New federal school law more realistic

The following editorial is from the York Daily Record, Pa:

Dec. 11—Goodbye, No Child Left Behind. You’ve been left behind — thank goodness.

Hello, Every Student Succeeds Act. It remains to be seen whether you’re a worthy successor.

Last week, President Obama signed a new federal school improvement law. It seems a little better than its predecessor — or at least more realistic.

The goal of No Child Left Behind — 100 percent proficiency by 2014 — was admirable but practically unachievable. It always seemed a little like the description of students in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, “Where all the children are above average.”

This new law ratchets down the high-stakes standardized testing somewhat. Most York County educators seem pleased with it, saying it will provide more state and local control.

The outsized federal involvement in NCLB was a sticking point — particularly, in recent years, among conservatives.

Testing mania might have gotten out of hand, but it’s important to note that this new law still calls for testing — and rightly so. We need a good testing regimen to determine how well our schools are performing.

It’s interesting that the politics of this issue seem to have shifted over the years. Time was, conservatives were demanding accountability from public schools. Hold teachers to high standards and test to make sure they meet them, they demanded. Then came a backlash, and now many conservatives oppose the Common Core initiative designed to assure students are tested for proficiency on, well, common, core skills and knowledge.

The rallying cry has been to leave that to state and local officials.

Interestingly, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, was part of a small minority that voted against the Every Student Succeeds Act. He said he voted for an earlier form of the legislation, the Student Success Act, in July, which “offered a better way forward for education reform by returning responsibility for student achievement to the states, school districts and parents, while eliminating ineffective federal programs and wisely investing limited taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately many of these achievements were weakened as part of the eventual House-Senate Conference Agreement. The new legislation creates new federal programs and removes language allowing parents to opt their children out of federally mandated testing, instead shifting the burden to states to allow parents to do so. No one has a better understanding of a child’s strengths and weaknesses than his/her parents. This bill marginally improves existing policy, but we should’ve done much better.”

With all due respect to Rep. Perry and to parents in general: Not all parents have a good understanding of their children’s educational strengths and weaknesses. Many parents are uninvolved, dysfunctional or were low educational achievers themselves. Making it too easy for parents to exempt their children from standardized testing is just a bad idea.

Yes, testing can be overdone, but we still need it to assess how well our schools are performing.

And really, it makes sense to have a nationwide assessment tool, so useful comparisons can be made across schools, districts and state lines.

Math is the same in Hanover as it is in Honolulu. If kids don’t understand it, it doesn’t really matter what their parents think. They’re not going to be successful.

Here’s hoping the Every Student Succeeds Act can achieve a reasonable balance across the board.


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