House Education and the Workforce Committee chairman John Kline (R–MN) and Representative Todd Rokita (R–IN) have introduced the Student Success Act (SSA)—a proposal to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
While restoring excellence in education will require more than a fix to the bureaucratic NCLB, Kline’s proposal makes some improvements to existing statute. But as we wrote last week, conservatives in Congress should work to allow states to completely opt-out of NCLB while eliminating federal programs that are ineffective and duplicative, not just try to solve the multitude of problems that plague the massive NCLB.
For those keeping score at home, Kline’s Student Success Act is the third NCLB rewrite to be proposed in as many weeks. Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) introduced the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act last week, and Senator Tom Harkin (D–IA) introduced his highly prescriptive 1,150-page rewrite of the law.
The SSA would eliminate Adequate Yearly Progress requirements in favor of allowing states to establish their own accountability systems. The proposal would also eliminate the highly qualified teacher mandate in current law and maintenance-of-effort regulations requiring states to spend money to secure federal funding.
It would also repeal the authorizations for 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Ready to Learn Television, Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, i3 grants, and dozens of other programs that are outside of the purview of the federal government.
The proposal also prohibits the Secretary of Education from dictating standards and assessments—smart policy at a time when the Obama Administration has been heavily incentivizing states to adopt Common Core national standards and tests.
The SSA increases funding for Title I—the largest pot of NCLB funds—to $16.6 billion, but it incorporates other programs to give states more flexibility in directing federal education spending. Programs geared toward Native American and migrant children, English language learners, delinquent students, and rural populations would be housed under Title I.
Although the proposal takes some important steps forward to make federal regulations less onerous, it fails to fundamentally reduce intervention in education.
For example, the Student Success Act removes the highly qualified teacher provision mandating that any teacher of a core academic subject be state-certified and hold a bachelor’s degree. But it fails to recognize that local school districts are best equipped to make informed decisions about teacher effectiveness and instead offers prescriptive mandates for how school districts are to evaluate teachers.
The proposal mandates that school districts implement teacher evaluation systems based in part on student achievement data and that those outcomes be “a significant factor in determining a teacher’s evaluation.” While basing teacher evaluations on outcome measures such as student achievement is smart school-level policy, it’s certainly not something that should be mandated by the federal government.
Moreover, conservative reforms such as portability of Title I funding are absent from the Kline–Rokita rewrite. Allowing states to make their Title I dollars portable, following a child to any public or private school of choice, is a critical reform component.
The bottom line: While it makes some improvements to existing law, at over 500 pages, Kline’s proposal does not fundamentally reduce federal intervention into education, as the 13-page conservative alternative to NCLB, the A-PLUS Act, does. Those 13 pages are a bolder, better conservative approach to restoring authority to those closest to the student.