Press Release

Via waivers or reauthorization, Ed Trust recommends giving states autonomy to improve student learning and holding them accountable for reaching ambitious, achievable goals

WASHINGTON (September 13, 2011) -– Later this month, the U.S. Department of Education is expected to announce its plan for waiving aspects of the school accountability provisions of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind. A new proposal released today by The Education Trust, “Getting it Right: Crafting Federal Accountability for Higher Student Performance and a Stronger America,” sets a path for next-generation accountability, whether through administration waivers or congressional reauthorization, to do the following:

  • Fix what the current law got wrong, including a better balance of federal, state and local responsibilities.
  • Preserve what current law got right, especially its laser-like focus on raising student achievement and closing gaps.
  • Build on the real-world lessons of high-improving schools to establish challenging, yet realistic, goals for states.

Focusing federal accountability on the states, a key element of the Ed Trust proposal, received broad public support in a national poll conducted by The Winston Group. Among respondents, 88 percent believe that when the federal government provides education funding to states, the states should be held accountable for improving student achievement.

The Education Trust’’s recommendations build on a strong but incomplete proposal recently put forward by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Their recommendations call for a federal accountability framework requiring states to adopt college- and career-ready standards, evaluate schools annually based on student outcomes overall and by subgroup and ensure that immediate action is taken to improve their lowest performers.

“”Accountability systems alone can’t improve student learning; only educators and schools can do that. But they can help create the conditions necessary for improving the quality of education that all students receive,”” said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy development at The Education Trust. “”However, even the most thoughtful accountability system is meaningless without goals.””

The Education Trust proposal fills in the critical missing piece of CCSSO’’s framework by recommending ambitious yet achievable goals for which states should be held accountable. Specifically, it would require states to reduce by at least half the proportion of students not meeting state standards -— overall and by subgroup -— over six years. Those goals have been modeled using data from more than 10 states, which together educate one-third of all public school students nationwide. In each state that was a part of this analysis, achieving the goals would require an increase in the average pace of improvement, but to a level that a substantial proportion of schools in the state have already demonstrated is possible.

The Winston Group poll shows strong public support across the political spectrum for holding states accountable for improving student results. Indeed, 86 percent of Republicans, 92 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of independents and 77 percent of self-identified Tea Partiers agree that the federal government should expect results in return for federal investment.

““While the Tea Party has significant reservations about the federal role in education, many members of the Tea Party believe that if federal funds are going to states, there ought to be an expectation of accountability in the results that states generate,”” said David Winston, president of The Winston Group.

Under the Ed Trust proposal, No Child Left Behind’’s requirements on the “how” of improvement would be replaced by much clearer goals and more flexible means. In addition to the core elements of the CCSSO proposal, states would be required to adopt accountability goals calibrated to effectively narrow both kinds of achievement gaps over the next six years -— the gap between where students are now in relation to the demands of life after high school, and the longstanding gaps between different student subgroups —- in the following areas:

  • While current assessments are in place, states must be on a six-year trajectory to cut in half the percentage of students not meeting standards. After transitioning to more rigorous college- and career-ready standards and assessments, the six-year timeline will reset to acknowledge the additional challenge, and states must then cut in half the gaps between the average proficiency rate statewide and the average rate among the state’s top 10 percent of schools.
  • States must also reduce by half the difference between current four-year high school graduation rates and 90 percent. States that use extended-year rates must halve the difference between current rates and 95 percent.

““Years of experience teach us that, when left to their own devices, too many states will emphasize the achievable and forget the ambitious. There are simply too many short-term political pressures on state leaders to water everything down,”” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “”By adopting this goals framework, the federal government can help speed the pace of change and assure better return on the federal dollar by providing much-needed leverage for reform-minded leaders —- and stiffening the spines of those who need a bit more.””

For more information, and to read the full set of recommendations, visit



The Winston Group survey of 800 voters nationwide probed Americans’ views about education. The telephone survey was conducted May 16-18, 2011. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent, which is larger for subgroups such as political-party affiliation.