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Federal Education Reform Built on State Trust and Less Bureaucracy

by Michael Higham, published

Federal Education Reform Built on State Trust and Less Bureaucracy Credit: Laborant /

Federal education reform came out of the House last week, a revamp of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The legislation H.R. 5 -- Student Success Act -- would limit the federal role in education policy and place more power in states.

The bill would undo the accountability process and measurement set forth by NCLB. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is based on standardized test scores and is used to determine a school's performance. If a school does not meet AYP goals, it is subject to federal intervention.

States would then be charged with the duty of creating its own accountability and performance measurement systems. States must still participate in biennial standardized tests to measure student performance.

H.R. 5 would also consolidate the US Department of Education. It would create the Local Academic Flexible Grant by combining 70 of the department's current programs, then cut the staff associated with carrying out those programs.

The most important conditions of H.R. 5 are the limits in the Education Department's authority to form education policy. The bill defers to local authority by:

(1) prohibiting the Secretary from imposing conditions, including conditions involving Common Core and other state standards and assessments; (2) preventing the Secretary from creating additional burdens on states and school districts through the regulatory process; (3) prohibiting the Secretary from demanding changes to state standards and coercing states to enter into partnership with other states; and (4) outlining specific procedures the Secretary must follow when issuing federal regulations and conducting the peer review process.

The points outlined are in response to the NCLB waiver system. The Education Department grants permission to states to create education policy outside of NCLB regulations, but only if the department is satisfied with the change. There are 39 states that obtained waivers while 47 have submitted requests. The waiver system has been inconsistent, and California has experienced the most difficulty.

The GOP has previously stated its grievances with the Education Department for its free-lance approach to education reform through the NCLB waiver system. The Department essentially bypasses Congress and federal law to enact new policy on a state-by-state basis.

The intended result is a smaller federal education department that no longer micromanages how states approach education. However, there is a large amount of trust put into state education agencies to create a system that competes in a national and global economy.

H.R. 5 is led by Representative John Kline (R-MN). Gary Amoroso, director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, told the Star Tribune, "We’re not saying that there needn’t be some type of accountability … but the specifics are best created at the state and local level."

Congress continually revises the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) to keep the federal education law modern. The latest revision was the NCLB Act from 2002, which expired in 2007. For six years, the federal government has been running on an outdated and unpopular model.

H.R. 5 passed the House 221-207 with strictly Republican support. Judging from the results out of the House, the bill is not likely to pass through Senate. Education experts expected federal education reform to come around in 2015 and they will probably still be waiting after H.R. 5 is discussed and voted on in the Senate.

(Read the entire bill -- H.R. 5 Student Success Act -- here.)

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