Why we need a new education law—and why ed tech should play a role

The one positive contribution of NCLB was the requirement that data be disaggregated by subgroups, and hopefully this will continue in whatever new version is passed. Since the inception of NCLB, the average performance of all students no longer can hide the poor performance of low-income students, those with limited English proficiency, or those with special needs. The disaggregation of data placed a spotlight on the achievement gap, and—while forcing us to confront the reality that many children indeed were being left behind—it also contributed to the belief that our public education system is failing. Over the span of NCLB, achievement levels have increased, but the achievement gap persists—primarily because the best students also have improved their achievement, not waiting for those behind to catch up. Closing the achievement gap remains our greatest challenge.

Technology is a powerful tool with the potential to close this gap. As we move toward a personalization of the education process, technology can help us realize this dream, allowing individual students learn at their own pace. Our National Superintendent of the Year, Mark Edwards, has made the Mooresville School District in North Carolina an example of how this can be accomplished.

The federal government can play a huge role in supporting this transition. A reauthorized ESEA must include language for an ed-tech program that supports infrastructure, professional development, and student learning—something the nation has lacked since fiscal year 2011. Further compounding this problem, school systems have been ravaged first by the recession and now sequestration, just as they prepare to implement online Common Core exams.

A reauthorized ESEA also would put an end to the waiver process. We have opposed the waiver process on the grounds that all school districts should be granted relief from NCLB requirements, not just those willing to trade one set of regulation for another.

Surprisingly, performance targets seem to have emerged as a possible obstacle to bipartisan discussions. Under NCLB, districts are required to make AYP based on criteria established by each state, with the unrealistic expectation that by 2014 all schools would be making AYP. We support an accountability model that grants states and districts the flexibility to design and implement multiple measures of student achievement. Holding a system accountable does not require that every child be tested every year. There needs to be a separation of testing for accountability and assessment to guide instruction. The federal government could easily use the National Assessment of Educational Progress to hold states accountable and leave school district accountability in the hands of the states, where it belongs.

Finally, we oppose the diversion of funds for competitive grants instead of using those dollars to increase formula funding. Competitive grants benefit only the few districts receiving them, while formula distribution benefits all eligible students. Poverty is the factor most responsible for the achievement gap; to divert dollars away from the children who need it most is unconscionable.

Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

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