I’ve received a barrage of emails, Facebook messages, and calls about Education Secretary DeVos’ recent speech where she made a claim that Common Core was “dead.”
It is not dead. Nor will it be until the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is dead.
In her prepared remarks, DeVos talks about Common Core being dead at the Department of Education. That’s a nice thought, but it is NOT dead in the states.
In the part of her speech leading up to the ‘Common Core is dead’ line, DeVos criticizes the past administrations handling of education policies like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Bear in mind, ESEA was like an education version of the Titanic and Congress rearranged the deck chairs to get ESSA.
Stay with me, this excerpt is long but the context is important.
President Bush, the “compassionate conservative,” and Senator Kennedy, the “liberal lion,” both worked together on the law. It said that schools had to meet ambitious goals… or else. Lawmakers mandated that 100 percent of students attain proficiency by 2014. This approach would keep schools accountable and ultimately graduate more and better-educated students, they believed.
Turns out, it didn’t. Indeed, as has been detailed today, NCLB did little to spark higher scores. Universal proficiency, touted at the law’s passage, was not achieved. As states and districts scrambled to avoid the law’s sanctions and maintain their federal funding, some resorted to focusing specifically on math and reading at the expense of other subjects. Others simply inflated scores or lowered standards.
The trend line remains troubling today. According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress data, two-thirds of American fourth graders still can’t read at the level they should. And since 2013, our 8th grade reading scores have declined.
Where the Bush administration emphasized NCLB’s stick, the Obama administration focused on carrots. They recognized that states would not be able to legitimately meet the NCLB’s strict standards. Secretary Duncan testified that 82 percent of the nation’s schools would likely fail to meet the law’s requirements — thus subjecting them to crippling sanctions.
The Obama administration dangled billions of dollars through the “Race to the Top” competition, and the grant-making process not so subtly encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the “largest-ever federal investment in school reform.” Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies — essentially making law while Congress negotiated the reauthorization of ESEA.
Unsurprisingly, nearly every state accepted Common Core standards and applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in “Race to the Top” funds. But despite this change, the United States’ PISA performance did not improve in reading and science, and it dropped in math from 2012 to 2015.
Then, rightly, came the public backlash to federally imposed tests and the Common Core. I agree – and have always agreed – with President Trump on this: “Common Core is a disaster.” And at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.
On a parallel track, the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants sought to fix targeted schools by injecting them with cash. The total cost of that effort was seven billion dollars.
One year ago this week, the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences released a report on what came of all that spending. It said: “Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”
There we have it: billions of dollars directed at low-performing schools had no significant impact on student achievement.
So, in a nutshell – none of the government’s big ideas on education have produced much in the way of success or increased achievement.
Yet, DeVos turns around and then heaps praise on ESSA as somehow returning power to the states. It does no not.
As part of ESSA states are required to submit their education plans and standards selections to the U.S. Department of education for approval. How is this local control?
In requiring states to provide such plans, states who already are using Common Core are not locked into keeping it since the only ‘approved’ set of standards, per Arne Duncan and Race To The Top, are the Common Core standards.
Again, this is a long excerpt, but it is important to read the entire context of her ESSA remarks. Emphasis added is mine.
First, we need to recognize that the federal government’s appropriate role is not to be the nation’s school board. My role is not to be the national superintendent nor the country’s “choice chief” – regardless of what the union’s “Chicken Littles” may say! Federal investments in education, after all, are less than 10 percent of total K-12 expenditures, but the burdens created by federal regulations in education amount to a much, much larger percentage.
The Every Student Succeeds Act charted a path in a new direction. ESSA takes important steps to return power where it belongs by recognizing states – not Washington — should shape education policy around their own people. But state lawmakers should also resist the urge to centrally plan education. “Leave it to the states” may be a compelling campaign-season slogan, but state capitols aren’t exactly close to every family either. That’s why states should empower teachers and parents and provide the same flexibility ESSA allows states.
But let’s recognize that many states are now struggling with what comes next. State ESSA plans aren’t the finish line. Those words on paper mean very little if state and local leaders don’t seize the opportunity to truly transform education. They must move past a mindset of compliance and embrace individual empowerment.
Under ESSA, school leaders, educators and parents have the latitude and freedom to try new approaches to serve individual students.
My message to them is simple: do it!
Embrace the imperative to do something truly bold… to challenge the status quo… to break the mold.
One important way to start this process is to make sure that parents get the information they want and need about the performance of their children’s schools and teachers. ESSA encourages states to be transparent about how money is spent, down to the school-building level.
Some states have developed information that is truly useful for parents and teachers. Others have worked just as hard to obfuscate what is really going on at their schools. To empower parents, policymakers and teachers, we can’t let “the system” hide behind complexity to escape accountability.
We must always push for better.
ESSA is a good step in the right direction. But it’s just that – a step. We still find ourselves boxed in a “system,” one where we are in a constant battle to move the ball between the 40-yard lines of a football field. Nobody scores, and nobody wins. Students are left bored in the bleachers, and many leave, never to return.
Secretary DeVos, you claim to champion school choice and local control yet there you are praising what is essentially a federal shock collar on state education agencies.
Please, clean house at the Department of Education. The John King holdovers are doing you no favors and clearly, you are confused about the wonders of ESSA.