Weekly Columns

State Flexibility Necessary in Education Reform

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Washington, February 22, 2012 | comments

My focus in Congress continues to be on creating jobs and growing our economy.  Ultimately, doing this starts with creating an education system that gives Americans the tools they need to get jobs in the global economy.

Improving our nation’s education system is critical to securing a successful future for our children and grandchildren. Last week, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, of which I am a member, began considering changes to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law for the first time in over a decade. H.R. 3989, the Student Success Act, and H.R. 3990, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, will raise the standard in public education, return crucial decision-making authority to the states, and ensure that the unique needs of every student are being met.

Since NCLB was signed into law 10 years ago, Tennessee and its educators have done their best to provide a quality education to all students. While NCLB addressed some shortcomings in the education system, it opened up a whole new set of problems that simply haven’t been addressed. On February 9, 2012, Tennessee was granted a waiver providing greater state and local flexibility from standards within NCLB. While this waiver will help Tennessee’s education system in the short-term, I am concerned that – rather than working with Congress to fix the problems in our education system permanently – the Administration is trying to have states pass their agenda through the backdoor.

That is why I am proud to be a cosponsor of the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act. These bills enable true education reform by giving states more flexibility to meet local needs and providing accountability needed for successful outcomes. There is also an assurance that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely because funding is used to strengthen programs that are already successfully working in school districts around the country. These bills offer long-term solutions for our education system that will help pave the path of our children’s future

I believe education reform should be driven at the state and local level, not by bureaucrats in Washington. Our teachers in East Tennessee know best how to meet the needs of their students. I believe both the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act help empower more local decision-making. These bills consolidate more than 70 programs to make sure that states and school districts have the maximum flexibility to use federal funds as they see fit towards local priorities.

This legislation will also eliminate the seriously flawed accountability measure of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which requires states to set annual goals for students across the board. Currently, if AYP goals aren’t met, the law requires federally mandated interventions. According to the Center on Education Policy, almost half of all public schools in the U.S. failed to meet the goals set by AYP in 2011. Eliminating this flawed standard will give teachers more time to spend with their students, rather than dealing with more mandates issued by the federal government.

Additionally, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act require states to determine their own teacher and school accountability systems with a set of parameters to ensure no school system falls behind. Under this legislation, each state will have the chance to develop their own improvement plans for schools that fail to make satisfactory progress.

While speaking with educators throughout the First District, they are concerned the Highly Qualified Teacher Requirement does not take into account the unique needs and challenges of smaller, more rural school systems. That is why I am pleased this legislation also eliminates the Highly Qualified Teacher Requirement established in NCLB. Again, we have the ability to make teacher evaluations in Tennessee that account for the unique needs of each school district.

The public school system in the United States is second to none, but it is no secret we still have work to do. I strongly believe we can get our education system back on track while returning control to those who best know education- teachers and school administrators. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree that this is an issue of national importance. I will continue working to ensure schools in the First District of Tennessee have the freedom and flexibility they need to successfully and effectively educate our children.

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Tags: Education