Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Last year, I wrote that the Every Student Succeeds Act “ESSA reverses the federal role in education and returns nearly full discretion to the states.” I predicted that the flexibility afforded to states in devising their new ESSA accountable schemes would make “educational opportunity a random occurrence rather than a legal guarantee.” States would manipulate their accountability schemes and rely on a convoluted set of factors that effectively make it impossible to get a sense of school performance.
Early looks at these accountability systems suggest my prediction was correct. A recent analysis of California’s new ESSA system found,
Nearly 80% of schools serving grades three through eight are ranked as medium- to high-performing in the new ratings, earning them positive colors on report cards sent to parents. Last year in state testing at those same schools, the majority of students failed to reach English and math standards. More than 50 of those schools whose average math scores fell below proficiency receive the dashboard’s highest rating for math.
At the same time, Maryland is also considering legislation that would severely restrict the weight the state board of education could place on student achievement. The Washington Post reports, “Among the restrictions being advanced by lawmakers: limiting measures of actual school effectiveness (student achievement, student growth and graduation) to 55 percent of a school’s accountability rating, in favor of factors such as teacher satisfaction; . . . and barring the state from taking significant actions to reform the worst-performing schools, even after districts have had years to set them straight.”
State flexibility is not, as Betsy DeVos claims, being use to unleash the creativity and good faith efforts. It is being used to hide the fact that states are and have been doing a poor job providing equal and quality educational opportunities. To be clear, this does not mean that the No Child Left Behind took the correct approach or that standardized tests should drive school quality. But a common and transparent yardstick for school accountability is important. ESSA is allowing states to devolve into a system of apples, oranges, pears, watermelons, and lemons. By doing so, it deprives us of the ability to compare schools in any meaningful respect. For that reason, the new accountability systems are not simply hard to interpret, they are a complete waste of time.
Rather than devise a convoluted accountability system, Congress should have just fessed up to the fact that it was abandoning the federal role in education. Instead, it sought to keep up the ruse by requiring states to waste a lot of time and effort on these new systems.
For my full analysis of how the Every Student Succeeds Act abandons the federal role in education and what else is likely to come, see here.