Viewpoint: School leaders need more help, and not red tape, to transform education

We support the Common Core Standards but warn Congress and the Department of Education not to interfere in their development or adoption. The department did just that by stipulating their adoption or “something similar” as a requirement for Race to the Top funding. No question that the United States will be hard-pressed to be globally competitive with 50 set of standards going against nations that only have one.

We object to the use of ESEA dollars to finance competitive grants. ESEA funds should be carefully targeted and delivered entirely through formulas based on the percentage of poverty in a school system. The percentage of poverty should be determined by free and reduced-price lunch costs. We believe that was the intent of Congress when the law was passed back in the mid-60s.

We object to the growing intrusion of the federal government into the decision-making process at the local level. NCLB brought federal intrusion to an unprecedented level, but the current administration has taken it a step further by implementing policy through its requirements for receiving stimulus-funded grants at a time when states and school systems were desperate for dollars. We believe that the jurisdiction of ESEA regulations, guidance, and evaluations should be limited to ESEA programs, and required federal approval of state regulations and statutes beyond ESEA programs as a condition of receiving ESEA funds should be prohibited. The federal government’s role should be to supplement and support, not dictate the policies and responsibilities of local school districts.

For years, the concern over unfunded mandates has grown. School systems should not be required to spend state and local dollars to fund federal mandates. If there are to be reductions in federal support, then they must be accompanied by a commensurate reduction of the federal mandates. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a case in point. The federal government has never lived up to its promise to fund IDEA at 40 percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure. We urge for full funding of IDEA. School districts should be allowed to reduce local effort by up to 100 percent of any federal funding increase. We advocate for the maintenance of the services we now offer our special-needs children, and we want the federal government to pay its fair share.

NCLB rightfully brought school system accountability to the forefront of the public’s attention. What happened behind classroom doors became very visible as the performance of school districts and every school within that district became a matter of public record. The achievement gap that has always existed between white middle-class students and children of poverty, language and ethnic minorities, and special-needs students was now measured and out there for the world to see. Schools with a high average performance had to acknowledge that sub-groups of students within the building were performing well below the average.

The metrics that uncovered the achievement gap, however, were simplistic and convenient. They focused on performance in two areas of the curriculum, language arts and math, measured by standardized, fill-in-the bubbles tests that were cheap to develop and easy to administer.

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