Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The interwebs are blowing up-- and, frankly, kind of freaking out-- over the newest Congressional round of Hey Maybe We Might Do Something regarding the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently stomping around under brain-eating zombie nom de nom nom nom of No Child Left Behind).

All the usual debate topics have erupted again, with the usual challenge in figuring out who exactly sides with whom. The two basic sides seem to boil down to "If we don't get everything we want, then we must take everybody's balls and go home" and "You know, a leak in the roof is still better than an ax murderer in the house."

In the second group we find folks like Mike Petrilli, who points out that conservatives got much of what they want and lefties-- well, he runs the old talking point about the civil rights awesomeness of giving test manufacturers lots of money. Meanwhile, Leonie Haimson points out that ECAA effectively defangs the feds and takes most of the high stakes away from the testing monster. Or as I put it when I first wrote about the rewrite:

The new ESEA doesn't dismantle the machine that has been chewing up public ed so much as it forces the USED to hand the keys to the Leveller over to the states.

Yes, in its current form the rewrite loves testing and charters way too much. But this is also an excellent time to think about being practical. Because as much as I don't care for aspects of the proposed ESEA, I keep remembering that this is not a choice between a bad law from this Congress and some other perfect law from some other imaginary Congress. The choice is between a new crappy law written by this Congress and NCLB.

Let me say that again. On the one hand we have a law written and passed by a Congress filled with anti-public ed representatives, free market fans, and people who generally don't know much about education except what they've heard from the corporate lobbyists hanging around their lobby-- a law that must then be signed by a President who has made it pretty clear that he likes reformster policies just fine. That's the choice on one side.

On the other side, we have No Child Left Behind.

On the one side, a lousy rewrite job.

On the other side, a law that made us realize that there are laws that simply can't be any worse, used to leverage RttT/waiver pseudo laws that made us say, "Oh, wait! I was wrong! You can make it worse!"

For me, the specifics of certain aspects of the law are not as important as shifting the locus of power, and the new bill does that. Yes, some states will use their newly-restored education control to implement terrible, awful, stupid, no good, very bad ideas. But when a state implements a terrible idea, that is a fail rate of 1/50 for the nation. When the US Education Department implements a terrible idea, that's a 50/50 fail rate.

There is much to debate in the bill, including what's in the bill. Christel Swasey is pretty sure it stomps on the opt-out movement, while Leonie Haimson is pretty sure it does the exact opposite. And there's still amending to do, all before the President, perhaps, sends it all back to the drawing board.

But at the end of the day, I don't think the rewrite would be a major crisis because it would still be better than what we've got, and what we've got is what we'll have until ESEA is finally rewritten.

Yes, high stakes standardized testing should go away, completely, forever. But defanging it even a little is an improvement. Yes, the continued implied love of Common Core (under its new handle "college and career standards") sucks. Yes, the various regulations designed to keep that sweet, sweet tax money flowing to various corporate pockets is offensive and stupid and corrupt. But it's still all better than what we've got, and what we've got is what we'll have until a rewrite is passed.

Meanwhile, the interwebs continue to blow up and Congress continues to get an earful, which is great-- that's how things should work. Write, phone, call, tweet-- I surely am, and you should, too. But if this bill is killed, all we get is the old law which has long been dead, but will not lie down and leave us alone.

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