Friday, September 30, 2016

The Public Seems to be at Odds with the Real Decision Makers on Implementation of ESSA

I attended a forum last night in Baton Rouge on the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Educators. The stated purpose of the forum was to receive input from educators, parents and other citizens on the revisions of the ESSA law.

Specifically the participants in the forum were asked to give their ideas and suggestions on how the new Federal law should be implemented so that the learning experience for all children could be improved.

For the last 14 years our public education systems have operated under mandates of the No Child Left Behind law which almost everyone agrees has failed in its mandate of producing proficiency in all children in all schools in math and English language arts. In fact there are essentially no schools in the U. S. that have achieved the proficiency mandated by the old law. So now the law has supposedly been made more flexible and more practical in its design. The general public and educators are supposed to have more "say so" in the implementation of the new plan for ESSA.

Participants in the forum were broken up into 6 groups that were each expected to come up with recommendations for improvement of our public schools and the education of all children. Near the end of the forum each group reported their recommendations.

The recommendations included ideas for improving parent participation and support for the education process, the need to boost education options for students not planning to attend colleges, incentives to attract more qualified persons into the teaching profession, and many other excellent ideas.

But there was one initiative that amazingly was not suggested by any of the 6 groups. Not a single group suggested that Louisiana should continue rating public schools using student test scores! I was amazed that no one seemed to recognize the importance of statewide testing as a basis and avenue for improving our schools and the education of children since this has been the main focus of the federal and state mandates for our schools for the last 14 years. If testing students and rating schools using test scores was so important, you would think that someone attending the LAE forum would have suggested that Louisiana continue and make full use of this process. The only discussion we heard in our forum on this subject was that Louisiana should spend less time on testing and test-prep so that teachers would have more time to spend on actual teaching.

I was also able to review some of the video tapes of the forums held by State Superintendent John White on ESSA in all parts of the state. I specifically looked for confirmation by citizens and teachers that the emphasis on state testing of students and the rating of schools and teachers using such testing was a good idea. The only comment I saw that seemed to approve of the testing was a comment by Dr. Phillip Rozeman of Shreveport who was quoted as saying that Louisiana should "stay the course on accountability", but I just did not see a groundswell of public support for continued emphasis on testing as a way of improving our schools and for implementing the Every Student Succeeds law.

Was I the only person in the state interested in education that noticed that neither the general public nor the practicing educators recommend state mandated testing as the primary way to improve our schools? Was I the only person who sees this continuing mandate as a top down commandment that comes primarily from the self appointed education reformer elites in our country and our state?

I just had a chance to scan the draft framework just recently added to the LDOE website for the implementation  of the new Every Child Succeeds Act that was developed after receiving all this input from the various stakeholders in our educational system. Amazingly, the whole new plan just seems to double down on rating schools using state and national testing. So this is how our public input on implementation of the new law is being put into action? Or is this what we may may call a disconnect between the public and the policy makers? Am I the only citizen of Louisiana who feels this way?