To My Friend Mike Petrilli: Please Stop Confusing the ESEA Debate

The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli has a new post attempting to explain why the Right and Left should come together to support the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate’s current proposal to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act. His reasons why liberals should support the bill are, shall we say, out of touch:

Civil rights groups and others should welcome its maintenance of annual testing; its continuing emphasis on the collection and dissemination of student achievement data disaggregated by key subgroups; and its requirement that states and districts take action to deal with chronically failing schools.

Get that? He gives liberals like me three reasons to support the bill. The first is annual testing, which, yes, I do support annual testing in English and math, but so did conservatives like Mike not that long ago. Heck, back in 2011 when the Fordham Institute still believed in “reform realism,” it took annual testing for granted and even went so far as to call for the feds to mandate all states measure student growth. (Needless to say, Mike is no longer calling for student growth, and appears fine with the bill’s quiet demurral to NCLB-era measures of school performance.)

His second justification to support the current bill is that it includes the same transparency requirements as NCLB. That’s good, but again, it’s not a liberal position. Transparency and transparency alone was Fordham’s position back in 2011. Nothing’s changed for Mike, except that now he’s trying to convince us that it’s a “win” for the Left. (And he willfully ignores the research suggesting that transparency alone is not a sufficient accountability mechanism.)

His third justification is that states and districts must take action in response to low-performing schools. This is technically true; the bill does require each state to:

describe…the State educational agency’s system to monitor and evaluate the intervention and support strategies implemented by local educational agencies in schools identified as in need of intervention and support… including the lowest-performing schools… and the steps the State will take to further assist local educational agencies, if such strategies are not effective.

But the bill sets no parameters on how states identify low-performing schools (assuming they choose to identify any at all!) or on what states must do in those circumstances. Worse, the bill actively limits the federal government’s power to ensure that states are doing something meaningful with billions of dollars in federal investments (like this). If Mike thinks blanket promises from states are sufficient for civil rights advocates or liberals like myself, he should go out and talk to more liberals and civil rights advocates.