Our guest blogger is Jeremy Ayers, Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Last week, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, released two bills to revise the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB certainly needs to be fixed, but the Kline bills would do more harm than good by returning almost all control of education to the local level. They would jeopardize important civil rights protections for disadvantaged students, reduce accountability for the use of taxpayer dollars, and promote partisan ideas that make it less likely NCLB actually gets reauthorized soon.
The first bill, the Student Success Act, would change how schools are held accountable. The bill would maintain the status quo in terms of standards and assessments, while asking states to come up with their own system for improving struggling schools. This seems reasonable enough on its face, but the proposal contains some big problems:
— States and districts would have no parameters or requirements for how they use federal funds to help struggling schools.
— States would not have to hold schools accountable for the performance of disadvantaged students if they don’t want to.
— School districts could put anyone in the classroom as a teacher, including those without a college degree or demonstrable knowledge of the subject they teach.
— States wouldn’t have to ensure poor and minority students get effective teachers. But they must ensure private school children receive the same funding, services, and even equipment that public school students do, including using taxpayer dollars to hire new staff.
— Congress could never significantly increase education funding, at least beyond the rate of inflation.
— States would no longer have to measure how well students do in science, a subject that is critical for 21st century jobs and maintaining American competitiveness abroad.
The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, meanwhile, would seek to improve the teacher workforce. Notably, the bill would require states and districts to create new teacher evaluation systems to rate teachers and then make personnel decisions. This is a step in the right direction, but fails to ensure that schools use evaluations to help teachers improve. One wonders if this is an attempt to make it easier to fire teachers, or worse, simply putting a finger in the eye of teachers’ unions.
There are other problems with the teacher bill, including essentially turning federal funds into block grants that would do little or nothing to ensure public money is spent wisely or fairly. And the bill would change funding formulas so that poor schools would have less priority in receiving grants.
In a press statement Kline said, “There is a strong sense of urgency that the heavy-handed law must be reformed to ensure more children have access to the quality education they deserve.” But the law he proposes actually weakens protections and programs for disadvantaged children while giving states and districts an almost blank government check.
In a telling move, the Kline bill wants to change the name of the biggest chapter in NCLB from “Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged” to “Aid to Local Education Agencies.” That goes to show that House Republicans are unfortunately more interested in promoting local control than promoting the interests of disadvantaged students.