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Rokita: Rethinking ESEA With the Student Success Act

By Todd Rokita — June 28, 2013 4 min read
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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

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