House discusses who implements new education policy

by: Katelyn Becker

WASHINGTON- The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on Thursday to discuss how the federal government will implement the new education policy called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Acting Secretary of Education Dr. John B King was the witness for the hearing with the committee. King answered questions from the committee about the specifics regarding the new education policy, which will heavily alter the school system. After a bipartisan congressional agreement to scrap the Common Core, Obama signed ESSA into effect in December.

Obama signing the ESSA means that American education is shifting. It’s replacing the No Child Left Behind Act which was criticized by both parties and educators for the amount of standardized testing and rigidness in funding for schools. The country is shifting from a federal common core structure and giving the power back to the states with federal oversight from the Department of Education. After the NCLB act was unsuccessful, congressional leaders from both political parties contributed to the progress made.

Robert Scott said that this legislation was a bipartisan effort, “in a time when Congress is often chastised for its brokenness and compromise we clearly accomplished a great deal coming to a consensus to pass this major legislation,” Scott said. Although the legislation gives most of the control for education on to local governments, the federal government will have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation. The policies include steps toward holistic education. Holistic education would mean more emphasis on the music and arts, socio-emotional development. It would also mean less standardized testing and most importantly, more power to state and local governments and their role in a child’s education.

Chairman John Kline said that the country had tried the “top down approach to education during the common core era.” He said therefore, ESSA is a clear push for education to be mostly controlled by the state and local governments across the country. The act positions the federal government as simply providing oversight to the implementation of quality education. Most of the hearing discussed the logistics of this relationship between the federal and local government.

King, in his opening statement said, “What we do at the Federal level is support states and districts to improve opportunity for all students, invest in local innovation, research and scale what works, ensure transparency, and protect our students’ civil rights, providing guardrails to ensure educational opportunity for all children.”

The approach to education from a civil-rights standpoint also came up often in the hearing. The committee asked several questions about students with disabilities, students of color and students that speak English as their second language. King said, “I look forward to continuing to work with this committee to ensure that in America, education is, as it must be, the great equalizer.” King also said that the civil rights legacy is central to the implementation of these policies.

King said that ESSA will involve a more holistic approach to education. He said that it’s, “an opportunity to broaden the idea of educational excellence.” Not only will it be the responsibility of the state to ensure the child is educated in the classic way. King said the policy also allows for states to fund what they want which could provide growth in access to music and arts education, development of socio-emotional skills, ability to participate in civic discourse and attention when a child is chronically absent. King said, “I think the state chiefs are eager to have that flexibility.”

The act is also changing how the education system views standardized testing in the process of evaluating a school. King said with NCLB they narrowed the idea of education excellence and ESSA is pushing to broaden this. According to committee member Glenn Thompson, the policy will allow the state to determine how important test scores really are in the scope of the evaluation of a school. He said this would alleviate test anxiety, stop teachers from teaching to test, and allow for a more holistic evaluation of both teacher and student. The act also gives the state the option to decide whether parents can opt their children out of standardized testing.

Regarding the federal involvement in ensuring the implementation of this plan, King said they will, “provide clarity and offer examples.” When it comes to other elements like integrating Advanced Placement classes or ensuring growth in STEM, King said it is up to the states to incorporate those as they see fit. He also said it is involves an evidence-based intervention so the states must report their data to the federal government.

Congress wants to implement ESSA by the summer 2017 when states will have to be ready with their plans. As education lands back in the hands of the states and things are changing in the school system King said, “the best ideas will come from the classrooms.”

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