The era of No Child Left Behind may be over, but the corporate education paradigm it supported still appears to be firmly in place.
The Senate voted 85-12 (roll call here) on Wednesday to pass an overhaul of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The House approved the legislation last week, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.
As explained by Politico, ESSA (S.1177) "allows states to set their own guidelines for rating schools and improving them, with federal oversight and restrictions. It was a victory for many Republicans and teachers unions, who were allied in their mission to undercut what they viewed as prescriptive, top-down regulation and intrusion into local schools."
"I will be glad to see NCLB left behind, but I do not see how ESSA is a victory for education in the United States."
—Alan Singer, Hofstra University
But while public education advocates hailed the sunset of NCLB—which, as Diane Ravitch noted on Wednesday, "was a boon for the standardized testing industry" and valued data above all else—they warned against holding up its replacement as "a new educational miracle drug."
"There is much we don’t know," Ravitch wrote in a blog post. "What we can say for certain is that the fight for the survival of public education and the teaching profession now shifts to the states. The battle to repel the monetization of education funds goes on. The struggle to allow teachers to teach goes on. The battle to prevent technology entrepreneurs from replacing teachers and mechanizing teaching goes on."
Going further in an op-ed published over the weekend, Hofstra University professor Alan Singer criticized the bill as "a mishmash of compromises between political parties that agree on almost nothing."
"It rewrites bad laws that made things worse," he wrote, "but offers little that will make education better and hidden in the recesses of the 1061-page law are new toxic arrangements, some that may take years to completely emerge."
Among the immediately apparent problems with ESSA, according to Singer and those he cites, is the fact that it "largely keeps the high-stakes testing regime in place and poses a new threat to parents and communities that want to opt-out of the testing."
What's more, as Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle, has revealed, "the provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act that relate to teacher preparation academies have been primarily written to support entrepreneurial programs like those funded by venture philanthropists."
And as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund pointed out in its statement on ESSA, the law's "unnecessary restrictions" on the federal oversight role in education raise concerns about "whether this bill helps to fulfill Brown's promise to ensure equal access to quality educational opportunities, so that all students can succeed and thrive."
"I will be glad to see NCLB left behind," Singer said, "but I do not see how ESSA is a victory for education in the United States. Does anyone believe that low-funded poorly performing states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and West Virginia will create meaningful accountability systems and tests that will expose the low quality public education they offer Black and Latino students?"
"I am not a fan of Common Core and a big opponent of the high-stakes testing regime," he concluded, "but I suspect in the end ESSA will stand for Excusing States for Student Abandonment."