Hold states accountable on schools

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

While I respect Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester Finn and Executive Vice President Michael Petrilli for their decades of work in education reform, in their recent article, “Education Reform a Test for GOP,” they grade the Republican Party on an overly generous curve. In neglecting the crucial role of the federal government as a disruptive force for school improvement, the authors aren’t just reciting conservative talking points – they’re ignoring extensive evidence to the contrary.

Take, for example, Humboldt Secondary School, located right outside House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline’s district in St. Paul, Minnesota. After being identified as one of the state’s persistently lowest achieving schools in January 2010, Humboldt Secondary School received a School Improvement Grant from the federal government. Humboldt chose the “transformation” model, opting to replace half its staff, extend learning time for students, and set aside 50 minutes per day for teachers to collaborate in teams. In just three years, Humbolt’s graduation rate has increased from under 60 percent to 77 percent, and the school has seen a significant increase in reading and math proficiency rates.

The leverage and resources the federal government provided were critical to Humboldt’s success. As principal Michael Sodomka explained to me, “The School Improvement Grant not only provided significant resources to meet many unmet needs of my students, the grants requirements allowed me to put in place a number of key changes that have directly led to improved outcomes for my students.”

But Humboldt is just one success story. As a country, we have a long way to go to close persistent achievement gaps and ensure that every child has the tools he or she needs to succeed in college and in a career. It is time to take into account what we have learned from No Child Left Behind in the past decade and improve the federal accountability and school improvement system, rather than end it.

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