Melissa Mellor

Should Schools Answer to Capitol Hill or to Local Parents?

Two clear themes emerged during the U.S. House of Representatives K–12 education subcommittee's recent hearing on improving the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act's failing accountability system:

  1. Federal policy must continue to require the disaggregation and transparent reporting of student performance data. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the hearing's panel of experts agreed this is one thing NCLB has done well.
  2. Parental involvement is crucial to improving student and school success. Less clear is how the federal government can best incentivize parent engagement and help parents hold local schools accountable for their performance.

The panelists—including Arkansas's Fort Smith Public Schools Superintendent Benny Goodman and the National Center for Learning Disabilities's Laura Kaloi—also advocated for using multiple assessment measures to judge school quality, adding more flexibility for improving low-performing schools, maintaining a focus on holding schools accountable for the performance of student subgroups, tracking student growth, and ensuring states set high standards.

The hearing underscored that Democrats and Republicans are on the same page about general accountability principles but differ on the federal government's precise role in providing oversight. Although subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and his Republican colleagues believe a decentralized approach that empowers parents to spearhead school improvement is best, Democrats hold steadfast to the idea that the federal government must continue to play a role in ensuring equity for at-risk students, particularly those whose parents may not be well-equipped to take action on their own.

Watch the archived webcast of the hearing below and read related materials.


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