It’s About Time

President Barack Obama signs the “Every Student Succeeds Act" (AP photo)

Good things happen to those who wait.

Having not read the entire 1,016 pages of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 10, I’m not totally prepared to hail it as the best thing since the ukulele.

I am, however, pleased to see something about as rare as Halley’s Comet in a carwash, and that is the passage of a major bill in Congress during a presidential campaign. Even more impressive, it is a bill that reflects a bipartisan compromise.

At first glance, it appears to be a vast improvement over No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2002 and has been scheduled for renewal since 2007. In the eight years it has been up for renewal, No Child Left Behind has become progressively more convoluted. First there were U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top initiatives and, later, the waivers doled out to avoid labeling every school in the nation a failure because none met the 100 percent proficiency standards set in the Oz-like vision of No Child Left Behind.

Every Student Succeeds acknowledges that states and local districts might be better equipped to understand what it will take for every student to succeed within their own communities. It maintains the annual testing of students in grades three through eight, and once in high school.

But it doesn’t force a federal accountability template over this testing, nor does it dictate, as did NCLB and Race to the Top, the corrective actions required of school officials when a building fails to meet academic goals.

The federal corrective actions were the most egregious component of No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top. If a district struggled because of its community’s challenges with immigrants, refugees, poverty, rapidly diminished socioeconomic status or a combination of all of the above, the bureaucrats in D.C. said they should close the building, turn it into a charter school, fire the principal and half the staff or develop a transformation plan that would include leadership change.

♥If you were to ask an experienced educator about strategies to improve student achievement, very few would say “Hey, I saw a funny sign once at a business. It said ‘The Firings Will Continue Until Morale Improves. Let’s try that!’

Nor would many business executives tell you their first and best attempt to improve performance at a factory or a store was to close it down.

An experienced educator would tell you it is likely students need more time on task, more concentrated efforts to meet their individual needs, better prepared teachers, lower class sizes and shorter summer breaks to overcome learning loss. There are many evidence-based practices to improve student performance. Firing staff to improve performance is rarely one of them.

So, we have the opportunity for something of a fresh start. There’s been far too much emphasis on testing, far too much teaching to the test and far too little inspirational and engaging learning. Students are bored, confused and overwhelmed with content they don’t know how they’ll use later in life.

Our schools will remain under the current rules for 2016 and states will develop their own assessment and accountability plans in 2016-17 for implementation in 2018-19.

Our educational leaders, the new state superintendent and the superintendents communities have hired to lead their local school districts need to immediately begin to put together their own agenda for improved student achievement.

To wait for someone else to do it would be a big mistake. NCLB, Race to the Top and the myriad state laws that followed were developed by attorneys, legislators and legislative staffers who’d never set foot in a classroom except when they were students themselves.

Our professional educators can’t squander this chance to develop a new plan, a new system of assessment, accountability and school improvement.

The waiting is over. If we fumble this one, we deserve whatever we get.

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