Yesterday, Mike Petrilli had a good post on how the federal government is better suited to ensure transparency in data rather than dictate how states hold failing schools accountable.
I agree with Mike’s two main points:
(1) The federal government doesn’t really know what it takes to turnaround failing schools, so it shouldn’t be prescriptive.
(2) The federal government does know how to support charter school growth, and it should expand this program.
Some related thoughts, which, taken together, form a Relinquishment agenda for NCLB.
Keep the Flashlight on the Bottom 5%
I do think that the feds should require that each state identify its bottom 5% of schools. Interventions like Recovery School Districts are often predicated and justified by the state being clear about which schools are dramatically failing children. Given that states sometimes use confusing performance labels (stars, tiers, etc.), I think clearly identifying the bottom 5% is a reasonable requirement that promotes transparency.
States Should Do Something for Children Trapped in Failing Schools
Just because we don’t have clear evidence in what works in turnarounds, it doesn’t mean states should just throw their hands up when it comes to students trapped in failing schools. The feds should also require that states submit a plan that outlines a strategy for better serving students in the bottom 5% schools. At the very least, this will force a public debate on the issue; moreover, it will give reform minded state superintendents some cover for taking action. Like Mike, I view RSDs and charter expansion as promising strategies, but hopefully there’s more innovation to be had. To be clear, I don’t think the strategy even needs to be a turnaround strategy; you could simply give a voucher to every kid in a failing schools. I’m just saying states should submit a plan to the feds that puts forth a strategy to get students out of these terrible situations.
The Charter School Program Should be Quadrupled
This is a rare moment in time when both parties share some agreement on a major policy issue (charter schools). This moment should be seized to dramatically increase one of the few educational programs the feds fund that has actually been shown to increase achievement for African-American students. To ensure the money is well utilized, the feds could stipulate that states can only receive this money if they have clear accountability policies for closing charter schools that persistently fail children. I work with a lot of states that may see a decrease in charter growth due to expiring federal grants. This is a ripe time to make sure this doesn’t occur.
Investing in Innovation: Sustain Federal Investment, Enable State Investment
There’s some rumblings that Republicans want to strip i3 and other competitive grant programs. I find it ironic that of all the waste in federal education spending, Republicans might cut some of the few programs that are actually tied to funding non-governmental organizations that work. If Republicans are worried about the feds having too heavy of a hand, they could push a lot of this money down to states (while keeping evidence requirements in place). Big picture, we spend a ton of public money on education, and very little of it funds innovative work. So I’d keep the federal program, kickstart state programs, and take whatever funds you need from Title II, which remains a slush fund for mediocre PD vendors. Investing in Innovation is another place where federal support can give cover and resources to bold state supes.