Federal Opinion

Rokita: Rethinking ESEA With the Student Success Act

By Todd Rokita — June 28, 2013 4 min read

When I was selected to serve as the chairman of the House early-childhood, elementary, and secondary education subcommittee at the start of the 113th Congress earlier this year, I looked forward to the challenge of helping to write a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known by its most recent moniker, No Child Left Behind.

The authorization itself expired in 2007, and the law has yet to be reauthorized. The failures of past Congresses have left a vacuum that has been happily filled by a White House and U.S. Department of Education intent on reshaping education policy as they see fit. The results have yielded confusing regulations and excessive hoops for parents, teachers, and state and local leaders to jump through to receive federal funding. The most widely discussed of these efforts are the common-core standards, which federal officials have coerced states to adopt.

Across my home state of Indiana, Washington’s pressuring of states to adopt the Common Core State Standards is unpopular. No matter their intent, the standards shouldn’t be tied to federal funding, and decisions about education should be made by our state and local governments. Hoosiers rightly believe that they can and should be able to make education decisions for their own communities.

Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, in a 2010 file photo.

Our students deserve better than inaction by Congress on such a critical issue—education. Failure to reauthorize the ESEA is simply not an option. The reauthorization must restore balance to the federal and state relationship while prioritizing and recognizing the authority states have over education. I believe that with the proposed Student Success Act, we’ve done that.

The Student Success Act, which was sponsored by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, would reform NCLB by empowering families, teachers, and state and local governments—those closest to our children—to make education decisions in several key areas.

The bill would also dramatically reduce the federal role in education by returning authority for measuring student performance and turning around low-performing schools to states and local officials. It would empower states to develop their own accountability systems that effectively evaluate school quality, while ensuring that parents have access to the accurate disaggregated data needed to make decisions about their children’s education.

Streamlining bureaucracy and supporting local efforts. There are currently more than 80 distinct federal programs that are supposed to promote student achievement. The Student Success Act would eliminate more than 70 of those programs and replace them with grant funding that states and school districts would have the flexibility to use to tailor programs to their local needs.

The [ESEA] reauthorization must restore balance to the federal and state relationship while ... recognizing the authority states have over education."

Instead of Washington bureaucrats making decisions, the legislation would allow superintendents, school leaders, and local officials to make funding decisions based on what they know will help improve student learning. In addition, the Student Success Act would require the U.S. secretary of education to identify and eliminate positions associated with those programs.

The Student Success Act would repeal the onerous No Child Left Behind requirement that districts employ teachers deemed “highly qualified.” This mandate has valued a teacher’s credentials over his or her effectiveness in the classroom. Instead, the Student Success Act would support state- and locally driven teacher-evaluation systems that provide states and school districts with the tools necessary to measure an educator’s influence on student achievement.

The Student Success Act would also limit the authority of the U.S. secretary of education in four key ways by:

• Prohibiting the secretary from imposing conditions, including conditions involving state standards and assessments, on states and school districts in exchange for a waiver of federal law;

• Preventing the secretary from creating additional burdens on states and districts through the regulatory process, particularly in the areas of standards, assessments, and state accountability plans;

• Prohibiting the secretary from demanding changes to state standards, and influencing and coercing states to enter into partnerships with other states; and

• Outlining specific procedures the secretary must follow when issuing federal regulations and conducting peer-review processes for grant applications, which would increase the federal Department of Education’s transparency.

There is no one silver bullet for reforming our education system. To improve results and chart a brighter future for our nation’s children, we need to empower parents and leaders at the local and state levels. Allowing the states to be the “laboratories of democracy” they were designed to be, we can get there. The Student Success Act would take a big step in that direction.

Yesterday, Education Week published a Commentary by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, with a Democratic view on ESEA reauthorization.
A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2013 edition of Education Week


Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Calls on Schools to Host COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics for Kids 12 and Up
The president is focusing on vaccinating children ages 12 and older as concerns grow about the Delta variant and its impact on schools.
2 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on June 2.
Evan Vucci/AP
Federal How Political Backlash to Critical Race Theory Reached School Reopening Guidance
A lawmaker wants Miguel Cardona to repudiate the Abolitionist Teaching Network after federal COVID-19 documents referenced the group's work.
6 min read
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.<br/>
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA via AP
Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP