(Guest Post by Greg Forster)
In OCPA’s Perspective I review Oklahoma’s ESSA plan, and the story will be of interest to those outside Oklahoma. The basic problem with imposing reform on school systems that don’t want it is that the “reforms” become two-faced – they say what they need to say to please the reformers, but the substance of reform is another story:
Throughout the document, the bright, photogenic images and superficial, focus-group-tested buzzwords favored by the professional education reformers who run the ESSA regime collide over and over again with dense, esoteric clouds of opaque legalese, emitted—like ink from an octopus—by education special interests protecting their budgetary turf from scrutiny.
The document even has two title pages. The first is slick and professionally designed: a gorgeous, full-page image of a little girl with her hand over her heart is juxtaposed with the title under which the plan is being marketed—Oklahoma EDGE—in the form of a branded logo, like Pepsi or Google. The second title page is plain white with nothing on it but a little bit of text and the state education department’s logo. This page delivers the plan’s legal (i.e., actual) title, which is: “Revised State Template for the Consolidated State Plan: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act.” Try making a branded logo out of that.
The report’s visual and verbal doublemindedness is reflected in the structure of the underlying plan, which dumps tons of money (the plan is always careful to set minimum goals for spending levels) into programs that don’t tend to improve educational outcomes. This makes both the system and the reformers look bad:
All this indictment of the Old Guard, for putting their own voracious desire for money and power ahead of real educational reform, is also an indictment of the New Guard. The professional education reformers, frustrated by decades of limited results from state activism, got impatient and decided to take a shortcut to power through Washington, D.C. But the Constitution’s federalist system, and the striking Left/Right political coalition suspicious of federal meddling in schools, really will not allow Washington to exercise the level of control the reformers want.
The end result is this ridiculous dance where Oklahoma has to submit a 218-page “eight-year strategic plan” for change and reform … under which it will continue to do the same thing it has done for decades: dump truckloads of money into expensive programs with no proven or even probable relationship to education outcomes. Which is exactly what the professional reformers have spent decades trying to stop the system from doing. Welcome to Wonderland.
Let me know what you think – and dont’ worry, your comments do not have to be accompanied by glossy graphics or popular buzzwords.