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Take back schools; give kids chance to succeed

Parents, teachers and administrators have been peeling away the layers of wrapping to reveal the nature of President Barack Obama's Christmas gift: the new education law, Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA replaces No Child Left Behind, which was nicknamed the "Death Star of American Education."

In 2002, No Child Left Behind (a system of testing and accountability) was devised to track whether public school students were learning. The Common Core (a standard curriculum requirement) was coupled with NCLB, but NCLB failed and became a noose around the neck of teachers and the hangman of many a good principal.

What went wrong with NCLB? The main culprits were high-stakes testing and a regime that became negative, blaming and unjustly punitive. Like so many appropriations, the demand for excellence in the classroom was assassinated by underfunding.

Standardized test scores were used to determine a pass/fail grade for each school. Multiple failing scores meant good principals were fired, not because they failed their students but because the system failed to provide them with the funds needed to perform a daunting task.

The yearly tests, disliked by many teachers, created a "teach to the test" atmosphere and "low level" thinking.

Standardized tests are less about teaching our students and more about lining the pockets of corporate America, which makes selling canned tests a mulitmillion dollar priority.

Under NCLB, failing schools are taken over by turn-around committees, leaving the school run by outsiders who tie the principal's hands. Students and teachers are subjected to disruption and the threat of school closure lurks the halls.

The goal of increased test scores has displaced the important goal of learning. Standardization tests a small fraction of what we need our students to learn. Citizenship, workforce preparation, creative thinking and problem solving, music, art and social studies have all suffered greatly or been eliminated as student opportunities. The focus on test outcomes has come at the exclusion of focusing on our student's essential learning opportunities.

So what does the new law, Every Student Succeeds Act, bring to the table?

ESSA shifts much of the decision-making back to the state, what the Constitution intended. Adjustments need to be made as states update education strategy and revise laws to address ESSA. This is where you and I enter.

Whether or not you have children in school, ESSA affects every person in America. Anyone who has a child preparing for college knows that higher education wants candidates with a diverse learning experience. What does a potential student or employee offer an employer or the community?

Anyone who drives through a big city sees the unemployed, some living on the streets. In 2014, 166,253 of the Clark County School District's students received subsidized school lunch with over 11,000 homeless. If these youth do not receive a good, balanced education, the cycle will persist.

Congress has given us the opportunity to improve our education system. ESSA restores the responsibility for deciding what to do about public education to the local level (school districts, classrooms and parents). What state legislators enact in updated education law will be driven by either parents and teachers or by corporate America with its investment in keeping standardized testing a priority.

How many tests and when they are given is now a local decision. How those tests are used to evaluate student progress and what to do with low-achieving schools is now a local issue. Importantly, testing no longer has to be the only qualifying factor when measuring a student's or school's achievements. How teachers are evaluated is now a state issue. It is up to the state (you, me and our legislators) to reform the system and find fair ways to pay teachers for teaching well.

We have a lot of dedicated, good teachers in Nevada. We need to untie their hands, recognize their professional rank and allow them the freedom to engage our students with creative learning.

Public education has always been a priority in America. As early as 1635, long before the Constitution, education was deemed important and the colonists supported education for the people. By 1785, public education was required in every township. Within America's first century, public education was deemed essential for the common good.

Here is our chance to revise our education system. Einstein said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Let us go forward now to build a Nevada that nurtures both the intuitive and faithful mind. Learn about the new ESSA law and work with your state legislators to give our students a solid education.

Cat Trico has been a resident of Boulder City since 2003 and is a past president of the Senior Center of Boulder City and co-founder of the Decker Lake Wetlands Preserve. As an author and editor, she contributed to "Rights, Responsibilities, and Relationships" for youth. She can be reached at cat.circa1623@gmail.com.

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