COMMENTARY: New Mexico ushers in this holiday season with one of the best gifts students and educators have received in a long time — passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives, and just this week in the Senate, ESSA is a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind.
Educators and students have lived with the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind for years. ESSA promises to usher in a new and positive era for our nation’s public school students.
Republicans and Democrats joined together, responding to citizens throughout our great nation including here in New Mexico, to move past the era of so-called “education reform” into a new era of school excellence and improvement.
Legislators and Secretary Skandera and Gov. Martinez take note: From the day the bill is signed, New Mexico is no longer required to pursue seriously flawed, ill-conceived programs of high stakes over testing our students — or the use of student tests results as the major cause of consequences for our public schools and our teachers.
Legislators, we hope, will also take note of District Judge David Thomson’s ruling last week that the public education department may not continue with any programs that tie consequences from student testing and the teacher evaluation based upon it, including so-called merit pay and other bogus bonus schemes.
NEA members waged an unprecedented mobilization and advocacy campaign on behalf of the nation’s students to turn the page on the failed NCLB law and bring in a new federal education law that provides more opportunity for all students.
We applaud Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress for getting the job done and doing what works for students, educators, and public education. They have taken a historic, bipartisan step to usher in a new era for students and our nation’s public schools. ESSA will help ensure every child has equal opportunity to a high quality education regardless of ZIP code.
NEA strongly supports the Every Student Succeeds Act. For the first time since No Child Left Behind was enacted nearly 14 years ago, ESSA empowers educators as trusted professionals to make school and classroom decisions, while keeping the focus on students most in need.
ESSA reflects the core principles that NEA has long advocated, including:
- the inclusion of student and school supports in state accountability plans to create an opportunity ‘dashboard.’
- reducing the amount of standardized testing in schools and decoupling high-stakes decision making and statewide standardized tests.
- ensuring that educators’ voices are part of decision-making at the federal, state and local levels.
A great education should inspire students’ natural curiosity, imagination, and love of learning. Schools and educators that nurture these values today are growing tomorrow’s inventors, thinkers, artists and leaders.
As education professionals, we are especially encouraged that ESSA actually will begin to close the opportunity gaps for students. It is well past time to correct course and focus on facilitating this growth and laying the foundation for student success. To do that, our education system must be committed to closing opportunity and resource gaps by providing the support.
Rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach
While not perfect, ESSA does recognize that the one-size-fits-all approach does not work. The bill calls for committees of practitioners that include educators, parents and community constituents to work together to improve their local schools.
In addition, the Every Student Succeeds Act also maintains paraeducator qualification requirements and requires paraeducator voice in multiple relevant sections of the bill, including as it relates to professional development.
The ESSA allows New Mexico to decouple high-stakes decision-making and statewide standardized tests. Let’s do it! A great education should inspire students’ natural curiosity, imagination, and love of learning. Schools and educators that nurture these values today are growing tomorrow’s inventors, thinkers, artists and leaders.
We applaud Republicans and Democrats in the Congress for getting the job done and doing what works for students, educators, and public education.
What a wonderful New Year’s gift it could be for New Mexico’s students if Republicans and Democrats in our state Legislature also heed the call for a new direction in the pursuit of educational excellence.
Patterson is the president of the National Education Association New Mexico.