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NCLB Is Dead: ESSA is Law (After President Signs It)

Now, as never before, our role as citizens and defenders of the common good is necessary.

This was the last time Congress passed a major education law: George W. Bush signed NCLB in 2002. (Tim Sloan/AFP via Getty Images)

The new Every Student Succeeds Act passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote. It will be law as soon as the President signs it, which he has said he will do. No Child Left Behind is history, a cruel law that set goals so far out of reach that it was certain to label every school in the nation a failure. Because of NCLB, data became more important than education. It was a boon for the standardized testing industry. It labeled and ranked schools by test scores and led to cheating, teaching to bad tests, gaming the system (by districts and states), and narrowing the curriculum. Thanks to this dreadful law, many schools abandoned or reduced time for the arts, physical education, recess, science, history, and foreign languages. NCLB was the platform for the even harsher, even more punitive, even more disastrous Race to the Top.

The fight for better education for all now shifts to the states. As Mercedes Schneider reports here, the 1,061 page act was released to the public on November 30. It is now December 9. Who read the entire act? We know from Kenneth Zeichner’s reading of the section on teacher education that the new law opens the doors to alternative routes, in some cases enables institutions to award graduate degrees that have no faculty with graduate degrees (Relay, Match). We know from Mercedes Schneider’s work thatTeach for America moles on the Congressional staff protected TFA. We know from the crowing of charter organizations that the bill protects them.

There is much we don’t know. 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.

Now, as never before, our role as citizens and defenders of the common good is necessary. The Network for Public Education will continue to be in the forefront of the struggles ahead. Plan to join us at our annual meeting in Raleigh on April 16-17 to discuss how we can make our schools ready for all our children, not just a few. And how we can repel the privatization movement in its efforts to capture and profit from what belongs to all of us.

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her most recent book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.  Her previous books and articles about American education include: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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