Bill is Promising Sign Congress Heeding Educators & Parents
by Roberta Mayor, President Education Institute of Hawaii, 4/22/15 in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Kudos to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patti Murray for crafting a compromise bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that surprisingly shows so much common sense and proposes greater flexibility to the states.
This compromise bill is a promising sign that Congress has heeded the concerns from educators and parents from various states across the nation.
For several years under Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the federal government has been dictating to states specific educational "fixes" for low-performing schools, with punitive consequences to the schools if not achieved, to the detriment of our students.
As the ESEA has not been reauthorized by Congress, "Race to the Top" offered federal dollars to states to implement prescribed federal reforms, which included annual one-size-fits-all testing, closing and/or reconstituting low-performing schools, making student performance scores part of the teacher evaluation system, dictating a Common Core curriculum and common assessments. Teachers are largely being blamed for poor student performance.
The Hawaii Department of Education embraced these federal reforms through the Race to the Top incentive without questioning whether the reforms reflected sound educational pedagogy. However, after four years and $76 million, the "Race" effort here has produced minimal gains in student performance and, by blaming school level workers instead of supporting their work, has greatly demoralized teachers and principals.
In a recent survey by the Education Institute of Hawaii, principals expressed strong criticism of these top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates, and bemoan the lack of flexibility at the school level to tailor the instructional program to best meet the needs of the children in their school community.
The new bill to reauthorize the ESEA will change the name "No Child Left Behind" to "The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015," and will curb the authority of the U.S. Department of Education to control state education systems. It will further:
» Maintain annual student testing, but will leave to the states the decision on the choice of the test and how to use the scores.
» Prohibit the federal government from mandating to states how to fix or reform a low-performing school.
» Allow states, not require states, to create a teacher evaluation system.
» Allow states, not require states, to adopt or maintain a set of standards, which could include the Common Core standards.
» Allow states, not require states, to establish accountability programs for low-performing schools.
If this bill is enacted, Hawaii's DOE superintendent and the Board of Education will have to exercise independent leadership to improve our schools without relying on top-down federal mandates. If they work in partnership with principals and teachers in each of our unique schools, the outcome will be positive for students and for those responsible for their learning. Let's hope they listen to the school-level folks who work directly with our children.