In September 2009, when reauthorization of ESEA seemed imminent, Secretary Duncan said, “Let us build a law that discourages a narrowing of curriculum and promotes a well-rounded education that draws children into sciences and history, languages and the arts in order to build a society distinguished by both intellectual and economic prowess.”
Now, more than two years later, Sen. Harkin has released a draft ESEA reauthorization proposal. And, in spite of the Department’s significant influence, the draft bill’s support of the “well-rounded education” Duncan touted is, well, almost undetectable.
The document is 860 pages long. Student achievement in “Core Academic Subjects” is referenced a dozen times, but specifics never arise. This tome contains no mentions of chemistry, physics, or biology, for example. Music gets four mentions; art only one. And history and civics just two. How are we going to improve education if no one is willing to talk about the substance of what is being taught?
Meanwhile, the shape, method, and approach to accountability measures continue to be tweaked, tuned, and obsessed over. The big news the draft contains is a reinvention of the current accountability system, scrapping AYP’s strict performance targets in favor of a measure of “continuous improvement” for all students and for particular subgroups.
But “continuous improvement” will do nothing to address ESEA’s intense focus on math and reading at the expense of the rest of the liberal arts. Although the bill would shift testing requirements to include measures for student growth, required tests would continue to measure student achievement in only math, reading and science. And the science test would remain inconsequential to “continuous improvement.” Why not widen the lens of the “continuous improvement” measure to include other subjects? It is an idea that would present many challenges and face many obstacles, but it is at least worth discussing.
Writing about the unintended consequences of NCLB, Diane Ravitch and Checker Finn predicted, “Rich kids will study philosophy and art, music and history, while their poor peers will fill in bubbles on test sheets. The lucky few will spawn the next generation of tycoons, political leaders, inventors, authors, artists and entrepreneurs. The less lucky masses will see narrower opportunities.”
We know that is happening already. And if anything resembling Harkin’s draft becomes law, the problem will only get worse.