The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

The New Law is Better but Not Good Enough

on December 11, 2015

Today’s post is a response to the law just passed by Congress to replace No child Left Behind (NCLB). The New York Times published a piece by David L. Kirp describing that law yesterday, which I found clear and accurate. So, if you can go to that article (link), I suggest that you read it first for a more complete description of the law than I can give here. Then read my analysis and my concerns.


The major changes in the Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) law are the shift from Federal control to state control and the removal of the rewards and punishments for schools that were used by the the Department of Education to ensure compliance.  Yearly student tests will continue, but they will be chosen or designed by the states. In addition, the effectiveness of schools will be judged on more evidence than just test scores. Finally, actions to improve the performance of students in high poverty schools will be the central  focus of states for the next several years.  Although these changes promise better days for our public schools in the future, I still see much to be concerned about.

First and foremost, the beliefs that have dominated American education over the past twenty-some years still hold sway among decision makers and the public at large. Those beliefs were first voiced in a 1983 report by a commission created by President Ronald Reagan, titled, “A Nation at Risk.” Its central theme was that the United States’ educational system was failing to meet the national need for a competitive workforce. On the opening page the report declared, “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” And it continued with a frightening possibility: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Like its predecessor, ESSA will operate on the same beliefs about our system of public education, and for that reason states will be inclined to identify the same goals and use similar strategies to reach them.  We are not done with judging our students, teachers, and schools mainly by test scores, or believing that comparisons with other countries’ scores on international tests are meaningful. Nor, are we done with top-down decision making on what, when, and how our students should learn, in disregard of teachers’ knowledge and experience.  Many state legislatures–and their constituents–will continue to believe that charter schools, on the whole, are better than public schools and move to increase them.  And some of those states will continue to offer vouchers to a few students to attend private or religious schools in the belief that they are throwing life preservers to drowning children.

Can these aberrations be stopped?  The only way I see is for parents, teachers, and informed citizens to strengthen their efforts to support our public schools. We need to put pressure on state legislatures to use their funds and power to make intelligent decisions for our schools.  If we are silent, thinking that all is well now that NCLB is dead, the future will be no better than the past.

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7 responses to “The New Law is Better but Not Good Enough

  1. Don Bellairs says:

    In Oregon, the governor recently had to resign in shame, the head of schools “retired” to take a part-time job at full time pay, and a survey of Oregon’s teachers revealed that most had unsatisfactory working conditions. The “teachers” union is a racket that uses members’ dues to pass bad public policy and to support some very questionable political talent. Oregon has bottom-tier public education system because people have been using it to gain wealth rather than to educate children for decades. And now we have another program with a cute name that will mostly get lip service in state education departments–only this one gives power back to state officials in Oregon who have stripped education of its dignity. The spiral continues.

    Can THESE aberrations be stopped? Maybe. The federal gov’t is about to sue Oregon education officials for misusing federal funds earmarked for special needs kids (Oregon is near the nation’s cellar in providing education services to poor and disabled kids). Parents and taxpayers in Oregon are learning that lawsuits are what it takes to make public school officials transparent and accountable. The federal gov’t is going to have to restrict states’ access to federal money or kids in states like Oregon are doomed.

    How DO you determine who is doing their job without standards, Ms. Yatvin? You haven’t spent much time in Oregon’s big schools but the one I worked in (state’s largest) was a mess. Principal fired (secretly) for coming to work drunk, librarian-turned-asst-principal chased off the only deaf teacher and the only black teacher–and others. Blatant disrespect for disposable classroom teachers. But the privileged kids had some great opportunities there!
    Cronyism, waste and lack of transparency are the major problems in most gov’t-funded enterprises. To paraphrase Twain, public education is not only in that parade but carrying the banner. Bring on the lawsuits. Oregon education is a great place for lawyers for lawyers to work. Not so much for teachers. Dr. Yatvin has politicized blinders on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. McNabb, Lu Ann says:

    Joanne, good commentary. It’s interesting that yesterday when my husband and I were walking and today when I took my walk, I thought about the educational systems throughout the world. One thing we fail to realize in this country is how innovative we are and how we dominate in so many fields (albeit with some other countries): music, fashion, movies, cars, technology, higher education, books, etc. We need to value whatever educational system got us to this point. We also need to recognize that there is a segment of the population not achieving. Like you, I believe we need to re-invest in our public schools to make sure we educate all children and to especially help each one find their passion.

    Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb
    National Council of Teachers of English

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Yatvin, retired teacher, principal, and superintendent, wrote the following about the likely consequences of the new Every Student Succeeds Act. Much policy has shifted to the states, but the assumptions […]

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  4. pauleck47 says:

    Educate, cultivate and advocate. Nation At Risk was debunked by the Sandia Laboratory Report that never got published. Our public deserves accurate information on the true status of our educational system and how we got to where we are today. Not many people in Oregon know about what I call the test audit bill, HB 2715, co-authored by Reps. Lou Frederick and Shemia Fagan which tasks our Secretary to State to do an audit of our summative evaluation system. This bill has passed, it is one page in length and very specific as to what must be audited. I for one can not wait to see the required report back to the Oregon Dept. of Ed. and to our legislators. The audit could point the way towards a more sensible assessment system such as the highly effective assessment system being crafted by the ODE in collaboration with the OEA and the now defunct OEIB. I recommend that people take the time to write the Secretary of State, the Governor, and their legislators letting them know that HB 2713 is very important to the decision making process.

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  5. […] excuse of blaming the federal government for the disasters that their policies cause. However, as Joanne Yatvin points out, since the new bill is based on the same flawed theories of NCLB, convincing the states […]

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  6. […] the Every Students Succeeds Act, what comes next?  Many commentators are speculating about the ramifications of the new law.  Joanne Yatvin, retired teacher, principal and superintendent, has a piece on her the treasure […]

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