Parents and school boards will be encountering nasty new forms of federal intervention in education for years to come, now that President Obama has signed the mammoth successor to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Despite its many flaws, NCLB lasted almost 14 years, as political gridlock resulted in the year-five deadline for reauthorization stretching another nine years. When a House-Senate conference committee agreed 39–1 on a mere outline of a bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan ordered the 1,061-page measure to be printed, released November 30, and voted on just two days later. It passed in the House 359–64. Just one week later, it sailed through the Senate 85–12.
It is more likely that this latest version of federalized education will last the next 15 years than that Congress will revisit it in five years.
Republican leaders have boasted repeatedly about how the new law, cutely dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), restores considerable control to local school stewards and liberates them from federal hectoring to be Common Core-compliant. Although it is true some irritants, such as mandatory reporting of the average yearly progress measure, will be gone, more pervasive forms of federal influence loom.
Enshrining a New Common Core
It is doubtful many members of Congress found the time to wade through ESSA in the few days following Thanksgiving break to explore its actual contents. One who may have done so was Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who on the House floor delivered a ringing endorsement of the impending federal advancement of “social and emotional learning,” which he described as the essence of a new Common Core.
As recorded by the Truth in American Education blog, Tim Ryan said the “ability to regulate your own emotional state … comes well before science, technology, engineering, and math. … I believe there is a new way of educating our kids emerging here, there is a new Common Core developing, and that is the mental discipline and the physical health of our young people.”
Tim Ryan’s ebullience helps explain why Democrats, at one time skeptical of Republican modifications to NCLB, voted as a solid bloc (181–0, with seven not voting) in favor of ESSA, whereas 64 Republicans, including the body’s staunchest conservatives, voted no.
An American Principles Project (APP) analysis from an opposition perspective confirms the presence of the touchy-feely components that gladden the hearts of Tim Ryan and his liberal colleagues. In addition to preserving the NCLB annual-testing mandate, ESSA requires assessments that “operate more as brain maps than as tests of academic knowledge.” Among other things, schools must explore students’ “higher-order thinking skills,” which necessarily entails subjective testing, an opportunity for all kinds of mischief.
More dubious still is a broad federal definition of required accountability systems, which encompasses not just elements such as “postsecondary readiness” and “school climate and safety,” but “any other indicator” that government may deem desirable. Even the establishment organ Education Week reported on November 24 it was “not unreasonable” to assume such broad language could require “inclusion of students’ social and emotional skills, grit, or growth mindsets in their accountability models.”
ESSA does nothing to protect students and parents from further federal mining of personal data. Through its regulatory powers, the Obama administration already has gutted federal student and family privacy protections, notes the APP analysis. Coupled with the ramping-up of psychosocial assessment, the prospects of federalized education are all the more troubling.
Merry Christmas, Statists!
In addition, federal influence would creep ever closer to the toddler years with ESSA’s codification of federally designed preschool, starting at $250 million, almost certain to burgeon. This venture jibes with the mindset that government knows best in early childhood education, though extensive empirical evidence says otherwise.
There are dozens more ornaments on the ESSA tree that will gladden the hearts of statists this Christmastide but figure to become Halloween nightmares for families and local schools for many years to come.
For instance, the feds will fund, and therefore control, centers for reeducating parents in how to engage in their children’s education. The feds will also initiate Presidential Academies for the Teaching of American History and Civics, which could be a dandy vehicle for advancing the dour perspective on U.S. heritage the Common Core-aligned College Board has sought to instill via rewritten Advanced Placement guidelines.
Of course, if students actually studied the Constitution, they would discover federalization of education is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, even a Congress led by a political party that supposedly believes in limited government has refused to allow states to escape ESSA’s imperious edicts.