Tuesday, March 14, 2017
The structure the Every Student Succeeds Act creates for supporting, monitoring, and improving public schools is, in the collective, incoherent. The Every Student Succeeds Act is the popular title of the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Every Student Succeeds Act, however, stands apart from its predecessors. All prior versions have been premised on improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged students by promoting equality in inputs, equality in outputs, or both. The Every Student Succeeds Act proceeds as though we can improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged students without equality in inputs or outputs. This would be quite a novel, if not incoherent, thesis.
In a lecture last week, I remarked that the more forgiving thesis I might ascribe to the Act is that if the federal government would get out of the way of states states would devise their own new theories by which to achieve equality or would simply achieve input and/or output equality of their own volition. Yesterday, Betsy DeVos confirmed my speculation was correct. At the annual legislative conference of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 68 big-city school system, DeVos remarked “When Washington gets out of your way, you should be able to unleash new and creative thinking to set children up for success.”
I knew it. Washington is the problem and the Every Student Succeeds Act has cured it. States did not really need the couple hundred billion dollars that the federal government gave to states during the recession to keep their education budgets from falling off a cliff and teachers being wholesale dismissed. It was really the federal government that made states cut education by 20 or so percent once they exhausted federal stimulus funds. It was really the federal government that forced some states to slash taxes rather than fund education. It was really the federal government that has insisted that over half of the states continue to fund education at levels below the pre-recession years, even though their tax revenues exceed pre-recession levels. It was really the federal government that insisted that states spend more money in schools that do not serve low-income students than in those that do.
If only President Obama had appointed Betsy Devos eight years ago, we could have avoided this mess.
Or maybe the flawed logic of the Every Student Succeeds Act and Betsy DeVos are just window dressing for the fact that many no longer believe equality is possible or a virtue worth pursuing. This is an idea that would likely cause many educators and families to revolt, just as they did in opposition to DeVos, which is why the window dressing is necessary.
For more on the federal role in education and the Every Student Succeeds Act, see here.