Editor's note: The following is a guest column written by U.S. Congressman John Kline, (R-Second District) of Lakeville.
As folks in Minnesota were gearing up for the start of a new school year, I hosted a roundtable discussion with area superintendents, principals, and educators to discuss the state of our elementary and secondary schools. During the discussion at Inver Grove Heights Middle School, participants raised a number of important issues—but no issue received more attention than the waiver granted to Minnesota schools by the Obama administration.
Minnesota is one of 33 states and the District of Columbia to be granted a waiver from certain requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind) in exchange for implementing the Education Secretary’s preferred reforms. While I agree No Child Left Behind is broken and must be revamped, I am strongly opposed to the administration’s efforts to bypass Congress and change the nation’s education system through conditional waivers.
Not only does the waivers scheme represent an overreach of executive authority, I have long been concerned requiring schools to meet arbitrary federal demands in exchange for relief could result in even more regulations and increased ambiguity for schools. Several attendees at the roundtable echoed my concerns.
According to one St. Paul area education leader, the state is in the process of implementing an entirely new system to comply with the waiver—but educators have no idea what the future will hold when the law is eventually changed by Congress. The uncertainty, he said, was causing “confusion” and “angst” among the education community. A local superintendent likened the waiver process to “a moving target” with rules the Obama administration seems to be constantly changing.
Instead of waivers that create more confusion for our nation’s educators, it’s time for Congress to enact lasting changes to No Child Left Behind. As Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I have been leading the charge to reauthorize and reform the law in Congress in ways Minnesota school leaders demand and Minnesota students deserve.
Since the 112th Congress convened in January 2011, the committee held a series of hearings in which dozens of witnesses described the challenges facing our nation’s education system. We discussed the overly prescriptive accountability system that has labeled half our schools as failures, explored the inadequacies of federal teacher policies, and examined the regulatory burdens confronting states and school districts.
Through these conversations, we tried to answer the questions leaders have struggled with since the law expired almost five years ago: what does the federal government do well in education? What does it do poorly? How do we define “high bar” and “high standards”? How do you turn around low-performing schools? And how do you improve classroom instruction?
After months of hearings and discussions with school leaders and reformers across the country, the committee introduced and passed two bills. The Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act reflect the input we have received from parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and others in the education community. Additionally, these proposals strike a more appropriate balance between the need for a limited federal role to ensure transparency and the demand for state and local control.
The Student Success Act eliminates Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and directs each state to develop its own system that takes into account the unique needs of students and communities, and provides flexibility in how schools measure student achievement. Each state will also implement its own methods for identifying low-performing schools and implementing successful strategies for turning failing schools around. At the same time, the legislation maintains key requirements to ensure parents and community leaders can hold their schools accountable for meeting high benchmarks for student learning.
The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act consolidates several federal teacher programs into a flexible grant state and local leaders can use to fund programs that have been proven to work. It also empowers districts to develop their own teacher evaluation systems based on student learning and supports creative approaches, such as performance pay and alternative paths to certification, which will help recruit and keep the most effective educators in our schools.
Unlike the administration’s plan to offer temporary waivers that keep schools tied to a fatally flawed law, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act support lasting education reforms Minnesotans have been demanding for far too long. As our kids go back to school for what we hope is a promising and productive school year, I will continue working to enact these commonsense solutions that will raise the bar for student achievement and help ensure children in Minnesota are better prepared for success.
John Kline is the Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He and his wife, Vicky, live in Burnsville.