Equity & Diversity Opinion

Ten Steps in the Right Direction: How Feds Can Strengthen Public Education

By Daniel A. Domenech — May 03, 2012 4 min read
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Nothing is simple in the process of strengthening our national approach to public education. These ten steps, however, provide a framework for invigorating our schools and creating an environment for positive change.

1. Provide regulatory relief from No Child Left Behind.

The waiver process that the administration has implemented is no more than an exchange of old regulations for new ones. It replaces the depleted stimulus dollars with regulatory relief as the means to get states and districts to implement the administration’s policy. We certainly support accountability and the continued disaggregation of data for sub-groups of students, one of the few positive contributions of NCLB. We strongly support improving the lowest achieving schools, but at the same time we believe we must acknowledge the accomplishments of the vast majority of schools in America.

2. Allocate funds via formulas based on percentage of poverty.

We continue to object to the use of ESEA dollars for competitive grants. The intent of ESEA is to level the playing field relative to poverty. Since the beginning of the current recession, school systems have seen dramatic increases in the number of children eligible for free and reduced lunches. All eligible children should benefit from all available funds, not just those in “winner” states and districts.

3. Set goals, hold districts accountable for them, but allow the localities the freedom to determine how to implement them.

We are concerned about the growing intrusion of the federal government into state and local education issues. Any reduction in federal funds should be accompanied by a similar reduction in federal mandates. School systems should not be required to spend local and state funds to implement federal mandates.

Accountability for effectiveness is a state and local responsibility, as are compensation decisions. The required use of the very standardized tests that have been labeled as not valid and reliable by the administration in order to evaluate teachers and principals is creating chaos in states and school systems throughout the country.

Yes, student performance must be a key factor in the evaluation of teachers and administrators, but it must be left up to the states and localities to determine how, not forced upon them as a requirement for obtaining competitive federal dollars.

4. Fully fund and reauthorize the Rural Education Achievement Program Reauthorization Act (REAP) to maintain direct-to-district funding.

AASA played a pivotal role in the original adoption of this program. The needs of our rural schools are often overlooked and, due to a lack of capacity and staffing, they tend to fair poorly in a competitive grant environment. REAP is a dedicated source of funds that they sorely need.

5. Continue to support the Common Core and state-developed standards.

In a globally competitive world we cannot go against countries that have a set of national standards while we have a set of fifty standards. It is also difficult to assess our progress as a nation with fifty sets of tests whose results do not align well with the closest instrument we have to a national test, the National Assessment for Educational Progress.

6. Separate assessment for purposes of accountability from assessment for the purpose of informing instruction.

A random sample of the nation, a la NAEP, would do for purposes of accountability with reduced costs and less intrusion on instruction and the number of children and subjects tested.

7. State interventions should concentrate on building capacity and focus on a broad range of evidence and practice- based turn-around models.

Current requirements take judgment out of the hands of local administrators and force them to engage in the whole-scale removal of teachers and principals. We must stop the negative rhetoric that blankets all public schools and focus on the schools that need fixing. In that regard

8. Provide full funding of IDEA

AASA continues to advocate for full funding at the forty percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure and for allowing school districts to reduce local effort by up to one hundred percent of federal funding decreases.

9. Provide federal funding to address non-school barriers to student achievement

Wrap around programs continue to be essential to the education of the total child, and we support high quality childcare programs and tax incentives for employers to provide support for child care and after-school care. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) should be continued and schools should be permitted to claim reimbursement from Medicaid.

10. The funding cap for E-Rate should be raised to meet demand.

We oppose vouchers and federal funding for non-public schools.

We will continue to be strong advocates on behalf of our public schools and work with both houses of Congress. We like much of what is contained in the reauthorization bills that have emerged in the House and Senate and hope that much of it will remain when ESEA is reauthorized.

School leaders, tell us what you think by commenting below. How would these tenets change education for children in your district?

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.
The opinions expressed in Transforming Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.