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The Every Student Succeeds Act strips away the Secretary of Education’s authority to involve himself or herself in state and local matters. It diminishes the federal role in education. It is a direct repudiation of Arne Duncan’s insistence on imposing his whims and wishes onto state policies.
Yet, Arne Duncan says he is very pleased with the new law!
Here is Peter Greene’s analysis. Of course, with a bill that is more than 1,000 pages long, there is room for interpretation, but it is hard to see an interpretation here that enables anyone to see this bill as confirmation of the principles of Race to the Top. If the states want to continue its bad policies, they are free to do so. If not, not.
So Duncan leaves as he came– making word-noises that actually sound pretty good, but are attached to policies and a reality that does not reflect them at all. Duncan never held himself responsible for the progress of students, choosing instead to blame bad, lazy teachers and low-information parents (so long, white suburban moms) and a Congress that wouldn’t behave as he wanted it to. He never held himself responsible by bothering to see if there was a lick of real research and support for any of his favored policies, from “high standards” to VAM-sauce teacher evaluations to the fundamental question of how schools could be held responsible for erasing the effects of poverty and special needs while states could not be held responsible for getting those schools the resources and support they needed. Duncan leaves as he arrived– eyes fixed on some alternate reality while in the real world, he hacks public education to bits and sells off the pieces.
And he’s perfectly okay with ESSA. That is not a good sign.
I don’t share Greene’s fear that ESSA preserves any part of Duncan’s toxic legacy. I think this is a case of making lemonade out of lemons, or putting a positive spin on what amounts to a punch in the face.