It is critical that we set realistic goals to hold schools accountable for providing the education students deserve while taking into consideration the unique challenges that must be overcome in the classroom. Our education system must support and revitalize our public schools instead of labeling them as failing when they are not.
Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the most important action Congress can take to update the current model of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The law technically expired on September 30th of 2007, yet Congress has failed to pass a new reauthorization and we remain under its devastating impact on our schools’ ability to succeed. Over the past 10 years, No Child Left Behind made significant changes to ESEA, and while I strongly support its overall goals, it is deeply flawed in its current form and must be substantially changed if it is to succeed.
NCLB established the idea that we must measure academic progress and ensure that students are achieving at appropriate levels as they progress through K-12 education. It also guards against schools failing to properly serve minority groups by separately measuring how each group is doing instead of measuring all students together. I strongly support these provisions of the law. When schools are truly failing, NCLB offers parents and communities various options to fix the problem. But as it is currently structured, NCLB makes it virtually impossible for any school to succeed.
The requirement that all students must be above Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) has led to award-winning schools to be labeled “failing”. Developmentally Disabled and ESL students who face unique challenges in the classroom are forced to take tests that are counted toward a school’s failure. This is demoralizing for teachers, administrators, and students, making it more difficult to identify schools that are truly failing. These problems can and must be fixed. Once we have adequate models for performance criteria that are collectively agreed upon by all stakeholders, we must implement them. However, I do not support a policy of tying teachers’ salaries to test scores.
As we continue on the path to economic recovery, providing a quality education to students in our public schools has become even more important. With a current 8% unemployment rate, there are millions of jobs that can’t be filled because our workforce does not have the skills needed to fill them. It is critical that we prepare our children for the competitive global economy and make sure they have the skills that directly apply to the type of employment opportunities available when they enter the workforce.
Access to higher education is also extremely important to the success of our children. Whether through grants or scholarships, making higher education affordable is critical for the future of millions of students throughout the country.
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