Education Reform: From D to A-PLUS

Imagine your child getting D’s throughout their high school years. Despite the numerous federal programs available, their scores do not improve. That’s what’s been happening in America for 45 years, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). 45 years. That’s eight presidential administrations, 23 different Congresses, and eight reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. After all that time, national test scores are still below average.

We send our children to school to learn. But Congress has not. In fact, they are looking to repeat history by passing a ninth reauthorization of ESEA, the most recent of which was the Bush-era No Children Left Behind (NCLB). To make matters worse, Obama used his executive authority to give the “opportunity” to opt out of NCLB requirements for new standards he believes will bring the next generation a better education, stating:

“This does not mean that states will be able to lower their standards or escape accountability. In fact, the way we’ve structured this, if states want more flexibility, they’re going to have to set higher standards, more honest standards, that prove they’re serious about meeting them.”

So for better education, schools have to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire of more big-government, top-down standards? After 45 years of barely making the grade, it’s time for Congress to put education back where it belongs – in the hands of local governments and parents who know their children best. The A-PLUS Act allows states to opt out of federal education programs like NCLB and President Obama’s standards in order to choose what works best for their students’ education.

What sets the A-PLUS Act apart is that it allows states to use their allotted federal education funds for education purposes they see as beneficial. The plans that states create must raise academic achievement for all students and narrow achievement gaps. Furthermore, states must also address education needs for disadvantaged students by outlining how they plan to help them improve. Additionally, it requires states to submit a description of the state’s accountability system to the Secretary of Education.

The A-PLUS Act can benefit education on all levels. States only need to send one application to the Department of Education for funding the programs they choose to consolidate, reducing significant administrative costs and allowing leaders to focus on the areas that need the most funding. Teachers could focus more on giving quality instruction and less on the large amount of NCLB-related paperwork. Policymakers could also simplify the existing law for states not choosing to opt out of NCLB by reducing the more than 100 federal programs and permitting cross-program flexibility among the remaining K–12 programs operated by the Department of Education.

Creating their own version of the A-PLUS Act, Florida addressed their failing education system by creating rigorous standards for their students and schools to meet. The state also employed a number of other innovations over the years, offering school choice options, ending “social promotions”, and opening pre-kindergarten programs. As a result of their state-initiated reforms, Florida has ushered significant improvement in student performance according to the NAEP.

“Simply stated, poor and minority students are achieving at dramatically higher levels today than they were two decades ago — in some cases two or three grade levels higher,” education reformer Michael J. Petrilli writes.

Although government spending on education has nearly tripled since 1970, they have failed to cash in on the lesson that more money does not always equal better education. America’s education system needs alternatives; alternatives that states can provide to students that move our education from a D to an A-PLUS.

This post was written by Heritage Action intern Benjamin Finley

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