In an effort to overhaul the No Child left Behind Act (NCLB), a bill was introduced last week by Senator’s Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WI) to give states and local communities more autonomy in crafting their own education programs. Last Thursday, however, after several years of hearings and debates, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed the bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act, which will now be sent to the full Senate for deliberation.
The Bill was passed less than month after Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama announced they would wave school-accountability provisions in state laws as mandated by NCLB, most notably the controversial requirement that all U.S. public schools must be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
The problem with the legislation, though, is that while the bill is extolled as a bipartisan achievement – a rarity in Washington these days – a clause mandating teacher evaluations has been conspicuously omitted.
Moreover, while many educators applaud the Senate’s efforts to address education reform, if the new bill passes, students will not be required to meet federal or state testing standards. Michelle Rhee, the former DC Schools Chancellor, asserts that if the overhaul is indeed ratified -- parents, communities and the American taxpayer will lose any semblance of accountability in public schools.
I would further point out that while we spend more money on public education than any other country, 70% of eighth graders cannot read at a proficient level. Hence, if we exempt educators from being held accountable in the classroom – and local schools districts are free to implement their own education standards – do we really expect national test scores to rise anytime soon?
The chart below underscores how much money the federal government has spent on public education since 1996:
For years, taxpayers have doled out exorbitant amounts of money to fund the American public education system and yet we still rank 25th in math and 21st in science amongst industrialized nations. While Congress is now taking steps in the right direction to reverse this trend, it’s increasingly obvious that this bill, because of its inherent flaws, will ultimately fail to solve the myriad of problems plaguing U.S. public schools.