Thomas Toch, an education specialist at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, has an interesting article in our March/April/May issue of the Washington Monthly on how the teachers’ unions and Tea Party teamed up to force a major change in the Obama administration’s education policy.

This culminated in the president signing the Every Student Succeeds Act while praising the bill for “empowering states and school districts to develop their own strategies for improvement.”

The piece takes a hard look at the successes and failures of No Child Left Behind, Common Core standards, and the associated efforts to lift standards, help failing schools and improve classroom instruction.

While acknowledging most of the frequent criticisms of the former policy regime, Toch sees the administration’s capitulation on standards as harmful:

But the new federal education law both gives local educators more day-to-day flexibility and liberates them from external expectations, a strategy that risks returning many students to second-class educational status. Rather than being a path toward a new paradigm in public education where all students are taught to high standards, it invites a capitulation to traditional race- and class-based educational expectations, half a century after the passage of federal civil rights laws and just as the nation is transitioning to a minority-majority school population.

When “local control” in education is looked at through the lens of what’s best for students rather than through the filter of adult agendas, it’s clear that we’re not going to get many of the nation’s students where they need to be without explicit expectations for higher standards in much of what schools do, and without the policy leverage needed to ensure that educators deliver on those expectations.

The ‘policy leverage’ part of that critique is worth considering because, according to Toch, “the new law makes it virtually impossible for the U.S. secretary of education to proscribe, enforce, or even incentivize rigorous academic expectations, quality tests, school performance standards, and the measurement of teacher performance—core improvement levers.”

Read the whole thing and tell me what you think.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at