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4/2: Insanity in Education:

The Power Structure Just Can't Help Itself

There appears to be ample proof that Einstein never said that ‘insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over while expecting a different result’. Even so, it’s an interesting maxim, one that can be applied to how we treat public education in this country.

Let’s see how.

Twenty years ago, the federal government updated its 1965 mandate known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with the now infamous No Child Left Behind (NCLB). According to Andrew Lee, writing for, NCLB “held schools accountable for how kids learn and achieve, through annual testing, reporting, improvement targets, and penalties for schools.”

It was a controversial law because it focused heavily on standardized testing without taking into account the natural human inclination to focus solely on the test – in other words, the gradual move toward “teaching to the test”.

Another controversial aspect was the enactment of penalties for schools that didn’t measure up. Pressure on teachers and administers became fierce, as it has remained.

NCLB was amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) which is now the main education law for public schools in this country. This amendment to NCLB tries to hold schools accountable for how students learn, including aspects such as academic growth in the matrix. Like NCLB, it also aims to provide equal opportunities for disadvantaged students, such as those receiving special education services.

Under ESSA, each state creates an education plan for its schools within the framework provided by the federal government. According to Andrew Lee, this plan must thoroughly and meticulously address the following:

Academic standards • Annual testing • School accountability • Goals for academic achievement • Plans for supporting and improving struggling schools and • State and local report cards

If you think that’s a lot of bureaucracy, you are correct. There are a lot of boxes to check for ‘ensuring’ that student need is met. But there were a lot of boxes to check under NCLB, as well. It seems that people with power just can’t help themselves; the more a system creates niches for itself (and people to guard those niches), the more niches it wants.

There are people employed in education whose sole job is to document how others are doing their job. These people have education degrees and teaching certificates, and are considered educators, just like those on the ground, doing the classroom work with students. But unlike those in the classroom, these people get to stand guard over their list of checkboxes, earning massive salaries just for the honor of doing so.

This is the elixir of the power structure: get into an administrative position as soon as you can and become part of the matrix of bureaucracy that ensures we keep pouring money into education.

Read the fine points of ESSA for yourself. And then go onto your state’s education website and see how their own education plan has unfolded as a result.

In my state of New Mexico, there are educators employed just to see if teachers are planning for the needs of their ELL students (English Language Learners). My school will have a visit from one of these in late April. In preparation for her visit, each of us must create multiple lesson plans that include recognized methods for helping English language learners assimilate the material, such as illustrated vocabulary cards. She will not watch us teach; instead, she will go through our paperwork and that of our principal to determine if we are planning for our students’ needs. That’s all she cares about. It does not matter whether I ever taught the lesson that I provided paperwork for … only that I have a lesson plan. If my plan meets her expectation, she will check that box, helping our school avoid being put on an improvement plan.

How, exactly, does this help my struggling students?

Once again, politicians have enacted legislation that is a façade only. But this facade is applauded by the education elites, who see their role as exacting conformity from the rest of us while keeping their own coffers full.

We keep enacting legislation about what teachers must do and what assessment must be, thinking the result will miraculously become a willingness to adhere to the spirit of the laws that are created, when that result continually remains a myriad of check-boxes only.

The powers that be love this. It allows them to posture as if they truly desire education improvement when what they really want is to maintain the status quo. It is not they who hope for a different result. It is we, the taxpayers and voters, who do.

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