As a mother, former school board president, and U.S. senator, I know that few things are more important to a child’s future success than a high-quality education from preschool through high school. In 2001, I supported President Bush’s No Child Left Behind because it promised the accountability and resources our schools needed to step up and succeed. However, since that bill became law, it’s become abundantly clear that while the testing and punishments materialized almost immediately, the resources and support our schools needed to meet those goals never quite caught up. I believe we owe it to Washington state families to get this right.
That’s why I was proud on Oct. 20 to join with my colleagues on the Senate Education Committee to take a critical step toward overhauling NCLB by passing a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This bill moves us in a direction that will help schools in Southwest Washington and across the nation gain the flexibility and resources they need to succeed. And it will provide students with the tools they need to learn basic literacy skills and find careers in the 21st century economy.
From what I have seen and heard from parents, teachers, and administrators across the state, I know that the majority of our schools would benefit from more flexibility and being freed from some of NCLB’s one-size-fits-all federal mandates. Skyview High School in Vancouver has a teacher librarian named Mark Ray who was recently named Washington’s Teacher of the Year because of his ability to engage students through new technologies and creative communication strategies. This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we need to be encouraging in our education system, but far too often it has been stifled under NCLB.
The bill we passed out of committee will do away with policies like “adequate yearly progress” requirements and mandated federal sanctions for all schools that often create pressure to “teach to the test” and don’t always help our students learn. Instead, it replaces them with state-designed accountability systems that reflect local needs. It will also help schools provide a stronger education in subject areas that matter most to our students’ success — like science, technology, engineering, and math — while also allowing them the ability to reinforce subjects that give students a well-rounded education, like the arts and physical education.
This bill will focus the federal government’s role where it can be most effective, while giving our local schools the flexibility they need to address the unique needs of their students. It will direct federal resources to turn around Washington state’s chronically struggling schools and those with significant achievement gaps, and it will allow our state to take student growth into consideration while rating schools. It helps promote strong and accurate teacher feedback to make sure they are continuing to grow and improve their skills. And it works to recruit the most effective teachers to serve low-income and minority students at some of our most challenged schools.
In a rapidly changing economy, it’s imperative that this bill also focuses on the skills students are leaving school and entering the workforce with. This bill contains a program I wrote to help schools work with local employers to create strong pipelines for our students to move into good jobs, which will lead to great careers in strong Washington state industries like aerospace. I also fought for this bill to include a comprehensive, high-quality literacy program that begins in early childhood and continues as needed through high school — so no student falls through the cracks.
Ten years ago, the purpose of NCLB was to make sure every student in America had the opportunity to learn and grow. I still believe in this goal, but I have heard the concerns of so many parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents who don’t think that law was accomplishing this goal.
While this legislation isn’t perfect, it’s a result of strong bipartisan compromise and a major step in the right direction. I am going to keep working to pass this through the Senate and send it to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law. And I will never stop fighting to improve education for Washington state students and communities.