After almost 10 years, it’s finally time to fix “No Child Left Behind,” the main federal education policy. In the coming months, we have a historic opportunity to overhaul our federal education law by building on the progress made and addressing its serious flaws. I strongly believe that education is an issue on which we can and must rise above ideology and politics. No one can argue—from the left or the right—that we can strengthen America’s economy and democracy without an educated citizenry and workforce.
Education is the key to prosperity and progress, both for individuals and for our nation. Yet we are clearly losing ground to other countries and our competitiveness is threatened by the weaknesses of our education system including erratic quality, unsafe schools and the difficulty of affording college. If we are to meet the president’s goal to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, then we must act now, with a sense of urgency.
This reauthorization is long overdue. We knew from early on that No Child Left Behind had many shortcomings, including the arbitrary way it evaluated schools, the exclusive focus on testing and the lack of real interventions and investment to improve failing schools. Our nation cannot afford to wait any longer. That is why I’m very pleased that Congress has launched a bipartisan, open and transparent effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind. The House Education and Labor Committee, on which I have the honor to serve, has not backed away from the difficult issues and critical challenges facing our schools. Instead, we are tackling head-on the barriers to closing the achievement gap and ensuring that each and every child, regardless of economic or ethnic background, receives a quality education and the opportunity to succeed. We have held several hearings on key issues such as the need for better data systems, reforming teacher recruitment, preparation and effectiveness, as well as charter schools.
The reason I’m optimistic is because President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are pushing a reform agenda that reflects some of the best ideas from both sides of the aisle. While they support more resources for education, they are also endorsing ideas that challenge the education community to come to terms with the simple fact that some of what we’ve been doing is not working, that business as usual is simply unacceptable. As Secretary Duncan has made clear, reform and innovation will be at the center stage of this reauthorization. Despite the persistent and alarming achievement gap, there are models out there that get the job done every day—innovative approaches to school design, teaching, and interventions that demonstrate that all kids can learn. By building on what works and fixing what does not, we can get our schools back on track and replace the vicious intergenerational cycle of poverty and ignorance that binds far too many families with a virtuous cycle of enlightenment and opportunity. Raising the bar and providing the support, incentives and policy frameworks necessary for transforming our education system: these are what we need more of. Change what does not work, and scale up what does—that’s the winning formula to improve our schools. It sounds simple, but there’s a lot of hard work ahead to reach our goal.
For example, top-performing charter schools with a rigorous curriculum and high expectations are preparing at-risk students for a lifetime of achievement, succeeding where others have failed, nullifying excuses and showing the way for all public schools. One such school is Ricardo Flores Magón in Westminster that prepares kindergarten through eighth-grade students for success in school, college and beyond. While 93 percent of its students are from low-income families and 80 percent are English Language Learners, its students are excelling academically: 93 percent scored proficient or advanced in reading, compared to 73 percent for Colorado, and 100 percent scored proficient or advanced in math, compared to 69 percent statewide. It’s no surprise then that parents want more access to excellent charter schools, but sadly the demand far exceeds the supply. More than 365,000 students are on ever-growing public charter school waiting lists nationwide, including 38,000 in Colorado. To address this problem and expand access to hope and opportunity, I introduced the bipartisan All-STAR Act (HR 4330) to enable the best public charter schools to expand and replicate, allowing more at-risk students to attend a great school and realize their full potential.
These are exciting times to be in Washington for education advocates and I truly hope that we can all work together, in a bipartisan manner, to do what’s right for our kids and for our nation’s future. Let’s focus on our shared goals and provide America’s students with the world-class education they need and deserve.