August 06, 2009

ENHANCING FLEXIBILITY FOR EFFECTIVE SCHOOLS

Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

Once again, the summer has passed more quickly than many of us have realized and Idaho's students will soon be going back to school. School supply lists are out, many parents have already started their school shopping and many more will be rushing to do so in the remaining weeks before the first bell rings. Preparing for the upcoming school year is critical, but more important is to ensure that we have an education system that works for our varying states, regions, families and individual students.

The only way to achieve this vital goal is to continue the long-held American tradition of an education system based firmly on local, rather than federal, control. Recently, Senator Blanche Lincoln and I introduced the Enhancing Flexibility for Effective Schools (EFES) Act. This legislation recognizes the original intent and achievements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act but brings much needed reforms that will put the control and decision making back where it belongs: with states, local school boards, teachers and parents. Many Idaho teachers, administrators and parents have expressed concerns that NCLB, as originally written, does not account for the specific challenges of our state and local communities.

Federal government involvement too often brings one-size-fits-all solutions and comes with strings attached to the funding. The federal government should not act as a national school board. We must recognize the unique needs and challenges of the millions of children and families around the country when looking at education policies. Federal programs and standards must allow states and districts more flexibility in local implementation.

I have worked with education leaders, school board members, administrators, teachers, parents, students and school organizations in Idaho and nationally to identify what kind of reform is needed to make NCLB work better and to help our nation's children receive the best education possible. The EFES Act seeks to preserve the student achievement and accountability of NCLB while adjusting some important provisions to allow for increased local control and flexibility.

Accordingly, this bill includes the following important improvements to NCLB:
•    Allows supplemental services, such as tutoring, to be offered sooner than they are currently available;
•    Grants states more flexibility in using additional types of assessment models for measuring student progress;
•    Provides greater flexibility for assessing students with disabilities;
•    Ensures more fair and accurate assessments of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students;
•    Creates a student testing participation range, which provides flexibility for uncontrollable variations in student attendance;
•    Ensures that students are counted properly in assessment and reporting systems;
•    Allows schools to target student populations who need the most attention by applying sanctions only when the same student group fails to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) in the same subject area for two consecutive years.

My support of locally-driven education decision-making started early. My mother was a public school teacher and my family and I have been well served by Idaho public schools. Those schools and students will be well-served as we reduce the rigidity and burdens caused by federal intrusion into public education policy and return decision-making back to the states, communities, school boards and parents where it belongs. For more information on this bill and my education policies, please visit my website at http://crapo.senate.gov.