Suppose nothing happens, no bill is passed, then what?
Both bills severely restrict federal control. Not only is Common Core eliminated, but the evaluation of teachers and schools will be directed by states, not the federal government. The House bill also allows federal Title I money to follow a child to a private school. Florida’s constitution prohibits direct funding of private schools by the state. It is not surprising that President Obama would veto such a measure.
The Senate bill also limits federal regulation of school accountability, and this is what has the White House concerned. According to the Associated Press, the federal government wants the lowest performing schools (bottom five percent) identified. Once identified, states must have a plan to do something to improve these schools.
This is an argument over leverage. Must you test all students in every school every year to identify five percent of those that struggle? Of course not. Districts know which schools are low performing. The question is what to do about those schools and children. If struggling schools need a longer day and summer programs, where does the money come from? If districts cannot or do not ensure that struggling schools have experienced and well qualified teachers, what can be done? If communities resist racial and socio-economically balanced schools, how can the culture of schools promote a sense of equity and opportunity?
Testing and accountability programs are the sticks to drive reform. Reform is supposed to upgrade the curriculum, improve the quality of teachers and schools, and reduce the achievement gaps between socio-economic groups. The goals are lofty but the incentives are lacking. Little has been accomplished thus far, and evidence that many parents are choosing to make their own enclaves that separate rather than integrate children is growing.
Where are the education bills that could make a difference in children’s opportunity to learn? Florida is giving a $10,000 bonus to teachers who had high SAT/ACT scores when they were in high school! These are most likely teachers in schools with supportive, well educated parents. It is another example of ‘those who have, get’. Suppose the legislation gave $10,000 to teachers with high SAT/ACT scores who would teach in struggling schools. At least the bonus would be intended to address the problem.
Also suppose the Congress allocated money for full service schools in high risk areas staffed with quality teachers, adequate technology, and strong early childhood education? Now there’s an idea. Congress could divert money for charters that divide communities to schools that unite them. States could match federal dollars by diverting money from testing students to money for teaching them.