WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 7, 2013 -
Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the landmark “Nation at Risk” report. By starkly illuminating the failures in K-12 schools, this Reagan-era report sparked a national conversation on the state of education in America.
Without a doubt, “Nation at Risk” could be considered the catalyst for the modern education reform movement. In the years following the report’s release, states and school districts advanced a number of initiatives aimed at raising the bar for students. The federal government doubled education spending and, through the groundbreaking No Child Left Behind law, took steps to narrow student achievement gaps, strengthen curricula, and demand greater accountability.
But as I’ve said before, hindsight is 20/20. Despite the best of intentions, we can now see clearly that our federal efforts haven’t worked as we’d hoped. The ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’ metric is entirely too rigid and actually limits states’ and school districts’ ability to effectively gauge student learning. The antiquated ‘Highly Qualified Teacher’ requirements value tenure and credentials above a teacher’s ability to actually teach. Strict mandates and red tape result in unprecedented federal intrusion in classrooms, stunting innovation. And despite a monumental investment of taxpayer resources, student achievement levels are still falling short.
It’s time to change the law.
Last Congress, we advanced a series of legislative proposals to rewrite No Child Left Behind. Instead of working with Congress to fix the law, however, the Obama administration chose to offer states temporary waivers from some of No Child Left Behind’s most onerous requirements in exchange for new mandates dictated by the Department of Education.
As more states adopt the administration’s waivers, my concerns grow. These waivers are a short-term fix to a long-term problem, and leave states and school districts tied to a failing law. School leaders face uncertainty, knowing the federal requirements they must meet to maintain their waiver are subject to change with the whims of the administration.
In the coming months, we will again move forward with a proposal to rewrite No Child Left Behind. This legislation will be based on four principals that my Republican colleagues and I believe are critical to rebuilding and strengthening our nation’s education system.
First, we must restore local control, and encourage the kind of flexibility states and school districts need to develop their own accountability plans that provide parents more accurate and meaningful information about school performance.
Second, it’s time to reduce the federal footprint. The Department of Education operates more than 80 programs tied to K-12 classrooms, many of which are duplicative or ineffective, each with its own set of strict rules. Innovation and effective reform cannot be mandated from Washington. We must put control back in the hands of the state and local leaders who know their students best.
Third, we need to shift our focus to teacher effectiveness. We should value our educators based on their ability to motivate students in the classroom, not their degrees and diplomas. States or school districts must be granted the opportunity to develop their own teacher evaluation systems based in part on student achievement, enabling educators to be judged fairly on their effectiveness in the classroom.
Finally, we’ve got to empower parents. Any effort to provide students with a top-quality education must include the involvement and support of parents. Whether through charter schools, scholarships, tax credits, open enrollment policies, or other options, parents should be free to select the school that best fits their children’s needs.
As the “Nation at Risk” report concluded, “Reform of our educational system will take time and unwavering commitment. It will require equally widespread, energetic, and dedicated action.”
We have an opportunity to work together in good faith to bring true reform to America’s K-12 schools. To change the law to more effectively support the teachers, school leaders, superintendents, and parents who are working tirelessly each and every day to ensure our children have the skills they need to succeed.
We laid a considerable amount of groundwork last Congress, holding 14 hearings with dozens of witnesses to explore the challenges and opportunities facing our schools. I hope we can build upon that progress as we move forward with legislation that will change the law by offering states and school districts the flexible, dynamic education policies they deserve. Today’s hearing is an important part of that effort, and I look forward to our witnesses’ testimony.
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