Press Release

The House Education and Labor Committee has made clear that the draft released yesterday is only a starting place. When Congress returns to session next week and work begins on this bill in earnest, we hope everyone focuses on what matters most – making this law a more powerful tool for boosting student achievement and closing the gaps.

“”It’’s hard from a policy point of view to make sense of the accountability provisions in this draft, but their political meaning is quite clear,”” said Amy Wilkins, vice president of The Education Trust. “”The efforts to dumb-down the definitions of progress and success by well-financed and ill-informed defenders of the status quo are gaining traction. Americans who share the goal of closing the achievement gaps have cause for concern.””

Although the staff draft creates an accountability fig-leaf by preserving the requirement that all students reach proficiency in reading and mathematics by the 2013-14 school year, the heart of the law has been hollowed out. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as proposed in the draft, would be confusing and reverse the federal commitment to ensuring all students can competently read and do math.

  • By embracing additional measures for AYP, the draft asks for less year-to-year progress in improving achievement in math and reading than does current law, and gives states that have historically been the worst actors on the proposed indicators the opportunity to set the lowest hurdles to clear for extra credit towards proficiency.
  • By endorsing a 15-state pilot for local assessments that could replace statewide assessments for up to two-thirds of all public school students in the U.S., the draft allows states to turn back the clock to a time when the quality of students’ education depended more on their zip code than on their potential.
  • By further extending timelines for the testing in English of students who are new to the U.S., the draft diminishes the responsibility of schools to help these students achieve the English proficiency necessary to do well in school and contribute to and prosper in the American mainstream.

““Adults may feel better with a diluted definition of academic success, but students will be the ones who ultimately pay the price, possibly for the rest of their lives,”” said Wilkins.

In addition to weakening the standard for school success, the proposal also creates a much more complex accountability system.

“”Transparency is a ‘’must’’ in accountability, but what the committee staff has proposed is a system that’s a statistical fog, obscuring the true picture of achievement in our schools,””said Wilkins. “”It’’s likely to confuse – rather than empower – parents, educators, and community leaders.””

Well-intentioned efforts to address high school students’ preparation for the future fall short. Both the treatment of graduation rates and incentives for developing college- and career-ready academic standards require more attention.

For example, the attempt to improve graduation rate provisions may create incentives to slow student progress through high school, reward persistent educational malpractice, and even establish new incentives to consign more students to dead-end programs. And despite an effort to encourage college- and career-ready standards, the draft fails to offer meaningful incentives for states to do the work.

“”Additional funding may be included, but money is not the sticking point,”” says Wilkins. “”The 2013-14 deadline for proficiency is a powerful disincentive to raising standards. If we are going to ask states –- and students -– to climb a higher mountain, we need to give them more time to get there, and this bill draft does not do that.””

The good news is that the staff draft seeks to correct unfair local funding patterns that for generations have shortchanged schools serving poor and minority students. These comparability provisions of the draft would finally ensure that low income kids and the schools they attend get their fair share of state and local education dollars -– effectively leveling the playing field for millions of students throughout America.

“”This is a long-overdue demand that states and schools districts stop treating poor children like second-class citizens,”” said Wilkins. ““The staff recognizes that we will never be able to give our low-income students their fair shot at success until we give them at least their fair share of resources.””