What Should America Do About Bad Public Schools? States Still Don’t Seem to Know.

August 7, 2017

Two years after Congress scrapped federal formulas for fixing troubled schools, states for the most part are producing only the vaguest of plans to address persistent educational failure.

So far, 16 states and the District of Columbia have submitted proposals for holding schools accountable under the 2015 law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. With few exceptions, the blueprints offer none of the detailed prescriptions for intervention, such as mass teacher firings or charter-school conversions, that were once standard elements of school reform.

Many in the education world, from state superintendents to teachers unions, applaud this hands-off trend. Each struggling school faces unique circumstances, in their view, and deserves a tailored solution shaped by community input — not a top-down directive from faraway bureaucrats.

But others fear a lack of clear road maps from states is a sign that meaningful change remains unlikely in schools that most need it.

“We don’t know what to do about chronically low-performing schools. Nothing has worked consistently and at scale,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “I suspect we’ll see most states and districts just go through the motions.”

On Aug. 1, Delaware became the first state to win federal approval for its plan, even though — according to independent experts — its school turnaround proposals are hazy and unlikely to make a significant difference. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos endorsed the plan, saying she hoped it would “give the students, families and educators in the state a strong foundation for a great education.” DeVos and President Trump are pushing for far more local control of education, a shift from the stance of their recent predecessors in both parties.

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