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Every Student Succeeds Act Can't Deliver on Its Promise

The Every Student Succeeds Act is being hailed as a big improvement over the No Child Left Behind Act ("Why the New Education Law Is Good for Children Left Behind," The New York Times, Dec. 10).  But I believe its ultimate goal is just as quixotic.

In any large population, there will always be a distribution in outcomes.  It doesn't necessarily have to follow the familiar bell-shaped curve, but it will exist. The U.S. has about 48.2 million students in about 98,000 public schools.  How likely is it that every student will succeed?  It's what Charles Murray calls "educational romanticism."  I wish every student could be successful, as the new law stipulates.  But they can't unless standards are set ridiculously low.  In that case, who's kidding whom?

There was already evidence to that effect under the old law.  Similar scores on the same tests were labeled differently from state to state ("Test Scores Under Common Core Show That 'Proficient' Varies by State," The New York Times, Oct. 7).  For all its other shortcomings, the Common Core attempted to eliminate that inconsistency. I think a high-school diploma should mean something more than mere seat time.  But now that states are back in control, I expect to see them continuing to laud their successes, when any objective evaluation would prove otherwise.

I believe that all students are educable.  But I don't think that they are able to perform equally in the same subjects. That's one reason why I've long supported vocational education. College is not for everyone, nor should it be.  I'm always in awe when I watch skilled tradesmen in action. Their ability to identify a problem and remedy it is a talent that should be given as much respect as academics. Nevertheless, even in vocational subjects there will be a range of outcomes. But at least students who are not academically inclined won't have two strikes against them about succeeding before they even step into the batter's box.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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