The House will debate the Student Success Act over the next week, which provides a few good first steps toward limiting burdensome federal intervention in education. But in its current form, the proposal has some serious policy limitations.
On the positive side, the bill would eliminate some of the most onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), such as Adequate Yearly Progress, which mandates universal student proficiency; the Highly Qualified Teacher provision, which requires prospective teachers to secure paperwork certification that has little to no relevance to classroom performance; and maintenance-of-effort regulations that require states to spend money to access federal dollars.
On the other hand, the Student Success Act prescribes how school districts are to evaluate teachers and requires them to make personnel decisions that reflect these new regulations. Title II of the proposal mandates that
states shall use funds to develop and implement a teacher evaluation system that—
• uses student achievement data derived from a variety of sources as a significant factor in determining a teacher’s evaluation, with the weight given to such data defined by the local educational agency;
• uses multiple measures of evaluation for evaluating teachers;
• has more than 2 categories for rating the performance of teachers;
• shall be used to make personnel decisions, as determined by the local educational agency.
While tying student achievement data to teacher evaluations, using multiple measures of evaluation, and basing personnel decisions on these outcomes is good policy, it should be local school district policy—not policy the federal government should be dictating.
The Student Success Act also lacks an important reform: portability of Title I funds. Title I, which provides federal funds to low-income school districts, should be reformed to allow states to make their Title I funds portable, following a student to any public or private school of choice. Conservatives have long championed giving states the option to make Title I dollars portable, and any rewrite of NCLB should, at a minimum, contain Title I portability.
Absent these reforms to the Student Success Act, the proposal contains policy shortcomings that overwhelm some of the improvements to existing statute that it could create.