The House GOP Bargains Away School Equity
The GOP bill condones providing high-need schools with less resources
July 24, 2013
Under the guise of strengthening local control over schools and "getting Washington out of our schools," the House GOP education bill bargains away equity. The House majority argues that the bill will "reduce the federal footprint" in education, but the bill does so at the expense of students. The bill weakens federal oversight in areas that have traditionally failed the most disadvantaged students.
Let's start with state education standards. The GOP proposal requires states to adopt standards in reading and math, but the bill does nothing to ensure that state standards are rigorous enough to make sure students graduate from school college and career ready.
Second, the bill relies on transparency alone to trigger action in schools where academic performance is low or wide academic achievement gaps exist. But illuminating academic achievement gaps by race and income alone is not accountability for closing those gaps. Setting ambitious but achievable annual targets and long-term goals is inherent to any well-run system or institution. The GOP education proposal fails to recognize this by failing to require states to set targets and goals to evaluate whether schools are improving student achievement and graduation rates.
The bill also neglects to close a well-known federal loophole that allows districts to allocate fewer total dollars to high-poverty schools compared to their more affluent schools. As a result, schools spend $334 more on every white student than on every non-white student. Schools that are 90 percent non-white spend $733 less per pupil than mostly white schools.
These disparities can add up. The average-sized high-minority school is losing out on $443,000 per year, or about the equivalent of hiring 12 additional first-year teachers or nine veteran teachers. Faced with the opportunity to reduce funding disparities, the House majority bill essentially condones our nation's longstanding practice of providing high-need schools with the least resources.
No one is arguing that states and districts shouldn't have significant control over what happens in their classrooms. Under No Child Left Behind, states already have a great deal of flexibility in setting their own targets for student achievement. But the behavior of some states – even in the last year – provides a glimpse of what might arise if a system of checks and balances is not in place.
Take House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's, R-Va., own state, for instance. When Virginia initially redesigned its accountability plan last year, it included less ambitious annual academic achievement targets – or lower expectations – for black students compared to their white peers. Complaints from Virginia advocates and parents swelled, compelling the Department of Education and the Commonwealth of Virginia to negotiate a new accountability plan.
There is broad agreement that an overhaul of the decade-old federal education law is long overdue. But when more than 35 national civil rights, disability, education and teacher's groups are in lock-step with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the broader business community in opposing the bill, something should tell you that you're on the wrong track.
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