December 14, 2015
By Randi Weingarten, AFT President
Washington, DC – On December I0th, the president signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law. This law will usher in the most sweeping, positive changes to public education policy in nearly two decades, from pre-K through college. This legislation marks the beginning of a joint responsibility for public education, as opposed to the top-down accountability we’ve experienced since the passage of No Child Left Behind.
Congress maintained the best of the original intent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—targeting funding to support the disadvantaged schools and children who need it most—and slammed the door on federally prescribed high-stakes testing.
ESSA represents a significant course correction acknowledging that more than a decade's worth of education reforms based on test-and-sanction policies were a failure, and sends a strong signal to states that these failed policies should not be pursued. This bill: Maintains funding for the students who need it most; Prohibits the federal government from mandating teacher evaluations; Stops the federal government from prescribing high-stakes consequences like school closures and conversions; Opposes support for private school vouchers, portability or other divisive policies; Includes more transparency and accountability for charters; and Maintains certification requirements for paraprofessionals.
While the new bill doesn't solve all problems, it opens the way for states to give teachers the latitude to teach so their kids can reach their potential, and gives us the chance to press the reset button so public schools can be places where teachers want to teach, parents want to send their kids and students are engaged. This victory is just the beginning, and now we have a lot of work to do at the state level. We must send a clear message that the policies of No Child Left Behind, waivers and Race to the Top should be abandoned, not replicated. We will continue to engage our members and allies as work shifts to the states to fix accountability systems and develop teacher evaluation systems that are fair and aimed at improving and supporting good instruction. And, we will make sure our members’ voices are heard and listened to throughout this process. The world often seems very unsettled these days. But as we close 2015, we now have a potential paradigm shift that could return the joy to our schools and our teaching as we move away from the era of test-and-punish school policy.