding.

In the rush, some elected and appointed officials forget that while the preamble of a bill or program may sound great, you’d better read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.

That message came through loud and clear earlier this month when the Malloy Administration quietly submitted Senate Resolution No. 14.  With no press release or even an explanation, the language of the bill reads;

January Session, 2013 of the Connecticut General Assembly

Senate Resolution No.14


Resolved by the Senate:

That the provisions of the settlement agreement dated January 30, 2013, between the United States of America, acting through the United States Department of Justice and on behalf of the United States Department of Education, and the State of Connecticut, acting through the office of the Attorney General and on behalf of the Connecticut State Department of Education, requiring an expenditure from the General Fund budget in excess of two million five hundred thousand dollars and submitted by the Attorney General to this Assembly for approval in accordance with section 3-125a of the general statutes, are approved

Not the easiest piece of legislation to decipher, but in essence is says that on January 30, 2013, an agreement was signed between the federal government and the state of Connecticut dealing with some problem between the United States Department of Education and the Connecticut State Department of Education, and to resolve that problem, Connecticut will be issuing a check to the federal government for an amount in excess of $2.5 million.

So what is the story?

It turns out that in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Connecticut State Department of Education applied for and was granted funds from the United States Department of Education’s National Initiative to Ensure Child Eligibility for Title I, Part C, Migrant Education Program.

The state spent those funds on various education programs that it believed met the rules and regulations of the program.

However, the federal government charged that the Connecticut State Department of Education “submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for payment or approval by misrepresenting the number of children in Connecticut who qualified for federal MEP funding.”

It is not that the federal government was saying the Connecticut’s State Department of Education stole the funds or spent them on non-education expenses; the problem appears to be the programs being funded may have helped children other than just the children of migrant workers.

In any case, after nearly a decade of investigations and negotiations, costing untold amounts of money, the federal government and the State of Connecticut recently signed an agreement that the State of Connecticut will pay back a portion of the funds….about $4.5 million.

However, as the agreement makes clear, “This Agreement is neither an admission of liability by the State, nor a concession by the United States that its claims are not well-founded.”

Bottom line – Connecticut agrees to pay back the funds but everyone agrees that the agreement does not imply that we were guilty of anything.

So in the coming years, Connecticut taxpayers will pay the United States government the sum of $4,500,000 with  non-Federal funds .  It actually starts with an initial payment of $1,500.000 within forty-five calendar days after the approval of the agreement by the Connecticut General Assembly, with annual payments due until the full amount has been paid).

In addition, the state will pay interest on the unpaid portion of the stipulated amount.

And, if for some reason the General Assembly rejects the agreement, bad things will happen that will undoubtedly cost the state even more.

So all in favor, say yes…

Case closed.

Connecticut asked for the money, it spent the money, it probably even thought it was spending the money in the right way, but the federal government said Connecticut failed to spend the money correctly and we now have to pay it back, with interest.

Of course, this migrant education program was minor compared to the amount of funds and the level of federal rules and restrictions associated with the federal government’s massive No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funding.

And yet just the other day, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education were talking about changes and flexibility associated with Connecticut’s absurd teacher evaluation system, but there was virtually no mention that the federal waiver Malloy, Pryor and the state requested and received puts severe limitations on just how much “flexibility” Connecticut has in some of these areas.

We took the money but the rules we have to spend it under will actually do severe harm to many of our public schools.

Remember, when the “education reformers” tell us not to worry about the restrictive rules concerning No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the federal government will let us do whatever we want as long as we adopt some education reforms, remind them about this new Senate Resolution 14 that will cost us $4.5 million, plus interest.

It is a question every legislator should be asked.

And while you’re doing that, ask them why the Malloy administration is providing so little information about this settlement.