WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 14, 2011
Good morning, and welcome to our committee hearing on public school accountability. I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us today. We appreciate the opportunity to get your perspective on the role states, local school districts, and the federal government should play in ensuring schools are held accountable for improving student achievement.
According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ opinion of the U.S. public school system continues to plummet. Only 34 percent of the survey participants indicated ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ of confidence in our public schools.
This should come as no surprise – we don’t have to look far to find discouraging statistics about fourth graders struggling to read or rising high school dropout rates. Decades of escalating federal intervention in the nation’s classrooms has not only failed to raise student achievement levels, it has also created a complex web of red tape that ties the hands of state and local education officials.
Despite its best intentions, our education system is seriously flawed. Current elementary and secondary education law, known as No Child Left Behind, requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, which, frankly, isn’t going to happen. Under NCLB’s accountability system, known as Adequate Yearly Progress, all schools that fail to meet target proficiency levels for two or more consecutive years are required to undergo the same series of prescriptive federal interventions, regardless of the unique circumstances or challenges facing each school.
We cannot continue to rely on a one-size-fits-all federal accountability system to gauge the performance of our schools and students. It’s time to develop a more meaningful way to measure whether students are learning, and we must be willing to look beyond laws enacted in Washington, D.C. Across the country, reform-minded individuals are challenging the education paradigm in exciting ways, and children are benefitting from their efforts.
For example, K-12 reform has been a top priority in Florida for more than a decade. In 1999, then-Governor Jeb Bush enacted a series of far-reaching school reforms that gave parents a greater role and significantly narrowed the achievement gap for the state’s Hispanic and black students. Moreover, these previously underserved groups began to outscore many statewide averages for all students. Florida’s academic successes were made possible by commonsense changes by reformers, students, and teachers all working together for a single, united purpose: student achievement.
In Indiana, state leaders and local school districts are implementing the “Indiana Growth Model,” which measures schools’ successes and assigns letter grades. The new system enables a more in-depth measurement of how much students learn over the course of a school year – no matter their achievement level, income, race, or ZIP code. Accordingly, parents and education officials gain a more accurate view of which teachers are driving the biggest academic gains in the classroom – moving away from simply assessing test scores to a model that recognizes teachers who are moving students 1.5 to 2.5 grade levels in a single school year.
Florida and Indiana are not alone – states across the country are working to improve accountability systems, hold schools accountable for student performance, improve classroom instruction, and offer parents more quality choices in their children’s education.
Each of the witnesses here with us today has played a fundamental role in the development and implementation of innovative accountability systems at the state and local levels. These bold reformers are taking matters into their own hands, and I believe we must do everything we can to get out of their way.
As we work to redefine accountability, we must examine the progress being made by the men and women who have an integral understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing America’s students. I look forward to learning our witness’ views on the way forward for accountability, and a productive debate with my colleagues.
Before we continue with the hearing, I welcome to the committee my colleague from Pennsylvania’s 4th district, Congressman Jason Altmire. We’re glad to have you back on the committee, and look forward to hearing your views on the important issues before us.
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