Three reasons the House education bill Is a smart step

Article Highlights

  • The Student Success Act (the House's NCLB rewrite) is a step in the right direction for federal education policy.

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  • Traditionally, education has been decentralized because of the diversity & heterogeneity of our vast country.

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  • The federal government has a role in education policy. That role, though, is limited.

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The Student Success Act (the House's No Child Left Behind rewrite) is a step in the right direction for federal education policy because it:

1. Refocuses the federal government on what it can do well

Traditionally, education has been decentralized because of the diversity and heterogeneity of our vast country. There are almost 100,000 schools in 14,000 school districts in the United States. The same set of policies that might help schools in Newark, New Jersey, may not help schools in Boise, Idaho. As such, uniform federal policies requiring particular accountability or teacher evaluation systems are simply too blunt of an instrument to drive improvements in student achievement.

Now, this is not to say that accountability or teacher evaluation are bad ideas. Far from it. It's simply to say that the federal government is not in the best position to manage them. By promoting transparency in exchange for federal funds, the Student Success Act empowers states with the information they need to develop these systems for themselves.

2. Stops incoherent waiver policy

Since 2011, the Department of Education has issued NCLB waivers to states that agreed to a particular set of reforms, including adopting new standards and changing the way they evaluate teachers. This is not a coherent way to set policy. For instance, recently the Department decided to issue waivers to their waivers for states that want more time to implement their proposed teacher evaluations. Such actions drive states to spend their time crafting applications for federal approval instead of developing strategies to better educate children. The Student Success Act specifically prohibits the Department of Education from using this strategy in the future.

3. Is more realistic than its Senate Counterpart

The Senate Democrats' bill doubles down on accountability, requiring states that have not received waivers to submit detailed plans to the Secretary of Education for new and different testing. It extends the federal government's reach into teacher evaluation, requiring states that want Title II dollars to develop evaluation systems that meet specific criteria. It also extends the Department's controversial and expensive School Improvement Grant program that – while nobly attempting to intervene in the lowest-performing schools – has shown no evidence of being successful. This is all simply too much.

The federal government has a role in education policy. That role, though, is limited. The Student Success Act recognizes this, and that is why it is worthy of support.

Michael McShane is a research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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