Congress’ Uneducated Guess

Lawmakers pass a sweeping education bill they haven't had time to read, much less vet

Congress this week rushed through what is being hailed as a bipartisan bill to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which passed the House last week and was approved by the Senate Wednesday, will change the education of every public-school student in America, and not for the better.

After the turmoil created by NCLB and the recent illegal overreach of the U.S. Department of Education into state education policy, members of Congress should have made correcting the law a priority and spent time carefully and thoughtfully scrutinizing the details of the bill. Instead, House members absent-mindedly passed the 1,061-page legislation in utter ignorance of what it contained.

How could they have understood it? House leadership – in violation of Speaker Paul Ryan’s promise to restore transparency — scheduled the vote only two days after ESSA was released on Nov. 30. Two days isn’t enough time even to read this gobbledygook, let alone vet its merits and faults.

The Senate joined the race to pass this monstrosity before the American people can find out what’s in it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called for an up-or-down vote to take place this week. But before Senate Republicans “turn the page” on NCLB, don’t they owe it to students and parents to at least read the replacement?

What’s wrong with ESSA? It’s impossible to list all the dangers, given that no one has had time to analyze it, but to mention just a few:

  • ESSA maintains the same federal testing mandates present in No Child Left Behind, providing no relief from the strict teach-to-the-test mentality abhorred by parents and teachers alike.
  • It authorizes $250 million for a preschool grant (one of Obama’s priorities) to be jointly administered by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. This allows more federal dollars to flow to programs structured like the failed and harmful Head Start and to ensnare more toddlers in the government’s institutional-education web.
  • Despite claims that the bill prohibits the secretary from forcing states to adopt the Common Core national standards or otherwise influence state standards, it requires states to “demonstrate” to the secretary that they have adopted standards that are coordinated with 11 separate federal statutes — including the Soviet-style Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Head Start act. The result of this coordination requirement will be states sticking with Common Core or something very much like it, because those standards already meet the requirement.
  • It incentivizes the creation of Obama’s pet project, “21st-century community learning centers.” The idea is to make the school — and therefore the government — the center of every child’s life, providing sweeping “services” designed to make parents, churches, etc., less influential.

Perhaps it’s Congress’s ignorance of the bill that has led to the unusual bipartisan support it has received. Oddly enough, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the Obama administration, and the Education Department see eye-to-eye with Republican leadership on the bill (or maybe not so oddly, given the makeup of Republican leadership). The bicameral bill is being lauded by both sides as a victory, yet for opposite reasons.

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On the one hand, Republicans are claiming it will reverse the heavy-handed policies imposed by the Obama administration. As Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., stated, the bill “helps get Washington out of our classrooms” — almost exactly what was said about NCLB when it was on the table 14 years ago. On the other hand, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan claims the bill builds on the priorities of the Obama administration and “reflects more of that vision than nearly any observer expected.”

Now that many Republicans helped pass this bill to find out what’s in it, however, they will come to the stark realization that Duncan and his leftist boss have once again outsmarted them. Does anyone believe that Obama and his henchmen — along with the organizations that own the Common Core national standards, and all the other cheerleaders for failed progressive-education policies — would support a bill that undoes what they have spent years creating?

Orwell once said there are some ideas so absurd only intellectuals could believe them. Apparently “intellectuals” could be expanded to include “Republican congressmen.”

Why Congress wants to reauthorize NCLB with the condition of obtaining Obama’s blessing, and thereby advancing his priorities, is baffling. While compromises may be necessary, in the case of this bill they have only been made by the Right.

Erin Tuttle, a research assistant at American Principles Project, has helped lead the fight against Common Core

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