Sandra Stotsky Opines on Lamar Alexander & USDOEd ESSA Interpretation: “DC as Wonderland”
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Senator Lamar Alexander was warned by anti-CCSS activists that the passage of ESSA was a vehicle for additional Federal control of educational policy and delivery. The contingency (composed of taxpayers) which pays for the directives in ESSA was once again ignored and/or ridiculed as conspiracy minded. Now it seems as if Alexander is voicing some of the same concerns as the ‘chattering class’ did many months ago. He’s worried about the misapplied Federal power in public education. Even a heavily funded NGO publication (supported by special interest education reform groups) is publishing Alexander’s concerns about the USDOE’s use of Title 1 funding and using the money as carrots and sticks to punish states for non-compliance to Federal *guidelines*. You wonder why Alexander didn’t listen to the voices of those warning what would happen if ESSA became a reality.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, it seems, is taking the long view on one of the major achievements of his legislative career, the Every Student Succeeds Act. His goal: making sure the new federal K-12 law isn’t implemented in a way that negates Congress’s intent or the good will that emerged after its passage.
Alexander told The 74 said he hopes ESSA enters the pantheon of respected bipartisan domestic policy achievements, legislation like the civil rights laws of the 1960s and Medicare. What he doesn’t want to see is it grouped alongside the 2010 healthcare law, perhaps the most divisive domestic policy change of President Obama’s tenure.
“I don’t want this law to become like Obamacare, where the president leaves office and half the people are defending it and half the people are trying to repeal it,” he said.
Alexander questions some of the decisions by Secretary of Education John King:
The bipartisan joy that erupted when the rewrite became law — President Obama even called it a “Christmas miracle” for the country’s schools — was dashed pretty quickly over how Title 1 dollars for low-income students are handled.
Alexander bluntly told King at a hearing that his reasoning for the legality of the Title 1 proposal was “ridiculous.” Alexander isn’t backing down on that (and neither is King, who has tied the proposal to segregation and civil rights fights of decades past). But the senator lately has struck a more conciliatory tone on the next regulatory proposal governing school accountability, one that would guide states as they draft policies for identifying and intervening in schools that aren’t hitting the mark.
Provide an agency the blueprint to grow into a centralized machine with the power to punish states who don’t ‘make the grade’ and by gosh, look what happens. Alexander behaves as if he is truly surprised by this interpretation of the law by the USDOEd. It’s not a shock to those who value state sovereignty but one would think that a senator with all the years and experience in Washington would recognize that pattern, and if that senator truly valued states’ rights to set educational policy, he would have recognized the nature of bureaucrats and governmental agencies, and not want to support and sponsor ESSA legislation.
You served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. Do you have any advice for whoever gets the job next?
I would take full advantage of the presidential bully pulpit to argue for higher standards, better teaching, better results, more accountability, more choices for parents, but do it state by state and school by school rather than try to order it from Washington. There were some gains from No Child Left Behind in the waivers of the Obama administration, but the end result was enormous backlash to a national school board that really set back the standard movement that is Common Core and teacher evaluation, because both have to have big local buy-in to be successful …
I think the president and the next education secretary ought to make education a major focus. It’s a national issue, but you don’t have to solve it from here, you solve it by creating an environment where governors and classroom teachers and school board members and parents do it. I think there will be a great opportunity to do that because of the law, because it restores a lot of responsibility to states and classroom teachers and there’s a big opportunity for innovation, and the secretary of education can point that out, be a sort of consumer’s guide to good practices, and maybe even some bad ones.
The states are the entities that should be creating an environment where governors and classroom teachers and school board members and parents do it. States don’t require Federal law to create this environment. Do we need a Federal agency to be a consumer’s guide to good practices? The USDOEd has been a dismal failure as it pertains to creating better academic achievement over the last four decades.
Sandra Stotsky had a response to the 74million.org article and it is reprinted with permission:
Sen. Alexander hopes that the 1000-page ESSA will settle all educational issues. After promoting John King as Duncan’s successor, Alexander sounds more and more like the Red Queen. ESSA under King will put public education deeper into the graveyard Common Core designed for it. ESSA is so confusing and controversial that the committees set up to design rules for accountability couldn’t come to consensus and USED stepped right in to make them up.
What did the parents of this country do to deserve this?
- Alexander who doesn’t seem to have any understanding of K-12,
- Fordham Institute who I’ve been told wrote ESSA to tie the public schools to Common Core and to try to prevent opt-outs, and
- Gates, who I’ve been told financed Fordham’s writing of ESSA to safeguard his investment in CC and computer-based testing
DC is indeed Wonderland. Review the description of the Red Queen in Alice of Wonderland. It’s an accurate description of Alexander’s role in this surreal chapter of American education:
With a motif of Through the Looking-Glass being a representation of the game of chess, the Red Queen could be viewed as an antagonist in the story as she is the queen for the side opposing Alice. Despite this, their initial encounter is a cordial one, with the Red Queen explaining the rules of Chess concerning promotion — specifically that Alice is able to become a queen by starting out as a pawn and reaching the eighth square at the opposite end of the board. As a queen in the game of Chess, the Red Queen is able to move swiftly and effortlessly.
Later, in Chapter 9, she appears with the White Queen, posing a series of typical Wonderland/Looking-Glass questions (“Divide a loaf by a knife: what’s the answer to that?”), and then celebrating Alice’s promotion from pawn to queen. When that celebration goes awry, Alice turns upon the Red Queen, whom she “considers as the cause of all the mischief”, and shakes her until the queen morphs into Alice’s pet kitten. In doing this, Alice presents an end game, awakening from the dream world of the looking glass, by both realizing her hallucination and symbolically “taking” the Red Queen in order to checkmate the Red King.
When the politicians give the blueprint to Federal agencies to run roughshod over states’ constitutions, they are indeed the cause of all mischief.
Opening graphic accessed here.