A bill over a thousand pages long is drafted behind closed doors and given a nice-sounding name. The chair of the Senate committee, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, announces on November 18 that the conference report, which is finished, will not be available for reading until November 30. The House vote will be two, at most three, days later.
The vote takes place two days later, on December 2. The 247 House Republicans are divided, but most (all but 64) side with 100 percent of the 188 Democrats who vote for it.
On December 8, the Senate votes to advance the bill and it is passed the following day. Again, zero opposition from Democrats. Only 12 of the 54 Senate Republicans oppose the measure.
This is the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) that reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), an arm of the War on Poverty that sends federal funds to low-income area schools.
ESSA is supported by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and 37 liberal and far-left civil rights and education groups. It is supported by “the owners of the Common Core Standards” (National Governors Association and the Council of Chief School Officers), as Donna Garner notes. Lamar Alexander, a Common Core booster, joins with Democrat Patty Murray, expressing hope for more such “bipartisan” legislation.
The over 200 grassroots groups and experts who sent a detailed, open letter on October 13 to Congress opposing the Act valiantly continued the battle in the two days between the release of the conference report and the vote in the House. Volunteers divvy up the bill in an attempt to digest it in 48 hours. They continued to rally the troops after it went before the Senate, to no effect. It passed on December 9. The next morning Obama signed it. According to one activist, the hurry was manufactured to prod members to “vote blindly.” ESSA had been on “ice” for six months.
The American Principles Project announces their “disappointment” over passage. Emmet McGroarty chastises Republicans for failing to listen to “the more than 200 pro-Constitution, anti-Common Core grassroots groups that laid out in detail their objections . . . and practically begged their ‘conservative’ elected officials to pay attention.”
Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch, calls ESSA “a huge lump of educational coal.” Effrem, a pediatrician, sees in ESSA a solidification of the harmful age-inappropriate methods of Common Core. She thanks presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul for their “steadfast opposition.”
Left-wing sites claim, “Christmas miracle sees end of Common Core.”
The Department of Education had prepared the groundwork for the hurried holiday-time vote with Obama’s own announcement in October, when he inveighed against “excessive testing”–as opt-outs spread like wildfire. He subtly blamed the unpopular testing on [George W. Bush’s] No Child Left Behind. New tests, we are told, will be “state driven and based on multiple measures.” Multiple measures include “non-cognitive skills,” attitudes and emotions.
The Department of Education announces that “The bipartisan bill to fix No Child Left Behind…incorporates many of the priorities the Obama administration put forward.”
It does. These are the same priorities undergirding Common Core. According to Jane Robbins, Senior Fellow at the American Principles Project, the rub is in the mandates, as she explained to Dr. Susan Berry at Breitbart. States must coordinate with eleven different federal statutes and submit their plans for approval by the feds.
Statutes include “the Soviet-style Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that’s designed to connect the K-12 education system to government-controlled workforce-development, the Head Start act that centralizes preschool standards, the Education Sciences Reform Act (which seeks to boost data-collection on students)….” Standards must focus on “minimal workforce-development rather than academic knowledge” – just like Common Core! States will comply or lose their federal money.
The federal government will determine “college-and career-readiness,” thus continuing its power grab on campuses.
At the other end of the “cradle to career” spectrum is “mission creep” into preschool, as states participate in Race-to-the-Top-like competitive grants. The Act expands ESEA power by making Head Start pre-school a statute (instead of an appropriation), Dr. Susan Berry reports.
Promoters ignored the research that shows the ineffectiveness of Head Start. They ignored studies that indicate that pre-school programs often have a negative impact on students’ ability to concentrate in school.
Additional concerns listed at the Truth in American Education blog include the weakening of parental rights to opt children out of tests, removing checks on federal control, increasing overall federal spending through ESEA, and transferring federal dollars from the classroom to for-profit companies.
As consumers face skyrocketing health insurance premiums they realize that the “Affordable Care Act” is not what its name implies. Similarly, many supporters of the Every Student Succeeds Act will learn that rather than eliminating Common Core, ESSA implements Common Core on steroids.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research website.