Press Release

WASHINGTON (June 11, 2013) — Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is long overdue. Eleven years since the passage of No Child Left Behind, it is clear that the law needs updating — and it is encouraging that members of Congress have taken steps to get the process moving. Today’’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee markup of legislation proposed by both Senator Harkin (D-Iowa) and Senator Alexander (R-Tenn.) is the first step on the journey toward improving upon our existing law and ensuring the academic and career success of all children.

On the surface, the Democratic and Republican proposals have much in common -— and much to like.  Both lay out thoughtful approaches to school accountability, educator evaluation, and equitable access to strong teachers.  But those approaches in Senator Alexander’’s Every Child Ready for College or Career Act (ECRCCA) are essentially optional, while those in Senator Harkin’’s Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA) are actually required of states that accept federal dollars.

At its best, federal policy provides leverage to state and local officials to do what is right:  to raise their sights for children, even when political forces pull those sights down; to focus on improving quality, even when that is messy and hard; and, most important, to do whatever it takes to make sure children are not forever limited by the circumstances of their birth.  That kind of leverage doesn’’t require federal micromanagement, but it does require demanding — in return for billions of federal dollars -— more than a simple assurance from states that they are doing right by the very children many of them have ignored for decades.

While not perfect, Senator Harkin’’s SASA is a serious effort to establish an appropriate federal role in education — one that expects results for all students while granting states, districts, and schools the flexibility they need to get those results. It is both an improvement on the Committee’s previous proposal and on the Department’s waiver effort. SASA requires that states set ambitious improvement and gap-closing goals and provide supports and interventions for schools that consistently fall short, but it provides flexibility to accomplish both of these things. It expects districts and states to ensure that low-income students and students of color get their fair share of the best teachers, and districts to give high-poverty schools their fair share of state and local dollars, but again does not mandate how they accomplish this.

Senator Alexander’s ECRCCA legislation includes a number of provisions that we believe could significantly improve current law. Among them are the principles of effectiveness in the use of Title II funds; reporting on per-pupil expenditures at the state, district, and school levels; and the delineation of effective elements for school turnaround strategies. Unfortunately, ECRCCA has two critical flaws. First, it prohibits schools from sharing data with their district or state education agency without the explicit consent of each child’s guardian. This provision is unnecessarily burdensome and restrictive and, if approved, would undermine many of the improvement activities that states, districts, and schools are currently undertaking. Second, by making virtually all state activities optional and by eliminating the Secretary of Education’s review and approval authority, the legislation lacks capacity to influence practice — an element crucial in the reauthorization of ESEA.

As Congress moves forward with the reauthorization of ESEA, we encourage members to assess the proposals based on whether they ensure that America’s new majority — low-income students, students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities — gets the kind of education it needs and that we need it to have if our nation is to thrive.

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