Will we really see federal restraint in new K‑12 law?
Friday, February 26, 2016
The Every Student Succeeds Act — the new federal K-12 education law — has received plenty of accolades already, but even its advocates are unsure of the level of federal intervention going forward.
At the National Governors Association's winter meeting last week, governors from across the country voiced their concerns about Washington bureaucrats' inability to stay out of state implementations. Going by past history, this is a valid concern indeed.
Then again, maybe they deserve some benefit of the doubt because this new law urges a rather dramatic limitation of federal control over schools that has lasted for more than a decade. The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Barack Obama in December, offers incredible opportunity for individual states to set and maintain their academic standards.
Skeptics are on the lookout for hidden federal mandates, but many are upbeat about the changes in elementary and secondary education policy that have been long due. Some, like Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, plan to monitor the U.S. Education Department closely just to check whether they are following the principles of federalism.
Burning issues like whether the states will allow for test scores to measure school quality and dictate state plans to improve underperforming schools will be at the forefront now. With fewer federal restrictions, there could be a sea change in not just school and district evaluations — and subsequently their funding — but also in teacher evaluations.
Under the new law, the federal government should offer active guidance or issue regulations only in cases where there is mutual agreement with the states and local districts. According to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., there is no reason to worry.
The fact that the Every Student Succeeds Act passed by large bipartisan margins goes a long way to show that there are many advocates for loosening the federal stronghold even within the government. A key negotiator in passing the new law, Alexander called it "taking away power from the administration."
Answering concerns about federal interference and turning the Education Department into a national school board which programs like the Race to the Top did in the past, he said the new law prohibits such conditions. Alexander has urged the states to focus on creating the best of plans that will not only get easy approval but also set higher teaching and educational standards.
This complete guided overhaul of K-12 law has been an imperative need to correct the many mistakes that has left the system reeling. The new law is focused on bridging the yawning gap in the various state curricula.
States like Massachusetts have already started reviewing their educational practices as per the latest reauthorization of the 50-year-old national education law, which was originally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Moving away from the "substantial" federal authority over K-12 education will allow them and other states to determine their own long-range goal for education improvement.
Though some governors and educators are quite unsure that the federal government can manage a hands-off approach after years of dominance over local schools, most are hopeful for some positive change.
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