Connecticut Tries To Duck Education Accountability; Supreme Court Says No

Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, an Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state of Connecticut’s challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The original lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Department of Education refused to waive Connecticut’s annual testing requirements under the law, which Connecticut argued was an unfunded mandate. The state claimed it had spent at least $41.6 million of its own money from 2002 to 2008 to comply with NCLB.

Connecticut’s claim is problematic because it conveniently forgets that education is a state responsibility, and that federal accountability provisions kick in only if states accept federal money. Connecticut’s lawsuit attempted to duck responsibility for monitoring student achievement — a disappointing decision in light of the state’s ongoing struggle to close the achievement gap.

Experts have long identified achievement gaps between white students and minority students, low-income students and more affluent students. Under the current law, states are required to demonstrate that all students are learning by breaking down testing data into racial, socioeconomic, and other subgroups and holding schools and districts accountable for the performance of their subgroups. In Connecticut, the disparities between student subgroups are very clear:

Connecticut is not alone; achievement gaps pose a challenge in every state, including Arkansas, Illinois, and Iowa. The upcoming reauthorization of ESEA (formerly NCLB) should address this by including well-designed accountability measures to highlight discrepancies in performance by subgroup. It’s clear that when educators are aware of — and committed to — closing achievement gaps, they can have significant success and see long-term progress.

Thoughtful decisions about accountability and achievement gaps are especially critical in light of recent Census results that document a changing nation with a growing majority of minority children. Lawmakers have long recognized that accountability measures are critical to closing achievement gaps, and Secretary Duncan recently noted in Minnesota that we have lost our “sense of urgency” around bridging the achievement gap. Avoiding accountability should be a mistake of the past. It’s time for states and lawmakers to leave excuses behind and support smart accountability provisions for all students.