Dec 11 2015
This week, following the Senate’s vote of approval, President Obama signed into law the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” which reauthorized federal K-12 education policy for five years.
This represents a serious setback for America’s schools, teachers, and students, one that will have sweeping consequences for decades to come. Because when we get education policy wrong – as this law does and as we have for so many years – it affects not just the quality of education students receives as children, but the quality of life available to them as adults.
The problem is not just the particular provisions of the law, but the dysfunctional and outdated model of education on which it’s built – a model that concentrates authority over education decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, instead of parents, teachers, principals, and local school boards.
For the past 50 years, this model has defined and guided the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – and the Every Student Succeeds Act is no exception.
Not coincidentally, this central-planning model has also failed to produce any meaningful improvements in academic achievement – especially for students from low-income communities.
In fact, since 1969, test scores in reading and math have hardly budged for public school students of all ages – even while per-pupil spending has nearly doubled and school staff has increased more than 80 percent.
And yet, here we are: once again stuck with another federal K-12 education law built on the model that has trapped so many kids in failing schools and confined America’s education system to a state of stagnant mediocrity for half a century.
This is not simply a failure of policy – it’s a failure of imagination.
Our 1960s-era, top-down model of elementary and secondary schooling has endured, essentially unchallenged, for so many decades that the education establishment has come to take it for granted. For many policymakers and education officials in Washington and in state capitals around the country, the only reform proposals that are given the time of day are those that seek to standardize America’s classrooms, enforce uniformity across school districts, and systematize the way that teachers teach and the way that students learn.
But schools are not factories; education can’t be systematized; learning can’t be centrally planned.
So instead of imposing an obsolete conformity on an invariably varied environment, we should be trying to customize and personalize K-12 education for every student.
"But schools are not factories; education can’t be systematized; learning can’t be centrally planned."
We know that local control over K-12 – and even pre-K – education is more effective than Washington, D.C.’s prescriptive, heavy handed approach, because we’ve seen it work in communities all across the country.
For years, education entrepreneurs in the states – including my home state of Utah – have been implementing and refining policies that put parents, teachers, principals, and school boards back in control of education policy.
But Washington is standing in the way, distrustful of any alternative to the top-down education status quo. And under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Washington’s outdated, conformist policies will continue to be in the way.
Which is why I voted against the bill, and why I will continue fighting for real K-12 education reforms that empower teachers and parents with the tools they need to meet the unique educational needs of their students and children.