We strongly support improving the 5 percent of lowest achieving schools, but at the same time we believe we must acknowledge the accomplishments of the remaining 95 percent, the vast majority of schools in America. We must stop the negative rhetoric that blankets all public schools and focus on the schools that need fixing. In that regard, state interventions should concentrate on building capacity and should focus on a broad range of evidence- and practice-based turnaround models, not the current requirements that take judgment out of the hands of local administrators and force them to engage in the whole-scale removal of teachers and principals.
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.
AASA played a pivotal role in the original adoption of the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP). We support fully funding and reauthorizing this program to maintain direct-to-district funding. The needs of our rural schools are often overlooked and, owing to a lack of capacity and staffing, they tend to fare poorly in a competitive grant environment. REAP is a dedicated source of funds that they sorely need.
We continue to advocate for the full federal funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at 40 percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure and for allowing school districts to reduce local efforts by up to 100 percent of federal funding decreases.
Wraparound programs continue to be essential to the education of the total child, and we support federal funding to address non-school barriers to student achievement, such as high-quality child care programs and tax incentives for employers to provide support for child care and after-school care. The Children’s Health Insurance Program should be continued, and schools should be permitted to claim reimbursement from Medicaid.
The funding cap for the federal eRate program 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 finally is reauthorized.
Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.