WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 21, 2011 -
Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us today. We appreciate the opportunity to get your perspectives on how states and local school districts can ensure public schools are held accountable to parents and communities for improving student achievement.
We can all agree a strong accountability system is vital for effectively monitoring and improving student achievement. However, the current system under elementary and secondary education law is failing. Decades of growing federal intervention in the nation’s classrooms have done little to boost student achievement levels and make our schools more successful; instead, we now face a system in which the majority of public schools will soon be labeled as “failing.” It is time to reexamine the way schools are held responsible for preparing children for success.
The four components of the existing federal measure of accountability – academic standards, assessments, Adequate Yearly Progress, and school improvement – constitute a one-size-fits-all approach that is ineffective in gauging the performance of schools. Not only is this federal accountability system entirely too rigid, it also fails to take into account the various challenges facing unique schools.
Instead of allowing state and local leaders to develop innovative solutions to improve area schools, the federal system established by No Child Left Behind requires all schools failing to make AYP for two consecutive years or more to follow the same overly-prescriptive set of interventions.
It does not matter if the school narrowly missed the mark in achieving AYP, or if the school failed by a large margin. The federal improvement remedies are nonnegotiable. It seems obvious that the problems facing a rural school in Alaska are probably very different from those facing a school in inner-city Los Angeles, which is even different from a school in San Diego. A one-size-fits-all process developed by Washington bureaucrats is extremely unlikely to adequately and efficiently address the needs of both institutions.
Just last week, the full committee heard from a panel of education officials about the appropriate federal role in ensuring accountability. These experts agreed the current system does not offer the flexibility necessary to address circumstances at the state and local level. As one witness stated, “The arbitrary bar and lack of flexibility has made it difficult for states to advance bold accountability agendas that serve their schools and students well.”
Instead of forcing a narrow and inflexible system on states and school districts, the federal government should encourage state and local officials to create new approaches for measuring student achievement and engaging parents and community members in the performance of schools. Over the past few months, members of this committee have heard countless stories of the innovative ways communities and states are working to more effectively monitor student progress, motivate parents to play a more active role in their children’s education, and improve transparency of important school performance data. The more we can encourage this kind of grassroots engagement in our schools, the better the result.
In my home state of California, some 1,300 schools are persistently failing. Rather than stand by and wait for the federal government to do something about it, parents have been banding together to demand change in their local schools.
Thanks to a ground-breaking “parent trigger” state law that allows a majority group of parents to spur reform in an underperforming public school, more communities have been inspired to take action. For example, the law empowered parents in Compton to push to overhaul a failing public elementary school by turning it into a charter school. Already, states like California, Texas, and Connecticut have enacted “parent trigger” laws, and several other states are considering similar proposals. This is just one example of how folks on the ground are taking matters into their own hands to ensure schools are held accountable for student performance.
The witnesses here today have fresh ideas about improving accountability and student achievement at the state and local levels. They have an intrinsic knowledge of the needs of their communities and students, and we should listen carefully to their thoughts and ideas as we work to redefine the federal government’s role in school accountability. I look forward to a productive discussion on this critical issue with our witnesses, as well as my committee colleagues.
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