Charting a Course toward Better Education

Article excerpt

THE NEW DEMOCRAT CONTROLLED 110th Congress is scheduled to consider reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which will be the ninth reauthorization of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). Yet, five years after its enactment, it is becoming clear that NCLB, like previous versions of the ESEA. does not have the capacity to resolve the problems that plague American public education, as growing evidence suggests that the latest Federal strategy for improving education is not accomplishing its objectives, again demonstrating Washington's inability to improve local education.

As Congress considers a ninth reauthorization of the ESEA, it should break the pattern of increasing funding for expansive Federal programs intended to steer education policy nationwide. This pattern has encouraged the proliferation of state bureaucracy find fostered a compliance mentality among state find local officials, leading them to focus primarily on following Federal regulations. Instead, lawmakers should take a step toward restoring better governance by returning policymaking authority to the state and local levels, thereby promoting an environment in which educators would be more directly responsive to those who primarily are affected by their decisions: students, parents, and local taxpayer.

Specifically, Congress should embrace a "charter state option." This would allow every state to choose between the status quo and a simplified contractual arrangement in which the state would have broad authority to consolidate and refocus its Federal funds on state-directed initiatives in exchange for monitoring and reporting academic progress. The charter state option would restore greater federalism in education, allowing state leaders to embrace innovative strategies according to their local needs, priorities, and reform philosophy while making them more directly responsible to parents and taxpayers for the results.

In 1965, Pies. Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a part of his War on Poverty initiative, stating, "I believe deeply no law I have signed or will ever sign will mean more to the future of America." The 34-page ESEA provided for approximately $2,000,000,000 in Federal funding to improve educational opportunities for the disadvantaged. Over the next four decades, the ESEA was reauthorized eight times, and the Federal government's involvement in education grew. By 2002. the law had ballooned into the 1,100-page No Child Left Behind Act, funded at $22,000,000,000. However, while Federal spending has increased 146% between 1970-2005, test scores generally have remained flat in reading and have improved only slightly in math.

Pres. George W. Bush arrived in Washington promising to transform the Federal role in education. During the 2000 election campaign, he asserted, "t don't want to tinker with the machinery of the Federal role in education. I want to redefine that role entirely." He also expressed a belief in a limited role for Washington in education: "I do not want to be the Federal superintendent of schools," Bush maintained. "I don't want to be the national principal. I believe in local control of schools."

Shortly alter the President entered the White House, his Administration unveiled a 31-page blueprint for reforming the ESEA. The plan, known as No Child Left Behind, sought to accomplish four objectives: increase accountability for student performance, focus on what works, reduce bureaucracy and increase flexibility for states and school districts, and empower parents with school choice. The Administration also sought to build bipartisan support for fundamental reforms by proposing a significant increase in Federal spending.

As the NCLB proposal was developed on Capitol Hill, leading Democrats, including Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California, played an important role in shaping the legislation. …