The House has just passed the Student Success Act (SSA), a proposal sponsored by Representatives John Kline (R–MN) and Todd Rokita (R–IN) to rewrite the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The proposal aims to fix some of NCLB’s most egregious policy flaws.
Importantly, the proposal would eliminate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. While AYP sounds like a worthwhile goal, this federal mandate resulted in states watering-down proficiency standards in order to make students appear to reach the mandated target. The SSA would eliminate AYP and allows states to design their own accountability systems, placing this function back at the state and local level, where it belongs.
The SSA would also eliminate the burdensome—and ineffective—Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) mandate. The HQT required teachers of core subjects to be state certified and have a bachelor’s degree. The SSA returns something that should clearly be local school policy to the purview of principals and state leaders. Moreover, literature on teacher certification shows that there is no difference in a teacher’s impact on student achievement if he or she is traditionally certified, alternatively certified, or uncertified. The HQT mandate was a paperwork burden that the SSA would wisely eliminate.
The SSA would also remove maintenance-of-effort regulations that require states to spend money in order to secure federal funding. And it includes strong language clearly delineating that standards and assessments are not to be dictated by the U.S. Secretary of Education—important at a time when the Obama Administration has been pushing states to adopt Common Core national standards and tests. An amendment by Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R–MO) further strengthened that provision, providing a “sense of Congress” that “states and local educational agencies should maintain the rights and responsibilities of determining educational curriculum, programs of instruction, and assessments for elementary and secondary education.”
In previous posts, we noted that the SSA in its original form suffered from two major policy limitations: that while it wisely eliminated the burdensome HQT provision, it replaced it with prescriptive language about how local school districts were to evaluate teachers. It also missed an opportunity to allow states to make Title I funding—funding for low-income school districts—portable, following a child to any public, charter, or private school of choice.
Those policy limitations were addressed in part by two amendments to the bill.
Representatives Steve Scalise (R–LA) and Rob Bishop (R–UT) offered an amendment, which was included in the final version of the bill that passed the House today, to remove the prescriptive teacher evaluation language. This amendment was important not because conservatives dislike accountability for teachers; on the contrary, conservatives have long championed tying teacher evaluations to student performance on assessments and linking personnel decisions and compensation to those evaluations. But as originally drafted, the SSA would have mandated such evaluation systems for states and school districts, wresting personnel decisions out of the hands of principals, who would have had to follow Washington prescriptions for how they evaluated their teacher workforce.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R–VA) introduced an amendment, which was included in the bill that passed the House, that would allow states to make their Title I dollars portable to any public or charter school of choice. Full Title I portability—i.e., allowing funds to follow a child to a private school as well—is better policy, but this is an improvement on existing statute.
Which could be the analysis of the policy in the entire SSA. It makes important improvements to NCLB that could significantly reduce red tape for schools. Ultimately, however, conservatives should push to dramatically limit federal intervention in education—not by “fixing” NCLB but by allowing states to completely opt out and spend dollars on their most pressing education needs. The A-PLUS proposal would allow such flexibility, and it remains the bright line in the sand for conservative policymakers interested in restoring state and local control of education.