On January 8th, the nation celebrated two major anniversaries, each of which has significantly shaped national education policy. In 1964, in his first State of the Union address, delivered less than two months after the Kennedy assassination, President Lyndon Johnson declared a national War on Poverty. Johnson’s efforts led to him signing the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act at a ceremony at a rural school in Stonewall, Texas with his first teacher Mrs. Katherine Deadrich Loney sitting at his side. On January 8th in 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act at a school in Hamilton, Ohio with a group of children and Congressional leaders standing beside him.
As we enter 2014, much remains to be done to achieve the goals of both initiatives. Poverty still prevails as a major factor in determining which children will succeed. We are also far from closing the achievement gaps between children of different races and income levels and determining how to create fair and effective accountability programs.
This year is an election year for 36 governors, nearly all state legislatures, 34 senators, and all 435 House members. While in past years such a big election year might have signaled that momentum was on the side of positive change, that will likely not be the case in 2014. At the federal level, a divided Congress – with one house engaged in open battle with the president and a federal budget that will almost certainly pinch program funding—will produce few advances. ESEA/NCLB is unlikely to be reauthorized. There will be a major, but probably unsuccessful, effort to enact a federal Pre-K program. Only laws such as Perkins and the Education Sciences Research Act may be passed, as they are far less controversial.
At the state level, we will likely see a significant push for Pre-K programs, even in the absence of substantial federal funding. Most controversial will be the efforts in a number of states to halt implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to adopt or reject the aligned assessments being developed by two federally funded consortia.
Of great concern is the possibility that it will be 2017, after the next presidential inauguration, before major action is taken at the federal level. In states, much will depend on whether groups representing parents and students are able to mobilize and prevail at the ballot box over those who oppose change. The need for such change is great as shown by recent results from PISA, NAEP, and state assessments.
Leaders in both states and districts can best weather the year by focusing time, resources, and attention on closing achievement gaps, raising the bar for everyone, and making maximum use of data and information in implementing proven effective programs and practices. Data from measures like PISA and NAEP do matter if we are to assure that our children and grandchildren achieve their life’s goals in this century. Only then will the goals established on January 8th in1964 and in 2002 be achieved.
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This is the time that people, and especially school teachers and children, talk about how they spent their summer vacation. Not wanting to break tradition, I’ll share some of my summer.
The free time that I did have was spent in working on a new edition of Political Education, my book on federal education policy, as I have a contract for a new edition to be published next year.
When I started the project, I had hoped to include a nice neat chapter that summarized passage of an ESEA reauthorization bill. Boy, was that optimistic! While the House passed a bill in July and the Senate HELP committee has finalized their version, they are miles apart in philosophy and design. Indeed, with the next round of Congressional elections but 14 months away and Washington beset with decisions about everything from the national debt ceiling to agency budgets, sequestration, and various military conflicts across the globe, to say nothing of privacy and national security, it is nearly impossible to see how it gets done in this, the 113th Congress.