Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal federal regulations that would require states to assess the effectiveness of their teacher training programs and hold schools and districts accountable for student performance. Why? Because Republicans in Congress appear hellbent on dismantling the Obama Administration’s legislative and regulatory legacies without regard for the consequences of their actions.
Inexplicably, Louisiana’s two Republican Senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, have jumped on this bandwagon, at least when it comes to education policy. First, they joined 57 of their Senate colleagues in rolling back an Obama Administration rule tied to the Higher Education Act that would have required states to annually evaluate and rate their teacher training programs.
I assume Cassidy and Kennedy didn’t realize that Louisiana has already been doing this more or less for the past decade. Every year, the Louisiana Board of Regents produces a Teacher Preparation Data Dashboard which provides policymakers and the public with data on the effectiveness of state-approved teacher training programs.
In fact, this data helped inform the state’s recent decision to overhaul its teacher training requirements after it became clear that many programs were leaving their graduates unprepared for the classroom. Beginning in 2018, students entering education programs at state colleges and universities will complete a year-long residency in the classroom of a mentor teacher and will complete a new competency-based course-of-study that focuses on the skills and knowledge they need to successfully transition to teaching.
But the need to overhaul teacher preparation is not unique to Louisiana – far too many education schools across the country are churning out aspiring teachers who lack the skills they need to be successful. Of course, state policymakers can’t address the problem without first identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their existing programs, but few states have taken it upon themselves to establish a formal system for evaluating them.
The rule that Cassidy and Kennedy voted to repeal last week was the Obama Administration’s attempt to nudge states in that direction by tying teacher prep evaluations to funding: Only training programs that were judged to be effective would be eligible for federal student aid and certain grants. Although Republicans derided the rule as “bureaucratic micromanagement,” “fiscally responsible” seems like a more apt description – that is, unless our esteemed senators can explain why taxpayer dollars should be used to prop-up ineffective teacher training programs.
Title I: No Strings Attached
If the repeal of the teacher prep rule wasn’t bad enough, Cassidy and Kennedy also joined their fellow Republican senators in voting to repeal accountability regulations tied to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
ESSA, the long-awaited update to the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, dictates how federal K-12 education funding is allocated through its various title programs, including the enormous Title I program ($14.4 billion in 2015), which provides funding to schools and districts that serve low-income families. The law also provides an overview of what states must do in order to receive these funds, such annual testing and reporting requirements, a process for addressing persistently failing schools, etc.
The ESSA regulations that the Senate voted to repeal last week fleshed out the nuts-and-bolts guidelines that states must follow in order to comply with the broad mandates of the law. They were specifically crafted to ensure that states are holding schools and districts accountable for the performance of students from low-income families, English-language learners, and students with special needs.
Nevertheless, Republicans in the Senate called the rules a “prime example of the executive overreach” and voted to scrap the them on a vote of 50-49. Ironically, Cassidy and Kennedy joined that bare majority, in spite of the fact that they hail from a state that is recognized as a leader for its strong accountability policies.
Louisiana implemented statewide standardized testing and annual school and district grading well before the advent of No Child Left Behind. And over the past 15 years, education officials have used that data to drive improvements in public education, intervene in failing schools (see: the Recovery School District), and incrementally raise performance standards.
The good news is that Louisiana’s unflinching commitment to accountability has raised academic achievement. The bad news is that there are 49 other states whose commitment to high standards varies and no doubt many will opt for the path of least resistance as they craft their ESSA accountability plans. As a result, more vulnerable students will lose, more failing schools will remain failing, and taxpayers will have far less to show for their investment.
Republicans, who control both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade, are eager to show the country that they’re taking things in a new direction, but repealing common sense education regulations simply because they were crafted by the Obama Administration doesn’t make sense. Moreover, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy’s votes to repeal these measures make even less sense, since Louisiana has benefitted from the very policies they chose to reject.
The next time an education bill comes up for a vote, let’s hope Cassidy and Kennedy slow down and draw on the lessons from Louisiana’s reforms.