Written by Alex Dersh
Congressional politics get a bad rap these days, and for good reason. Partisanship and gridlock have made this branch of government an unprecedentedly hated institution. Out of all the problems that Washington D.C. cannot solve, education reform is one of the most critical. Sufficiently educating the country’s children is important and prevalent to everyone. Thankfully, recent developments on Capitol Hill give reason to believe that compromise and problem-solving are not yet dead. This December, the House overwhelmingly passed a major education overhaul crafted by Republicans and Democrats that would upend the federal framework of the 2001 law No Child Left Behind. Reforming this widely criticized relic of the Bush administration by passing the Every Student Succeeds Act decreases school dependence on standardized tests and improves education in multiple other ways as well.
This bill looks to be the first successful effort at replacing No Child Left Behind. The new bill passed through the House with bipartisan majorities and looks ready to pass the Senate and become law. Significant concessions were made on both sides, and while some of these would have made the bill much better had they been included, the necessity of creating a bill that could pass through Congress was worth the omissions. Great legislation in American history succeeds because both sides of the aisle collaborate to make the best bill possible.
This bipartisan legislation is a step in the right direction toward ending a national obsession with standardized testing, reforming accountability requirements and shrinking the heavy-handed and centralized role of the federal government in education. It would move away from a school rating system overly reliant on student test scores by allowing states more flexibility in how to assess teachers and students, putting to rest attempts to tie teacher pay to test scores. The amount of funding schools receive, determined by a formula assessing school quality, would be evaluated with a more holistic combination of student and parent engagement, school climate and graduation rates, along with test scores. This change in evaluation would lessen pressure on schools to obsess over testing in order to secure better funding, which is currently dependent in great part on test scores.
The federal government would no longer be able to mandate or incentivize states to adopt sets of standards such as Common Core, thereby freeing states to adopt standards they feel are more appropriate and tailored to citizens of specific states. Accountability measures are strengthened, requiring states to intervene in the lowest performing 5 percent of schools, as well as ones with persistent achievement gaps and high dropout rates. The bill would also double-down on state commitments to ensure that all students, regardless of race or background, have access to a quality education. This honors our nation’s principles by reaffirming our commitment to equal educational opportunities for kids of all backgrounds.
Gunn, along with high schools nationwide, saw first-hand the unpopularity of Common Core’s standardized testing requirements. The test, named “Smarter Balanced,” attracted embarrassingly low participation rates from juniors. Classrooms frequently had more test administrators than test takers, and reports from across the country signaled huge percentages of students opting out of the assessment. This example illustrates the poorly implemented and poorly received testing requirements outlined by federal law and makes clearer the necessity of reform in testing standards.
The endless tug-of-war between competing interest groups in the education debate may finally come to a head with the passage of this landmark legislation. Now out of the House, Every Student Succeeds Act awaits becoming law. With the passage of landmark education reform looking more certain by the hour, our politicians finally seem now to be giving the necessity of reforming our educational system more than lip service.