The Road Forward for Accountability and Student Achievement

Bush logo by Margaret Spellings

On June 22, Margaret Spellings, President of the George W. Bush Presidential Center and former Secretary of Education, sent a letter to Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and the members of the committee. The letter highlighted the progress being made on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, while also outlining the issues that Congress still must address.  

Margaret SpellingWith Congress slated to take up the reauthorization of NCLB this week, below is an excerpt of her letter.

On behalf of the George W. Bush Institute, the nonpartisan policy organization housed within the George W. Bush Presidential Center, I appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts on the current version of the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.” Thank you for continuing the bipartisan work to reauthorize this law and your combined efforts to move this legislation forward. Strong accountability has led to greater achievement in the classroom, especially for poor and minority students, and that progress was real and crucial for those students.

We are pleased to see that many of the issues highlighted in our letter from earlier this year have been addressed in the version that passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. Specifically, we appreciate that you have included the following provisions:

*Annual, comparable, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school disaggregated by subgroups.

*Public reporting of the results of those assessments, both overall and for all groups of students, so parents and taxpayers have honest, consistent information on how their students and schools are performing.

*Alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities that are limited to a small percentage of students.

*Statewide accountability systems that expect and support all students to graduate from high school ready for college and career and that require states to set public, statewide goals on student achievement and graduation rates to improve student outcomes.

We ask for your consideration of the following issues of importance as you prepare for consideration of this legislation in the full Senate and hopefully in conference later this year:

*States should lead the way on state accountability plans, but in the best interest of students, they should be encouraged to include goals and improvement targets for districts and schools for students overall and for all subgroups, with greater progress expected for groups that have been left behind.

*We are not recommending continuing a federal Adequate Yearly Progress system, but we are also mindful of the fact that before the No Child Left Behind Act a majority of states expected little improvement from year to year for the lowest-performing students.   We hope you will find the right balance in the final legislation that protects all students and encourages growth and improvement.

*We continue to believe that strong state accountability systems are critical for increasing student achievement.  Accordingly, we request that you strengthen language so that states specify how schools that exceed targets will be rewarded and what the consequences (interventions and supports) will be for schools that do not meet their targets, including how students in persistently underperforming schools will get the support they need to meet state standards.

This strikes an appropriate balance of states and districts, and not the federal government,  leading the way at the front lines of holding schools accountable, but requiring accountability in exchange for federal funding.

*We request that you strengthen the provisions requiring student achievement and graduation rates as the predominant factors in statewide school accountability systems, as opposed to requiring only that those indicators make up a “substantial” portion of the accountability system.

*Finally, we support robust charter and choice provisions for parents who have limited quality options for their children and flexibility of federal funding for parents to choose what works including Title I portability. 

We provide these policy thoughts and suggestions and stand ready to assist in any way we can.

Margaret Spellings served as the U.S. secretary of education under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. She is now the president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. @MargaretEdu

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