The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Why Can’t ESSA Mean What it Says?

on February 4, 2017

There was icy weather in Portland again yesterday, so I got around to reading the January 18 issue of Education Week more thoroughly than I did the first time. One long and complicated article about ESSA giving states the freedom to set their own goals irritated me rather than giving me hope. Below I will describe what ESSA requires and explain why I disapprove.

Under ESSA, the law that supplanted NCLB, each state must set its own school improvement goals and a timeline for reaching them. The areas to be covered are students’ academic achievement, graduation rates, and English language proficiency. But a state may add others, such as student attendance rates.

What bothers me is the law’s focus on student improvement rather than school improvement. It suggests that schools should tighten the screws on students and teachers, just as was done under NCLB. But since those tactics failed, I wonder why states shouldn’t be allowed to try a different approach, such as changing some of the courses offered and the treatment of students. A couple of pieces I’ve posted recently were about schools that did those things, and as a result also made progress in the areas ESSA now calls for.

In case you don’t remember, I will list below several of the school changes I’ve suggested in the past that I’d like states to be able to enact.

Smaller high schools that would help to build a sense of community

         Smaller class sizes so that teachers would get to know each student well

         Less frequent testing at the elementary level; say, only grades 3 and 5

 Teacher groups selecting instructional materials and  student


         Reduction in the number and types of required high school courses

         More high school electives that appeal to the interests of students

         A system for high school students to make-up credits in order to graduate

         on time

         A de-emphasis on using data to judge the quality of student performance

         Grading systems, at all levels, that encourage students rather than

         persuading  many  of them that they are failures

In offering these suggestions, I’m not saying that school administrators, teachers and students should get a free ride, but that everyone would do better if schools were set up for meaningful learning rather than drudgery and failure.  I wonder if there is any hope that we can persuade Betsy DeVos and her staff of that.

One response to “Why Can’t ESSA Mean What it Says?

  1. pauleck47 says:

    Hello, This article came in the nick-of-time as Jan and I are heading to Salem to lobby this Tuesday and I will be able to use this information when meeting with legislators. Thank you! Best Regards, Pat


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