Do I Understand ESEA?

This question — do I understand ESEA — should have been a starting point for President Obama and all 535 members of Congress as they approached the reauthorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act). I’m only attempting to answer the question today because a citizen on Facebook asked it and I happened to see it. It’s an excellent question with answers that have varied according to who is speaking and the depth of their understanding or political motivation.right-question-quotes-8

It is confusing.

ESEA —the original 1965 law— and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) are technically the same law but the similarities in their purposes and methods are few.

Here is an explanation directly from Senator Crapo of Idaho.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 5.16.24 PM ESEA was actually enacted in 1965 and its focus was on funding to children disadvantaged by poverty. The funds were to meet under-privileged children’s educational needs through improved teacher, counselor, and state leadership training, community support services, and increasing support for libraries and learning materials.

We stopped questioning authority?

We stopped questioning authority?

 

The provisions ended in 2007? That’s confusing. It makes it sound as if NCLB ended; it did not! Congress just FAILED at that point to do their jobs and the detrimental effects of the law continued unchecked for eight more years.

Here’s how it once worked.

To implement the original ESEA required low-income communities to identify the needs of impoverished children and develop plans to address those needs. This is because the focus of the law was on meeting the needs of “educationally-deprived” or “disadvantaged” children. This was the mechanism through which the original ESEA lawmakers envisioned offering poor children an equal shot at success in life as best as a good education can.

A committee reviewed the results of the 1965 law less than a year after it was put into action and found that the dollars were being used in a variety of ways….Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 6.32.04 PMThe 1965 ESEA was based on JFK’s vision.Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 3.16.21 PMThe “assessment” requirement was to prove the effectiveness of the school’s plans in meeting the needs of impoverished children. For example, the assessment of program effectiveness in decreasing the number of anemic children might include a variety of indicators (number of low-income parents attending adult nutrition classes, food distribution numbers, number of local nurses trained to educate new parents, final blood screening results, etc.). The assessment was to fit the program of improvement and the only mention of measuring achievement was this…

"Appropriate" was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

“Appropriate” was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

Were “achievement gaps” also monitored? Yes, eventually, but not in this law. It wasn’t the main focus. Monitoring the achievement gap became more important when the U.S. Department of Education was created in part to ensure equal access to quality education. They then went on to create the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is well-respected in the education field and not seen as objectionable by most of the parents who now are protesting and boycotting excessive standardized testing (which was not part of ESEA until NCLB).

Facebook Question: Isn’t it true that schools are entitled to additional federal funding if they meet performance standards?

It is true of the way NCLB was set up through its stipulations to punish low-performing schools and reward high-performing schools based on a free-market model of competition. It is also true because of the way the system set up “grants” of money based on who has the best grant writers and can make their student population perform well on standardized tests, or if they can manipulate their data well.

This was not true with the original ESEA. It’s funding was focused on children from low-income families and an accounting of wise use of federal dollars. Districts receiving federal funds needed to demonstrate results based on an assessment of how well they were meeting the needs of children (inputs) as well as improving success in academics (outcomes).

Facebook Question: Does that mean that schools can ignore ESEA and continue on as before?

Schools in areas of concentrated poverty shouldn’t ignore their dependency on federal education dollars through ESEA. Many use those dollars very wisely because they have honest, hard-working, knowledgeable leadership. Other places lack leadership capacity and play the teach-to-the-test game that narrows what is taught. Unequal access to quality education persists for that reason.

Facebook Question: What is wrong with the government expecting performance for our tax dollars?

Absolutely nothing. But the misunderstanding in this nation is that “performance” on standardized tests equates to the quality of education and equal access to it. It doesn’t.

The truth is counter-intuitive. Standards don’t ensure achievement.

Standardized test scores continue to correlate most closely to a child’s socioeconomic status, which doesn’t usually change dramatically from year to year. Yearly testing of every student for purposes of judging schools from the federal level is an unethical use of standardized tests. NAEP testing is done randomly and has been a good barometer of the achievement gap between rich and poor. (P.S. The gap narrowed most significantly in the two decades following the original ESEA.)

What we should expect in the way of accountability for tax dollars are appropriate indicators of resource inputs, parental and community supports, and a variety of outcomes….indexI could go on, and on….

These were great questions to try to answer! I’m so fortunate to have seen them. This is exactly the type of question/answer session the country needs if we have any hope of getting ESEA reauthorization (and education reform) right.

My thanks to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page for providing the forum that made this conversation possible.

Obviously regular people are asking the right questions while lawmakers remain ignorant of how poverty affects children and how federal education law can help improve the odds of each child having access to quality learning opportunities. We need to remedy that problem before Congress and the president reauthorize ESEA without correcting the mistakes made through No Child Left Behind.

(UPDATE: Too late. Congress & the Obama administration passed the Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA – December 10, 2015. Same mistakes as NCLB. More emphasis on privatizing public education through “charters.”)

If they won’t ask good questions, we must find another way to inform them.

(UPDATE: My suggestion now is to #StopESSA #RepealReplaceESSA #Revolt and have the conversations we need to have.)

Leave a Reply