The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is now law. Once again the Congress and the Federal government is going to fix schools. They have been trying to do this unsuccessfully for the better part of half a century. ESSA is going to improve education by lightening up dramatically on the reins the Secretary of Education has over the public school systems of our nation. Now the U.S. Secretary may not prescribe goals for students, neither long nor short term. It cannot tell states how to fix failing schools. States cannot be rewarded nor punished in order to get them to use a particular curriculum, including Common Core. By the way, this NEVER was a federal curriculum but we won’t go there. The feds cannot tell states what parameters to use to evaluate teachers, so that means test scores can go for teacher evaluations, only IF states choose. States can’t be forced to use a specific measure of accountability. Test scores are supposed to be used for accountability but the feds can’t say how. I think you get the picture. This is a state’s rights law. No Child Left Behind left heavy paw prints on everyone’s behind. ESSA not so much. NCLB didn’t improve our education system, and truly I doubt ESSA will either. I have been in education long enough to see the winds blow in multiple directions.
OK, if I am such a hot shot, what would improve our nation's education system?
In my view the biggest impediment to having a top education system is the heavy weight of mediocre and plain bad schoolteachers. School systems either won’t or can’t get rid of them. Union rules set up more hoops than a circus acrobat that administrators much jump through. Few administrators have the stomach or the energy to do so. We need great teachers for differing groups of kids. Some teachers do really well with kids who are smart and into the liberal arts; other teachers are great in the STEM subjects. Some humans love to work with kids who are learning challenged. Other people like to teach the average Joe. Why don’t we let teachers teach the kinds of kids they like to teach? We already know that children learn more from teachers they like than they do from the ones they don’t like. I am betting it works that way for teachers too.
Secondly, if we can get the best teachers in the classrooms with the kinds of kids they like to teach, could we please get out of the way and let them do their jobs!!? Ditch the pacing guides and the one-size-fits-all curriculum. Doesn’t work in dresses and doesn’t work in curriculum. Algebra 2 is great if a kid is going to college in one of the STEM fields, for others they will never use it again. Why are we wasting the time of those kids?
While we are at it, let’s stop stereotyping low achievers. Tell the truth, when you read about high risk kids and low achieving kids, how often does the image of a poor white kid come to mind. And when you think of a gifted and talented student, do you see an African American student or a student with a disability? We have these images in our minds of what these kids look like and it is not fair to anyone.
That’s it. Clean and simple. Hire (or fire if needs be) the very best type of teacher for every kind of kid. Let teachers participate in the groupings. Let’s not make it a sin to not enjoy working with a particular kind of learner. Then just give them the materials they need and get out of the way.
I think that might work. At least it is something that hasn’t been tried yet; and we don’t need a new law to do it.