Local Control of Education: An A+ Idea
By signing into law the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002, President Bush helped usher in an era of unprecedented federal involvement in public education policy, backed up with unprecedented growth in federal education spending.
From the outset, NCLB had a noble goal: more accountability in our public schools so that our kids receive the best education possible.
As a parent and a former teacher, I believe that we must do all we can to ensure that our kids get the education they need to be successful, productive adults. I agree that we must have accountability in our schools, but I ultimately concluded that a new one-size-fits-all mandate from Washington, D.C. isn't the best way to deliver it. That's why I was one of just 41 House members to vote against No Child Left Behind when it passed the House.
In the five years since its enactment, a growing chorus of discontent has been rising from the public education establishment over NCLB. My Congressional district is no exception. For years I have been hearing criticisms of the new law from parents, students, teachers and administrators.
To better understand local educators' thoughts on NCLB, I convened two listening sessions in my district earlier this year. Both were well attended, and resulted in a constructive discussion about the law's merits and shortcomings.
I heard from teachers who feel that their hands are so tied by new testing requirements that they're considering leaving the profession out of frustration. I heard administrators lament the loss of classroom creativity after NCLB's enactment. Others said young kids are failing to learn fundamental things like the months of the year, because so much time is spent teaching materials covered by the testing.
After listening to these educators, I concluded that local decision makers deserve a greater say in education policy.
That's why I am cosponsoring the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act, or A-PLUS Act (H.R. 1539) in Congress. A-PLUS is based on the belief that those closest to a problem are best able to address it.
NCLB says that a bureaucrat in Washington knows best what every school system and every student across America needs. A-PLUS offers a different view. It says that states and localities are better able to determine their own needs and policies, and gives states the ability to opt-out of NCLB's onerous regulations, without losing federal funding.
States wishing to opt-out of NCLB would have the option of submitting to the Secretary of Education a declaration of intent, which would authorize the participating state to assume full responsibility for the educational needs of its students.
States selecting the A-PLUS option would maintain their own state assessment systems, providing direct accountability to parents and other taxpayers for results. This transparency would empower those who need the information to make decisions on behalf of individual students, empowering education consumers, not distant bureaucrats.
Furthermore, participation in A-PLUS would be voluntary. Those states that are content with NCLB could elect to continue participating in it. But those wishing to take responsibility for their own education policies would be free to do so.
Five years after the implementation of NCLB, it's time to give the power back to local educators who know their own needs best. For decades, public education has rightfully been viewed as a function of state and local government, and the A-PLUS Act would keep it that way.