Republicans Continue to Ignore Grave Concerns that Education Bills Abandon Commitment to Students, Schools and Taxpayers

Feb 16, 2012 Issues: Education, ESEA


WASHINGTON –Witnesses testified today that legislation proposed by committee Republicans to rewrite the nation’s education law will turn back the clock on decades of advancement in education.  

“As members of Congress, it’s our job to update the law to reflect current best practice and protect kids in the process. Through a rewrite of ESEA, we can alter roles.  We can increase flexibility.  But we cannot abandon the principles of equity and accountability if we want to uphold the promise of Brown v. the Board of Education, the first ESEA and its most recent iteration,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), senior Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee

Witnesses testified that Republicans’ partisan legislation would dismantle the federal role in education and the core principals of equal opportunity incorporated into federal policy since 1965.  Witnesses agreed that NCLB must be reauthorized but with protections to ensure accountability for all students.

“Thanks to NCLB, the idea that schools must be accountable for all students, rich and poor, majority and minority, English language learner and special education students, learning at sufficient levels for success in the 21st century has become firmly engrained in our education system,” said Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s school of education and the co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center.

Witnesses discussed how federal policy must continue to set high bars, provide guardrails, and support accountability to ensure the education needs of all children are being met.  While NCLB needs to be reauthorized, all aspects of the law must not be abandoned.

“We are concerned, however, that the changes to NCLB contained in the “Student Success Act” are designed to address the challenges that school administrators face in implementing current law. We ask that Committee members, in reforming NCLB, place a stronger emphasis on what children need in order to compete in a 21st century, global workforce; what parents hope for their children and need from local public schools; and what taxpayers would expect the school system to achieve with its taxpayer dollars,” said Delia Pompa, senior vice president of programs for the National Council of La Raza.

Pompa noted that the Republican bills lack achievement goals, does not set student performance targets and fails to include accountability for school’s graduation rates.  

Despite profound concerns raised in the hearing about how the Republican bills would undermine equity and quality in education, and the overwhelming opposition from parents, teachers, the business community, including the US Chamber of Commerce, and the disability and civil rights community, Republicans provided no indication that they would reopen bipartisan negotiations for a reauthorization focused on students, equity and accountability.  

Miller has called for a comprehensive, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to provide relief and reform to struggling schools and students who are in need. Committee Democrats released today their principles for the successful reauthorization of ESEA. A fundamental rewrite of NCLB must reflect current best practices and protect students’ rights in the process. We can alter individual roles and responsibilities, but maintaining a clear focus on students is critical in upholding the promise of ESEA.

Miller’s prepared remarks are as follows:

Good morning, Chairman Kline.  I would like to welcome our witnesses to this very important hearing.

There is nothing more important for families around this country than the quality education of their children.  We all agree on one thing – that we must reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.  I have said before in this Committee and I will say it again.  I am a proud co-author of that law. 

Over the last ten years, we have learned many things about our children’s education thanks to that law.  It is, however, long-overdue for a rewrite. 

This fact is evident in the nearly 40 states signaling interest in applying for flexibility from NCLB under the Department of Education’s waiver process. Just last week, ten states were given the green light to proceed with their new plans for improving public education and dozens more are expected to apply in the next few weeks. 

As I said last week, what is exciting about this announcement is that these states aren’t just running away from the one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB.  Instead, they are running towards a system that strikes the right balance between flexibility and accountability. The Department’s approach demonstrates that federal education policy can provide flexibility without losing sight of the core values of equal opportunity for all.

Regrettably, the two bills we are examining today do not reflect those values. Rather than looking toward the future, these bills have the very real potential to turn the clock back decades.

I have heard the full range of views on NCLB since its enactment.  For instance, I have heard the word “flexibility” thrown around and offered up as the solution to the problems with our current law. But, I have found that “flexibility” often gets raised when people are trying to avoid accountability.   

Clearly, there are places in the current law where federal policy needs to be more flexible, such as in school improvement and in consolidating programs. But, at no point should we be promoting flexibility at the expense of accountability or at the expense of equity in education. 

As with all other policy changes, the only question we should be asking is whether flexibility will lead to better outcomes for kids.  Which is why the federal role in education exists – to support better and more equitable outcomes for all students. 

Given the state of the education debate in our country today, you might think that our role in education started with NCLB, but it didn’t.  It started with the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965. 

We cannot ignore the history of how the education of millions of children has improved since then and how student performance has increased across the board.   The fact is, elementary and secondary education was not better before Brown or the first ESEA or even NCLB. To say so ignores chapters in our history that we are not proud of, but should neither be forgotten, nor repeated.  We must not shirk our responsibility to provide children with equal opportunity.  With that comes a responsibility to demand accountability.

I visit schools at every opportunity.  I admire the teachers, principals and other school personnel who work with students daily and care deeply about their education. 

Requiring accountability and good outcomes isn’t a criticism of their work. It is recognition that there are enormous pressures at all levels, sometimes in different directions, within an education system.   

The federal government plays a critical role here. It can create guardrails to ensure equity.  It can ensure that, when states, districts and schools have to make hard decisions, those decisions are not made on the backs of children.

The federal government should never be expected to micromanage the improvement of an individual school, nor should it try. However, we can and should require action on behalf of students where willingness to act doesn’t exist. 

We must continue to support the simple idea that low-performing schools should be identified and required to improve. 

As members of Congress, it’s our job to update the law to reflect current best practice and protect kids in the process. Through a rewrite of ESEA, we can alter roles.  We can increase flexibility. 

But we cannot abandon the principles of equity and accountability if we want to uphold the promise of Brown v. the Board of Education, the first ESEA and its most recent iteration.  

Reducing the federal footprint in education should not be the single-minded goal of this reauthorization. Improving the educational outcomes for children and strengthening our nation’s global competitiveness should be the goal.

The question is how best to achieve that goal.  These bills don’t come close.

Democrats believe that education must continue to be a driver of opportunity, not a system that locks you into a station in life.

We are proud to stand with the voices of opposition to these bills. And once again, we’re in good company in opposing the majority’s effort.  Groups from across the political, educational and ideological spectrum have rejected the attempt here to turn back the clock on America’s schools.

Teachers, business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, local education groups, civil rights and disability groups, and the national PTA have all raised deep concerns over the majority’s rewrite of the nation’s education law. 

Chairman Kline, this hearing is important for us to explore the weight of opposition from all corners of the country. We need to take seriously the task at hand. Kids’ lives and their ability to have the opportunity to succeed are at stake.

I am very protective of a single year in a child’s life – they don’t get that back.  Our kids only get one shot at a decent education.

That’s why we in Congress need to work together, not apart, to support state and local efforts to build a world class education system.  The stakes couldn’t be higher.

It’s the most important thing we can do: Important to our nation’s economic competitiveness and important to the lives of our nation’s children. I yield back.