The Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law last week, was a triumph of bipartisan cooperation between Congress and the administration. The successor to No Child Left Behind, the new law will affect some 50 million students and 3.4 million teachers.
Like No Child Left Behind, which President George W. Bush proposed to reverse the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in education for poor and non-white students, ESSA continues to require mandatory testing. But unlike the earlier law, ESSA returns to the states the ability to develop methods to assess school quality.
“The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones — high standards, accountability, closing the achievement gap, making sure every child was learning,” Obama said at the signing ceremony. “But in practice, it often fell short. … It led to too much testing during classroom time, [forcing] schools and school districts into cookie-cutter reforms that didn’t produce the kind of results that we wanted to see.”
We applaud the bipartisanship of the ESSA effort. Notwithstanding the all-too-familiar political bickering on other issues, Congress and the administration came together on this effort for the purest of reasons: our children. They recognized that an educated citizenry is key to a prosperous future and a secure country and that depriving young Americans an adequate education is an injustice.
We are also encouraged by the enhancement of local control over education under the new law. Local government is better able to effectuate change than the federal government. But that power comes with a responsibility and accountability.
The unfortunate history of education in this country is that those tasked with preparing future generations for an uncertain world often fail at the task. For example, it wasn’t the federal government that wasted taxpayer money, time and other precious resources to pursue false-science and social-engineering approaches in curricula. Rather, it was the very same local school districts who are now going to be invested with new responsibility under ESSA.
The primary reason for No Child Left Behind was that states were leaving millions of children behind. Now that control has returned to municipalities, we urge them to rise above the social wars of the past. Under ESSA, there must be no backsliding. For if we can’t educate our children, what good is everything else?