That faith - apparent on both the left and the right - is grounded in the idea that "if we just return power" to the states, we'll see a renaissance in education in the land. Indeed, all of a sudden, every child will now succeed.
This faith has no foundation to it.
First, it misses the basic fact that the states (and the districts within them) currently have virtually full authority over all education decisions.
The states set their own standards of learning. The states develop their own assessments. The states determine what level of proficiency on those assessments is sufficient to pass or get special credit or attention. The states have the authority to determine acceptable levels of growth and most aspects of their accountability systems and how they work.
On virtually all other matters, the states and their districts have virtually total power: how much they spend, and on what, and under what rules. Even when they get federal aid, they're pretty much on their own on how and on what they should spend the funds.
Yes, there are some strings on the funding, but most state and local officials know how to manage the requirements and remain free, if they don't like the strings, to avoid them by refraining from taking the money.
As to accountability, the federal law does require assessments in certain grades and that state and local officials take action if student growth is insufficient toward state goals. But there's not much other authority left "to return," and there's little else in the proposed legislation that research or effective pressure would suggest will lead to any greater education success.
Whether the law is changed to give states even more flexibility here, it's hard to imagine this leading to improvement. If it has any effect, this flexibility will likely ease pressure, and improvement be made less likely.
Second, the failure or inability of states in the past to achieve greater improvement on their own makes it hard to see the basis for further improvement.
There was absolute stagnation in student achievement for the decade before accountability. There has been stagnation in the wake of federal waivers that have eased the pressure of accountability.
We've recently seen story after story of a general and pervasive inaction or inability in many states to move the needle. This has been so relative to early or adolescent reading, math from arithmetic to algebra, postsecondary readiness, achieving greater levels of English language proficiency, etc., etc. Attached is a link to the latest story on this, one showing the failure of states to use all their abundant resources to turn around low performing schools.
We have made progress in the 2000s, but it appears from research to have been due principally through higher standards, accountability, and a creative tension between all levels of government.
We can give the new federal legislation whatever title we want, but, as Any Rotherham makes clear in his article linked below, there is no reason to believe that legislation with little more to it than a reduction in the pinch of accountability will move us forward. Instead the sad likelihood is that with it we will be going backwards.
- Most states lacked expertise to improve worst schools - The Washington Post
- Congress' Bipartisan NCLB Bill Would Make Education Inequality Worse - US News