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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



S. 1430. A bill to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 regarding highly qualified teachers, growth models, adequate yearly progress, Native American language programs, and parental involvement, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the School Accountability Improvements Act.

As you know, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, made significant changes to Federal requirements for schools, school districts, and States. Many of these changes have been good, and were necessary.

Because of NCLB, there is more national attention being paid to ensuring that schools, districts, and States are held accountable for the achievement of students with disabilities, those who are economically disadvantaged, and minority students. In my own State of Alaska this has meant, for example, that our more urban school districts are paying more attention than ever to Alaska Native students' needs.

People across the nation are also more aware that a teacher's knowledge of the subject matter and his or her ability to teach that subject are the most important factors in ensuring a child's achievement in school.

Teachers, parents, administrators, and communities have more data than ever about the achievement of individual students, subgroups of students, and schools. With that data, changes are being made to school policies and procedures and more students are getting the help they need to succeed in schools.

While these are just a few of the positive effects of the No Child Left Behind Act, there have been problems. This is not surprising, as it is difficult to write one law that will work well for both New York City and Nuiqsut, AK.

My bill, the School Accountability Improvements Act is meant to address 6 issues that are of particular concern in Alaska and in other States around the nation.

First, my legislation would give flexibility to states regarding NCLB's ``Highly Qualified Teacher'' requirements. In very small, rural schools, it is common for one teacher to teach multiple core academic subjects in the middle and high school grades. NCLB requires that this teacher be ``Highly Qualified'' in each of those subjects.

While it is vital that teachers know the subjects they teach, it is also unreasonable to expect teachers in very tiny schools to meet the current requirements in every single subject. It is almost impossible for tiny, remote school districts to find and hire such teachers. Yet, students deserve to have teachers who know the subjects they teach.

My legislation would provide flexibility by allowing instruction to be provided by Highly Qualified teachers by distance delivery if they are assisted by teachers on site who are Highly Qualified in a different subject. This provision is offered as a compromise in those limited situations.

Second, my legislation would give credit to schools, rather than punish them, if students are improving but have not yet reached the State's proficiency goals by requiring the U.S. Department of Education to allow States to determine schools' success based on individual students' growth in proficiency. While it can be useful to teachers and administrators to know how one group of third graders compares to the next year's class, it is much more useful for educators, students, and parents to know how each child is progressing--is the child proficient, on track to be proficient, or falling behind? Many States now have the robust data systems that will allow them to track this information; NCLB should allow them to use the statistical model that will be most useful.

My bill also improves NCLB's requirements for school choice and tutoring. No Child Left Behind gave parents an opportunity to move their children out of dysfunctional schools. I support that. But the law requires school districts offer school choice, and to set aside funds to pay for transportation, in Year Two of Improvement Status. Schools do not have to tutor the students until the following year. This is backwards logic. Schools should be given the opportunity to help students learn first before transporting them all over town. I think most parents agree, and that is one reason why we are seeing fewer than 2 percent of parents choose to transfer their children to another school. My bill would require schools to offer tutoring first before providing school choice.

Mr. President, NCLB also requires schools to tutor and offer choice to students who are doing well at their neighborhood school. Schools should not be forced to set aside desperately needed funds to serve students who don't need those services. My bill would require schools to provide tutoring and choice only to those students who are not proficient. In addition, it would allow school districts to provide tutoring to students even if the district is in Improvement Status. While school districts may need improvement overall, those same districts employ teachers who are fully capable of providing effective tutoring.

Many educators and parents also have concerns about NCLB's requirements for Corrective Action and Restructuring. These are very significant requirements that can include firing staff and closing schools that don't meet the law's AYP requirements. They are even more significant if the actions are not based on reliable information.

As you know, assessing whether a child is proficient on state standards in a reliable and valid way is difficult. It is even more difficult when the child has a disability or has limited English proficiency. Some question whether or not the tests we are giving these two groups of students are valid and reliable. Yet, NCLB requires districts and States to impose significant corrective actions or restructure a school completely if a school or district does not make AYP for any subgroup repeatedly. For truly dysfunctional schools and districts, that may be appropriate.

But, how do we justify taking over a school, firing its teachers, turning its governance over to another entity, or other drastic measures if the students are learning but have not yet met the State's proficiency benchmarks? We can not.

That is why my bill would not allow a school or school district to be restructured if the school missed AYP for one or both of those subgroups alone and the school can show through a growth model that the students in those two subgroups are on track to be proficient in a reasonable amount of time. Schools that are improving student learning should not be dismantled based on potentially invalid test results.

In Alaska, Hawaii, and several other States, Native Americans are working hard to keep their indigenous languages and cultures alive. Teachers will tell you, and research supports them, that Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and American Indian students learn better when their heritage is a respected and vibrant part of their education. This is true of any child, but particularly true for these groups of Americans.

Many schools around the country that serve these students have incorporated indigenous language programs into their curriculum. The problem is that in many instances, there is no valid and reliable way to assess whether or not the students have learned the state standards in that language. Neither is it valid to test what a student knows in a language they do not speak well. Research also tells us that students who are learning in a full language immersion program do not test well initially, but by 7th grade they do as well or better on State tests and they can speak two languages.

My legislation would allow schools with Native American language programs in States where there is no assessment in that language to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress for third graders by participation rate only. It would then allow the school to make AYP if those students are proficient or on track to be proficient in grades 4 through 7.

Finally, I know as a parent how important it is to my boys that their father and I have always been involved in their education. NCLB recognizes, in many ways, how important parents are in a child's education, but improvements can still be made. My bill would amend Title II of NCLB--which authorizes subgrants for preparing, training, and recruiting teachers and principals--to allow, but not mandate, more parental involvement in our schools. This section of my bill would allow parent-teacher associations and organizations to be members of federally funded partnerships formed to improve low-performing schools and to provide training to teachers and principals to improve parental engagement and school-parent communication.

I can tell you that as wonderful as our Nation's teachers are, very few of them graduate from college having had a course in how to effectively communicate with parents. Teachers are very busy people, and when a parent shows up at the classroom door and says, ``Hi, I'm here to help'' teachers often do not know how to react. Many teachers have difficulty communicating with parents who may be working two jobs, or who have a different cultural background or language. In my view, parents should be a part of improving their children's schools, and have insights into how communication between school and home can be improved.

I know that these 6 issues are not the only issues that my colleagues, Alaskans, and Americans may have with the No Child Left Behind Act. I have been talking with Alaskans about NCLB since I came to the Senate, and I look forward to working hard on the reauthorization of the law this year.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD


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