Our guest blogger is Jeremy Ayers, Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Yesterday a group of four Republican Senators, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), introduced a package of bills to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, a law that certainly needs revising. But the Republican rewrite would take away the requirement of states and districts to act to improve struggling schools. And partisan bills like these only make it harder to revise the law in a bipartisan way, something Alexander said he was committed to doing earlier this year.
The Republican bills would, together, do four things: fund the expansion of successful charter schools, consolidate various programs into state block grants, create a differential pay program for teachers, and scale back the accountability of states and school districts. A more detailed overview can be found here. But a few obvious problems stand out.
First, turning federal programs into block grants may seem attractive to those on the far right who think anything that Washington had its hand in is tainted. But it’s poor stewardship of taxpayer money to have zero accountability for how federal money is spent and to have no focus on disadvantaged students, the main federal role in education.
Secondly, if Republicans think that performance-based pay programs (and block grants) alone will improve the teacher workforce, they’re naïve. It takes far more than that, like better training, support in the classroom, and policies that focus on teachers’ effectiveness with students.
Thirdly, accountability is a good thing; it holds states’ and districts’ feet to the fire for improving student progress. The Republican package would only focus on the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in each state. It would let states and districts do whatever they want — including nothing or very little — for the remaining 95 percent. That is simply insufficient in today’s economy when American students compete with highly-educated students from around the globe in an increasingly competitive job market.
Following the debt limit crisis, the public has witnessed a demoralizing breakdown in bipartisan governing. It is unfortunate that these bills only add fuel to the fire. Rather than reaching an honest hand across the aisle, these Senators put up a partisan roadblock to progress.
No wonder Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he’ll soon offer states relief from the broken current law in exchange for engaging in real reforms to improve our nation’s schools. That kind of action offers real hope to struggling schools and students that the federal government is working to make their lives better. Republicans need to stop playing politics with America’s children and get back to the negotiating table.