With great fanfare, President Obama ended the epic failure of a federal education law, otherwise known as “No Child Left Behind,” by signing another soon to be epic failure of a federal education law known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” I admittedly haven’t read the more than one thousand pages that comprise this new law (seriously, more than a thousand pages???), which probably puts me in the company of the vast majority, if not all, of the lawmakers who voted for and brag about it. (Remember that great day in American history when Nancy Pelosi suggested Congress needed to pass Obamacare so they could read it and learn what was in it?) But, because I have personal experience talking to politicians about education and have witnessed firsthand how they think or don’t think, as the case often is, I can confidently state that this new law is, in truth, nothing new at all.
I’ve got to admit that, while their actions have no merit, they are good at staging events in a way that is supposed to convince us that something special is happening. After all, President Obama did have a middle school student at his side when he signed this “historic” education law. That was a nice touch. And, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whose chief claim to fame has been supporting a bill that tests children to death then complaining that schools are testing children to death was also present. Oh, yes, the President was also joined by politicians, most of whom wouldn’t recognize a sound educational idea if it slapped them in the face. In fact, this extravaganza was little more than a repeat performance of President Bush’s ceremonial signing of the “No Child Left Behind” act back in January 2002, which means that in fourteen years the political world has made exactly zero progress with respect to educational reform. Make no mistake about it; the “Every Student Succeeds” act is the same old political nonsense that won’t improve a thing for kids, especially those in need, and is another example of the “all style and no substance” mentality that we should come to expect from lawmakers.
Let’s begin with the pithy new name some public relations guru has concocted. Can someone please explain the difference between “No Child Left Behind” and “Every Student Succeeds?” Let me save you some time. There is none, because they are both political slogans and nothing more. But, you have to admit it is savvy. After all, anyone who would dare suggest that a child should be left behind or that there are students who won’t succeed would open himself/herself up for a political tongue lashing. That way, the pols could focus on verbally attacking their opponent while avoiding engaging in meaningful discussions about how human beings become successful. That diversionary tactic is standard political practice, as you may have noticed by the current political debates.
The press releases have all carefully stated that this new law is the result of a bipartisan effort. That is a code name intended to assure us that this is a good thing. After all, how can it be bad when members of both political parties agreed on it? It can be bad when it has been proven that members of both parties haven’t a clue about education reform. “No Child Left Behind” (created by a Republican) may be bad, but “Race to the Top” (created by a Democrat) is not one whit better. So, don’t be fooled by the old “bipartisan is better” rhetoric.
In an earlier article I wrote after a Republican debate, I issued a warning against believing the candidates’ claims that they supported “local control,” because their definition of local control is that the state government runs everything. Well, voila, here it is; one of the selling points for this new law is that it restores educational decisions to the local level, meaning in Ohio’s case, Columbus, of course. We have mountains of evidence that the politicians in Columbus are just as inept as those in Washington, so how does that help anyone? The fact is, local control in Miami County means decisions are made by the school boards and communities serving the districts of Bethel, Bradford, Covington, Miami East, Milton Union, Newton, Piqua, Tipp City, and Troy, not by politicians in Columbus. We’ve had quite enough of their help.
As Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To think that “Every Student Succeeds” is any different than “No Child Left Behind” would be the very definition of insanity. Don’t be insane.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.