WASHINGTON — Even though states have new flexibility under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the new federal education law that replaced the punitive No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which held states accountable for having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014 — their departments of education aren’t set up to take advantage of it.
So argued Pedro Noguera, distinguished professor of education and director of the Center for the Study of School Transformation at UCLA, at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), which drew a record crowd of more than 16,000 attendees.
“Not a single state department of education in this country is oriented or knows how to help schools,” Noguera said.
“They’re all oriented to focus on compliance. That’s what they do,” Noguera said. “There’s going to have to be a major shift to get them to think about new ways of assessing, performance, capacity, support in schools.”
He said such a shift would be a “challenge.”
It so happens that U.S. Secretary of Education John King is expected to share his perspectives on ESSA implementation in states and school districts before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.
Noguera made his remarks during a panel discussion titled, “Where Might the 2016 Election Year Take Us? Exploring the Implications of Political Framing for Future Education Legislation.”
He criticized the Every Student Succeeds Act as “NCLB Lite” and said he found it interesting that that the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association had endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton without Clinton having released a clear education platform.
“I often feel as though educators are like African-Americans to the Democratic Party,” Noguera said, criticizing them for their loyalty to Democrats and allowing Democrats to take their votes for granted without knowing what policies will be enacted.
John Jackson, president and CEO of The Schott Foundation for Public Education, criticized the current testing regime as being wrongly focused on results instead of addressing the conditions that produce those results.
With the millions of data points that have been produced from testing over the years, Jackson said: “To say that we need to take more tests to determine that education system is creating outcomes with disparate impacts doesn’t make sense, because we have enough data.”
“What we don’t have is data that outlines the supports that are necessary for all students to have an opportunity to learn,” Jackson said. “If we really cared about a balanced approach, yes, we need tests but what are the necessary supports to get the outcomes we desire'”
Judith Browne-Dianis, a civil rights attorney and co-director of The Advancement Project — a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights organization that focuses combatting what it refers to as ‘inequitable’ policies — lamented that public education has not registered as a major topic in the 2016 presidential election.
“One of the things that is most troubling to me is that, election cycle after election cycle, we are not talking about education as an issue,” Browne-Dianis said.
“We may talk about college loans but we’re not talking about public education,” she said. “It’s just not on the agenda.”
But Jackson countered that the absence of public education from the presidential election is actually not such a bad thing because presidential politics would only politicize education issues at the expense of taking a careful look at the evidence on what really works.
“The more political an issue in America, the less we pay attention to the evidence,” Jackson said. “And ideology trumps evidence every time in a political debate.
“When I think about all the debates that we’re having in this presidential race around immigration, health care, significant issues where the evidence is distorted and often lost, I’m not so willing to add education to that debate.”
The AREA annual meeting, which continues through Tuesday, touched on numerous topics in higher education, from racial conflict and hunger on campus to the best ways to engage formerly incarcerated individuals and children who grew up in foster care.
The official theme of the meeting is “Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies.”
Laura Rendon, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said as a number of issues arise on campuses — from opiate use to guns on campus to new waves of immigrants from war-torn Syria — researchers should develop a “new scholarly imaginary” that may contravene traditional, Western ways of doing research.
“We need to coin new terms,” Rendon said, relating that she is currently engaged in work that goes against the “deficiency framework” that has shaped the thinking around “low-income” and “first-generation” students.
“I tell students, when you talk about students growing up in poverty, it’s like, ‘Oh, they can’t learn,'” Rendon said. “Can you imagine Berkeley thinking about students in that way? Can you imagine Harvard thinking about their students in that way? Why is it that we get talked about in that way? That needs to change. We need to coin new terms, come up with new ideas. That is the challenge for the future. Take it to a higher level.”
At the same time, Rendon said researchers must do more than just critique and contest existing research and research methods.
“Research is not only about critique and contestation,” Rendon said. “Often times we get bogged down with that.
“It’s important to challenge and contest, but humanity also needs healing. Humanity also needs to move forward. The work of scholarship is both about critique and about healing and love.”