Every Student Succeeds, Race to the Top, and College- and Career-Ready Standards are three federal education policies which have been applauded by their supporters but heavily criticised by others. This paper will assess their effectiveness, what changes may be needed, and why those changes might help.
Every Student Succeeds was signed by President Obama in 2015, as a means of re-authorizing and updating the older Elementary and Secondary Education Act (U.S. Department of Education, “Every Student Succeeds”, 2017). Designed to give the federal government more control and involvement over state education, the Act nevertheless has some key issues. Two issues in particular stand out. The first is the “Pay for Success” program, encouraging private industry to invest in school, and reap a profit where specific goals are reached. This program raises obvious concerns about the motivation and control behind education initiatives where private interests may be placed before the needs of certain students. A second issue is the requirement “accountability and action to effect positive change in our lowest-performing schools” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017, n.p.); with standardized testing in a limited number of subjects still being used as the benchmark for assessing school and teacher performance, this element of the Act repeats the limitations of the earlier act. Many studies have indicated that standardized testing is at best ineffective as an assessment of school and teacher performance, and the new Act fails to address this issue.
The Race to the Top Fund is designed to provide rewards to States for effecting improvement in our key areas: preparing students for college and the workplace, improving the measurement of student growth and teacher effectiveness, promoting professional development of teachers and principals, and improving the lowest-achieving schools (U.S. Department of Education, “Race to the Top Fund”, 2017). A key issue with this program, however, is that it provides funding based on competition rather than need. Once again, the program repeats the errors of the ESSA and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in that is seeks to assess teacher and school effectiveness based on student test scores; by imposing harsh penalties on schools which fail to perform well according to this unreliable standard of measurement, the program risks further depriving those areas of education which are in the most dire need of help. This is especially the case because the emphasis on competition between schools places disadvantages schools at a further disadvantage.
In support of ESSA and Race to the Top, the College- and Career-Ready Standards set high academic standards, held in common across all States, for what students should be learning to prepare them for college education and the workplace (U.S. Department of Education, “College”, 2017). However, a key issue with these standards is once again their dependence on “measurable indicators of student learning and growth to inform educator professional development and evaluation” (U.S. Department of Education, “College”, 2017, n.p.). While student scores on standardized testing, which has been consistently shown to be an unreliable measure of educator effectiveness, is used as the benchmark for standards and funding, it is likely that educational policy will be ineffective as well.
A clear change that is needed to federal educational policy, therefore, is a move away from assessment of teacher and school effectiveness based on student standardized test scores – or student performance of any kind. Instead, accurate measures need to be developed which assess the educators themselves, thereby providing a more relevant benchmark for funding, standards, and policy overall. By implementing this specific change to federal educational policy, it is possible that funds and other support could be directed more efficiently to where they are needed the most.