Press Release

WASHINGTON (September 15, 2011) – The last thing our country needs right now is to roll back hard-won progress in student achievement and improvement of America’s public schools, particularly for low-income students and students of color. In large measure, that’s what a new package of Senate bills to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would do.

Yes, all students must be prepared for college and career, as the bills aspire. What’s more, parents and the public do deserve much better information about how well their schools and students are doing. But under the guise of increased flexibility and freedom for local policymakers, this package of proposals would maintain the flow of federal education funding, while handing accountability for returns on that investment back to the states.

Indeed, when left to their own devices, states have a long, well-documented history of aiming far too low and shortchanging the schools that serve our most vulnerable children. It’s because of that history that Congress sought to hold states accountable for results in the first place.

For example, the 1994 version of ESEA required states to design their own accountability systems for schools and districts. The law demanded that these systems expect “continuous and substantial improvement” such that all students met state-set proficiency standards, “particularly economically disadvantaged and limited English proficient children.” Six years later, only two states — Texas and New Mexico — had included subgroup performance as part of their accountability determinations.

In the 2001 version of ESEA, known as No Child Left Behind, states were given the discretion to set their own goals and improvement targets for high school graduation rates. The result? More than half of them chose to set their annual target at “any progress,” meaning that even a bump from 50.0 percent to 50.1 percent was acceptable. Meanwhile, the District of Columbia and two states said it was good enough to not lose ground.

By once again giving states the latitude to aim for the lowest common denominator — and hamstringing the federal government’s ability to respond — these bills would turn the clock back to the 1965 version of ESEA. Back then, the federal government served as little more than an ATM machine. In today’s America, students and taxpayers both deserve more.