This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight…
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Happy 40th to the Staggers Rail Act, Which Deregulated and Saved the U.S. Rail Industry

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight rail and saved it from looming oblivion.

At the time of passage, the U.S. economy muddled along amid ongoing malaise, and our rail industry teetered due to decades of overly bureaucratic sclerosis.  Many other domestic U.S. industries had disappeared, and our railroads faced the same fate.  But by passing the Staggers Rail Act, Congress restored a deregulatory approach that in the 1980s allowed other U.S. industries to thrive.  No longer would government determine what services railroads could offer, their rates or their routes, instead restoring greater authority to the railroads themselves based upon cost-efficiency.

Today, U.S. rail flourishes even amid the coronavirus pandemic…[more]

October 13, 2020 • 11:09 PM

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Every Student Succeeds Act Print
By Ben Boychuk
Thursday, December 17 2015
In short, ESSA has something for everyone to despise

No Child Left Behind is history. Earlier this month, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. President Obama signed the bill into law last week. It only took about eight years to get done.

Most of the news reports describe the new law as “sweeping” and noted how it is the product of bipartisan compromise. In short, ESSA has something for everyone to despise.

Students will still have to take reading and math tests every year, but the old “Average Yearly Progress” metric is gone. That was the old law’s mechanism for determining whether states were leaving too many children behind.

States will now have more flexibility to set their own standards and more leeway in deciding how to turnaround failing schools. It’s either a triumph for federalism or a return to the bad old days when states could dumb down their standards in order to keep the federal tax dollars flowing.

An earlier version of the bill would have let federal dollars follow low-income kids to the public school of their choice. The White House howled, the teachers unions quailed and sundry advocacy groups stomped their feet, so that modest gesture in the direction of school choice didn’t make the final cut.

The best that might be said of ESSA is that it puts a few constraints on the Education Department, which had taken all manner of liberties after No Child Left Behind expired in 2007. The old law mandated that all children be “proficient” in English and math by 2014. Not a single state could make that statistically impossible goal. But the law is the law, so 42 states and the District of Columbia asked the Education Department for waivers from the most onerous of requirements and the Obama administration was happy to oblige — with conditions.

Federal largesse always comes with strings attached. Always. The administration used the waivers as yet another opportunity to dragoon states into adopting and keeping the Common Core State Standards. Previously, the White House had used the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program to lure states into signing on to the standards, but many states balked at the costs of implementing them. The NCLB waivers ensured that once a state got into the Common Core, it would be nigh on impossible to get out.

Under ESSA, gone are the federally mandated teacher evaluations tied to test scores. And there was much rejoicing in the halls of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The teachers unions despise mandatory evaluations, and especially evaluations that take student performance into account.

In any other business — and public education is most certainly a business — employees would be evaluated in large part by the quality of their output. Kids aren’t widgets, obviously. All kids learn differently and there is no shortage of students who would rather be anywhere but in class. But if teachers are promoting and schools are graduating students who can barely read, write or compute, that’s an accountability failure.

The federal waivers demanded that “evaluation systems . . . incorporate student learning and growth as a significant factor to the overall performance rating of teachers and administrators.” Many state officials complained that “significant factor” was too vague and burdensome. So, with a handful of exceptions, states are now left with their own teacher evaluation systems that are vague and unburdensome. But something may be better than nothing.

The ESSA also does away with “supersubgroups” in tracking student academic performance and growth. Remember, the major stated purpose of No Child Left Behind was to close the so-called achievement gap. The law sought to ensure that historically underachieving groups — kids from low-income families, disabled children, blacks, Hispanics — would receive greater resources and attention in order to bring their reading and math skills closer to the national average.

Many states used waivers to clump all of those groups together for reporting purposes, which made it difficult to know how well Hispanics are improving, for example, as opposed to their black peers.

Difficult, but not impossible. The National Assessment of Educational Progress offers a decent picture of where students lag and lead. We know that the education gap has narrowed somewhat since NCLB became law in 2002. But by and large, the gaps remain distressingly wide.

More local flexibility and state-based standards are fine things, and the Every Student Succeeds Act may end up as an improvement over No Child Left Behind. But that’s akin to saying one shackle is better than two. Many Americans grasp the problem. The latest “Schooling in America” survey by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that 60 percent of Americans think U.S. public education is on “the wrong track,” and only 20 percent rated the federal government’s performance in K-12 education as “good” or “excellent.”

Yet left unstated is the fact that most policymakers, legislators, wonks, commentators, administrators, teachers and even parents accept the basic premise that the federal government should have a role in public education in the first place. The U.S. Department of Education shouldn’t exist and the Common Core is an affront to federalism, but they’re both thoroughly entangled in the national fabric at this point.

Americans deserve better options than these if we really want every student to succeed. 

Question of the Week   
Which one of the following was the first 20th century presidential candidate to call for a Presidential Debate?
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Quote of the Day   
 
"In nominating Barrett to the Supreme Court, [President Trump] kept his promise by choosing an undaunted originalist -- someone who interprets the Constitution based on the understanding held by its ratifiers.Trump's most profound effect on the Constitution will come when she and the other Trump Justices apply that originalism to the questions of liberty and equality."Read entire article here.…[more]
 
 
—John C. Yoo, Heller Professor Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law
— John C. Yoo, Heller Professor Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law
 
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