Mercedes Schneider did a neat job of locating the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It was 32 pages long.


The new Every Student Succeeds Act is 1,061 pages long. Nothing wrong with that, except not many people have the time to read such a lengthy and complicated piece of legislation. That is not good for democracy. When a law is so complex that educated citizens do not have time to read it, only those with a strong interest read the parts that affect them.


And the original bill included this clear language:


Near the end of the 1965 ESEA document is the following:


FEDERAL CONTROL OF EDUCATION PROHIBITED SEC. 604. Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system.


Arne Duncan has certainly pushed the envelope on this one.


The main purpose of the original ESEA was equitable resources for the poorest students. Title I.


Title I has survived, but ESEA has morphed into a testing and accountability bill, especially since 1994, when states were required to develop standards and accountability systems. Then came the horrible NCLB, which created unprecedented demands for testing and accountability, enforced by the federal government with threats of cutting off federal aid.


Now ESSA returns to the states the decisions about how to use the results of tests, but it still mandates annual tests and 95% participation. Sadly, only 1% of students with disabilities will qualify for exemptions from state testing.


It has been a long journey, and it is not over yet.


After the passage of fifty years and many federal dollars, poor and black children continue to sit in overcrowded classrooms and to lack the basic necessities of schooling. If you don’t believe me, read this graphic portrait of Philadelphia’s filthy public schools. What suburb would permit such horrific conditions?