The following editorial appeared in The Seattle Times:
The No Child Left Behind education law produced one outcome worth salvaging: an emphasis on holding schools accountable for the academic achievement of all students.
Now, as Congress considers two bills to reform the federal education law, some lawmakers want to loosen federal oversight of school performance – a long step backward for the nation’s education system.
Both the U.S. Senate and House passed bills that leave accountability measures up to individual states. But U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a major architect of the Senate’s proposal, wisely continues to push for stronger federal accountability, which is opposed by some Democrats who cater to teachers unions and some Republicans who favor local control.
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Under the Senate bill, states will have more flexibility to design how they measure student progress through test scores, graduation rates and other metrics. Murray rightfully argues that the federal government should still track struggling schools and ensure that states provide resources to help them.
The federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars each year on education and must make sure that money is used wisely and effectively. President Barack Obama has indicated he wants to sign a law that includes strong federal standards.
Since NCLB went into effect in 2002, more students are graduating from high school and achieving proficiency in math and reading overall. But the disparities between the highest- and lowest-performing schools and between ethnic groups remain unacceptably vast.
In Washington state, for example, the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education show that 48 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in math in 2013; but only 29 percent of black students and 24 percent of Hispanic students reached proficiency compared with 56 percent of white students.
This data are meaningless unless districts and schools take action. Under NCLB, resources and funding were withheld to punish schools for not meeting benchmarks instead of giving them tools to succeed. That strategy backfired.
Murray and her congressional colleagues must seize the opportunity to build on the lessons of NCLB and present the country with a better education law, one that keeps schools accountable for the outcomes of all students.