The inside-the-beltway debate on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has now boiled down to two choices: 1) trust the states to implement rigorous standards for all students or, 2) continue with a warmed-over form of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) test-based "accountability" to identify performance gaps, label more "failing" schools, and mandate school "turnarounds."
Frankly, our nation's students, especially low-income students and students of color, urgently need an entirely new federal -- state relationship in education.
It has to start with increased incentives for states to adopt and implement rigorous common standards in the core areas, with complimentary state standards in other critical areas such as social studies, visual and performing arts, so all students are exposed to a full range of rich curriculum.
Then we need an entirely new set of federal policies designed to move the 50 states to build strong public education systems, and leave behind the narrow NCLB accountability measures that largely bypass the states who are responsible for delivering quality education for their school children. The foundational elements for building these systems must include, at a minimum, the following:
- Education finance reform to deliver sufficient school funding distributed to address for concentrated student need.
- Well-planned, high quality preschool, unifying existing Head Start, child care and public school classrooms, to provide access to every low-income three- and four-year old child.
- Comprehensive workforce development designed to attract, support and retain the next generation of effective teachers and school leaders.
- Accountability measures built upon enhanced State Education Agency (SEA) capacity to provide meaningful support, assistance and evaluation to high need schools and districts.
- State capital funding to rebuild the school facilities infrastructure to ensure safe and educationally adequate learning environments and working conditions.
The current debate in Washington ignores the clear evidence that school and district, and even teacher, centric strategies will fail to bring about the high performing systems of public schools our nation's children so urgently need, and are entitled to.
Let's go bold. It's time for a new federalism in public education.