Making Education a Major Priority: An Election Year Message

Making Education a Major Priority:
An Election Year Message
to President Obama and Governor Romney
The National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC) is a not-for-profit organization founded by the
National School Boards Association (NSBA) to advocate at the federal and national levels for the
advancement of public education, local school board leadership and excellence and equity in our
nation’s public schools. Across the nation, 90,000 local school board members are responsible for
governing nearly 14,000 school systems serving 50 million public school students.
Elect Education
Making Education A Major Priority:
An Election Year Message to
President Obama and Governor Romney
Over the next four years Presidential vision and leadership to achieve essential national goals will significantly shape
the direction of our nation for decades to come. Certainly, how a world-class education is valued and pursued for
schoolchildren today will influence life in America and how tall we stand on the world stage tomorrow.
We know that a well educated citizenry is essential to the progress of our great nation as an economy, a land of individual
opportunity, and the standard of living of its people. We know that the need for a first rate education is more important
today than ever as knowledge and technology continue to reshape the workplace and how our society functions. We see
other nations, through improvements to their education systems, increasingly producing high-skilled workers as they
compete with the United States to attract businesses and jobs to build their economies. Given these trends, our nation
needs to put education on a forward-moving path over the next four years to ensure that today’s schoolchildren and the
nation are prepared for success in the future that lies ahead.
Having a world-class education that is second to none requires that all our people and all sectors of government, business,
and civic life place a high priority on K-12 education. To provide the leadership that’s necessary, no person in America
commands the attention of the nation more than the President of the United States. That’s why school board members
believe that over the next four years, our President must make strengthening our nation’s schools a foremost priority
and compellingly convey to the American people the urgency of the mission and their part to achieve it. Beyond providing a strong national voice, the President must also promote the federal programs that are needed and invest the
political capital to then secure timely action by members of the U.S. Congress, regardless of party affiliation.
The National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC) is presenting this paper to outline the expectations and priorities
that local school board members, as elected public office holders in their communities, see as necessary Presidential
leadership and action steps to prepare our students for success in college and careers.
A Proactive Federal Agenda for Education
Foremost, the education agenda for the next four years must begin with the urgent need to reauthorize the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Over the 11 years since the last reauthorization, our nation’s schools have been
struggling under the well-intended but badly flawed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This fall, high school seniors
will have nearly experienced their entire school career without the benefit of a well designed federal program for addressing
the current challenges in American education. The President should make every effort to bring the next Congress
together to produce legislation by June 30, 2013 so that the nation’s school systems can be prepared for implementing a
new law when school opens for the 2013-14 school year. In working with the Congress and then in implementing that
law and other initiatives over the next four years, the President and his Department of Education should give primary
attention to the following areas where the federal government can significantly contribute to a world-class education.
Seven Key Areas for Federal Attention Over the Next Four Years
Standards and Assessments
Rigorous state standards and the accompanying
assessments of student performance are essential
for a world-class education. The federal government can
play a role in supporting states in the development of
standards and assessments in key subject areas. However,
to prevent the federalization of our nation’s schools and
to ensure that states have the flexibility to innovate and
be laboratories for improvement, the federal government
should not develop national standards or assessments or
condition the receipt of federal grants on the adoption of
any specific standards or assessments.
It is also essential that schools are held accountable
for students achieving high standards. However,
as NCLB repeatedly taught us over the past 11 years, the
system must be designed correctly, including measuring
individual student growth. Accountability should not be
based on one state standardized test given on a single day,
which-- among NCLB’s other flaws-- leads to teaching
to the test. In creating an accountability framework for
the states, there must be flexibility to use multiple assessments of student performance that measure higher order
thinking skills and the ability to use academic knowledge,
such as student projects and classroom observation. All
schools should seek to continuously improve. However, the closest scrutiny and oversight should be reserved
for a state’s lowest performing schools, including providing local school systems with the support and flexibility
needed to design and implement high quality improvement
programs that they determine will best meet the needs of
students in those schools.
Local Capacity Building
While rigorous standards and assessments are
necessary to set a high bar for a world-class education, the result will not be realized unless local school
districts have the information and resources needed
and are provided a reasonable time to successfully implement them. Specifically, ESEA and other programs
should ensure that practical, adequately funded, research-based program options and information are
available to school districts to 1) provide professional
development for teachers and administrators to successfully teach and design curriculum that meet new and
higher standards; 2) acquire and maintain data systems
to assess and diagnose individual student performance;
3) integrate education technology and acquire course materials that are aligned with new standards; and 4) obtain
technical assistance from the state, universities, or other
sources of their choosing. More generally, by supporting
research and the dissemination of best practices, the federal government can provide a great service to school districts in identifying proven programs and approaches that
best meet their needs and circumstances.
Teacher/Principal Effectiveness
A world-class education requires world-class teachers
and school leaders. The ESEA reauthorization and
other federal initiatives can provide incentives, through
funding, best practices, and other resources to help prepare our educators to teach at the level needed througheffective pre-service training at colleges of education, high
-quality alternative teacher certification programs and
on going professional development. Federal initiatives can
also help jump-start locally-determined innovations such
as incentives and rewards for excellence in teaching, including merit pay, career ladders, and mentoring programs.
School systems may also benefit from technical and financial support in developing and implementing teacher
and principal evaluation systems so that effectiveness can
drive their rewards, assignments to schools, professional
improvement strategies, or cause for removal—all designed to benefit students.
In designing evaluation systems, states and school systems
should be able to determine how student test scores will
be used in local school systems. Finally, the federal government should not be involved in determining teacher
credentialing or licensure or placing conditions in federal grant programs for the qualifications that teachers must
possess to teach specific subjects beyond those qualifications established by the state.
Preschool Education
The federal government should invest in preschool
education by creating a major formula grant program to support school districts to voluntarily establish
and maintain preschool programs. Research shows that
preschool education produces a high return on investment
by reducing the need to provide multi-year remedial programs for students who are not otherwise prepared to begin
school. Moreover, research also shows that preschool education increases the earning potential that these students
will enjoy as adults. However, a federal initiative in this
area must not weaken K-12 education by trading off support
for those programs as its source of funding. To be successful, programs operated by preschool providers that receive
federal funds must be aligned with local school district
learning expectations so that preschoolers will be prepared
to achieve in their neighborhood public schools.
Addressing Student Diversity and School Systems
With High Needs
The more diverse schools, school districts, and states
become diverse in the racial and national backgrounds of
their students, the more attention that will need to be given
to the special needs and challenges many of these children
bring to school whether associated with poverty, cultural
differences, limited English proficiency, or disability. In
presenting a comprehensive plan for how the federal government can further assist states and local school districts
to ensure that these children can achieve at a world-class
level, Presidential leadership is called for, including creating a national initiative to improve education in urban districts where one third of the school population resides, including many high-need students. While less visible, rural
school districts frequently experiencing limitations caused
by size, geography, and remoteness also could benefit from
strategies tailored to meet their needs.
Federal Funding for Education
While well designed initiatives in the above areas are
needed, they alone will not bring success without an
adequate investment of federal funding to support them.
Here, the President can take the following important steps:
Set forth a funding blueprint to match his vision for
Seek funding increases for innovative school improvement
initiatives that are in balance with the urgent need to
fund formula-based programs like Title I and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that
have a broadly based financial impact on the general
school budget during this era of severe cutbacks in
state and local funding.
Work to avert cuts in education, such as budget sequestration, in recognition of the high priority our nation
holds for education, the relatively large impact federal
funding can have on raising student achievement, and
the relatively small impact the current sequestration
cut, for example, would have on the overall federal
budget (8 one hundredths of 1%).
Convene a presidential commission to study and make
recommendations regarding the long term capacity of
the state and local revenue base to support P-12 education at a world-class level in light of the economic
challenges they face and the role the federal level must
play to accomplish our national goals in education.
Three Key Principles To Guide A Successful Role
In K-12 Education
In addressing “what” Presidential leadership can do to support a world class education, it is equally
important “how” federal initiatives are developed and implemented. The National School Boards Action
Center urges the President and his administration to work within the following principles to guide the
formation and implementation of our nation’s national education policy.
Support for Public Education
As a key component of our nation’s infrastructure,
the public schools educate 50 million schoolchildren
or nearly 90% of America’s youth. Beyond the important
and unique role that public education plays in a free and
socially-mobile society, the sheer numbers of students
make the compelling case for the public schools to be the
focal point for ensuring all students have the opportunity
to receive a world-class education. Accordingly, proposals for alternative approaches that are unproven
and/or not easily replicated or scaled up, or which undermine neighborhood public schools, should be rejected.
These proposals include vouchers for non-public schools
as well as virtual schools that research shows frequently
operate at high profit margins while only producing low
academic student results.
Similarly, public school alternatives, like charter schools,
should be initiated in a manner that creates coordination
with local school districts and which does not weaken
neighborhood public schools by diminishing their financial and other resources. These results are best achieved
when charter schools are authorized and evaluated for renewal by the local school board in the communities in
which they are located. Further, as an option, charter
schools, like other innovations, should be promoted with
their success rate in mind (e.g., a major well regarded
national study found that only 17% of charters out-performed traditional public schools). And, where success
is attained, the basis for success should be identified and
taken to scale by determining and supporting its applicability in traditional public schools.
Local School Governance and Administration
While education is in the national interest and a
state responsibility, the goals and objectives set at
the federal level should not interfere with or dictate local
implementation. It is at the local level that education takes
place, and it is critical that local educators and policymakers have the flexibility to design and manage programs
that meet local needs, resource capacity, and community values. In this regard, local school boards are elected
(95%) or appointed for the express purpose of overseeing
and improving educational systems consistent with local
voter priorities and desires within the framework of state
policy. Operationally, federal reporting and data collection
requirements should be kept at the minimum needed to
meet the central purpose of federal legislative programs.
To be successful, federal policy must be approached with
the broader function of the local level in mind.
The Role of the U.S. Department of Education
In promoting school improvement, it is clear that
many of the top-down requirements from the federal level over the past decade have not worked. Instead, the
federal government must challenge, inspire, and support
local educators and school officials with an emphasis on
creating constructive improvements with adequate funding
that are locally developed to meet local needs and circumstances, and not punish schools or students should they
fall short.
In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has
assumed a substantially larger role in establishing federal
policy in education, without what many believe was sufficient legislative authority for doing so. ED has, in effect,
established an entire school improvement agenda around
a series of broadly stated principles contained in the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In part because Congress was unable to act on the ESEA reauthorization, ED wisely utilized its legal authority to waive
several harmful provisions of NCLB, but then required
states to agree to significant conditions on how key areas
of education would be approached in order to qualify for
those waivers. Merits aside, in our democratic system of
government, it should be the role of Congress, as elected
representatives of the people, to establish major education
policy. In exercising restraint at the federal level, it is also
important that as ED moves forward over the next four
years, that it recognize that success in achieving its agenda can be best secured by supporting the decision-making roles of local educators and local school boards in the
operation and governance of their schools, including promoting local flexibility while avoiding mandates in federal programs.
Technology, global competition, an increasingly diverse population, and economic limitations both challenge
and provide opportunities for raising student achievement. Especially with the critical role that P-12 education
will play in our nation’s future success, local school boards look to Presidential leadership to rally the nation
and promote a federal partnership with states and local school districts that will support a world-class education for all our nation’s schoolchildren.
National School Boards Action Center
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Alexandria, Virginia