ESSA: More of the same old nonsense

Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist

Recently, after some significant hand-wringing by the leadership at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), the folks there determined it was prudent to wait until September to submit Ohio’s response to the most recent inappropriate and intrusive federal law impacting public schools known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ODE could have submitted its plan in April, but its leadership opted to bide its time until September, so a better response could be crafted. The truth is, ESSA is a worthless piece of legislation, so the timing of Ohio’s response is the least of our worries.

Of course, if you are to believe the feds, and I most assuredly do not, ESSA will lead educators to the Promised Land and ensure that all children will be successful in school and, more importantly, in life. President George W. Bush told us the same thing with his legislation known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as did President Barack Obama, with Race to the Top (RttT).

Of course, if these two previous laws would have delivered what they promised, we wouldn’t need this new law, would we? ESSA is just another political boondoggle intent on convincing us that our government holds the keys to success if we just trust them to tell us what to do. Of course, nothing about that is true.

If we have learned anything from history, we already know what will happen in the coming months, as the ODE works to craft the perfect response to ESSA. There will be an ungodly number of people serving on an ungodly number of committees which will convene an ungodly number of meetings during which an ungodly number of inane discussions will occur that don’t have the first thing to do with helping kids become successful, and state politicians will be smack dab in the middle of it all, merrily conducting this runaway train. The children of Ohio are the unfortunate passengers.

We can also be certain that while all this meaningless activity is occurring, press releases will come pouring out of Columbus, telling us that the work being done is akin to splitting the atom. Don’t be fooled by any of it.

Starting with their titles and continuing throughout their texts, ESSA, NCLB, and RttT are all filled with the typical political blather that means nothing, but is crafted in such a way that any criticism of them would be considered blasphemous. For example, taking issue with a law that promises that “no child will be left behind” or that “every student will succeed” would be unconscionable, especially for a teacher, wouldn’t it? And, how could anyone not want our kids to win the “race to the top?”

Those pithy little titles weren’t created by accident. Political spin doctors create them all the time to make something that is worthless sound so much better than that. Sadly, it is a political strategy that often fools an unsuspecting public.

Anyone who takes the time to read through ESSA will find the same buzzwords that have appeared in its predecessors. Again, this isn’t happenstance. It is a focused strategy that is meant to neuter anyone who dares criticize the content of the law. Who could possibly disagree with schools being given “greater flexibility,” students having “higher standards” placed upon them, teachers being “held accountable” for their “students’ growth,” “school improvement” plans being created, and demanding “high quality teachers” for our children?

The answer to that question is “anybody with half a brain,” because, again, if these terms had any meaning they wouldn’t be appearing in a third federal mandate, which we are told will fix the same problems the first two were supposed to fix. Remember that old saying, “If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it?” Apply it here.

Not only does ESSA use buzzwords galore, but it also speaks in code. This is another time-honored political strategy meant to convince us that something is happening when it really isn’t. For example, ESSA supposedly gives states and communities more flexibility in running their schools by returning the decision-making process to the state and local levels. During the presidential debates, candidates uttered this same message, but anyone who listened closely to the doublespeak heard that “local level” really means the state will tell us what to do and local districts are given the honor of figuring out how to implement the state’s nonsense. I’m sorry, but that’s not local control.

With all due respect to our state politicians, they have proven unequivocally that they have no more ability to craft meaningful educational legislation than the feds do. So, ESSA is not a victory for local control proponents, as if claims to be. It just permits a different set of incompetent politicians to drive the education train. If we’re supposed to view this as some kind of victory, you can count me out.

Finally, and this pounds the proverbial nail in the ESSA coffin, the law suggests that “competitive grants will ensure quality preschool programs,” but, of course, those grants will only be available for a select number of preschoolers, because, as with any grant, you have to win it to get it. In other words, there will be a list of winners and losers in the world of preschool education, because, God knows, you wouldn’t want all children to play on a level playing field, would you?

That concept alone says about all you need to know about ESSA, so does it really matter when Ohio submits its proposal?

Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.