United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said today the transformation of New Orleans public schools following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should serve as a national model for education reform. Pointing out that 121 of the city's 128 school campuses were damaged or destroyed in the hurricanes, Landrieu said, "We are basically transforming each and every school to be highly accountable, high-performing."
Sen. Landrieu spoke during a news conference today at a Northwest Washington pre-K-8 school, the Walker Jones Education Campus, where she joined other politically moderate Senators and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to outline specific reform goals as Congress considers reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the principal source of federal funding for the nation's pre-K-12 schools.
Sen. Landrieu noted that the revamped New Orleans system includes "traditional public schools and some public charter schools, which simply means bringing in other providers, high quality providers of quality education and opening up the opportunities so it's not just one centralized top-down system but a diverse array of providers, providing opportunities, many choices for parents."
Landrieu was among the group of moderate Democrats who helped pass the last reauthorization of ESEA in 2002, known as "No Child Left Behind." It expired in 2007, but under federal law, the Act is automatically extended pending Congressional reauthorization. Landrieu called on her colleagues not to let another year go by without reauthorizing ESEA.
"We have a strong leader in Secretary Duncan," Landrieu said, "as well as a solid group of moderate Senate Democrats who want to make ESEA work for students, teachers and schools across the country. We now have the opportunity to learn from the successes and shortcomings of No Child Left Behind and craft a law that promotes local flexibility and innovation, helping close achievement gaps."
Sen. Landrieu and Secretary Duncan were joined at the news conference by Sen. Kay R. Hagan, D-N.C., Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
In a letter to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Ia., Ranking Member Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the senators wrote: "As moderate Democrats in the United States Senate, we would like the opportunity to express the urgency of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). We recognize that, while we work to recover from the recession, we must also be building the foundation for our long-term economic success. We believe that the following principles and policies will drive us toward the outcomes we need to remain competitive in a global economy and give all our children the opportunity to fulfill their potential."
The principles address five key components of ESEA reauthorization: accountability structure, school turnaround, teachers and leaders, innovation and equity in resources. Also supporting these education reform principles are the following moderate Senators: Herb Kohl, D-Wis., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Mark Begich, D-Ark.
The moderate senators are putting forth an innovative vision for education that sets a high bar for all students and attracts and supports the most talented teachers and leaders in our schools. The senators' Statement of Principles addresses several problems in No Child Left Behind, including the lack of an accountability system that is accurate and fair in measuring student growth. The senators support the development of meaningful ways to measure teacher and principal effectiveness, while providing necessary support for educators, especially those in high-need schools. They believe aggressive action is critical if we are to turn around persistently low-performing schools, and that the federal government should support and encourage innovative state and local efforts to improve schools through programs such as the Race to the Top.